12 Squadron

12(B) Sqn History

THE FORMATION OF 12 (BOMBER) SQUADRON

No 12 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, was formed at Netheravon on 14 February 1915, out of a flight of No 1 Squadron. The original intention was that one flight should have Avro 504s and the other, Moranes. The Avros arrived, but by April of that year, the Squadron was completely equipped with BE 2cs, using the Avros only for training. Work up for France commenced and on 6 September, 12 Squadron arrived at St Omer to become Headquarters squadron for long-range reconnaissance and flew its first operation, a photographic reconnaissance mission of the Hanbourdin-Seclin-Lille-Roubaix area, on 9 September. Three days later, the Squadron scored its first 'kill' when flying an 80 HP Gnome-engined Bristol Scout, Captain L A Strange, C Flight Commander, drove down a German aircraft over Comines.

During this early period, the Squadron concentrated on bombing railway targets, prior to the Loos offensive, with Captain Lawrence scoring an effective attack on a troop-train on 25 September. Reconnaissance flights were still flown after the bombing period intensified, penetrating as far as Brussels, together with offensive and defensive patrols over the front. The Squadron had been allocated a few Scouts for self defence, but casualties with the vulnerable BE 2c mounted and it was soon necessary to have escorts from the new Scout squadrons. One such casualty was BE 2c 2074 flown by Lieutenant Gordon Smith, a C Flight pilot. He was shot down by Lieutenant Otto Porsclav on 19 December crashing near Bruges. Many reports give details of large dogfights taking place, involving the Squadron, with up to 60 aircraft in combat.

In February 1916, 12 Squadron was transferred to VI Corps, with whom it served out the remainder of the First World War. It was now a corps squadron and training began in its new role of artillery co-operation and infantry patrols. Many accidents now took place due to a lack of prior flying training, many pilots arriving on the squadrons with only 20 hours training. Air combat occasionally took place, but the greatest danger operationally was anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). At this time, the Squadron was largely involved in spotting for the artillery and making contact patrols along the front lines, although, when the Somme offensive began, some bombing sorties were flown against railway installations and airfields with Scout escorts for protection. Before Arras, the whole sector was photographed by 12 Squadron to prepare mapping for the Army. The BE 2c was converted for this purpose, with the observer's position being filled with a large vertical camera. The film for this camera was full size with glass photographic plates, a dozen in all, changed by a complicated system of strings passing through the instrument panel.

Towards the end of 1916, 12 Squadron had re-equipped with the BE 2e. These lasted until June 1917, when they were replaced with RE 8s. These gave the Squadron a reasonable nucleus of aircraft with which to fight in the Cambrai and Ypres offensives. By September of that year, 12 Squadron was engaged in night bombing, with some success, in addition to the corps work. During the German offensive of March 1918, the Squadron was engaged in contact flying with the troops, resulting in heavy losses, although at least 8 enemy aircraft 'kills' were confirmed. As the enemy offensive came to an end, and the Allies counter-attacked, the Squadron returned to its more normal tasks, receiving Bristol Fighters (F 2bs) for long-range gunnery shoots. In the summer and autumn allied offensives of 1918, 12 Squadron was heavily involved with many and varied tasks, including ammunition dropping, ground attack and air combat, in addition to its normal tasks. No 12 Squadron ended the First World War with 45 enemy aircraft to its credit, during one week alone it shot down 8 without loss to itself.

POST WORLD WAR I

After the Armistice, 12 Squadron became part of the Army of Occupation, equipped with Bristol Fighters. It moved around several times, but from 17 November 1920 until it was disbanded on 22 July 1922, the Squadron resided at Bickendorff. Flying photographic reconnaissance sorties and army co-operation, No 12 Squadron had remained the last operational squadron in Germany.

In 1923, due to the Salisbury Report, the Royal Air Force began a limited expansion programme and 12 Squadron was reformed at Northolt on 1 April 1923. The Squadron was equipped with DH 9A7s, and during the year expanded to a full 3-flight strength. In March 1924, 12 Squadron moved to Andover co-located with 13 (AC) Squadron. It was at this time that the Squadron re-equipped with the Fairey Fawn, a 2-seat day bomber fitted with the Napier Lion engine.

