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No 16 - 20 Squadron Histories

No 16 Squadron

Click here to go to badgesFormed at St Omer in France on 10 February 1915 from detached flights taken from No's 2, 5 and 6 Squadrons.  As with many squadrons at this time it operated a variety of types until fully equipped with BE2s a year later.  No 16 was a Corps reconnaissance unit carrying the standard range of operations.  RE8s replaced the BEs in May 1917, which it retained until returning to Britain as a cadre in February 1919, disbanding at Fowlmere on 31 December 1919.  During WW1 it was commanded by a number of officers who would achieve Air rank in the future, including Hugh Dowding and 'Peter' Portal.

less than five years later the squadron was reformed at Old Sarum on 1 April 1924.  It still operated in the Army Co-operation role equipped with the Bristol F2b until January 1931 when Atlases replaced them.  Audaxes arrived in December 1933 and in June 1934 the squadron achieved independent status, having been classed part of the School of Army Co-operation up to that time.  In June 1938 the squadron became the first to operate a new type in the RAF, that type being the Lysander.

The squadron remained in Britain until April 1940 when it moved over to France, but within days it had become obvious that the Lysander was not able to operate in the modern war environment and the squadron was evacuated to Lympne.  However, it continued to use the Lysander for coastal patrols along the East Anglian coast and later the coasts of Devon and Cornwall.  Training with Army units also continued but it was obvious from the experience in France that before undertaking active operations again, the squadron would need new equipment.

The Lysanders replacement eventually arrived in April 1942 when Mustangs were received, although the Lysanders did not disappear overnight, some remaining in use until May 1943. The Mustangs were used on shipping reconnaissance and low level interceptions of German fighter-bombers along the south coast.  Spitfires replaced the Mustangs in September 1943 which it used for photographic reconnaissance in preparation of Operation Overlord.  A year later the squadron was transferred to 2 TAF in the same role, which it continued until the end of war.  From June 1945 the squadron operated a high speed mail service between Britain and Germany, but in September its three flights were re-allocated to No's 2, 26 and 268 Squadrons, the ground staff returned to Dunsford in the UK.  

At this point some confusion exists because on 19 September No 487 Squadron was informed that it was now No 16 and so was No 268 Squadron.  As a result 487 was re-numbered 268 and the re-numbering of 268 at Celle remained in place.  The squadron continued to operate Spitfire XIXs, XIVs and XVIs until 1 April 1946 when the unit at Celle was disbanded.  However, on the same day No 56 Squadron equipped with Tempest F5s at Fassburg was re-numbered No 16.  In August 1946 the F5s gave way to F2s, these in turn being replaced by Vampire FB5s in December 1948 and Venom FB1s in January 1954, these were operated for three and a half years until the squadron was disbanded on 1 June 1957.  Between 1946 and 1 August 1948, the squadron moved 20 times, until on the 21st move it arrived at Gutersloh, where it remained until November 1950, when it moved again to Celle, where it disbanded.

Less than a year later the squadron was reformed, this time at Laarbruch, being equipped with the Canberra B(I) Mk 8, continuing to operate this type until June 1972 when the squadron once again disbanded.  On 1 Oct 1973 No 16 (Designate) Squadron began training in the Strike role equipped with Buccaneer S Mk 2s, officially taking over the numberplate on 8 January 1973.  Buccaneers were operated for the next eleven years continuing to operate from Laarbruch until disbanding on 29 Feb 1984.  However, a new No 16 (Designate) Squadron had begun training at Laarbruch on 1 January 1984 and the day after the Buccaneer unit disbanded a new Tornado equipped 16 Squadron entered service.  No 16 remained at Laarbruch with the Tornado GR Mk 1 until the run down of RAF Germany began and it became one of the earliest casualties being disbanded on 11 September 1991.

The number was revived yet again just over a month later when No 226 OCU at Lossiemouth was allocated the identity as No 16 (Reserve) Squadron.  It currently operates in the role of Jaguar Conversion Unit, having moved south to Coltishall on 21 July 2000, but with the withdrawal of the Jaguar fleet, it was disbanded on 11 March 2005.  The number was allocated to the CFS Tutor Squadron, part of No 1 EFTS at RAF Cranwell.

