No. 11 Group RAF
|No. 11 Group RAF|
No. 11 Group badge depicting the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster surrounded by the astral crown
|Active||1 Apr 1918 – 17 May 1918
22 Aug 1918 – May 1920
1 May 1936 – 31 Dec 1960
1 Jan 1961 – 1 Apr 1963
1 Apr 1968 – 1 Apr 1996
|Branch||Royal Air Force|
|Role||Defence of London & South East England, Fighter Offensive|
|Part of||RAF Fighter Command|
|Garrison/HQ||RAF Bentley Priory, Middlesex, England (1968–1996)|
|Motto(s)||Tutela Cordis (Latin: Defence of the heart)|
|Royal Air Force Ensign|
|Air Vice-Marshal K R Park|
No. 11 Group was a group in the Royal Air Force for various periods in the 20th century, finally disbanding in 1996. Its most famous service was during 1940 when it defended London and the south-east against the attacks of the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain.
First World War
No. 11 Group was first formed on 1 April 1918 in No. 2 Area as No. 11 (Equipment) Group, and was transferred to South-Western Area the next month on 8 May. 11 Group's short first existence came to an end on 17 May 1918, when it was disbanded.
The next incarnation of the Group was later the same year when it was formed in North-Western Area on 22 August. On 6 February 1920 Group Captain I M Bonham-Carter took command. Three months later, in May 1920, No. 11 Group was reduced to No. 11 Wing.
It was reformed on 1 May 1936 as No. 11 (Fighter) Group by renaming Fighting Area. On 14 July 1936, 11 Group became the first RAF Fighter Command group formed, with the responsibility for the air defence of southern England, including London.
Second World War
11 Group was organised using the Dowding System of fighter control. Group Headquarters was at Hillingdon House within RAF Uxbridge. The Group operations room was underground in what is now known as the Battle of Britain Bunker. Commands were passed to the sector airfields, each of which was in charge of several airfields and fighter squadrons. The sector airfields were:
11 Group's most famous period was during the Battle of Britain when, due to its position, 11 Group bore the brunt of the German aerial assault. Pilots posted to squadrons in 11 Group knew that they would be sent into certain action while pilots and squadrons transferring out of 11 Group knew that they were going to comparatively safer duty.
While fully supported by the commanders (AOCs) of 10 Group and 13 Group, he received insufficient support from the AOC of 12 Group, Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, who wanted the 11 Group AOC position and used the Big Wing controversy to criticise Park's tactics. Leigh-Mallory's lack of support compromised Britain's defenses at a critical time and the following controversy caused problems for Park. When the Battle of Britain was finally over, Leigh-Mallory, acting with Air Marshal Sholto Douglas, conspired to have Park removed from his position (along with the Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding). Leigh-Mallory then took over 11 Group.
Following the war, 11 Group continued to be a key formation within Fighter Command. In December 1951 it consisted of two sectors, the Southern and Metropolitan. The Southern Sector had Nos 1 and 29/22 Squadrons at RAF Tangmere and 54 and 247 Squadrons at RAF Odiham. The Metropolitan Sector had 25 Squadron at RAF West Malling, 41/253 at RAF Biggin Hill, 56/87 and 63 at RAF Waterbeach, 64 and 65 at Duxford, 72 at North Weald, 85/145 at West Malling with Meteor NF.11s, and 257 and 263 Squadrons at Wattisham. (The '/' denotes a short-lived RAF postwar scheme in which some squadrons were linked, and two squadron numbers' heritage was carried on within one single unit.)
However, in 1960 there was a rationalisation of Fighter Command, and 11 Group was disbanded on 31 December 1960. However, it reformed one day later when No. 13 Group was renamed to No. 11 Group. On 1 April 1963 the Group was renamed No. 11 (Northern) Sector. This incarnation lasted until Fighter Command was absorbed into the new Strike Command on 1 April 1968. The day Fighter Command merged into RAF Strike Command, 30 April 1968, Group Headquarters shifted to RAF Bentley Priory in northwest London, and took responsibility for the UK Air Defence Region (UK ADR). In aircraft terms, the English Electric Lightning entered service in 1960 and the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II in 1969, with No. 43 Squadron at RAF Leuchars.
The group was renamed No. 11 (Air Defence) Group in January 1986. In the early 1990s, the Group's frontline force consisted of Nos 56 and 74 Squadrons flying Phantoms from RAF Wattisham, No. 5 and No. 29 Squadrons flying Panavia Tornados from RAF Coningsby, Nos 11, 23, and 25 Squadrons flying Panavia Tornados from RAF Leeming, and No. 43 and No. 111 Squadrons at RAF Leuchars. No. 8 Squadron RAF flew E-3 Sentry AEW aircraft from RAF Waddington. Nos 5 and 11 Squadrons had been the last units flying the English Electric Lightning from RAF Binbrook until 1988. Nos 25 and 85 Squadrons had been operating Bristol Bloodhound surface-to-air missiles, but re-equipped with Tornado and disbanded, respectively, in 1989 and on 10 July 1991. The Wattisham Phantom Wing was disbanded relatively quickly following the end of the Cold War. Later, No. 23 Squadron was disbanded in March 1994.
No. 11 Group lasted until 1996, when on 1 April it was amalgamated with No. 18 Group to form No. 11/18 Group. Air Vice Marshal Anthony Bagnall, who took over on 15 July 1994, was the Group's last commander.
- Skinner (2008), p. 66.
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