No. 39 Squadron RAF

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No. 39 Squadron RAF
39 Squadron badge
  • 15 Apr 1916 – 17 Nov 1918
  • 1 Jul 1919 – 8 Sep 1946
  • 1 Apr 1948 – 28 Jul 2006
  • 1 Jan 2007 – present
CountryUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
BranchAir Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Air Force
TypeRemotely Piloted Air System squadron
RoleIntelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) and attack
Part ofNo. 1 Group RAF
Home stationRAF Waddington (HQ) and Creech AFB, Nevada
Motto(s)Die noctuque
(Latin for By day and night)[1]
AircraftGeneral Atomics MQ-9A Reaper
Battle honours
Squadron badge heraldryA winged bomb
Squadron codesSF Apr-Sep 1939 (Allocated but probably not carried)
XZ Sep 1939 - Dec 1940
AA–AZ (Canberras and Tornados)

No. 39 Squadron of the Royal Air Force has operated the MQ-9 Reaper since 2007. The squadron is currently operating from the United States.[4]


World War I[edit]

39 Squadron was founded at Hounslow Heath Aerodrome in April 1916 with B.E.2s and Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12s in an attempt to defend against German Zeppelin raids on London.[5] It achieved its first success on the night of 2/3 September 1916, when Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson shot down the German Airship Schütte-Lanz SL11, being awarded the Victoria Cross for this action. On 23 September 1916, the German Navy launched another Zeppelin raid against London. Responding to this raid, 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Sowrey of 39 Squadron shot down Zeppelin L.32, while another 39 Squadron B.E.2 engaged Zeppelin L.33, already damaged by anti-aircraft fire, with L.33 force landing at Little Wigborough, Essex, and being destroyed by its crew.[6] On the night of 1/2 October 1916, 2nd Lieutenant W. L. Tempest of 39 Squadron, flying a B.E.2c, spotted Zeppelin L.31 illuminated by searchlights over southwest London and shot it down with the loss of the entire airship crew.[7][8]

The Squadron continued in the defence of London, supplementing its B.E.2s and B.E.12s with three Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5s to help deal with daylight attacks by German Gotha bombers,[9] with at least one Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8 also operated by the unit.[10] The squadron re-equipped with Bristol F.2 Fighters in September 1917,[11] but had no more success against German raiders until the night of 19/20 May 1918, when a 39 Squadron Bristol Fighter shot down a Gotha bomber.[12] In October 1918 it was re-equipped with Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b aircraft and sent to France for night bombing, but was disbanded five days after the Armistice.[5][13]

Between the wars[edit]

It was reformed on 1 July 1919, when 37 Squadron based at Biggin Hill was renumbered. The squadron was reduced to a cadre in December 1919, but did not disband, and in April 1921 it was decided to return the Squadron to operations. By May that year, the squadron was fully manned and received a number of Avro 504 to train aircrew in preparation for operating more warlike aircraft.[14] These arrived in February 1923 when the Squadron, now based at RAF Spitalgate in Lincolnshire received 18 Airco DH.9As.[5][13][a] As well as training for its role as a day bomber, the squadron also was chosen to perform a formation flying display at the RAF Air Pagent at Hendon in 1923,[18][19] repeating its appearance in 1926 and 1927, when it flew joint formation flying and bombing displays with 207 Squadron.[20] In January 1928, the squadron moved from Spitalgate to RAF Bircham Newton in Norfolk, where it began to prepare to a prospective move to British India.[21]

Hawker Harts of 39 Squadron

In December 1929 it left the United Kingdom, leaving behind its DH.9As to equip 101 Squadron.[22] It arrived at Risalpur, North-West Frontier Province India (now part of Pakistan) at the end of January 1929, receiving its complement of twelve Westland Wapitis (which had been shipped out separately) in March that year.[23][24] It was used for Air Policing in the North West Frontier, carrying out bombing missions against rebelling tribesmen and their villages, and support for the army. In December 1931 it was re-equipped with Hawker Harts, operations continuing as before, also being used as part of the relief effort following the 1935 Quetta earthquake, flying supplies to devastated Quetta and carrying out medical evacuations.[25] Major military operations included support of the Second Mohmand Campaign of 1935 against hostile tribesmen in Mohmand Territory,[26] and operations against supporters of the Faqir of Ipi in 1938.[27]

World War II[edit]

Martin Marylands of 39 Squadron operating from a landing ground in the Western Desert in 1941