Standards Battle Honours*
Award of Standard originally announced on 15 Jan 1952, effective from 1 Apr 1951 but presented:-

lst -  6 April 1956

HRH Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent.

2nd -  12 July 1985

AVM D Parry-Evans

Western Front, 1915-1918: Neuve Chappelle: Loos: Somme, 1916: Arras: Ypres, 1917: France & Low Countries, 1940: Dunkirk: Fortress Europe, 1943-1944: France & Germany, 1944: Normandy, 1944: Arnhem: Ruhr, 1944-1945: Gulf, 1991:

Squadron Codes used: -

KJ Nov 1938 - May 1939
EE May 1939 - Sep 1939
UG Sep 1939 - May 1942
EG Apr 1946 - 1954
L 1954 - 1955
F Carried on Tornados
A - Z Sep 1991 - Current

[Aircraft & Markings | Personnel, aircraft and locations | Commanding Officers]

No 17 Squadron

Click here to go to badgesForming at Gosport on 1 February 1915, No 17 completed its training and then embarked for Egypt where it arrived on 11 December and undertook it first reconnaissance sortie on Christmas Eve.  It continued to operate, usually in detached flights, in Egypt and the Western Desert until July 1916, when it was sent to Salonika.

Initially equipped with a mixture of BEs and fighters (DH2s and Bristol Scouts) it was the only squadron operating in Macedonia for quite a while.  Following formation of the RAF the fighter element was hived off to form No 150 Squadron and 17 continued in the tactical reconnaissance role for the rest of war.  With the end of the war the squadron, by then equipped with FK8s and DH9s, was given a flight of Camels and had the FK8s removed.  In January 1919 'A' Flight was sent to support the White Russians whit 'B' and 'C' going to Constantinople, however, on 14 November the squadron was disbanded.

It was nearly five years before the squadron was reformed, on 1 April 1924, and it was now equipped with Sopwith Snipes as part of the UK air defence network. It continued in this role until November 1941 when it embarked for the Far East.  During that period it was equipped with Woodcocks, Gamecocks, Siskin IIIAs, Bulldog IIs, Gauntlets and Hurricanes.  It remained in Britain during the early days of the fighting in 1940, although it did operate from the Channel Islands and was briefly based at Le Mans to cover the evacuation of the BEF.  It participated in the Battle of Britain but in April 1941 moved up to Scotland, where it remained until moving out to the Far East.

The Japanese attack on Malaysia and Singapore put paid to any hope of the squadron reinforcing  the defences and instead the squadron was diverted to Burma, where it attempted to stem the Japanese advance on Rangoon.  With the airfields overrun the squadron began making its way north and eventually managed to make it back to Calcutta where it was able to re-assemble.  It now took part in the defence of that part of India and from February 1943 begun ground attack missions.  In August 1943 it moved to Ceylon where Spitfire VIIIs began to replace the Hurricanes in March 1944.  These were taken back to Burma in November and then in June 1945 the squadron was withdrawn in order to prepare for the invasion of Malaya, however, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan negated the need for the invasion and the squadron was simply transported to the  landing beaches by carriers.  No 17 joined the Commonwealth Air Forces of Occupation in Japan in April 1946 remaining until disbandment on 23 February 1948.

With the rundown of the post war air force, it t became necessary to allocate squadron numbers of famous 'fighting' squadrons to 'second line units.  As a result No 691 Squadron, an anti-aircraft co-operation unit, at Chivenor was renumbered 17 on 11 February 1949.  The squadron continued in this role, equipped with a variety of types until disbanding again on 13 March 1951.