Over the next few years, the Squadron settled down to a peacetime routine, which consisted of the annual training programme along with several trials and displays. The annual training programme, in principal, began with individual training in the autumn and worked round to Squadron training in the summer consisting of bombing, formation flying, navigation exercises and gunnery. The trials carried out included some limited night flying and the introduction into service and testing of parachutes for aircrew. This involved a number of practice jumps being performed by observers, who would climb out of the aircraft onto a small ladder and await a signal from the pilot as the aircraft flew over the airfield at 2000 ft. The observers carried no reserve parachutes, and the silk material from which the parachutes were constructed had a tendency to build up a static charge whilst in storage, such that when the ripcord was pulled, the silk stuck together. The Hendon Displays of 1925 and 1926 saw Fawns from 12 Squadron participating in large formation flypasts, providing great thrills for the crowds in the stands around the airfield.

THE BIRTH OF THE FOX

In June 1926, the Squadron took delivery of the first Fairey Fox aircraft. These were faster than any fighter of the day and gave a 50 per cent increase in speed over the Fawn. The Fox was the first all metal aircraft in squadron service and 12 Squadron was the only squadron to operate the type. The aircraft was a private venture by Fairey, which had been demonstrated to the Squadron secretly. During the 'At Home' display at Andover in 1925, the Fox appeared in Royal Air Force markings and 12 Squadron colours and outshone all other aircraft. During the Air Defence of Great Britain Exercise in 1928, the Squadron was tasked with a simulated bombing of London. The Fairey Fox was not as agile as the fighters of the day, but could outrun the Bulldogs and Gamecocks sent to intercept them. To commemorate 12 Squadron's success in the exercise, the Commander in Chief of the Royal Air Force sent a fox mask as a Squadron emblem. Following recent successes, the Squadron was tasked with further trials work, experimenting with oxygen systems, high altitude photography, and low temperature trials work, particularly in respect to lubricants. In addition, cloud flying in formation and pattern bombing techniques were tested. The final triumph for the Fox was at Hendon in 1930, when, fitted with the new Kestrel engine, it achieved a speed of 220 mph.

The Foxes were replaced in January 1931 with the Hawker Hart, after which much work was put into formation flying in cloud, instrument flying, pattern bombing and aircraft icing trials. The purpose of these trials was to enable Royal Air Force aircraft to bomb an enemy ship successfully, regardless of weather. To this end, 12 Squadron dropped several practice bombs on an obsolete battleship, HMS Centurion, which was a radio-controlled target off the south coast.

On 6 July 1935, King George V performed the first Royal Review of the Royal Air Force, in which 12(B) Squadron led the Light Bomber Wing flypast at Royal Air Force Mildenhall. Several home-based squadrons were re-deployed in October 1935 to the Middle East and Aden in preparation for action being taken by the League of Nations against Italy for invading Abyssinia. The Squadron moved by ship to Khormaksar in Aden initially and then to a small desert airfield, Robat, in November of that year. The conditions at Robat were poor, with only tented accommodation at first. Aircraft serviceability was hampered by sand, which contaminated the engines in almost daily sandstorms. No military action was taken against Italy by the League of Nations and its inability, or unwillingness, to do so was probably a contributory cause of its subsequent collapse. No 12 Squadron returned to its UK base at Andover in August 1936, and on its return took delivery of the Hawker Hind. It was around this time that the majority of B Flight were taken to form the nucleus of the newly formed No 63 Squadron.

It was noticeable that, during the re-equipping of the 1930s, the only significant change in aircraft performance was in speed. Aircraft of the time could not even reach Paris, let alone Germany, and the bomb load was minimal.

The political situation in Europe deteriorated. Rearming of Britain now became a priority and in February 1938, the Squadron was re-equipped with Fairey Battles. A move was made to Bicester in May 1939 and intensive training followed, as the signs of conflict became clearer. The added impetus of the Munich Crisis helped ensure that training was accorded the highest priority and, by the summer of 1939, the Squadron boasted a complement of 24 aircraft. The Squadron deployed to France on 2 September 1939, the day before war was declared, as part of 76 Wing, Advance Air Striking Force, at Berry-au-Bac, about 15 miles north of Rheims.

