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Tiger Force - Bomber Command in the Pacific

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As the war in Europe come to its conclusion thoughts started to turn to the Pacific and the planned invasion of Japan, codenamed Operation Downfall. The 'Tiger Force' was to be Bomber Command's contribution to this as they would provide a number of squadrons to help in the build up to the invasion.

Second Quebec Conference
Operation Mould
The 'Tiger Force'
Modifying the Lancaster
Order of Battle
The War Ends
The Force is Disbanded

Key Dates
23rd November 1944
Operation Mould unveiled.
24th February 1945
Air Marshal Sir Hugh Lloyd appointed commander of the 'Tiger Force'.
April 1945
The make up of the 'Tiger Force' is changed.
4th June 1945
Churchill approves the use of bases on Okinawa.
20th June 1945
First 'Tiger Force' convoy leaves Liverpool.
23rd July 1945
Second 'Tiger Force' convoy departs.
31st October 1945
'Tiger Force' disbanded.

Second Quebec Conference (1944)

Between the 12th and 16th September a number of meetings were held between the American and British Governments involving British Prime Minster Winston Churchill and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During these the idea of using Avro Lancaster's of Bomber Command to attack targets in Japan was raised. This lead to an offer for 40 Lancaster squadrons to be made available for use in the Pacific, only once the hostilities in Europe had ceased, to be made by Churchill to the United States.

The US Chiefs of Staff, in principle, accepted the offer of the Lancaster squadrons on the 27th October 1944. The major obstacles for this plan was the availability of airfields in range of Japan and how to get, not only the Lancasters and their crews, but all the necessary support staff and infrastructure the nearly 14,000 miles by sea to the Pacific theatre which would take around 2 ½ months by sea.

Operation Mould

The 23rd November 1944 saw Operation Mould unveiled. These plans would see three groups each comprising of 12 heavy bomber squadrons equipped with either the Lancaster, Consolidated B-24 Liberator and the Avro Lincoln when it became available. Six long-range fighter squadrons comprising a number of aircraft including the Hawker Tempest Mk II and the de Havilland Hornet, when it became available. Alongside this the Australian First Tactical Air Force, equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire and Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk, along with the United States Far East Air Force, equipped with the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and North American P-51 Mustang, would also be used for escort. A number of B-24 Liberators and Lancasters would also be converted to tankers for air-to-air refuelling.

This would become known as the 'Tiger Force' on the 24th February 1945 with Air Marshal Sir Hugh Lloyd being appointed its commander.

The 'Tiger Force'

As planning continued during early 1945 the end of April saw the make up of the force changed. This saw the six long-range fighter squadrons dropped from the order of battle, the air-to-air refuelling plan was also shelved and the 36 heavy bomber squadrons reduced to 20. There were also some new additions with four transport and one each of an air-sea rescue, Pathfinder and photo reconnaissance/meteorological squadron.

One of the major headaches was where the new force would be based. Two of the early options, neither of which was ideal, was to be based in the Philippines at North Luzon, which at best was 1,000 miles away from the force's envisaged targets. The second option was that the Royal Air Force built its own airbases from scratch. Whichever option was chosen the major phase of construction would require at least 100,000 men, not to mention the machines and logistics to support this endeavour.

Avro Lancaster in the 'Tiger Force' camouflage scheme of white and black ©

On the 1st April 1945 the Allies invaded the Okinawa Islands, known as Operation Iceberg, and this battle would last until the 22nd June 1945. Prior to the end of this battle negotiations between the British and Americans had seen the US Chiefs of Staff propose the use of an airfield on Okinawa for the 'Tiger Force' which Winston Churchill approved on the 4th June 1945. Whilst this airfield would only have space for half of the 20 'Tiger Force' squadrons there were two main benefits. The British and the Americans would share the engineering and logistics of building the airfields and Okinawa was just 400 miles south of Japan, well within the Lancaster's range.

Two convoys were soon on their way, the first left Liverpool on the 20th June and was known as Shield. With the second convoy leaving on the 23rd July and this was known as Vacuum.