The reformed five years later on 1 June 1956 at Wahn as part of RAF Germany in the photographic reconnaissance role equipped with Canberra PR7s.  Moving to Wildenrath in April 1957, the squadron continued in this role until 31 Dec 1969.  On 1 September a new No 17 Squadron was formed in Germany, this time at Bruggen and equipped with the Phantom FGR Mk 2.  However, the equipment of ground attack reconnaissance units with Phantoms was purely a stop-gap until the availability of Jaguars.  As a result No 17 (Designate) Squadron began training at Bruggen on 1 September 1975.  On 30 January 1976 the Phantom unit disbanded and the Jaguar unit took over the numberplate the following day.  A similar process took place in 1985 when No 17 (Designate) Squadron began training with Tornado GR Mk 1s. Training complete, disbandment of the Jaguar unit and the hand over of the numberplate to the Tornado unit took place at Bruggen on 1 March 1985.  With the pending withdrawal of RAF flying units from Germany, No 17 disbanded on 31 March 1999.  The squadron was re-activated at Warton in 2003 as the Typhoon Operational Evaluation Unit and it soon began training on its new equipment alongside the testing being carried out by British Aerospace.  The unit eventually moved to RAF Coningsby in April 2005, where it was formally reformed on May 19.  In early 2010 the squadron was redesignated as a Test and Evaluation Squadron and took over duties previously carried out by the Fast Jet Testing Squadron at Boscombe Down.  It transferred responsibility for the Typhoon to No 41 (Reserve) Squadron on 12 April 2013 when it took on the role as the test and evaluation unit for the joint Strike Fighter, F-35 Lightning II at Edwards Air Force Base in the USA.

Standards Battle Honours*
Award of Standard originally announced on 15 Jan 1952, effective from 1 Apr 1951 but presented:-

1st - 12 July 1960

MRAF Sir Michael Beetham

2nd - 8 Feb 1985

AM Sir Patrick Hine

Egypt, 1915-1916:  Palestine, 1916:  Macedonia,  1916-1918:  France & Low Countries:  Dunkirk:  Home Defence 1940:  Battle of Britain, 1940:  Burma, 1942:  Arakan:  Burma, 1944-1945:

Squadron Codes used: -

UV Nov 1938 - Sep 1939
YB Sep 1939 - Feb 1948
UT Feb 1949 - Mar 1951
B Carried on Jaguars
CA - CZ Aug 1985 - Mar 1999 

[Aircraft & Markings | Personnel, aircraft and locations | Commanding Officers]

No 18 Squadron

Click here to go to badgesFormed from a nucleus of No 4 Reserve Squadron at Northolt on 11 May 1915, it moved across the Channel the following November.  Here it operated in the fighter-reconnaissance role, initially equipped with the Vickers FB5 'Gunbus', which were replaced by FE2bs in April 1916.  It changed role to that of day bombing in May 1917, when it received DH4s, retaining this type until DH9As arrived to replace them in October 1918.  The squadron joined the Army of Occupation in November 1918 and remained until September 1919 when it returned to the UK where it disbanded on 31 December 1919.

Reformed on 20 October 1931, again in the day bomber role, it was equipped with Hawker Harts and operated from Upper Heyford.  'C' Flight formed the basis of a reformed No 49 Squadron on 10 February 1936 and in May 1939, No 18 received Blenheim Is, with Mk IVs following in February 1940.  Forming part of the Air Component, the squadron was heavily involved in operations against German invasion forces, but ten days after the fight began, it had to be withdrawn to Britain.  Following its return it continued to operate against invasion barges and associated targets until the end of the year.

It now took part in 'Circus' operations acting as 'bait' for large formations of escorting fighters hoping to lure the Luftwaffe into the air.  The squadron moved to the Mediterranean in October 1941, operating from Malta until January 1942, when the five remaining aircraft were flown to Egypt, handed over and No 18 was disbanded on 21 March 1942.

However, a ground element had been left in Britain when the bulk of the squadron flew to Malta and on 12 March 1942, three new crews arrived to start the build up of a new No 18.  The squadron went into action on 26 April, still equipped with the Blenheim IV.  These were replaced with Mk Vs in September and in November the squadron flew out to Algeria following the 'Torch' landings.  It remained in the area accompanying the Armies through Sicily and into Italy with Boston IIIs replacing the Blenheims in March 1943, later replaced by IVs and V, before the squadron disbanded at Hassani on 31 March 1946.

No 18 resurfaced on 1 September 1946, when No 621 Squadron at Ein Shemer in Egypt was re-numbered.  It was now operating in the Maritime Reconnaissance role equipped with Lancaster GR Mk 3s, but 14 days later it disbanded again.  On 15 March 1947, No 1300 (Meteorological) Flight equipped with Mosquito Met Mk 6s at Butterworth in Malaysia was re-numbered 18, but again disbandment followed soon afterwards on 15 November 1947.