WORLD WAR II

The first operational flights consisted of daily photographic reconnaissance patrols along the lines, but these were discontinued at the end of September and the Squadron began intensive flying training in co-operation with L'Armee de L'Air. The bad winter soon cut this down, however and, apart from a practice camp at Perpignan in the South of France in January, little was done until the end of March 1940. The German invasion of France and the Low Countries dealt a devastating blow to the Allies and to12 Squadron in particular. When they took part in the first attack on the German forces, on 10 May 1940, 3 out of the 4 aircraft taking part in the raid were lost. Worse followed on 12 May, when, with the German forces threatening to breakout, the order went out to destroy the Maastricht bridges. Despite the amount of AAA known to be in place at the bridges, the whole Squadron volunteered for the mission. Of the 6 crews chosen for the raid, one had to turn back early due to technical problems and the remaining 5 were all lost. Flying Officer Thomas led Pilot Officer Davy in the attack on the Vroenhaven bridge, damaging but not destroying it. Thomas was taken prisoner and Davy crashed on the way home. Flying Officer Garland led Pilot Officer McIntosh and Sergeant Morland against the Veldwezelt bridge, which was destroyed. McIntosh's aircraft was shot down and he was taken prisoner. Flying Officer Garland and Sergeant Morland were shot down near the target. Both crews died in the attack. Flying Officer Garland and his observer Sergeant Gray were posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the first Royal Air Force personnel in the Second World War to receive such an honour. The third member of the crew, Leading Aircraftsman L R Reynolds, a wireless operator/air gunner, received no award.

A third disastrous raid on 14 May saw another 5 out of 6 aircraft lost, and the withdrawal of the Battle squadrons from the daytime war. The Squadron moved to Echimines, where a few night raids were flown, with mixed success. The Squadron was now suffering from a lack of crews and aircraft, and in June 1940 returned to the United Kingdom, to Finningley in Yorkshire.

After a variety of short deployments within the United Kingdom at Binbrook, Thorney Island, Eastchurch and again Binbrook, the Squadron finally settled in Royal Air Force Binbrook in Lincolnshire, carrying out night operations against Channel ports. In October 1940, 12 Squadron was re-equipped with the Vickers Wellington Mk II and spent the winter training for night bomber attacks. On 10 April 1941, the first raid, against Emden, saw the beginning of sustained operations against German industrial targets. The Squadron, now a part of No 1 Group, flew on a variety of missions from attacks on the great capital ships Gniesenau, Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen to raids on Berlin. In November 1941 the Squadron's operations record headed the list for all of 1 Group, and a year later 12(B) Squadron took part in the first 1000-bomber raid where it mustered an impressive 28 aircraft.

After being equipped with the Vickers Wellington Mk III, the Squadron moved to Wickenby in September 1942, which it shared with No 626 Squadron. The Squadron's association with Wickenby and 626 Squadron was to continue after the war with the formation of the Wickenby Association for the benefit of past and present members of both Squadrons.

The introduction of the Avro Lancaster in November 1942 allowed the Squadron to carry a larger bomb load to distant targets, including industrial areas in Italy. By the time the Battle of the Ruhr had developed, the Squadron's crews had the full benefit of the latest navigation aids and the weight of their attacks on Hamburg and Berlin was devastating.

After the summer of 1944, in which they attacked flying bomb sites, provided close support for the Army, attacked German naval targets and carried out mine laying operations, 12 Squadron maintained a constant pounding of targets, such as Karstrke, Essen, Borun, Coblenz and Cologne. The cost in men and machines was high, for instance, in the period March to August 1944 the Squadron lost 40 aircraft. Winter slowed down operations, but they were resumed in 1945, until 25 April, when the Squadron flew its last sortie of the war, paying an unannounced visit to Hitler's lair at Bertesgarten.