In 1939 the squadron re-equipped with more modern Bristol Blenheim I twin-engined monoplane bombers. As the threat of war increased, it was decided to strengthen British defences in the Far East by moving 39 Squadron to Singapore, with the squadron setting off with nine Blenheims on 6 August. The ferry trip was a disaster, with six aircraft wrecked, and three men killed, including Wing Commander Burton Ankers, commander of the 2nd Indian Wing Station at Risalpur, whose Blenheim caught fire and crashed after being struck by lightning.[28][29] In April 1940, the squadron was ordered back to India, arriving at Lahore on 25 April, and then to strengthen defences in the Middle East, being ordered to reinforce Aden, setting out on 5 May, with the air component reaching Aden on 13 May and the groundcrew arriving by ship on 10 June 1940.[30]

On that day, Italy declared war on Great Britain and France, and No. 39 Squadron was quickly committed to action against Italian East Africa, carrying out its first combat mission of the war on 12 June when a force of Blenheims attacked Dire Dawa airfield in Ethiopia, causing little damage.[31] The squadron continued operations against Italian forces until 24 November, when it was ordered to transfer to Egypt to support the planned offensive in the Western Desert (Operation Compass), with the first aircraft leaving Aden for Helwan on 29 November.[32][33]

A detachment of three Blenheims operated with 45 Squadron over the Western Desert from 10 December, flying harassment raids against Italian-held airfields, while the remainder of the Squadron remained at Helwan while it recovered from the operations in East Africa, and started to replace its Blenheim Is with Blenheim IVs. In January, however, the squadron was ordered to recall the three aircraft detachment and hand over the squadron's Blenheims to 11 Squadron, which was to deploy to Greece. To replace its Blenheim IVs, 39 Squadron received Martin Maryland bombers, originally built for the French Air Force, becoming the first RAF squadron to operate the Maryland.[34][35] Owing to the long range of the Maryland, 39 Squadron used it mainly for reconnaissance. The squadron was heavily deployed during the Battle of Crete, claiming at least two Junkers Ju 52 transport aircraft shot down in the course of its operations during the battle.[36][37]

A 39 Sqn Beaufort II at Luqa, Malta, in June 1943.

In August–September 1941, the squadron partly converted to the Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber for anti-shipping operations, although it retained a flight of Marylands until January 1942. At first the Squadron's Beauforts were armed with bombs but from January 1942 it added torpedo attack to its roles.[38][39] In late 1941 the unit was split up. One flight moved to Luqa, Malta in December 1941: six months later this flight was combined with others from 86 and 217 Squadrons to eventually form a new 39 Squadron. In 1943 the unit re-equipped with Bristol Beaufighter aircraft in the ground attack role and moved back to Egypt then on to Italy.[13] During the Greek Civil War, it sent rocket-armed aircraft to participate in RAF operations.[40] In December 1944, it re-equipped with Martin Marauders, flying medium bombing missions in support of Tito's Partisans.[41] It re-equipped with de Havilland Mosquitos in 1946, disbanding later in the year.[5]

Post World War II[edit]

It reformed as a fighter squadron equipped with the Hawker Tempest at Nairobi on 1 April 1948, disbanding on 28 February 1949, but reforming the next day at RAF Fayid in Egypt, flying de Havilland Mosquito NF Mk 36 night fighters.[42] The squadron moved to nearby RAF Kabrit on 21 February 1951. As 1951 continued, tensions between the British forces in the Suez Canal Zone and the Egyptians, who wanted Britain to pull out of Egypt, and following anti-British riots in Cairo in January 1952, the squadron was put on standby to support plans for a British attack on Cairo if the situation further deteriorated, until the Egyptian army intervened and stopped the rioting, easing tensions a little.[43] It re-equipped with Gloster Meteor night fighters in March 1953, but following the Egyptian revolution of 1952, the situation for the British gradually became untenable, and in October 1954, the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement was signed, in which Britain agreed that its forces would leave Egypt by June 1956. As part of this agreement, 39 Squadron moved to RAF Luqa in Malta on 10 January 1955.[44]