Less than a month later a new No 18 Squadron was formed at Waterbeach, equipped with Dakotas, it was immediately involved with operations in the Berlin Airlift.  Disbandment followed the lifting of the blockade on 20 February 1950 and three years later on 1 August 1953 it was reformed yet again, this time at Scampton and was equipped with Canberra B Mk 2s in the light bomber role, disbanding again on 1 February 1957.  Its next incarnation came on 16 December 1958 when 'C' Flight of No 199 Squadron was re-numbered.  It was now flying Valiants in the ECM role, which it continued to do until 31 March 1963.

Its latest role is that of a Battlefield Support Helicopter unit.  This began on 27 January 1964 when the Wessex trials Unit was given the Number 18.  It moved Gutersloh in Germany in Aug 1970, where it disbanded on 20 November 1980.  It reformed again in the same role but now equipped with the Chinook HC Mk 1, the first RAF squadron to equipped with this type, on 4 August 1981 and remains as such.  It moved to Germany again in August 1983 but returned to the UK in August 1997.

Standards Battle Honours*
lst - 14 June 1962

HRH The Princess Margaret.

2nd - 3 February 1989

ACM Sir Peter Harding.

Western Front, 1915-1918: Somme, 1916: Somme, 1918: Lys: Hindenburg Line: France & Low Countries, 1940: Invasion Ports, 1940: Fortress Europe, 1940-1942: Channel & North Sea, 1940-1941: German Ports, 1940-1941: Malta, 1941-1942: Egypt & Libya, 1942: North Africa, 1942-1943: Mediterranean, 1943: Sicily, 1943: Salerno: South East Europe, 1943-1944: Italy, 1943-1945: Gothic Line: South Atlantic, 1982: Gulf, 1991:

Iraq 2003: Iraq 2003-2011:

Squadron Codes used: -

GU May 1939 - Sep 1939
WV Sep 1939 - Oct 1942
B Carried on Wessex
BA - BZ Aug 1981 - Current


A Flight - Oct 1939 A Flight - Oct 1939 B Flight - July 1940
All photos courtesy - John Richardson

[Aircraft & Markings | Personnel, aircraft and locations | Commanding Officers]

[No 18 Squadron Association]

A new book in paperback is to be published. It is a true daily account of a pilot officer's life with the BEF in 1939/40 taken from five volumes of daily entries he kept whilst in the RAF in England, France, then England again.  It contains details of crews, missions, journey, aircraft deliveries and includes several group photographs; several of them with names.  It is to be called SORTIES AND SOIREES. By Pilot Officer A Hughes DFC and will be available from

No 19 Squadron

Click here to go to badgesNo 5 Reserve Squadron provided the nucleus for No 19 when it formed at Castle Bromwich on 1 September 1915.  Training was carried on a variety of types until RE7s arrived in December but its proposed move to France was postponed until July 1916.  By the time it arrived in France it had been designated a fighter squadron and had been re-equipped with BE12s for this purpose, which it retained until February 1917. However, the unsuitable BEs had begun to be replaced by SPAD S VIIs  in December 1916 and it operated these and later SXIIIs, until Sopwith Dolphins were received in January 1918 (The Dolphin is commemorated in the squadron badge - see opposite).  Dolphins were flown for the remainder of the war and into 1919 when the squadron returned to the UK in February and disbanded on 31 December 1919.

19 reformed at Duxford on 1 April 1923 within No 2 FTS, its role being to train fighter pilots.  In June its sole flight was expanded to full squadron strength and with No 2 FTSs move in December it became an independent unit.  It was to remain at Duxford, except for a month at Henlow in 1935 until 1940, successively equipped with Grebes, Siskins IIIs, Bulldogs and Gauntlets until August 1938 when No 19 was the first squadron to receive the Spitfire I.

It operated through 1940 on defensive duties in No 12 Group alternating between Duxford and its satellite, Fowlmere.  It became the first squadron to use cannon armed Spitfires, but these early weapons were unreliable and the squadron soon reverted to standard eight-gun Mk Is.  The squadron continued to operate in Fighter Command with successive models of Spitfires until it joined 2 TAF in June 1943.  February 1944 saw the arrival of Mustangs, which it continued to use for daylight escort missions during the run up to D-Day and for army support missions after the invasion.  From September if began long range escort missions for daylight raids, operating from East Anglia and these continued until February 1945 when the squadron moved to Scotland, returning south again with the end of the war.

