Editors Note: This article merely skims the subject of the 25th Bomb Group (RCN) at Watton during its tenure here in WW2. If you have a serious interest in the history of this remarkable unit, I suggest obtaining a copy of “The 25th Bomb Group (Rcn) in World War II” by Norman Malayney. Published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7643-3950-9 

The 25th Bomb Group was designated as a reconnaissance group, but was, in fact, much more than this. It has been referred to recently by the American artist, Gil Cohen, as the ‘eyes of the eighth’. Forming part of the 325th photographic wing, it was commanded by Col (later Brigadier General) Elliot Roosevelt.

The 8th Reconnaissance Group (Special)(P) formed on 22 March 1944 at Cheddington; on 30 March the designation changed to 802nd Reconnaissance Group (Special)(P) at Cheddington. The Heavy WX Squadron B-17s transferred to Watton between 6-10 April. On April 12, the mosquito squadrons transferred to AAF Station 376 Watton. Collectively the Units were designated officially 25th BG on 9 August 1944.

A B17 of the 25th Bomb Group on the tarmac at Watton
A B17 of the 25th Bomb Group on the tarmac at Watton

652nd Bomb Squadron Heavy
The 652nd used American heavy bombers mainly B-17 Gs. It also had B-24 Ds and B-24 Hs. Its missions were long range weather flights over the Atlantic code-named ‘Epicure’ which flew a box pattern 700 miles out over the Atlantic. Weather readings were taken every 50 miles at heights varying from 50 to 30,000 feet. The average flight time for these flights was over 12 hours. For thirteen months 652 Squadron maintained an average of 1.5 aircraft in the air over the Atlantic at all hours of the day and night, and for the last nine months of the war the average exceeded two aircraft in the air for all hours of the day and night.

A 25th Bomb Group Mosquito on the flightline at RAF Watton
A 25th Bomb Group Mosquito on the flightline at RAF Watton

The 653rd Bomb Squadron Light
The 653rd Squadron used the British de Haviland Mosquito. They flew completely unarmed, relying on their speed and altitude to keep out of trouble. Their missions were not flown in groups but as lone aircraft with a pilot, and a navigator trained in meteorology. The 653rd flew 1,131 meteorological flights over the continent which were code-named ‘Bluestocking’.

They would penetrate the far reaches of East Germany, Austria and points south. They also flew scouting missions ahead of the bomber force code-named ‘Scout’. They would arrive over the target some 20 minutes ahead of the bombers reporting weather conditions, cloud level and enemy fighter activity.

If the primary target was abandoned because of weather conditions they would move to the second or third target and begin again. As the bombers came in they would move out of the target area returning later to photograph the results. They also flew shuttle runs, code-named ‘Frantic’.

These performed the same functions as the scout missions, only this time they flew from England to Russia bombing targets in East Germany on the way. In Russia the aircraft were refuelled and the bombers re-armed. They then took off for Italy, again bombing targets in Eastern Europe en route. In Italy the tanks and bomb bays were filled and they left Italy for England once more bombing targets en route.

The 654th Bomb Squadron Special
Many of the 654th missions were associated with photography. The greatest number of these were night photography flights code-named ‘Joker’. These flights were, to say the least, difficult. Unless there was a moon, the target had to be found in the dark, using Gee equipment and the navigator’s equations. The pilot Examing a photo flashflew the Mosquito at 12,000 feet and at 270 mph ground speed. For the light source they used M46 photo flash bombs, each giving off 700 million candle power. The 654th also flew daylight photography missions code-named ‘PRU’.

Examining an M46 Photoflash Bomb rated at 700 Million Candle Power are<br /> 1st Lt Robert P Walker (Pilot)<br /> 1st Lt William P Miskho (Navogator)<br /> MSgt James M Tenille (Cief Armourer)<br /> Major Willis D Locke CO 654 Sdqn 25BG
Examining an M46 Photoflash Bomb rated at 700 Million Candle Power are
1st Lt Robert P Walker (Pilot)
1st Lt William P Miskho (Navogator)
MSgt James M Tenille (Cief Armourer)
Major Willis D Locke CO 654 Sdqn 25BG

Perhaps the most remarkable missions flown by the 654th were the ‘REDSTOCKING’ missions. REDSTOCKING was the code-name given to top secret missions flown for the OSS (Office of Strategic Service). The purpose of the REDSTOCKING missions was to pick up and record radio reports from agents who had been dropped into occupied Europe by the 492nd Bomb Group based at Harrington.

A special radio system had been developed in the States by Steve Simpson and De Witt Goddard. This system gave very little side-scatter of radio waves, thus making it difficult for the Germans to detect. The Mosquito would overfly the agent’s location at an altitude of 27,000 feet then record his messages on wire before returning home.

Steve Simpson was in charge of all OSS operations at Watton. He had been, in fact, a reserve Lt. in the US signal corps. At this time all OSS activity was the responsibility of the navy. As a result Steve was transferred from the signal corps to the navy and given the rank of Lt Commander.

Many agents were dropped into occupied Europe by the 492nd Bomb Group from Harrington but perhaps the most audacious mission of all was flown by the 25th Bomb Group from Watton code named “Hammer”. The mission was to drop two agents into the suburbs of Berlin using a Douglas A-26 Invader piloted by Lt. Robert P. Walker with two navigators on board. Lt. William Miskho was in the nose reading maps and Major John Walch directly behind Walker and concentrated on navigating using a specially designed plotting board, noting signals from two LORAN stations simultaneously to increase navigation accuracy. The mission was flown at night from Watton to Berlin at treetop height to avoid radar detection following a zig-zag course.

