John Henry Pank - Service Record

Email from Ron Muggleton to John Henry Pank's son, John Pank Jr, dated 25 January 2018

Dear John,

Immediately after I had sent you the previous e-mail re your father’s wartime RAF service I realised that there was more which I not addressed.

I have added this further information to the previous text, and have highlighted the new text in blue as an aid for you to pick it out more easily. The latest text is attached.

I originally typed it out using an Apple computer but as it may not travel too well if you are using Microsoft, I have “saved” it as a “Word” document and am sending it this time from my laptop which is a Microsoft machine. I sincerely hope that the formatting of the document does not get scrambled in transit. as it then becomes extremely difficult to read.

Best regards,

Ron

John Henry Pank, Royal Air Force Service, World War Two

As explained previously, the Service Records for airmen who served during the Second World War are invariably short and full of acronyms which make them difficult for the layman to understand. Even someone who has been in the RAF may not recognise many of the acronyms as they refer to units which existed only during and immediately after the war. Notwithstanding this, I will attempt to explain them where I know the meanings or can find them but inevitably there may be some which will remain a mystery unfortunately.

In order to make sense of it, I will supply the information in chronological order as follows with notes where necessary:

11 March 1941: Date joined the RAF as an ACH/W.OP.Tr., rank AC2. (Aircraftman Second Class) at No. 3 RC (Recruit Training). I do not know where this took place but it could have been Penarth where new recruits were kitted out. AC2 was and still is, the lowest rank in the RAF. His Trade was Aircraft Hand, Wireless Operator (Under training).

12 March 1941: He was transferred from 3RC to Reserve. Where that was is unknown.

1 September 1941: He was posted from Reserve to Blackpool. Blackpool is where new recruits received their basic training (Drill etc) and Blackpool was eventually to become a very large centre for such basic training. There was a long gap between his induction and presumably kitting out at No. 3RC on 12 March 1941 until 1 September 1941, a period of 6 months. It seems most likely that the RAF could not cope with a very rapid influx of new recruits for a variety of reasons, and it may be that once he had been inducted and kitted out, he was sent home and told to await further orders. It also seems entirely probable that his initial allocated trade of ACH/W.Op was no longer available when he eventually reported to Recruit Training at Blackpool, hence his change of trade to ACH/GD (Aircraft Hand/General Duties).

15 October 1941: At this point his Trade is given as ACH/GD. It appears that he was due to begin training as an Armourer on 15 October 1941 but this has been struck through and marked “cancelled”. The reason for this is not stated and may never be known.

24 October 1941: He was posted from basic training at Blackpool to No. 35 MU (Maintenance Unit). When I was serving in the RAF from 1959 to 1972 No. 35 Maintenance Unit was a very large Stores Depot and it is entirely possible that it served this purpose during the war. There were, however, quite a lot of Maintenance Units which, for example, recovered and either repaired or scrapped crashed aircraft.

12 January 1942: Posted to No. 9 FTS (The only acronym I have found for this is Flying Training School. This does not necessarily mean that he went to train for aircrew duties; but was on the strength of the establishment of the Unit concerned.)

22 January 1942: He was due to be posted to No 12 STT (School of Technical Training?) but this was cancelled.

14 May 1942: Posted to No.10 STT. There were many such Training Schools but without a listing it is not possible to say whether what this one specialised in. This entry was struck through and so it can be assumed that this posting was cancelled.

12 July 1942: Posted to No. 9 (P) AFC. By the following entry, which is undated, this may have been at RAF Hullavington, Wiltshire? (The nearest acronym which I can find for this is Pilots’ Advanced Flying Unit). Once again he may have been on the strength of the Unit at which this establishment was located.

14 July 1942: Posted to RAF Hullavington. Undated Shows No. 3 FIS. (This is probably Flying Instructors’ School) may also have been at RAF Hullavington but see entry at 14 July 1943.

31 December 1942: Promoted to Aircraftman First Class (AC1). His character was given as VG (Very Good – i.e. above average) and his proficiency was given as Supr (i.e. Superior).

14 July 1943: Posted back to RAF Hullavington.

15 July 1943: Posted to No. 8 School of Technical Training. (location unknown).
Trade is shown as DMT. Beneath this is an undated entry ACH/GD. This is strange as later still, on 30 August 1943, his Trade is again listed as being DMT. I can only assume that this acronym stands for Driver, Motor Transport.