Spitfires returned in March 1946 but in October the De Havilland Hornet F Mk 1 arrived.  This twin engined fighter was used in the escort and intruder role until replaced by Meteors 1951 and Hunters in 1956.  Based at Church Fenton from 1947, the squadron moved from West to East Yorkshire in 1959 when it transferred to Leconfield, where it received Lightning F Mk 2s in 1962.  From 11 February 1949 until 31 May 1954, No 19 was linked with No 152 Squadron.  On 23 September 1965 the squadron left the UK, for Gutersloh in Germany.  

On 1 October 1976 No 19 (Designate) Squadron began training at Wildenrath as a Phantom FGR Mk 2 fighter unit, as a result the Lightning equipped No 19 disbanded at Gutersloh on 31 December 1976 and the Phantom unit at Wildenrath formally adopted the number the following day.  It continued to operated as part of RAF Germany until disbanded on 9 January 1992.

However, on 23 September 1992 No 19 (Reserve) Squadron was formed by re-numbering No 63 (Reserve) Squadron, which was part of No 7 FTS at Chivenor.  With the closure of No 7 FTS, the numberplate was re-allocated to the CFS element of No 4 FTS at Valley, until being re-numbered No IV (Reserve) Squadron on 24 November 2011.

Standards Battle Honours*
Award of Standard originally announced on 15 Jan 1952, effective from 1 Apr 1951 but presented:-

lst - 11 July 1956

ACM Sir Donald Hardman.

2nd - 19 January 1988

AM Sir Anthony Skingsley,

Western Front, 1916-1918: Somme, 1916: Arras: Ypres, 1917: Somme, 1918: Amiens: Hindenburg Line: Dunkirk: Home Defence, 1940-1942: Battle of Britain, 1940: Channel & North Sea, 1941-1942: Fortress Europe, 1942-1944: Dieppe: Normandy, 1944: Arnhem: France & Germany, 1944-1945:

Squadron Codes used: -

WZ Oct 1938 - Sep 1939
QV Sep 1939 - Nov 1941, Jan 1944 - Apr 1951


Bristol Bulldog of No 19 Squadron

Bristol Bulldog of No 19 Squadron

Photo from the collection of David Lloyd, courtesy of his son Sampson

[Aircraft & Markings | Personnel, aircraft and locations | Commanding Officers]

No 20 Squadron

Click here to go to badgesHaving formed at Netheravon on 1 September 1915, No 20 arrived in France in January 1916.  It initially flew FE2bs on fighter reconnaissance duties until August 1917, when it received Bristol F2Bs continuing to operate in the same role until the end of the war.

Unlike most of its contemporaries, the squadron was not disbanded being sent in June 1919 to India instead.  It remained in India operating along the North-West Frontier for the whole of the inter-war period.  Its Bristol Fighters were replaced by Wapitis in 1932 and these in turn by Audaxes in 1935 and Lysanders in 1941.

Operations against the Japanese began in July 1942 with the squadron supporting Chinese ground forces, until it moved into the Arakan the following October.  Hurricanes began to arrive in February 1943 and by May the squadron was re-equipped with the 40mm cannon armed Mk IID, however, lack of suitable targets and ammunition restricted its operations to tactical reconnaissance.  By December 1944,  'A' Flight only began re-equipping with the rocket firing Hurricane IV and these were taken into operation in the same month, continuing to operate both marks until September 1945, although it had ceased operations prior to re-equipment in May.  Re-equipment was in the form of Spitfire LFVIIIs and FRXIVEs, which the squadron took with it to Siam (now Thailand), returning to India where the Spitfires were replaced by Tempest FBIIs in May 1946.  The squadron disbanded on 1 August 1947.

