31 Squadron

31 Sqn Crest


In front of a wreath of laurel, a mullet - approved by King George VI in June 1937. The badge was based on an unofficial emblem, the mullet indicating the Star of India and the Squadron's claim to being the first military unit to fly in India


In cælum indicum primus - 'First into Indian skies'

Key Dates:

1915 - Formed at Farnborough.

1941 - Spent the duration of WWII operating transport duties in the far east.

1955 - Moved to Laarbruch, Germany flying Canberra’s,

2002 - Relocated back to the UK

    Current Aircraft and Location:

    Current Aircraft: Tornado GR4

    Current Location: RAF Marham

    Battle Honours:

    North West Frontier 1916-1918*, Afghanistan 1919-1920, Mahsud 1919-1920, Waziristan 1919-1925, North West Frontier 1939, Iraq 1941*, Iraq 2003*, Syria 1941, Egypt and Libya 1941-1942*, Burma 1941-1942*, North Burma 1943-1944*, Arakan 1943-1944*, Manipur 1944*, Burma 1941-1942*, Gulf 1991, Kosovo*.

    (Honors’ marked with an asterisk, are emblazoned on the Squadron Standard)

    History of 31 Squadron:

    A Flight of 31 Squadron formed at Farnborough on 11 October 1915. Soon afterwards the men sailed for Bombay, arriving on Boxing Day. Further Flights formed at Gosport, joining 31 at Risalpur by May 1916. This first operational military unit in Indian skies was soon in action along the North West Frontier, assisting the army in dealing with tribal unrest. Its BE2c biplanes were employed on artillery observation, reconnaissance and ground attack.

    The end of WWI brought little change to the routine. Equipped now with Bristol Fighters, the 31 Sqn Army co-operation role was to continue for the next two decades. Emerging air power in the hostile Frontier region led to the Squadron's decisive involvement in the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, and air policing proved an effective method of keeping skirmishing under control. Bases changed regularly as operations dictated. The most permanent was Quetta, but the Squadron suffered many fatalities there in 1935 when a massive earthquake struck the area.

    31 had re-equipped with the Westland Wapiti in 1931, but 1939 saw a change of role. Following conversion to ancient Valentia twin-engined biplanes, the Squadron assumed the mantle of the existing Bomber/Transport flight at Lahore. The outbreak of WWII saw the Squadron's Frontier work continuing, although strategic transport tasks were added. But during 1941, 31 saw action in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Egypt. Initially this involved Valentias, but receipt of Douglas DC-2s brought a significant upgrade, as well as concentration on purely transport duties. 31 subsequently continued until 1947 with the Dakota family, re-equipping in turn with DC-3s and C-47s.

    The Squadron flew in Burma from early 1942, valiantly supporting the Fourteenth, the Forgotten Army, until the Japanese were evicted in 1945. Duties were re-supply, air-drop, and casevac. Operating in monsoon conditions, largely from Indian bases, 31 suffered many losses. The Squadron supported Chindit raids, the epic battles of Kohima, Imphal and the Arakan, as well as Hump runs across the eastern Himalayas to China.

    After Japan's surrender, 31 moved to Java to transport released internees and POWs from jungle camps to repatriation centres. This humanitarian mission evolved into combat as the Indonesian independence movement gained momentum, and the Squadron suffered many casualties. Indeed a number of its personnel were murdered near its base at Kemajorang. Java operations ended in autumn 1946, and the Squadron reformed near Karachi. During religious and ethnic unrest associated with Indian independence and partition, thousands of refugees were transported. From Independence Day, 15 August 1947, the Squadron's base at Mauripur found itself in newly-formed Pakistan.

    With its task completed, the Squadron disbanded at the end of the year. In July 1948 31 Squadron reformed at RAF Hendon, its first home base since 1915. Equiped with Ansons and Devons, the Squadron flew communications and air ambulance duties. Spitfires, Proctors and Chipmunks were also available, both for communications and to keep staff officers in current flying practice.

    In 1955 31 Squadron returned to the front line at RAF Laarbruch in Germany, operating Canberra PR7s. Assigned to NATO, the Squadron specialised in reconnaisance until 1971, when it moved to RAF Bruggen and re-equiped with the Phantom FGR2. This brought a change to the two roles of Strike and Attack, these roles were retained through successive re-equipments with the Jaguar GR1 in 1976 and the Tornado GR1 in 1984. As well as maintaining a conventional capability, 31 Squadron remained a part of NATOs deterrent force until, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the RAF Nuclear weapons were withdrawn.

    Despite the thawing of the Cold War, operations occupied 31 Squadron for upwards of twenty years from the time of the 1991 Gulf War. During that conflict, OC 31 Squadron led the GR1 contingent at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which comprised 31 Squadron and elements of five other Squadrons. Middle Eastern Air Policing continued and in 1999 31 Squadron also participated in air operations over the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. Operating in the interdiction role, these missions were flown both long-range from Bruggen and from Solenzara, Corsica.

    With the withdrawal of RAF Forces from Germany the Goldstars as 31 Squadron was coming to be known came home again, this time to their current location at RAF Marham. In 2001 31 Squadron was the last RAF Squadron to leave Germany.

    Air Policing operations continued from Kuwait, escalating into the Iraq War of March 2003. During this, the Squadron formed the core of the Tornado GR4 Combat Air Wing and as in 1991, the 31 Squadron CO found himself in the lead. Following cessation of these hostilities, the Squadron continued its approximately annual Army Support deployments, latterly to Qatar, as allied forces continued their mission to stabilise Iraq.

    Almost as soon as the GR4s were released from the Gulf in 2009,they were assigned to Afghanistan.And, until the final pull-out of British combat forces in 2014, regulardeployments to Kandaharwere performed in support of multi-national International Security AssistanceForce operations. These were designed, inter alia, to reduce the threat to theWest from Afghanistan-based terrorist organisations. They offered challengingwork, not least in view of the continued imperative to improvecapability while achieving economies.

    Almost symbolically, the Goldstars were the 'Last in Afghan Skies', operatingin the same theatre and army support role in which the Squadron grew up almosta century ago. 2014 was not a restful year for 31 Squadron by any stretch. Beforethe final deployment to Kandahar, crews from 31Squadron were deployed to RAF Akrotiri and took part in the very first missionsover Iraq in support of thehumanitarian aid missions around the Sinjar Mountains. Onreturn from Afghanistan,the whole squadron was almost immediately assigned to Operation Shader. TheGoldstars were detached forward to RAF Akrotiri in support of the internationaleffort to contain ISIL (Islamic State of Iraqand Lebanon - also knownvariously as IS and ISIS) aggression in Syriaand Iraq.At the time of writing, the Squadron's role there is twofold: reconnaissancewith the highly capable RAPTOR pod and striking ISIL in Iraq using the GR4’s formidable andhighly flexible weapons load.

    Picture: Jamie Hunter.

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