30 August 1943: Under “Special Qualifications” appears an entry which I cannot help with.

10 September 1943: Posted to No. 2 PDC (Personnel Dispatch Centre”).

13 November 1943: Posted to No. 99 Maintenance Unit. This MU is likely to have been related to aircraft salvage but it is only a guess.

14 February 1944: Posted to RAF Chigwell. This is the point at which a connection to Signals Units starts to become apparent, as RAF Chigwell was the unit at which Radar and Signals Units received their equipment and presumably training.

22 April 1944: Posted to No. 5166U MSU (Mobile Signals Unit) within No. 85 Group. Refer to notes at the end.

8 May 1944: Again under the heading “Special Qualifications” is listed ex LTTB. It appears to have been some type of examination as the mark 80% is shown which is assumed to be marks gained. I do not recognise this acronym but given the date immediately prior to D-Day it may have some relevance to “Operation Overlord” i.e. the invasion of Normandy.

30 September 1944: On this date he received a pay increment of 1/- (1 shilling) per day for 3 years’ service completed.

26 December 1944: He was promoted to LAC, (Leading Aircraftman) in the Trade of “DMT’ again with a VG Character and Superior proficiency.

7 June 1945: Posted to No. 307 MSSU (Mobile Signals Servicing Unit). The next undated entry also states 5166U M.S.U. – both were part of No. 85 Group.

30 August 1945: He was awarded a Good Conduct Badge. This “badge” was awarded for a specific term of service for which there were no issues of misconduct etc. The word Badge is a bit of a misnomer as they took the form of a single full sized chevron which was worn inverted on the left sleeve with the point of the chevron about 7” above the cuff. A maximum of 3 such Good Conduct Badges could be worn by airmen below the rank of Corporal with the 3rd being awarded at something like 13 years’ service.

He also received a Pay increment of 1/6d per day as from this date. This is noted as being for having completed 4 years’ service.

3 December 1945: Posted to No.2 MRCP This again appears to have a link to No 5166H MSU as this follows as an undated entry.

3 December 1945: Again shown as being with No.2 MRCP.

31 December 1946: He is again shown as being a Leading Aircraftman, VG and Supr in the Trade of “DMT”.

30 June 1959: Discharged from Class “G” Reserve. Effectively the end of his Royal Air Force service, which began over 18 years earlier.

Notes

1) No. 5166U Mobile Signals Unit has been found listed by Unit name only once as follows:-

30th April 1944: It was reported in the Operations Record Book (ORB) for Headquarters No.85 (Base) Group Administration (Public Records Office Reference Air 25-723) as being transferred to the administrative control of No. 85 (Base) Group in accordance with details published in Org. circular No. 36/Org/44. This was only 6 days after John Henry Pank was posted to RAF Chigwell on 22 April 1944 where the Unit would have been formed.

2) Unfortunately, whilst there have been details of the strength, equipment and purpose of the other types of MSUs, no such information has yet been located in respect of the type “U” MSUs.

3) It is known that there were at least 20 type “U” Mobile Signals Units allocated to No. 85 (Base) Group but of these the actual Mobile Radar Unit or other unit to which they were attached only 3 have been traced. These were:-

a) MSU 5164U and MSU 5169U which were both attached to No. 15072 Ground Controlled Mobile Radar Unit within No. 21 Base Defence Sector. (Note that 5166U falls between these two MSUs).

b) MSU 5167U which was attached to No. 15083 Ground Controlled Mobile Radar Unit within No. 24 Base Defence Sector.

As each of the three Base Defence Sectors (Nos 21, 24 and 25) were each equipped with three GCIs (Ground Controlled Interception Radar Units) and two COLs (Chain Overseas Low Interception Radar Units), this would give a theoretical requirement for fifteen type “U” MSUs with the remaining 5 possibly being allocated to either/or the Sector headquarters or to the main Headquarters of No. 85 (Base) Group.

c) Public Records Office document reference Air 37-125 provides the “Allocation to MSUs to Units” by type and quantity and names the type of unit to which the Type “U”s were allocated as being “Forward Equipment Unit” which are clearly the two types of Mobile Radar Units as in b) above.

