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Updated: 17 Jan 12

Stn Operations Record Book RAF Form 540

The Operations Record Book RAF Form 540 is essentially the Operational Diary of an RAF Station. Like the Squadron ORB RAF Form 540, this ORB records the daily occurrences on the station. The ORB (often made up of a number of books) was opened when an RAF Station became operational and was closed when the Station ceased to be an operational unit. The Station ORB is a valuable document to aid research on squadrons as it records the build up to the formation and records the activities of flying units from a station view point. Unlike the Squadron Form 540 it does not records the postings in and out of Squadron aircrew personnel, but it does record the postings in and out of certain station and admin personnel, some of whom were serving with the Squadrons.

The Station ORB often records in some detail operations carried out by its Squadrons, including messages received from Group and other RAF establishments relating to operations. It may also includes summarised reports of de-briefing interviews by crews returning from operations. The ORB also records the daily weather at the station and records visits to the station by various senior RAF and Army Officers and assorted important civilian personnel.

Operations Record Book RAF Form 540

The RAF Form 540 is essentially the Squadron Diary, containing the daily record of occurrences on the Squadron. Entries include notifications of operations, details of postings in and out of aircrew and Squadron staff (ground crew members are recorded elsewhere) promotions, honours and awards and listings of aircrew who are either injured, missing or killed.

The daily weather is also recorded in this book, as is any other general information relating to the Squadron. These entries can range from the loss of a Squadron aircraft to visits by senior RAF Staff and to football or cricket matches with other Squadrons or local civilian teams. It also contains notices of ground training such as dinghy drills and gunnery practice and lectures for aircrews on a variety of subject covering escape and evade, POWs, new equipment and flight safety.

A huge amount of information can be gathered from this book about individual aircrew members, individual aircraft and events that took place on the Squadron, ranging from serious operational comment and reports through to more light hearted entries.

Squadron Operations Record Book RAF Form 541

The Form 541 is the record of work carried out by the Squadron. It contains full details of all operations and operational sorties flown by the Squadron aircrews. Each entry includes the following information:

The date
The target
Details of each aircraft on the operation
Full details of the crew of each aircraft including rank, initials, name, their position in the aircraft (pilot, navigator etc) and in the case of commonwealth aircrew members their service numbers
Details of the bomb load carried by each aircraft
The take off time of each aircraft
The time over target of each aircraft
The height over target of each aircraft
The speed over target of each aircraft
The landing time of each aircraft
A summery of the sortie taken from each crew’s debriefing on return after the sortie

The summaries of the sorties can vary depending on who the captain of the aircraft was. The information can be very detailed and include information on weather, faults with the aircraft, damage sustained on the sortie and general comments such as the marking of the target by the PPF (Pathfinder Force), the amount of flak encountered and observations made over the target. Other summaries can be very brief indeed, only commenting that it was a quiet trip and no problems were encountered.

Aircraft Movement Cards Air Ministry Form 78

The aircraft movement cards were used to record all movements of an aircraft. It was raised by the Air Ministry and recorded the company who built the aircraft and contract number. Also included were the aircraft type, its RAF serial number and the type of engines fitted. These cards then went on to record every movement of the aircraft, with dates, from the time it left the factory for allocation to a unit or Squadron to the time it was lost, damaged beyond repair or scrapped. If the aircraft was transferred to another Squadron, this was recorded on the card, along with the date of the move. If the aircraft was damaged, the date and type of repair was recorded on the card. These cards are a valuable addition to the records as they help to build up a complete individual history of any individual aircraft.

Combat Reports

Every encounter with an enemy aircraft by Squadron aircrews was entered on to a Combat Report. These reports contain all the information relating to such an encounter and include the Squadron’s aircraft details, the date, the longitude and latitude of the encounter, the time, the height and a full account of the actual combat that took place. The reports also include the names of the Gunners who engaged the enemy aircraft and the number of rounds they fired. If the identity of the enemy aircraft could be established, this was also included.

Sadly not all of the surviving combats reports are in very good condition, some being almost unreadable. It would appear that the original reports were raised in triplicate using poor quality carbon paper for the copies, it is only these copies (in a lot of cases) that have survived. To add to the problems, the microfilm they have been copied onto at the National Archive are not in very good condition after years of use and reproducing good readably copies of the reports is very difficult. The National Archive are reluctant to allow access to any original copies because of their fragile condition.