It reformed again on 11 February 1949 when No 631 Squadron at Llanbedr was re-numbered.  The squadron was now operating in the anti-aircraft co-operation role equipped with a variety of types.  It continued in this role until 16 September 1951 when it disbanded again.  It reformed in an operational role on 14 June 1952 as a fighter-bomber squadron at Jever in Germany equipped with Vampire FB Mk 9s but within the month it had moved to Oldenburg.  It changed to the day-fighter role when Vampires began to be replaced by Sabres in 1953 and continued when Hunters replaced the Sabres in November 1955 remaining as such until 30 December 1960.

No 20 returned to the Far East on 1 September 1961 when it reformed at Tengah, still equipped with Hunters, but now in the ground attack role.  In 1962 it was detached to Thailand to operate against communist insurgents.  It also operated in other parts of the Far East Air Force's area during the Indonesian Confrontation.  When No 209 Squadron disbanded in 1969, it received a flight of Pioneers CC Mk 1s, for Forward Air Control.  However, on 18 February 1970 the squadron disbanded once again.  Less than a year later on 1 December 1970, No 20 reformed , as part of RAF Germany again, at Wildenrath as a Harrier squadron.  It was decided to reduce the Harrier force in Germany and so on 1 March 1977, No 20's aircraft were handed over to No 3 and No 4 Squadrons, but on the same day a new No 20 appeared at Bruggen equipped with Jaguar GR Mk 1s.

It operated the Jaguar for seven years until  30 June 1984 when the numberplate was handed over to No 20 (Designate) Squadron at Laarbruch, which had been training to operate the Tornado GR Mk 1 since 1April 1984.  Following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, RAF units in Germany were being reduced and on 31 July 1992 (although it was originally planned to take place on 1 September), No 20 Squadron disbanded as a operational unit.  However, on 1 September 1992 the Harrier OCU, No 233, at Wittering was redesignated No 20 (Reserve) Squadron, the role it continued until 31 March 2010 when it was disbanded with the OCU role being handed over to No 4 (Reserve) Squadron on 1 April 2010.  The squadron was reformed as No 20 Squadron on 1 June 2021 at RAF Boulmer as the ASACS (Air Surveillance & Control  System) OCU to "conduct advanced Phase 2 and Phase 3 combat ready training for Air Operations Branch and Trade Group 7 personnel employed across defence.  The Phase 2 training task qualifies RAF personnel in critical Air Defence roles responsible for monitoring, detecting and identifying all aircraft in and around UK Airspace; and controlling UK Quick Reaction Alert aircraft employed on UK or NATO Air Defence missions.  The Squadron also conducts advanced Tactical Air Command and Control and Air Battlespace Management training for UK tri-service and coalition personnel, preparing them for contingent operations including complex, multi-domain war fighting." 


Standards Battle Honours*
Award of Standard originally announced on 7 Sep 1943, effective from 1 Apr 1943 but presented:-

lst - 13 July 1954

HRH The Princess Margaret.

2nd - 26 November 1982

ACM Sir Keith Williamson.

Western Front, 1916-1918: Somme, 1916: Arras: Ypres, 1917: Somme, 1918: Lys: Hindenburg Line: North Burma, 1943-1944: Arakan, 1943-1944: Manipur, 1944: Burma, 1944-1945: Gulf, 1991:

Mahsud, 1919-1920: Waziristan, 1919-1925: Mohmand, 1927: North West Frontier, 1930-1931: Mohmand, 1933: North West Frontier, 1935-1939:

Squadron Codes used: -

PM Allocated Apr 1939, but probably not carried
HN Sep 1939 - Mar 1943, 1945 - Jul 1947
TH 1949 - 1951
L Jul 1952 - 1954
C Carried on Jaguars
G Carried on Tornados

[Aircraft & Markings | Personnel, aircraft and locations | Commanding Officers]

No 20 Squadron Historian: - Norman Roberson, 13 Bullfinch Close, Oakham, Rutland, LE15 6BS: tel 01572 724567 e-mail: -

*Honours in Black are those the squadron has a been granted the right to emblazon on the Squadron Standard, but does not do so.

Honours in Red  are those actually emblazoned on the Squadron Standard

Honours in Blue are those the squadron has not been granted the right to emblazon on the Squadron Standard

Squadron badge image on this page is courtesy of Steve Clements

Crown Copyright is reproduced with the permission of the Directorate of Intellectual Property Rights

This page was last updated on 29/08/23

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