  • The 653rd and 654th shared many other operations
    ‘Graypea’ Missions involved the dropping of ‘chaff’ (strips of aluminium foil ahead of the bomber force to confuse enemy radar);
  • ‘Redtail’ Missions involved a Mosquito with the 25th Bomb Group carrying the Bomber Command pilot ahead of the bomber force so that he could direct the bombers onto the target;
  • ‘Skywave’ Missions involved experimental flights over occupied Europe testing a long range navigation system called ‘LORAN’ (LOng-RAnge-Navigation);
  • ‘Mickey’ Missions involved night flights using a system of radar linked with photography to map the bomb run approaches to all important targets.

The pilots and navigators of 653 and 654 Squadrons were unique. Most had already completed a tour of 35 combat missions with other bomb groups and had volunteered to fly Mosquitoes with the 25th rather than take leave and return to the States for a rest period. The remainder were veterans who transferred from the RAF and the RCAF. The 25th Bomb Group lost 84 men killed in action and 11 men became prisoners of war.

12 thoughts on “A brief History of the 25th BG”

  1. Hi Norman
    Great work and we have a lot to be thankful for all your efforts and obvious tenacious research. So many badly researched books and articles out there, which just perpetuate wrong conclusions etc ! Your book is the 25th BG bible. I couldn’t believe, Cpt Richard Wright was staring back at me from the page ! I had no idea he was in the 25th BG until then !
    All the best
    Steve Andrews

  2. My Grandfather, Ray John Switzer, piloted a B-17 in the 25th named “Rockaway Babe”, tail number 2102726. Trying to find out what happened to his other crew mates in around September 1944… if anyone knows details please get in touch.
    Thank you.

    1. As been said, Norman Malayney’s book is an excellent history of the 25th BG. Just be aware there is no index, so it’s hoping he maybe mentioned in the book. There is also, recently published “The Mosquito in the USAAF” by Tony Fairbairn, which covers their use across the USAAF. However, it has a large section on the 25th. It does have an index, but unfortunately could not find, yours or the other recent relations enquiry. Good luck, Steve Andrews

        1. Thank you so much for that!
          I have two photos, one with the rockaway babe crew including my grandfather infront of that tail number.
          Never heard Papa call it the Linda Sue.
          That crash landed date is close to when the rockaway babe was supposedly lost.

          There’s 2 conspicuous photos floating around of a B-24 with the same name (rockaway babe) that had a taxiway accident shortly afterward.

          I guess it’s time for some FOIA requests.

          Thanks again.

          1. The 25th BG Rcn Association roster of active members” does not list anyone by the name of Switzer. He may have served with 652nd Squadron, but postwar was a” lost soul” and never located.
            When crews took photos of their aircraft, most show the front section with the nose art. Not too many photographed the entire aircraft .
            Most 25th BG B-17s already completed combat tours with 8th AF units and with high hours were classified as “war weary. ” Watton discovered nearly all their B-17s were war weary when they investigated why so many suffered loss of an engine while flying over the Atlantic.
            They switcheds to B-17s and this is when Rockaway Babe first appeared on a B-24. Man y pilots complained of the B-24 controllability when flying low over the ocean to gather data . The squadron soon returned to operating B-17s and Roackaway Babe II appears. There was an abundance of newly arrived B-17s fresh from the factory. They eliminated all armament from these aircraft since the Allies were advancing toward Germany, and the Luftwaffe Ju-88s over the Atlantic no longer existed.
            The 652d mission reports only list the last three digits of the B-17 serial number. If I recall correctly? they only list the pilot, copilot and navigator last names–no first names. Typing these reports was time consuming and the briefer a report, the happier the typist.
            Several 25th veterans knew the pilot who flew this B-17 named after an area in New York city. According to Wikipedia: Rockaway, is a peninsula at the southern edge of the New York City on Long Island.
            When I first requested the 22 September 1944 B-24 accident report from the USAF, they never answered my request. I tracked down the tower operator Oliver Kimball and he provided his recollections. He had photos of the accident, but for reasons unknown, would not share them, even when I offered to pay all expenses for copies. The USAF then transferred all accident reports prior to 1947 to the AF Historical Research Agency. Bob Menken, who piloted the B-24 in this accident was an active member of the 25th BG Association until his passing. Let me dig through boxes in storage to see if I still have this B-24 accident report.

  3. I have just found an American I am researching was with the 25th BG. He joined the RCAF before Pearl Harbour, then did a tour with the RAF in 57 Sqd out of Scampton. Before transferring to the 8th AF.
    Brave men all,. a generation we own so much too.

  4. Many years ago I worked with a Brit named Wally Woodcock who told me of his time flying a Mosquito in the RAF. He would have been proud to know of these men.

  5. Major Willis D. Locke was my Dad, I’m very proud of what he did. I had no idea what he did was so life threatening because he never talked about it. It’s July 4th and I couldn’t be prouder.

    Willis S. Locke son of a hero

  6. Much thanks for the background and history of this outstanding unit …they did much needed marvelous work to ensure great intel for the allied side in WW II ! A salute and deep note of thanks to these men for their efforts in helping to win WW II !

    “Fortune favors the Brave !


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