POST WORLD WAR II

The Lancasters were retired from service with 12(B) Squadron in July 1946 to be replaced, in August, with the Avro Lincoln, the Squadron moving to Waddington for the conversion, before returning to Binbrook in September. Now at a reduced size of only 6 aircraft, the Squadron was initially employed on meteorological studies, conducting long- range weather reconnaissance flights over the North Atlantic. This commitment continued until November 1948, when No 101 Squadron took over. No 12(B) Squadron was now free to resume heavy bomber training, and was so successful in the latter task that in early 1952 it won the Bomber Command bombing competition. Almost immediately after this the Squadron traded-in its propeller-driven Lincolns in order to re-equip with the twin-jet English Electric Canberra B2, the Squadron receiving its first aircraft in March 1952.

THE JET ERA

In October 1952, 4 aircraft set out on a 24 000 mile tour of South America, named Operation ROUND TRIP, on the first jet aircraft goodwill tour of the continent. This tour included the first jet crossing of the South Atlantic in both directions. The next year brought many requests for participation in air displays, principally the Coronation Review at Odiham and the flypast to welcome Her Majesty the Queen home from her Commonwealth tour. On 23 June 1953, the Squadron received its Standard for 25 years operational flying. It was fitting that it was Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Newall GCB OM GCMG CBE AM who presented the Standard, on behalf of the Queen, since Lord Newall had been the Squadron's first Commanding Officer, as a Major in the Royal Flying Corps. The list of Battle Honours on the Standard included Loos, Cambrai 1917, Somme 1918, France and the Low Countries 1939-40, Meuse Bridges, Berlin Ruhr 1941-45 and the Rhine. On 11 September 1954, 12 Squadron received the freedom of Grimsby, and on 14 September the following year, its pre-war association with Andover was renewed, when it took part in a flypast to mark the occasion of Royal Air Force Andover receiving the freedom of the town.

In May 1955, the programme to replace the Canberra B2s with the newer Canberra B6s began and, after a short work-up period, the Squadron deployed 8 aircraft to Butterworth in Malaya, as part of the forces ranged against the Malayan communist insurgents. The first strike against these insurgents took place on 22 November 1955, and all 8 aircraft took part, 6 Canberras formed the main bombing force, with one radio link and one reserve aircraft. The strikes continued for 3 months and then, in December 12(B) Squadron made a short tour of Australia, before resuming jungle strikes in 1956. During these strikes, some of the crews were fired upon on the ground, whilst liaising with Australian troops. The Squadron returned to Binbrook in March 1956, and in June gained some publicity by acquiring a live fox as a mascot.

Intensive training resumed and in September 12(B) Squadron deployed to Hal Far in Malta. By the end of October 1956, there were 5 Squadrons of Canberra B6s and 4 Squadrons of Valiants in Malta, plus 7 Squadrons of Canberra B2s in Cyprus. On 31 October, 12 Squadron dropped some of the first bombs in support of the Suez campaign on Almaza airfield, Cairo, at about 2230 hours, continuing with Cairo West and Fayid airfields and shore batteries later in the campaign.

On 1 December 1956, the Squadron returned to Binbrook, where it expanded to 20 crews and 16 aircraft. In August 1957, 12 Squadron temporarily reverted to the Canberra B2, while the Canberra B6s were modified for the Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) role, and on 2 July 1959, left Binbrook for Coningsby, where they remained until the Squadron disbanded in 1961.

No 12 Squadron reformed at Coningsby on 1 July 1962, as part of the expanding V Force, receiving its first aircraft, an Avro Vulcan B2, XH 560, a former OCU aircraft on 25 September. The Squadron detached to the Far East Air Force, based at Gan and Butterworth, from September to December 1964, whilst, at home, in November 1964, the whole Coningsby Wing (9, 12 and 35 Squadrons) relocated to Cottesmore. The Vulcans, utilised in the high-level bombing role, made many notable flights to all parts of the globe, including 2 successful flights around the world. In October 1966 the Squadron was tasked to trial the introduction of the Vulcan as a low-level strategic bomber. For the first time in many years, the aircraft were camouflaged. This is a role that 12 Squadron kept until the transfer of the United Kingdom nuclear deterrent to the Polaris force, and the subsequent reduction of the V-force caused the Squadron, once again, to disband on 31 December 1967

THE BUCCANEER

The Squadron reformed in October 1969, at Royal Air Force Honington, as a low-level Maritime Strike Attack Squadron, equipped with Hawker Siddley Buccaneer Mk 2B aircraft, and within 2 years had achieved the highest grade in a tactical evaluation exercise (TACEVAL). In July 1972, one of the Squadron crews had the distinction of sinking a target barge with SNEB rockets during a firepower demonstration in Cyprus. In October 1974, 12(B) Squadron became the first squadron to be equipped with the Martel TV and anti-radar missile.

