657 Air Observation Squadron:
The Squadron was formed at Ouston on 31 January 1943 , under command of Major J.R.Ingram, being equipped Auster Mark I and Mark III Aircraft.
On 15 August 1943 , the Squadron moved overseas, arriving at Algiers on 24th August. In February 1944 the Squadron moved to Italy and joined the 8th Army, going into action for the first time at Cassino in April. It was actively engaged practically continuously until March 1945 when it moved to France with the Canadian Corps, arriving in Holland in 11th April.
In Holland the Squadron was re-equipped with Auster Mark V aircraft and had a short period of operations before the war ended. The Squadron flew over 5.000 operational sorties. On April 11th the Squadron moved into Holland and start to refit at Gilze aerodrome, midway between Tilburg and Breda . On April 15th "B" flight moved from Gilze to a landing ground at Doetichem, a town on the Dutch-German border. This was intended to be a concentration area, since it was thought that 5 Canadian Division had not yet been committed. On arrival, however it was found that they had already gone in at Arnhem , so Captain Culverwell set out to contact them--the first time that it had been possible to do so since arriving in this theatre. The leading elements of the armour were then on the far side of the aerodrome in a fan about six miles north and north-west of Arnhem , moving fast and encountering little serious opposition. One contact had been made the flight moved the next day to Didam where there was the Canadian Flight then in support of the division. Headquarters R C.A. was now too far away to be within wireless range, and Captain Bamford flew up in the hope of picking up the C.R.A's net. This he succeeded in doing, and he was immediately given several targets, though the flight was not yet officially in action!. HQ R.C.A was eventually contacted that evening on the far side of the aerodrome when just on the point of moving to Otterloo. It was arranged that the Flight should take over that night and move at first light the following day to a new strip at the north of Arnhem aerodrome. Needless to say, the division was delighted to have its old friends back again. It was inevitable with a fast-moving armoured thrust that large bodies of enemy should be by-passed, and consequently everyone in the Flight had to keep well awake at all times. During the night of April 16th a strong enemy counter-attack was put in at Otterloo, which contained then only the Main Divisional Staff and the 17 Canadian Field Regiment- a battalion of the Irish Regiment arriving shortly after. After very confused fighting it was driven off and between one and two hundred prisoners were taken. On April 17th "B" Flight moved again, this time to the aerodrome strip, and pilots maintained a standing patrol. This was partly as a result of the previous night's incident, but also several opportunity targets were engaged. The country along the whole axis was flat and heavily wooded, and the Division had moved only along the one road, and there was no information whatsoever about flanking formations, so that the information passed back by the Flight was of enormous value. During the afternoon the armour advanced fast, and in the evening the Flight was once more on the move- this time to Barneveld. This thrust had exceeded all expectations, so much so that the following night a battalion of 1 Canadian Infantry Div reached Barneveld, having been given it as their objective, and were very surprised to find 5 Div signs leading them there.! The following day the plan of the Division was changed and Harderwijk became the objective instead of Nijkerk. Captain Dickinson, volunteered to fly over the area to out the strength of the enemy garrison. This involved flying over enemy occupied territory for a distance of three miles. Displaying superb airmanship and cool resolution this officer piloted his unarmed aircraft at a height of 200 feet to the area, being frequently subjected to the enemy's intense small arms fire. On reaching the area he made a detailed recce at a low height and as a result of the information he obtained, our troop were able to advance and occupy the town. For this sortie Captain Dickinson was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. During the day there were again frequent request for pilots to check woods and rounds on the flanks and in front of the leading troops to see if there were any enemy there. This, of course, meant low flying if any valuable information was to be obtained, and in one case a section was led up a road by an Auster, the pilot going forward a mile or so and then returning to give the tanks a "thumbs up" to show that all was clear. By April 19th these hectic operations had ceased. For the rest of the Squadron, things were much quieter. From April 16th to April 20th they all lived in a pleasure park at Doetichem, while waiting to take over their commitments from 661 A .O.P. Squadron. One of the high-lights of the stay was a dance given by Squadron H. to the people of Doetichem in celebration of their liberation a fortnight before. It was the first experience of the charming good fellowship of the Dutch people which was so well and truly demonstrated in later months. Once the trust to the Zuider Zee had been achieved, the remaining Germans