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No.541 Squadron was a photographic reconnaissance unit that was formed from part of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit in 1942, and spent the rest of the war based at Benson and operating over occupied Europe.
On 19 October 1942 the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit was split into five squadrons. No.541 Squadron was formed from B and F Flights, both of which were equipped with Spitfires. Although each photographic reconnaissance squadron performed a wide range of duties, most had a general focus. No.541 Squadron’s role was to observe enemy ports, from ‘neutral’ Spain in the west, along the German occupied coast of northern Europe and into the Baltic, with most effort being dedicated to the Channel ports. The squadron was also used to photograph Bomber Command targets, both before and after raids.
During 1943 the squadron focuses its efforts on northern France and Bomber Command targets in Germany. V-1 ‘ski sites’ were a main target in the second half of the year, and 72 were found by the end of November 1943. The squadron was also used to photographic the Mohne and Eder dams before 617 Squadron’s ‘dam buster’ raid.
Late in 1943 the squadron switched its efforts to the French coast, preparing for the D-Day landings. In order to prevent the Germans from working out where the lands would take place, the squadron operated along the entire coast, from Bordeaux in the south-west to the Scheldt in Low Countries.
In June 1944 the high-level Spitfires were joined by a number of low-level Mustang IIIs, for use on cloudy days. The squadron was very busy during the battle of Normandy, providing photographic cover over and around the battlefield. In September the squadron focused on the Arnhem area, and from then on it spent most of its time flying over Holland and Germany, helping Bomber Command.
After the war the squadron was used as a fast diplomatic mail service, flying to Bordeaux and Berlin. In 1946 part of the squadron was given Lancasters and carried out a survey of the Gold Coast. On 30 September 1946 the rest of the squadron was disbanded, while the Lancaster flight became No.82 Squadron.
October 1942-June 1943: Supermarine Spitfire IV and V
November 1942-January 1943: Supermarine Spitfire IX
December 1942-October 1946: Supermarine Spitfire XI
May 1944-January 1945: Supermarine Spitfire X
May 1944-April 1945: Supermarine Spitfire XIX
June 1944-April 1945: North American Mustang III
October 1942-September 1946: Benson
Squadron Codes: L, Q, ES
1942-1946: Photographic reconnaissance
15 February 1943: No.16 Group; Coastal Command
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