Wing Commander John Sullivan and members of No 6 Squadron celebrated the 93rd birthday of the Squadron on Wednesday 31 January 2007 by sharing a cake created especially for the occasion. The fruit cake, baked by Mr Dave Pill and decorated by Warrant Officer Richard Taylor of Royal Air Force Coningsby Catering Flight, depicted scenes from the Squadron’s past alongside its famous badge. No 6 Squadron was formed at South Farnborough on the 31 of January 1914 as part of the original 7 squadrons that were planned to create the Royal Flying Corps. Since this date the Squadron has never been disbanded, thus holding the record for being the longest continually operating Military flying unit in the World.
Its first commander was Captain John Harold Whitworth Becke and began with 4 aircraft on its books. The Squadron was sent overseas to Belgium in October of 1914 to be an observer unit in the defence of that country from the initial German advance of the Great War. It would not return to UK shores until almost 55 Years later. During the 1914 – 1918 conflict the Squadron was mainly used as a Corps Observer unit for artillery spotting and reconnaissance, these duties being the reason for the Squadrons motto of OCULI EXERCITUS (Latin for ” Eyes of the Army”) and the “Artillery Bar” markings seen on the fins of the Jaguars today. The most famous Pilot of the Squadron during the Great War was Major Lanoe Hawker who became the first pilot to be awarded the Victoria Cross for air-to-air combat.
At the end of the Great War the squadron was moved to the British mandate of Mesopotamia (now Iraq) where it was used to police the warring tribal factions. The Inter War years were spent in the Middle East with moves around Iraq, Egypt and, from 1935, Palestine, firstly as an army co-operation unit, then a bomber squadron and then back to army co-operation duties. The Squadron Crest comes originally from badges carried on the Bristol Fighters that the Squadron were the last unit to operate in the early Thirties, and shows a Kestrel carrying a number 6. However, Air Ministry protocol demanded that the number be changed to the design on the Crest today, of an eagle striking a serpent.
1940 saw 6 Squadron becoming involved in WW II in the North African theatre. From reconnaissance duties at the beginning, the Squadron became the first British dedicated anti armour attack unit in mid 1942, with the 40mm cannon armed Hurricane IID Tank Buster. This role for the next year was to give the Squadron its present Nickname of the “The Flying Canopeners”. After Africa the Squadron operated in Italy and Yugoslavia until the end of the war. It used the Hurricane until 1947 when 6 Sqn became the last unit to fly the aircraft operationally, before converting to the Hawker Tempest Mk 6.
Post War, the Squadron was redeployed back to Palestine, leaving in October 1946. The next 9 years saw 6 Sqn move to various locations around Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Cyprus where 6 Sqn became the first British Middle Eastern unit to operate jet aircraft (Vampires). During this time, 6 Sqn were awarded a Royal Standard from Abdullah, King of Jordan in 1950. Thus, the Squadron is the only Royal Air Force unit to hold two Royal Standards and still holds strong links with the Hashemite Kingdom. In 1956, the Squadron was involved in the Suez Crisis flying Venoms, and remained in Cyprus with Canberra bombers until the beginning of 1969.
Number 6 Sqn returned to the UK, to become the first RAF Phantom Squadron at Coningsby, using the aircraft for ground attack. The squadron converted to Jaguars at Lossiemouth at the beginning of 1974 and transferred to Coltishall at the end of that year. The Cold War saw the Squadron train for its war role with many exercises in Norway, Denmark and other Western European locations. August 1990 saw the Squadron deploy as the first RAF unit to reach the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Granby following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. Squadron aircraft and pilots were involved in Operation Desert Storm in early 1991 and subsequently in the DENY FLIGHT operations over Northern Iraq and Yugoslavia in the Nineties. The start of Operation Telic brought the end of this sustained period of operations for the Jaguar and the Squadron, in March 2003.
With the Defence Review of July 2004, 6 Sqn became the last remaining RAF Jaguar unit on its move back to RAF Coningsby in April 2006. Since then 6 Sqn have flown overseas in Oman, Jordan, Cyprus and Belgium and will continue to have a demanding flying programme until the Jaguar is withdrawn from RAF service in October 2007.
Photographer: SAC Ben Stevenson