On 21 February 1975, Air Marshal Sir Nigel Maynard KCB, CBE, DFC, AFC, Air Officer Commanding in Chief Royal Air Force Germany, presented 12 Squadron with a new Standard to celebrate its 60th Anniversary. The following month saw the start of the North Sea gas rig patrols, which subsequently expanded to include oilrigs, as part of Operation TAPESTRY. On 5 August 1980, the Squadron assimilated No 216 Squadron and moved to Royal Air Force Lossiemouth, its current home. The Squadron's main operating area now stretched from Northern Scotland to the Iceland-Faeroes gap, with the Buccaneer also flown in an air-to-air tanking role using a refuelling pod fitted under the starboard wing.

THE GULF CONFLICT

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in September 1990 saw the largest deployment of United Kingdom forces since the Second World War. Initially there was no role for the Buccaneer, however once battle had commenced in January 1991, it was realised that there was a need for medium-level laser target designator. The Buccaneer was the only aircraft in Royal Air Force service that could fulfil this role and so a composite force made up of members of 12(B) and 208 Squadrons deployed to Muharraq Air Base in Bahrain in February 1991. Squadron crews were in action almost immediately supporting the Tornado GR1s and later also designated targets for their own weapons. The Buccaneer was capable of carrying a Pave Tack laser designation pod on one wing and a Paveway II Laser Guided Bomb on the other. The Squadron crews returned to Royal Air Force Lossiemouth in March 1991 and were awarded a Battle Honour by Her Majesty; Gulf 1991

THE TORNADO GR1

In October 1993, the Squadron re-equipped with the British Aerospace/Panavia Tornado GR1s, which it inherited from 27 Squadron at Royal Air Force Marham. A short time later, on 8 January 1994, the Squadron returned to Lossiemouth as part of 18 Group, flying in the previously held Maritime Role. However, a seemingly constant stream of deployments to patrol the Iraqi No-Fly Zones soon became a regular feature of Squadron life. The first of these deployments occurred only a few months after the Squadron's Tornados arrived at Royal Air Force Lossiemouth when, in May 1994, the Squadron deployed to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Later deployments were to Turkey and, from 1998, Kuwait. The main operational focus was photographic reconnaissance however crews also practiced attack profiles using the Ferranti Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designation (TIALD) pod. Missions were flown as part of large multi-national force packages and, on occasion, the Iraqis opened fire without warning or provocation on aircraft enforcing the United Nations resolutions. The worsening political situation in Iraq led to bombing missions being flown against Iraqi military targets during Operation DESERT FOX in December 1998. The Squadron flew a number of sorties against active Iraqi defences to deliver ordnance against a variety of pinpoint targets. The ordnance included the first-ever operational drop of the UK Paveway III laser guided bomb and the Squadron achieved a level of accuracy in weapon delivery that exceeded all previous air campaigns.

INTO THE 21ST CENTURY AND THE TORNADO GR4

During the period January to April 2001, Tornado GR1s were replaced with Tornado GR4s. No 12(B) Squadron continued to support operations in Southern Iraq and again led the field when it became the first Squadron to operate the upgraded aircraft over Iraq, from their base at Ali Al Salem in Kuwait, in the summer of 2001. In 2003, the Squadron played a major role in Operation TELIC during the Gulf conflict, flying over 300 sorties. No 12(B) Squadron was again recognized for its service with the Battle Honour: Iraq, 2003. Most recently on 30 January 2005, the Squadron was there to help oversee and support UK and US troops provide security for the first free elections for the Iraqi people in the country for 50 years. The Squadron celebrated 90 years of service in February 2005 and will continue to Lead the Field in future commitments around the world.

As part of a planned drawdown of the Tornado GR4 Force, 12(B) Sqn disbanded on the 1st April 2014.

12(Bomber) Squadron Association have their own web site with further information about membership, events, and the squadron history - http://12bsqnassociation.weebly.com/

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