Modifying the Lancaster

Due to the very different conditions of the Pacific compared to Europe a number of modifications were made to the Lancaster. Firstly instead of the normal seven man crew this was reduced to six and the Rolls-Royce Merlin 24 engine was installed, along with the necessary tropical engine modifications. Other changes saw the installation of the landing gear that was to be used on the Avro Lincoln and new radio & navigation equipment. All these changes lead to the aircraft used being renamed Lancaster B.I (FE) and Lancaster B.VII (FE).

Another major change to the Lancaster was its camouflage scheme. The standard Bomber Command scheme in Europe was black undersides with green and brown on top, for the Lancasters in the 'Tiger Force' the black underside was kept but the top was painted in a heat reflecting white.

One of the ways to increase the Lancaster's range, alongside air-to-air refuelling was the addition of a 'saddle tank' behind the cockpit. This could hold an extra 1,200 imperial gallons of fuel and a pair of Lancaster B.Is (HK541) and (SW244) would be modified accordingly and this was called the Very Long Range Lancaster. This idea was discarded in favour of air-to-air refuelling which was then itself unnecessary after the airbases on Okinawa became available.

Saddle tank Lancaster
Lancaster Mk. B.I (SW244) with the 'saddle tank' modification.

Order of Battle - 26th July 1945

The first of the ten 'Tiger Force' squadrons, each with 20 aircraft, which would be under Air Marshal Sir Hugh Lloyds command were chosen from No. 5 Group, Royal Air Force and No. 6 Group, Royal Canadian Air Force. With the first five squadrons to be ready by the 1st December 1945 and the next five ready by February 1946. The force would be part of the United States Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific commanded by General Carl Spaatz, which had been established on the 2nd July 1945, with representatives of the RAF on General Spaatz's staff.

The first ten squadrons would be organised as follows:

551 Wing No. 9 Squadron
No. 617 Squadron
Lancaster B.I and B.III
Lancaster B.VII (FE)
552 Wing No. 106 Squadron
No. 467 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force
Lancaster B.I and B.III
Lancaster B.I and B.III
553 Wing No. 83 Squadron
No. 97 Squadron
No. 627 Squadron
Lancaster B.I and B.III
Lancaster B.I and B.III
Mosquito Mk XVI and Mk XIX
554 Wing No. 75 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force Lancaster B.I and B.III
662 Wing No. 419 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force
No. 428 Squadron, RCAF
Lancaster B.X
Lancaster B.X

It was intended to phase out the Lancaster from these squadrons with the Avro Lincoln, which had made its first flight on the 9th June 1944, with No. 57 Squadron, RAF East Kirkby and No. 75 Squadron, RNZAF, based at RAF Spilsby, receiving the first Lincolns to be delivered during August 1945.

A third ship was to set sail on the 25th August 1945, this was in response to a request by General Spaatz for a pair of Tallboy Squadrons, Tallboy was a 12,000lb bomb which only the Lancaster could be equipped with, by the 15th October to fly from bases on Okinawa and play a role in the build up to the expected invasion of Kyushu, known as Operation Olympic, which was to begin on the 1st November 1945. This was part of Operation Downfall which was the overall plan to invade Japan.

Lancaster Mk. B.VII (FE) (NX750) of No. 9 Squadron
Lancaster Mk. B.VII (FE) (NX750) of No. 9 Squadron, RAF in its 'Tiger Force' colours during 1946.

The War Ends

Whilst the preparations for the 'Tiger Force' had been progressing the Allies Manhattan project, tasked with developing an atomic bomb, had completed and successfully tested one in New Mexico, America on the 16th July 1945. The following month saw the Allies drop the first atomic bombs in war when a Boeing B-29 Superfortress dropped one on the Japanese cites of Hiroshima on the 6th August 1945 and again three days later on the 9th August 1945 on Nagasaki.

The dropping of the second atomic bomb on the 9th had been preceded the day before by the Soviet Union's declaration of war on Japan which saw offensives launched in the North, East and West of Manchuria. As a result on the 10th August 1945 Japan offered to surrender and after negotiations on the 15th August 1945 the surrender of Japan was confirmed and on the 2nd September 1945 was formally signed. The Second World War (1939 – 1945) was over.

The Force is Disbanded

The two convoys Shield and Vacuum which had left the UK in June and July respectively and were to go to Okinawa were instead re-routed to Hong Kong, where they helped in the building of a new airfield. The 'Tiger Force' was officially disbanded on the 31st October 1945.

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