No 8 Squadron Celebrating 100 Years
World War I: 1915–1918
Formed at Brooklands on 1st January 1915, No 8 Squadron moved almost immediately to Gosport and became the first Royal Flying Corps unit to be equipped from the start with one type of aircraft – the BE2c. The Squadron deployed to France in April and was used for bombing and reconnaissance flights, until it was designated as a dedicated Corps Reconnaissance Unit; artillery spotting and tactical reconnaissance then became the primary tasks. The BE2s were replaced by Armstrong Whitworth FK8s in August 1917, and the following year the Squadron started to specialise in spotting for anti-tank guns, being allocated to the Tank Corps in June 1918 for this purpose. It was on such a sortie that Captain FMF “Freddie” West MC, the B Flight Commander, was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for his outstanding dedication and bravery in pinpointing enemy concentrations in the face of intense opposition and despite having been severely wounded. This was the first VC awarded to a member of the Royal Air Force following its formation in April 1918. The rugged but outdated “Big Acks”, (as the FK8s were affectionately known), were supplanted by Bristol Fighters in December 1918 when the Squadron was preparing to move into Germany as part of the occupation forces; this did not last long, as No 8 Squadron returned to the UK in July 1919 and disbanded on 20th January 1920.
Between the Wars: 1920–1939
No 8 Squadron reformed on 18th October 1920 at Helwan, Egypt, in the day-bombing role, using DH9As for the policing of Iraq and, from 1927, the Aden Protectorate. General purpose Fairey IIIFs replaced the venerable “Ninaks” in January 1928, and in April 1935 the capable Vickers Vincent arrived in Aden to help in the continuing task of keeping the more belligerent tribesmen in check. Much of this time in the Middle East was spent at Khormaksar in Aden and the Squadron’s association with this base was to last more than 40 years; this earned the Squadron its title of “Aden’s Own”.
World War II: 1939–1945
No 8 Squadron received Blenheim MkI aircraft in April 1939, just before the start of WWII, but a flight of the obsolescent Vincents was retained for operations into the interior of the Aden Protectorate until March 1942. The twin engine Blenheims flew coastal reconnaissance patrols and went into action against the Italians in Somaliland. In May 1942, No 8 became a general reconnaissance squadron equipped with Blenheim IVs, supplemented in September by the Mk V (Bisley) variant. Antisubmarine and convoy patrols were flown with these aircraft over the Indian Ocean and Red Sea, although little was achieved until Hudsons arrived in February 1943; soon afterwards the Squadron claimed a sighting, and a U-boat “kill” came in July. During January 1944, general reconnaissance Wellingtons replaced the Hudsons on the endless round of monotonous patrolling which continued until 1st May 1945 when the Squadron disbanded. Ten days later, No 8 Squadron re-formed at Jessore, India, by the simple method of re-numbering the Liberatorequipped 200 Squadron. Almost immediately, the Squadron moved to Ceylon for “special duties”, which meant supply-dropping to Guerrilla forces in Malaya until the Japanese surrender later that year. On 15th November 1945, the Squadron again disbanded only to re-form back in Aden on 1st September 1946.
Post War: 1945–1971
After disbanding in India in November 1945, No 8 Squadron soon re-formed back in Aden on 1st September 1946 by renumbering 114 Squadron; it thus became a light bomber squadron flying Mosquitoes. Again “Aden’s Own” Squadron, No 8 Squadron received Tempest VIs in April 1947 for fighter ground attack work, these aircraft being replaced by the Brigand light bomber in July 1949. The Brigand was not a great success, and Vampire fighterbombers arrived in December 1952, followed in turn by Venoms in 1955.
The Venoms spent some time in Cyprus during “Operation Musketeer”, the Franco-British attack on Egypt, which was followed by increased unrest throughout southern Arabia; this led to long detachments in Sharjah, where the Venoms were joined by Meteor FR9s in January 1958 for reconnaissance work. Hunter FGA9s replaced the Venoms in January 1960, followed by the Meteors giving way to Hunter FR10s in April 1961. Both went to Bahrain in June 1961 when Iraq threatened the tiny oil-rich state of Kuwait. The threat subsided but other detachments followed, reduced in scope after another upsurge in activity in the Protectorate of Aden and the arrival of 43 Squadron in March 1963; together with No 8 Squadron and the Shackletons of 37 Squadron, they formed Aden Strike Wing. The Hunter FR10s were later hived off to form 1417 Flight in April, but were back with the Squadron in September 1967 when the unit moved to Bahrain, then transferred to Sharjah for its final three months in southern Arabia before disbandonment on 15th Dec 1971.