4) Rather disappointingly, the actual MSU entitled 5166U has only been located once in all of the entries found in a number of Royal Air Force F540s, Operations Record Books (ORB’s). However, it should be noted that the entries in ORBs, made as they were under Active Service conditions, tended to reflect only what the compiler of the particular ORB or his superior thought was relevant or necessary. Just because it does not currently appear more than once does not in any way suggest that it did not go to Normandy, simply that it was not mentioned as often as perhaps we would like it to have been. Additionally, in compiling my records, they have tended to reflect my own interest in the career of my father and the needs of Peter Best’s web site. It is possible that a further perusal of the ORBs for the Headquarters of both No. 21 Base Defence Sector and that of the higher Unit, No. 85 (Base) Group could turn up more instances of the Unit being noted. Against this, it has to be said that most, if not all, of the “Location Statements” which provided monthly information of the various Units have been included in my records and thus it is considered unlikely that more references might be found. Also, later “Location Statements” during the end of 1944, and up to and after the end of the war, only included the location of the major Units (i.e. GCIs, Cols, MSSUs etc) but not the individual Mobile Signals Units which would have been attached to each. It might be worth another look at the Headquarters ORBs in due course though.

5) With reference to “The Assault Landings in Normandy, Order of Battle – Defence Academy of the United Kingdom”, the following mobile units landed in Normandy on 6th June 1944:

  • 1304 Mobile Wing Headquarters RAF Regiment.
  • 1305 Mobile Wing Headquarters RAF Regiment.
  • 104 Beach Section.
  • 107 Beach Section.
  • 15082 Ground Controlled Interception Unit.
  • 15083 Ground Controlled Interception Unit.
  • 21 Base Defence Sector. (Note: This is the main unit and it does not indicate that the whole three Echelons went to Normandy on D-Day).
  • 24 Base Defence Sector.
  • 51 Beach Balloon Flight.
  • Provost and Security Unit.
  • Emergency Landing Strip Echelon.
  • 11 Air Formation Signals.
  • 16 Air Formation Signals.
  • Mobile Signals Units: 543; 554; 582; 585; 5006H; 5030; 5132C; 5141Q; 5153; 5160 and 5276D.

Those in bold type landed on Omaha beach in support of US Forces; the remainder landed on Juno beach in support of the British, Canadian, Free French and other Allied forces.

As you can see, 5166U is not listed here, and as this is a specific list of the very few units which went over in the first wave to the two invasion beaches involved we may be quite sure that no others landed on D-Day.

6) According to the 1148 (Penarth) Squadron Air Training Corps website, many buildings in Penarth were used by the RAF and used as kit issuing stations.

7) Recruit Training at Blackpool. By reference to my father’s early days in the RAF from mid-1942, the website for RAF Squiresgate, Blackpool, states that Blackpool became the RAF’s largest training area with camps at Weeton and Kirkham.

8) You may also have noticed that in the section headed ‘Time Forfeited” there are no entries. From this you can deduce that he was not charged with any serious offences which would have involved him serving a sentence under close arrest. When this occurred, it was usual for the airman to serve this sentence at either RAF Colchester or at Shepton Mallet which were, in effect, prisons. Whilst so incarcerated, the airman was not available to serve King and Country and so he was not paid, nor did the time under close arrest count towards total time served. In wartime, when men were taken on “for the duration” this was not particularly important but for Regulars it meant that this time would be added on at the end of their normal term to make up the time lost.  (Editor – To avoid any ambiguity, there is no suggestion that Mr Pank was charged with any “non-serious” offences either.  These remarks simply explain why an entry might appear in another serviceman’s records under “Time Forfeited”!)

9) Strangely, I cannot see a date of release on his Service Record. If you have his Royal Air Force Service and Release Book, AIRMAN, (Form 2520A), which is a small blue booklet giving basic details of his service (including medal entitlement, time served abroad etc) it should be found there. If you do have it, it will give the actual date on which he travelled to France with his Mobile Signals Unit and the date he returned.

In the meantime, I hope that the above will help you to understand a little bit more of your father’s time in the Royal Air Force by reference to his Service Record. I am only sorry that I have not been able to put any more “meat on the bones” so to speak but in this respect, it mirrors my own experience with my Father’s time in the RAF, especially when he joined 21 Sector at RAF Church Fenton in February 1944. Not a great deal of time was maintaining these servicemen’s records, partly because of time constraints and partly because of the secrecy surrounding military matters at that time, and especially in regards to the Top Secret category in which the new radar fitted in its early days.

Best regards,

Ron

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