RAF No 18 Squadron emblem


USN VCS-7 Squadron

When the US Navy was planning for D-Day, it became obvious that the Curtiss SOC and Vought OS2U seaplanes normally used to spot for naval bombardment would be easy targets for German fighters due to a lesson learned during the invasion of Sicily. In this aftermath was the cause to form VCS-7 Cruiser Scouting squadron on February 1944. The squadron consisted of 17 pilots from VCS and VO (Battleship observation) from the USS Quincy (CA-39) , USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), USS Augusta (CA-31), USS Nevada (BB-36), USS Arkansas (BB-33) and USS Texas (BB-35). They traded their Seagulls and Kingfishers for Spitfire Mk Vs from the RAF and got their training from the 67th TRG USAAF at Middle Wallop in which they where operating Spitfires for reconnaissance. The unit was first commanded by Lt. Robert W. Calland (Senior pilot on Nevada) until he was succeeded by Lt.Cdr William Denton Jr. on May 28th 1944. VCS-7 was assigned to No.34 Tactical Reconnaissance Wing which was mixture of RAF and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Spitfire/Seafire in which became known as The Air Spotting Pool stationed at Lee-On-Solent

Into Combat:

From June 6th to the 26th The VCS-7 flew 209 missions over Normandy especially at the Western Naval Task Force which was mainly un the control of the US Navy and providing air spotting for Naval bombardment at Utah and Omaha Beaches sectors and Cherbourg later on. The squadron rarely encounter the Luftwaffe but 6 aircraft No. 34 wing “Air spotting Pool” where lost but 4 of VCS-& fought off the Luftwaffe fighters despite of having little time and training. Also flak was dangerous to the VCS-7 one of Richard M. Barclay was the sole combat loss. The total aircraft losses of the VCS-7 due to all causes was 9. VCS-7 last combat mission was over at Cherbourg June 25, by the next day VCS-7 was disbanded and the surviving crew went back to there pervious postings. As to add to note A VSC-7 pilot Ensign Robert J. Adams was the first US Naval aviator to land in France when he landed his damaged Spitfire at an auxiliary landing field.

VCS-7, Seagulls to Spitfires

Naval Aviation’s mission on 6 June was to provide air spotting support for the cruisers and battleships bombarding targets along the Normandy beachhead.

For this purpose, each vessel normally carried several aviators and two or three floatplanes, either SOC Seagulls or OS2U Kingfishers. Both aircraft performed the spotting mission quite well.

Operations in the Mediterranean during 1943 had shown, however, that against strong enemy aerial opposition the SOCs and OS2Us were far too vulnerable. They lacked the speed and maneuverability to escape attacks made by Focke-Wulf 190s and Messerschmitt 109s. In the Mediterranean, efforts were being made to train VCS pilots in the handling of fighters such as the P-40 Warhawk and P-51 Mustang. Flying fighters, the air spotting pilots stood a much better chance of eluding enemy air attacks.

Perhaps because of the high demand on P-51s for strategic bomber escort duties, it was decided that 17 VCS and Battleship Observation (VO) pilots aboard the cruisers Quincy (CA 71) Tuscaloosa (CA 37) and Augusta (CA 31) and the battleships Nevada (BB 36) Arkansas (BB 33) and Texas (BB 35) would be checked out in RAF Spitfire Mk Vbs.

The 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Group, Ninth Air Force, under the command of Colonel George W. Peck, was assigned the task of checking out the VCS-7 aviators in Spitfires. Training was conducted at the 67th’s base in Middle Wallop, Hampshire. The training syllabus consisted of defensive fighter tactics, aerobatics, navigation, formation flying and spotting procedures.

On 8 May, Lieutenant Robert W. Calland, senior aviator aboard Nevada, assumed command of the squadron. He was relieved by Lieutenant Commander William Denton, Jr., senior aviator aboard Quincy, on the 28th. That same day, the squadron became fully operational and moved to Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Lee- 0nSolent.

Ten squadrons, five RAF four Royal Navy FAA (Fleet Air Arm) and VCS-7, were brought together at Leeon- Solent to provide air spotting for the fire support ships of the Western and Eastern Naval Task Forces. The Western Naval Task Force, Rear Admiral Alan G. Kirk commanding, would land the US. First Army on beaches Utah and Omaha. The Eastern Naval Task Force would land the British Second Army on beaches Gold, Juno and Sword. Two of the RAF squadrons, Nos. 26 and 63, flew Spitfires. The other three, Nos. 2, 268 and 414, flew Mustang Is and las. The four FAA squadrons, Nos. 808, 897, 885 and 886, were assigned Seafire Ills, basically navalized Spitfire Mk Vbs.

On D day, all aircraft were pooled. This meant that VCS-7 flew whatever type was available, either Seafire or Spitfire. Although Mustangs were present, they were not flown by any VCS-7 aviators-the reason being that they had not been checked out in the t)/ Pea At noon on D day, the RAF Mustangs were withdrawn for tactical reconnaissance duties. This left some 95 aircraft available for air spotting support at RNAS Lee-on-Solent.

Typical spotting missions utilized two aircraft. The lead plane functioned as the spotter. The wingman, or “weaver,” provided escort and protected the flight against enemy aerial attack. The clocking, or ship control, method was utilized on the majority of spotting sorties. Standard altitude for spotting missions was 6,000 feet, 32 Naval Aviation News May-June 1994 but poor weather forced the spotter to operate between 1,500 and 2,000 feet. Occasionally, missions were flown at even lower altitudes. Drop tanks were used to increase range.

A typical spotting sortie lasted close to two hours. This provided 45 minutes on station and 1 hour in transit. The Luftwaffe was rarely encountered, although six of the station’s aircraft were shot down by German fighters. Four VCS-7 pilots were attacked by Me-l 09s and Fw-19Os, putting the fine defensive capabilities of the Spitfire to the test. All four aviators successfully avoided being shot down.

Flak, however, was common and accounted for the squadron’s only loss, Lieutenant Richard M. Barclay, senior aviator aboard Tuscaloosa. Lt. Barclay’s wingman, Lieutenant (jg) Charles S. Zinn, also from Tuscaloosa, managed to return home despite severe damage to his right wing and aileron. The exact number of aircraft lost by VCS-7 during the Normandy campaign cannot be verified as of this writing. VCS-7’s action report mentions only the loss of Lt. Barclay’s aircraft.

Author David Brown in his book, The Seafire, the Spitfire that went to sea, claims VCS-7 lost 7 aircraft to enemy action and 1 operationally in 209 sorties flown. Unfortunately, Mr. Brown fails to cite the source of his information. According to VCS7’s action report, the squadron flew a total of 191 sorties between 6 and 25 June. The busiest days were the 6th, 7th and 8th. During those three days, a total of 94 sorties were flown. Following the bombardment of Cherbourg on 26 June, naval gunfire support operations ceased. The fighting had moved inland out of the range of the ships big guns.

VCS-7 was, therefore, disbanded by order of RAdm. Kirk, and all personnel returned to their ships. During 20 days of combat operations, the aviators of VCS-7 were awarded 9 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 6 Air Medals and 5 Gold Stars in lieu of additional Air Medals. Ten VCS-7 aviators went on to participate in the invasion of southern France and three others took part in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in the Pacific during 1945.

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This webpage was updated 30th June 2023