Airborne Early Warning: 1972–Present Day
On 8th January 1972, No 8 Squadron re-formed for yet another very different role: that of Airborne Early Warning (AEW) using Shackletons. The first of the specially equipped AEW variant of the aircraft arrived at RAF Kinloss during the spring of 1972, and in August 1973, the unit moved the short distance to RAF Lossiemouth. Halved in size in 1981, No 8 Squadron had to soldier on with the ageing and outdated Shackletons, firstly because of delays in the introduction of the replacement Nimrod, and then their cancellation. In December 1986, seven Boeing E-3D AWACS (Sentry AEW Mk 1 in RAF parlance) were ordered to replace the venerable Shackletons. The Shackleton was finally replaced on 30th June 1991 and the “new” No 8 Squadron reformed at RAF Waddington, Lincoln on 1st July 1991. Equipped with arguably the finest AEW platform in the world, the Squadron has now had 24 years flying the Sentry AEW and in that time has participated in a number of exercises and operations. The war in the Balkans led to nearly ten years of continuous deployment to Aviano, Italy, and the tragic events of 9/11 saw the Squadron deploy back to the Middle East to fly missions over Afghanistan in support of the ‘War against Terror’, with further missions over Iraq quickly following. In December 2009, No 8 Squadron deployed for a second time to support the ongoing efforts against the ‘War against Terror’ in Afghanistan, until 2010 when they returned home from the Middle East. However, more operational deployments loomed: in February 2011, No 8 Squadron deployed in support of Op UNIFIED PROTECTOR, a NATO operation to implement an arms embargo, a no-fly zone and most importantly to protect Libyan civilians and civilian populated areas, before eventually liberating the people of Libya. In July 2012, No 8 Squadron enhanced UK QRA by providing support and security overwatch for Op PROTEGO, the Air Policing Plan for the London 2012 Olympic Games. The Squadron also deployed to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, in August 2013 under the auspices of Op LUMINOUS to protect UK Sovereign Base Areas during heightened tensions in Syria. Over the last 12 months, No 8 Squadron has been heavily committed in Baltic airspace, conducting over 115 reconnaissance flights as part of the NATO contribution to the Ukraine Crisis.
Celebrating 100 Years: 2015
On 1st January 2015 a group from No 8 Squadron were hosted by Brooklands to mark the occasion of our formation 100 years prior. The Standard was presented to Officer Commanding No 8 Squadron, the No 8 Squadron Association, Brooklands’ membership and members of the public. A few words on the history of the Squadron were spoken by Sgt Tim Sparkes, followed by a passionate address from the Commanding Officer. The Standard was then marched off and time was spent with Brooklands’ membership and members of the public sharing stories of time served on the Squadron.
6th January also marks a special day in No 8 Squadron’s history, as the Squadron moved to Fort Grange in Gosport to receive its first aircraft. At RAF Waddington, personnel once again gathered together to celebrate the centennial anniversary, to honour the history that lies before them, and remember those that paid the ultimate sacrifice.
On 11th April 2015, No 8 Squadron, associated members and invited guests will again remember the last 100 years with a Centenary dinner. It will take place in the No 8 Squadron Sentry hangar at RAF Waddington, with one of the Squadron’s aircraft, providing the perfect setting in the background. Throughout the dinner, passages will be read recounting the Squadron’s history, from its formation in 1915 to current day operations; entertainment will be provided by the D-Day Darlings. All previous Squadron personnel are encouraged to attend; further details are available from 8SQNCentenaryEvents@mod.uk
Current No 8 Squadron serving personnel, along with the associated members, are all tremendously proud of the Squadron’s history, and feel extremely honoured to continue its fantastic heritage as we remain at the forefront of operations 100 years on.