We’ve got a birthday coming up…
No XIII Squadron was formed on 10th January 1915. That means that in January next year we reach the impressive milestone of our Centenary. We are highly anticipating a letter from the Queen and a cake large enough for all those candles. I thought it would be a good time to remind you of what we’ve achieved in those 100 years…
XIII Squadron was formed at Gosport on 10th January 1915. After minimal training, the Squadron was declared fit to proceed to the Western Front in France, the average experience of the pilots being approximately 90 hours flying time.
The Sqn took its BE2Cs (below) across the Channel in October, initially employed on corps reconnaissance duties. The first patrol was flown on 22nd October and the first successful photographs of enemy positions were taken on the 23rd. It was also on this day that the Squadron suffered its first casualties when an aircraft was shot down behind enemy lines. The Squadron claimed its first kill on 26th October 1915 when a German two-seat aircraft was brought down. Originally the aircraft were unarmed but a modification gave them two Lewis machine guns operated by the Observer. XIII Squadron went on to pioneer bombing in formation the next month when, during a raid on Achiet-le-Grand, nine of the Squadron’s aircraft bombed German anti-aircraft defences. This raid caused confusion to the enemy and massed raids soon became standard practice. In April 1917, RE8s replaced the BE2s and these played a major role in the battles of Arras and Cambrai. When hostilities ceased, the Squadron remained in France, before returning to the UK in 1919. The Squadron disbanded at Sedgeford in Norfolk on 31st December 1919.
Reformed at Kenley in April 1924, XIII resumed its army co-operation with Bristol Fighters and played a major role in developing co-operation between land and air forces. Atlases, Audaxes and Hectors were subsequently used, before Lysanders arrived in 1939.
On 3rd September 1939, when war was declared on Germany, XIII Squadron was based at Odiham in Hampshire. The Squadron soon moved to France and by 2nd October XIII Squadron had established itself at Mons-en-Chausseé, and formed part the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force. During the early phases of World War II, XIII Squadron carried out tactical reconnaissance missions. They left France on 29th May 1940 and moved to Hooton Park in Cheshire on 1st June. The role was now to conduct anti-invasion and anti-submarine patrols along the coasts of Lancashire and over the Irish Sea before Blenheim aircraft arrived and the Squadron returned to army co-operation duties. In 1942, XIII Squadron provided diversionary attacks against enemy airfields for the 1,000 bomber raids against Hamburg and Cologne. By the end of the year, the Squadron had moved to North Africa, supporting the First Army throughout its victorious campaign. During the allied invasion of Italy, the Squadron was tasked with shipping protection and even destroyed one submarine during these missions.
In October 1943, XIII Squadron moved to Sidi Ahmed and then on to Sidi Amor whilst the aging Blenheim Vs were replaced with Ventura Vs. Soon after the Squadron had completed its conversion, news came that they were to move to the Middle East for re-arming with Baltimores. XIII Squadron moved to Kabrit, Egypt, on 19th December 1943 and took delivery of its Baltimore IVs the following month. 1944 saw the Squadron continue to support the Italy campaign, with regular bombing and target marking missions. Re-equipping with Bostons in October saw them continue these tasks but with additional duties of “armed recce” and, as the war came to a close in May 1945, more and more leaflet dropping missions were also being flown. On 14th September 1945 the Squadron moved to Hassani where it was disbanded on 19th April the following year.
The end of the Second World War heralded XIII Squadron’s return to the reconnaissance role. No 680 Photographic Reconnaissance (PR) unit was reformed as XIII (PR) Squadron. The Squadron was stood up in September 1946 at Ein Shamar in the then Palestine, and operated Mosquito aircraft in PR16 and PR 34 reconnaissance variants. Remaining in the Middle East, the Squadron relocated to Egypt where it stayed until 1955. The Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya and Uganda during October 1952 saw a return to an Operational Reconnaissance task when a detachment of their unarmed Meteor PR10 Recce jets were sent to assist with the restoration of order.
In addition, XIII Squadron was responsible for surveying vast areas of the Middle East and Africa including Kenya, Somalia and the Aden Peninsula. Later that year, they moved to Akrotiri, Cyprus, re-equipping with the long serving Canberra aircraft, remaining in the Mediterranean for the next 20 years operating latterly from Luqa, Malta. The Canberra aircraft served the Squadron well and its PR9 variant remained in service until 1982. It was capable of high-level flight that made the aircraft a capable asset during the dark days of the cold war. Amongst the Squadron’s many achievements of the period was photographing the Russian aircraft carrier Kiev on her maiden transit thought the Western Mediterranean to meet up with the Soviet Mediterranean fleet.
XIII Sqn returned to the UK in 1978, and was based at RAF Wyton, where it remained until disbanded in 1982. The Squadron reformed at RAF Honington on 1st January 1990, equipped with the reconnaissance variant of the Tornado, the GR1a, and moved to RAF Marham four years later. These aircraft were equipped with a new system of infrared sensors and video recorders, which allowed the aircraft to carry out a full reconnaissance whilst still carrying an equally full range of offensive weapons.
In August 1990 when Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, XIII Sqn had only been reformed for seven months. As the Allied Coalition began to deploy forces to the Gulf in the latter part of 1990, it quickly became apparent that the unique night reconnaissance capability of the Tornado could provide vital intelligence to the Allied commanders. During the first nights of the War, the Reconnaissance Wing successfully discovered several of the elusive Scud sites. The majority of sorties were, however, tasked into Central and Eastern Iraq to identify the disposition of the various Iraqi ground forces in preparation for the ground offensive. Although the rest of the Coalition Air Forces moved to medium level operations after the first few nights of the air war, the GR1as operated alone at night at low-level for the duration of the conflict. The Squadron was also involved in Operation Tellic in Iraq, flying the final operational flight by a Tornado aircraft.
Operating the updated GR4 variant of the Tornado, XIII Squadron supported Operation Herrick in July to October 2010, providing armed over-watch for Coalition Forces conducting ground operations throughout Afghanistan. The aircraft were able to make use of the LITENING III targeting pod, and the RAPTOR imaging system. The main area of operation was overhead Helmand Province, an area commanded by British forces, and much of the task was aimed at detecting Improvised Explosive Devices and the insurgents who planted them. However, sorties were conducted throughout Afghanistan as required. Whilst conducting reconnaissance searches the aircrew were always ready to be called to employ armaments in support of ground troops if required.
The Squadron disbanded again on 1st June 2011 after supporting the early days of the Libya conflict with Storm Shadow missile operations. Most recently, XIII Squadron stood up at RAF Waddington on 26th October 2012 as the first UK-based MQ-9 Reaper Squadron (above). The first sortie was flown on 24th April 2013, in support once again of the coalition forces of Operation Herrick.
At time of writing, UK and coalition military personnel were in the final stages of the withdrawal of combat forces, having successfully handed over security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces. UK-based armed Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) provided by the remotely operated systems of XIII Squadron have played a major role in the conflict to the very end; the UK Reaper Force (XIII and 39 Squadrons) amassed thousands of operational sorties, many weapons releases and over 50,000 flying hours. But there is no rest for the wicked, with an announcement made in Parliament in October 2014 that the Force will support the Iraqi Security Forces in their operations against the Islamic State militants from later that month.
In the past, XIII Squadron has been at the forefront of technology, excelling in the skills of reconnaissance and the accurate employment of air-to-ground weaponry. Today is no different, as the Squadron employs the new generation of Air Power. Future theatres are always developing, and the nearly 100-year-old Squadron is highly employable in most. This means that we can look forward to another 100 years as we toast all those who have gone bravely before us. Happy birthday XIII Squadron!