were completely cut off, while they still showed plenty of fight their position was hopeless, and the time was ripe for negotiation. On April 20th "C" Flight moved near to Barneveld in support of 1 Canadian Infantry Div while on the next day "A"Flight started operations with 1 Canadian A.G.R.A. from Otterloo. Squadron Headquarters was just west of this town. Hardly had they got settled in when on April 24th an order was issued forbidding any flying over enemy-occupied Holland . This was followed two days later by aban on any shooting, and on the 28th "A" and "C" Flight were grounded. What had been happening behind the scenes is that arrangements were being made to run food convoys through the lines to the starving Dutch. Also the Dutch Government in London was most anxious that the now desperate Germans should not be provoked into blowing the dykes in one last savage gesture of defiance. As the days passed slowly in an atmosphere of unreality, Squadron HQ moved from their mud-ridden field at Otterloo to some comfortable billets on Teuge-aerodrome, just outside the royal city of Apeldoorn . Then on May 5th, with startling suddenness, came the announcement that all German forces in Western Holland had surrendered unconditionally. Meanwhile "B" Flight had been committed again in action. When 5 Canadian Armoured Div had reached the Zuider Zee they were transferred to 2 Canadian Corps, who were operating in the north of Holland . Accordingly, on April 22nd "B" Flight moved to the airfield at Groningen and began operations again. Here they found a small number of the enemy holding out fanatically around the town of Delfzijl . With their backs to the North Sea and completely surrounded they were faced with the two alternatives of surrender or death, and it was some days before they accepted the former. Into that small pocket of some fifteen square miles was packed a very formidable array of artillery, including some big 105mm, coast defense guns guarding the approaches of Emden . Together with three sections of 660 Squadron, pilots flew continual sorties and found themselves heavily engaged with A.A. of all calibers, including the 105's, if ever they approached the F.D.L's. Such action in the last week of the war wad considered hardly gentlemanly, and a vigorous campaign of hate was waged in retaliation against the coast defense guns. These guns were in two positions, each containing four emplacements. The emplacements themselves were thick concrete, and it was going to be no easy work to make any impression on them. However after much pleading a 7.2 inch gun was loaned to the Division, and pilots started on the job with zest. After the Armistice on May 5th an inspection party composed of the C.M.O 5 Division and three pilots went round one of positions, and here is their report:
"The scene in and around the guns was a desolate one. Many shells had landed close enough to do damage and 2 pits had received direct hits around the edges. One gun was pointing to the skies and this one appeared to be in reasonably good condition but the other three were too battered to be of much use. Shell splinters had chipped pieces of metal out of the barrels and some of the instruments were cracked or broken. It was difficult to allot so much damage to our own guns shell fire and so much to self-inflicted (by the Boche) before the position was captured, but we agree that our shells must have done the majority of the damage. There was a Radar installation adjacent to the gun position and this had been completely destroyed, probably by the 7.2. It is fair to say that the whole position (guns, living quarters, shelters, etc) had been effectively engaged. During this fighting at Delfzijl, Captain P.R.T. Walker gained the D.F.C. on the express recommendation of 5 Canadian Armoured Div. The leading company of the Irish Regiment of Canada had lost touch with their Headquarters, and Captain Walker flew up to locate them at a height of only 150 feet . Remaining with this isolated company for over half an hour and subjected to heavy A.A. fire, he managed to direct the sorely needed artillery support. Then, when the wireless set in his plane failed he made two mock dive bombing attacks on an enemy machine-gun post, which enabled our infantry to reach the post before the crew could again man the gun. In the words of the Official Citation, "by his outstanding initiative, determination, and skill, Captain Walker contributed to the successful advance of the Irish Regiment of Canada. On May 8th all organized German Forces surrendered to the Allies. Hostilities ceased, and the real work of the Squadron was over.
The long journey of the Squadron was now nearly at its end. For the first six weeks, Flights were stationed at Alkmaar , Groningen , Dordrecht and Hilversum . In the middle of June there came the last turn of the wheel. The Squadron was ordered into Germany as part of the forces of occupation. A total of 6,035 hours were flown in action, during which 4,444 shoots were carried out. This meant a Squadron total of seventeen operational hours flown every day, summer and winter. Since joining Eight army on March 20th, 1944 until the end of hostilities, a total of some 420 days, the squadron was never withdrawn as a complete unit from active operations except during the move from Italy to Holland .