Second TAF

by Ralph Michaelis

Its complement in France, the Second Tactical Air Force is to the RAF what the Ninth is to the USAAF

The greatest air to ground cooperation ever known to British arms is being provided in France by the Second Tactical Air Force.

Day and night its fighters, bombers and rocket-firing aircraft range the enemy positions, blasting his strong points, skittling over his trains and convoys, wrecking his communications, seeking and providing information to the Army commanders, while denying all freedom of observation to enemy commanders, and stamping the fear of its guns and bombs into every German mother's son.

Second TAF is molded on its Anglo-American predecessor, First TAF, of the Mediterranean campaigns. Directed by the same brilliant commander, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, who, in conjunction with General Sir Bernard Montgomery, chased Rommel from Alamein to Tunis, and thence to Sicily and Italy, Second TAF has become the spearhead of another British Army.

The Army Air Force team is much the same as before — "Monty"-Coningham in their early fifties, and Dempsey-Broadhurst, not yet 40.

A completely self-contained and highly mobile force, Second TAF is equipped to deal with every type of target and fly every kind of sortie required in tactical support of an army. In its "secret weapon," the rocket-firing Typhoon, it possesses the most devastating projectile ever used from the air; a weapon that is causing such havoc among the enemy Panzer divisions as to have a decisive effect on the land battle. The Second TAF was formed from existing units of all the British-based RAF operational commands. Crack squadrons of the famous Fighter Command, known and feared by Goering's Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain and in many an air battle over France, were merged with what had been Army Cooperation Command. The medium bomber group, which had been operating, usually by daylight, over France and the Low Countries since 1939, was transferred from the home-based Bomber Command. The force resulting from these mergers is Second TAF.

From Fighter Command came Spitfires, Mustangs, and 2,200-hp rocket-carrying and bomb-carrying Typhoons, the latter two additionally armed with cannon. Bomber Command contributed twin-engined Mosquitos, tough fighter-bombers of the old de Havilland breed, and American Mitchells and Bostons. Like the rest of the RAF, Second TAF is not only a Commonwealth Air Force of British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand Squadrons, but almost an international one with Polish and French, Dutch and Belgian, Czech and Norwegian squadrons as well. It was a French squadron of TAF Bostons that laid smoke to cover the American D-day landing on the beaches. A British Boston squadron screened the British-Canadian landing.

True to the old aggressive tradition of the RAF, every fighter, except those chasing Germans, carries bombs — if only to remind the Hun that any Second TAF aircraft may be expected to drop something explosively unpleasant at any moment. In fact, Typhoon and Mustang fighters carry a 2,000-lb bomb load, which is as much as the "heavy" bombers used to carry early in the war. The whole force was welded into an efficient, smooth-running machine, able to operate, and keep operating at high pressure under field conditions away from the luxuries of hangars, fixed workshops and concrete runways, to which the men had been accustomed at their British permanent airfields. Living quarters, workshops, offices, messes, and headquarters went under canvas and the squadrons became completely mobile. They were ready to pack up at a moment's notice and move across the channel and forward with the advancing Liberation Army. During this period they still flew their full quota of missions against the enemy, so that when D-day arrived it meant no sudden leap into action for a new and untried command, but merely the continuation and intensification of an offensive already under way.

When the invasion fleet and troops were assembling on the English shore of the Channel, the new rocket-firing Typhoons were assigned to their first vitally important task. Swooping on radar stations from Calais to Brest they completely destroyed the enemy's warning system. From then on he was forced to rely on reconnaissance planes to give him warning of the approaching invasion fleet. But with the skies filled with patrolling fighters, this was a distinctly unhealthy and unpopular mission with Luftwaffe pilots, and so few spy planes survived to tell the tale that the German commanding general was kept guessing right up to the last moment as to the probable landing places. And he guessed wrong.

Operations of Second TAF fall into five main categories calling for nonstop fighter patrols, providing an air umbrella beneath which the ground troops can move without interference from enemy planes; armed reconnaissance of all roads giving access to the battle zone; attacks on set targets, such as bridges; attacks on tanks and other targets of opportunity by rocket planes kept on "close call"; and providing fighter escort to home-based heavy bombers.

All demands from the Army Commanders for air support are relayed to the Air Commander in Chief by radio, on a signals channel which simultaneously informs every air force unit of the terms of the call. Details of the resulting "strikes" are worked out by operations planning staff, living and working in trucks and tents with the truck tail boards let down alongside one another to form a veranda from which each "office" has ready access to the others. The other extreme end of the chain of cooperation is to be found out at the front with the most forward of the ground forces, where RAF pilots sit perched in trees or crouch in holes in the ground beside the unit commanders of the ground forces in the visual control posts. The RAF observation officer in the VCP deals with targets of opportunity, and anything that is holding up the operations of the unit to which he is attached. Back at his airfield, his fellow pilots are sitting in the cockpits wearing their radio earphones, and ready to be "whistled up" into the air.

Working in close support with the ground forces, and directed by the RAF observer in the front line, they clear and blast a way for the troops, removing pill boxes, strong points, tanks, gun positions, machine-gun nests, mortar batteries, anything that is holding up the advance. Ranging behind the lines, attacking road convoys and rail transport with their bombs and cannon they spread havoc and confusion, forcing the Germans to move their divisions and supplies only at night. But night brings but little respite to the stricken Hun. Mosquitos take up the offensive, bombing and strafing everything that moves.

One rocket-bomber and fighter group of the 2nd TAF is commanded by Air Vice Marshal Harry Broadhurst, DSO, DFC, AFC, again working side by side with Lt General Dempsey, commanding the British Second Army.

The accuracy of the rocket-firing Typhoons which Broadhurst commands is deadly. Squadron Leader David "Kit" North-Lewis, DFC, who heads the top-scoring rocket Typhoon squadron, declares, "Whenever we get the tanks in the open, we can guarantee about 75 per cent resu1ts." A German prisoner described the rocket-firing Tiffie as "the most terrifying thing I have ever known in batt1e."

The Second TAF has made the enemy's task of bringing up reinforcements and supplies to the battle areas so hazardous that large-scale movements are possible only at night, and even then he is continually harassed by night-bombing Mosquitos.

This article was originally published in the October, 1944, "Ninth Air Force Issue" of Air News magazine, vol 7, no, 4, pp 63, 76, 78.
The original article includes 5 photos: 2 Spitfire, Typhoon.
Photos credited to USAAF, British Combine.