Bomber Command Loss Cards

Bomber Command created a card to register the loss of aircraft on operational sorties, these cards are a pre-printed form which is filled in whenever an aircraft was lost. The data recorded on the cards was then used to try and identify ways of reducing losses. The data on the front of the cards normally includes the date, the aircraft’s details, the Squadron or unit, the target, the bomb load and the service numbers, ranks, names and fate of the crew.

The reverse of the card has space to fill in such information as a narrative of the loss if available, damage caused to the aircraft, if known and any combats which might have contributed to the loss, if known. It was only if a member of the crew survived a crash, and was able to provide an account of the loss, that this type of information was available. The location of the crash was often filled in on the reverse of the card as this information could be passed on by returning crews who witnessed the loss. Many of the Loss Cards have no information on the reverse

Aircrew Log Books

Copies of Aircrew Log Books are a valuable addition to the records, they give a first hand account of an airman’s training and operational tour with the Squadron. They also offer a very good cross reference medium to the Squadron ORBs and they can help clear up any ambiguities in the recording of the Squadron’s official records. Many Log Books also contain comments and notes made at the time which you would not normally find in the Squadron’s own records. Some Log Books have been know to include drawings and sketches made by airman and can give a very personal view and insight into his time with the Squadron. Additionally the Log Books are the only place that training and other non-operational sorties were recorded, they were never recorded in the Squadron’s ORBs.

Aircraft Accident Record Card Air Ministry Form 1180

The Air Ministry Aircraft Accident Record Cards were designed to record any accidents involving RAF aircraft so that the causes could be analysed and any resulting data could be used in accident prevention. The cards were in a form design and were filled in by hand, writing the available information in the various pre-printed boxes on the cards.

The information on the front of the card included the date, the unit or Squadron, the Group, the type of aircraft including its serial number and type of engines fitted, the pilot’s name, rank and number and the category of the damage caused. The reverse of the card contained the details of the accident and any other relevant information as to the likely cause of the accident. Some cards included comments by the Squadron and Station Commanders and other senior officers.

These cards were not used in the case of the total loss of an aircraft unless the loss was of a non-operational nature or the aircraft was on a training sortie.

The information on these cards can be very useful when researching the individual history of a particular aircraft or writing up an account of an individual aircrew member’s tour with the Squadron. Not all copies of these cards can be easily read as the hand writing on them can be poor and the cards themselves can be in poor condition.

Orders For Flying

Orders For Flying, as the name suggests, was a list of Squadron aircrews who were detailed to fly on a particular operation. These orders were posted on the Squadron notice board for the information of all Squadron aircrew members. The document lists the aircraft serial numbers and Squadron code detailed for the operation and the rank and names of the crews assigned to each aircraft. They also included the names of those Squadron aircrew members who were detailed to be Officer i/c Flying, Duty Officer, Reporting Officer and NCOs and Duty NCO for that particular date. It also detailed a spare aircraft, should an operational aircraft go unserviceable, and a spare crew. This document is useful for cross referencing the ORB to confirm which crews and aircraft flew on any particular operation. Again not many copies of these orders have survived but searches of various Bomber Command files at the National Archives can turn up copies.

Escape and Evaders Reports

There are many documents relating to the subjects of Prisoners of War and Escape and Evaders within the National Archives at Kew. Some are fairly easy to find as they are filed under the titles of Prisoners of War. They give details of those aircrew members who were captured and confined in one or other of the many prisoner of war camps though only the briefest of details are available. Usually the number rank and name of the POW and the name and number of the camp is available. Other records are not so easy to find as they seem to be distributed amongst various files relating to the RAF, Bomber Command and other related files. Of interest to me are the files containing the various reports of escapees and evaders which give details of how particular aircrew members managed to escape capture and evade the enemy after their aircraft had been lost over enemy territory. Many of these airmen might have been the only survivors of their crew and their accounts of being on the run in enemy occupied territory are fascinating to read.

Station Narratives

Station Narratives were raised by the Station to report to Group Headquarters on the circumstances surrounding the loss of an aircraft or an incident involving an aircraft during an operational sortie. They give a detailed account of the loss or incident with information taken from the de-briefing interviews of aircrew members who survived. They include the date, take off time, the target, full details of the crew and details of the aircraft. Most give very detailed accounts of an incident. They can be found distributed in many different locations within the files of the National Archive and the RAF Historical Branch.

This article is based on an original webpage on the 626 Sqn website.

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