SUN & SAND, NOT A NEW THING!
After spending nearly 8 months in 2011 in the Mediterranean enforcing a No Fly Zone over Libya, North Africa you would imagine that 8 Squadron had had enough of sun and sand, but if you look at a potted history of the Squadron you will see that its association with the desert has a long and chequered past.
Let’s start with World War I…
Allegedly, Lord Trenchard, the “Father of the Royal Air Force” was guest of honour at an 8 Squadron “Dining in Night” at the end of the Great War. He used the occasion to expound his theory that the days of the fighter and ground attack aircraft were ended and, if he had his way, the only future was with the strategic bomber. “The Bomber Will Always Get Through!”
8 Squadron had suffered serious losses from a reconnaissance/ground attack unit during the war and took great exception to this line of argument and a great deal of drunken heckling of this very distinguished senior officer took place. The result of this unfortunate incident was that 8 Squadron was swiftly posted to the Middle East, with the instruction that it would never again serve at home.
The outcome of Trenchard’s revenge was that 8 Squadron did not serve within the United Kingdom until 1972, and even then the location was Kinloss (shortly followed by Lossiemouth) in the far north of Scotland. It was not until 1991 when 8 Squadron was finally forgiven and returned home to England and RAF Waddington, where it received the Sentry AEW.
THE FIRST SANDY ENCOUNTER IRAQ (1920)
You may have thought that the Squadron’s first encounter with the desert was for OP ORACLE/VERITAS in 2001 to support the Iraq operation, but in fact it first deployed in 1920 firstly to Basra then to Kirkuk, flying the De Havilland DH9A and remaining in Iraq for 6 years.
THE MOVE TO ADEN (1926-1971)
After its success in Iraq the next desert flair up was in Aden, Yemen (hopefully not this year!) Astonishingly the Squadron remained in Aden up until the outbreak of WWII in 1939 and finally until 1945, during this time they flew a mixture of DH9s, Vickers Vincents, Fairey IIIFs, Tiger Moths eventually ending up with the Blenheim I in 1939 and finally with the Wellington XIII’s in 1943. 1940-41 saw 8 Squadron in action in Ethiopia, flying from Aden attacking the Italian advance into East Africa. After the Italians were pushed out of Ethiopia the squadron ended its time in Aden with Maritime patrols of the Indian Ocean until the end of WWII.
But this was not the end for 8 Squadron in the Horn of Africa, after a brief spell in India after which the Squadron was disbanded in November of 1945, it reformed again back in Aden on 1st September 1946 with eight Mosquito VI’s.
Between 1947 and 1954, still in Aden, the Squadron progressed through aircraft types from the Hawker Tempest MKVI (1947) to the jet age in 1952 with the first Vampire FB9s, which were then replaced in 1954 by the Venom MK1s
Having re-equipped with the Venom, the Squadron was temporarily based in Cyprus during the 1956 Suez Operations, in which its role was one of ground attack. No sooner had it returned to Aden, and then 8 Squadron’s aircraft were back in their original role of the defence and policing of the Protectorate, carrying out assigned tasks in the interest of law, order and well-being throughout the area. The Squadron changed from Venoms to Hunter FGA.9 aircraft in January/ February, 1960.
Its Hunters were operated in the policing role until April, 1961, when a fighter reconnaissance capability was added to the unit’s task using Hunter FR.10 aircraft. It continued in this dual role until May, 1963, when No. 1417 Fighter Reconnaissance Flight was reformed and the FR.10s were transferred to the new flight.
The status quo remained in force until 9 September, 1967, when the FR.10s were reallocated to the squadron inventory, concurrent with the disbandment of 1417 Flt. The squadron itself had departed Khormaksar for the last time on 8 August and headed for a temporary home at Masirah prior to moving on to its new home base at Muharraq, following the final withdrawal from Khormaksar. There it remained until December 1971 when it too was disbanded and its Hunters flown back to the UK. A fitting tribute that this legendary squadron should be the last to leave the Command, having been the first and only squadron in Aden for a very long time.
The unit number, however, was swiftly resurrected when it reformed as an AEW Shackleton squadron in January 1972.
RETURN TO 8 Squadron’S HOME PATCH 2001
So after leaving the desert of Yemen back in 1971, 30 years later the squadron returned to take part in desert operations in October 2001. Following the tragic events of 9/11 they flew in support of Op ORACLE/VERITAS for nearly 2 years before switching operations to cover OP TELIC in Iraq in March 2003.
So, the events of 2011 were not something new to the squadron, in fact over the last century 8 Squadron has spent nearly 60 years of that flying in support of desert operations of one kind or another primarily in the Middle East.
By Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Sockell