The squadron moved to RAF Akrotiri on Cyprus in August 1956 as Britain and France prepared a military response to the Egyptian Nationalisation of the Suez Canal. On 31 October, the British and French launched Operation Musketeer, an series of heavy air attacks against Egyptian targets followed by landings on 6 November. 39 Squadron's role was to protect the vital airfields on Cyprus from any potential Egyptian retaliation. Pressure from the UN forced a ceasefire in Egypt and a withdrawal of the Anglo-French forces by the end of December, but the squadron remained in Cyprus after the British forces dispersed,[45] flying patrols to deter aircraft that were suspected of dropping supplies to EOKA forces fighting against the British rule of Cyprus. The main body of the squadron returned to Malta in March 1957, but a detachment was maintained on Cyprus.[46] Tensions in Lebanon (which eventually culminated in the Lebanon Crisis of July–October 1958) caused the whole squadron to move to Cyprus in May 1958, but it soon returned to Malta and disbanded on 30 June 1958.[47]

No. 39 reformed the next day at RAF Luqa by renumbering 69 Squadron, flying reconnaissance Canberra PR3s in the high altitude reconnaissance role and assigned to the NATO Sixth Allied Tactical Air Force.[48][49] It moved to RAF Wyton in September 1970, disbanding on 1 June 1982.[13]

The squadron was reformed on 1 July 1992 when No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit RAF at Wyton, equipped with Canberra PR Mk 9 aircraft was re-numbered 39, moving to RAF Marham in December 1993, where it also received Canberra PR Mk 7s.[13] The squadron disbanded on 30 July 2006.[50]


Four RAF badges in a row, each showing letters RAF, inside a blue laurel, with a crown above it and wings to either side
RAF Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) 'Wings', which differ only slightly from the current RAF pilot badge by having blue laurel leaves to identify the specialisation. (Phased out in favour of traditional Pilot Brevet as of 1 Apr 2019)

In January 2005, a new unit, No. 1115 Flight, was formed at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada to operate the RAF's first Remotely-piloted Air System (RPAS). Operating the MQ-1 Predator, the unit began training personnel in the operation of UAVs, prior to the stand up of a new squadron. 39 Squadron was reformed in March 2007, with the former 1115 Flight becoming 'A' Flight, while 'B' Flight received the MQ-9 Reaper. The squadron relocated to RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. On 9 November 2007 the Ministry of Defence announced that the squadron's MQ-9 Reapers had begun operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban.[51]

As of March 2009, the squadron operated 12 three-man teams to pilot its Reaper aircraft. Supporting intelligence specialists, Information Communications Technicians, signallers, and meteorologists bring the total number of squadron personnel to around 90. The squadron operated two aircraft but planned to have a total of six by the end of 2009.[52] As of April 2011, five Reaper aircraft were in operation, with a further five on order[53] and as of September 2016, the squadron, still based in Nevada, had ten operational Reaper aircraft and missions were being undertaken in Syria.[54]

Aircraft operated[edit]

From [55] except where stated

See also[edit]



  1. ^ While some sources state that 39 Squadron received its DH.9As in 1923,[11][13] others suggest that they arrived earlier, either in 1921 [15][16] or 1922.[17]


  1. ^ Pine, L.G. (1983). A dictionary of mottoes (1 ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 53. ISBN 0-7100-9339-X.
  2. ^ "RAF Battle Honours - RAF Heraldry Trust".
  3. ^ Mander, Simon (20 October 2017). "Royal honours for heroes of Libya and Iraq". RAF News. High Wycombe: Royal Air Force (1429): 5. ISSN 0035-8614.
  4. ^ Squadrons at RAF Waddington, Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d Lewis 1959, p.29.
  6. ^ Flight 20 May 1932, p.454.
  7. ^ Cole and Cheesman 1984, pp. 174–176.
  8. ^ Delve 1985, p.18.
  9. ^ a b Cole and Cheeseman 1984, pp. 256, 265.
  10. ^ Bruce 1982, pp.103, 105.
  11. ^ a b c Halley 1980, p. 72.
  12. ^ Cole and Cheeseman 1984, p. 428.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h "39 Squadron Archived 14 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine". Royal Air Force, Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  14. ^ Delve 1985, pp. 22–23.
  15. ^ Moyes1964, pp. 59–60.
  16. ^ Thetford Aeroplane Monthly August 1992, pp. 20–21.
  17. ^ Delve 1985, p. 23.
  18. ^ Delve 1985, pp. 24–25.
  19. ^ Flight 5 July 1923, pp. 362–363.
  20. ^ Thetford Aeroplane Monthly August 1992, p. 21.
  21. ^ Delve 1985, p. 28.
  22. ^ Thetford Aeroplane Monthly August 1992, pp. 20–22.
  23. ^ Delve 1985, pp. 29, 31.
  24. ^ Delve 1995, pp.50–51.
  25. ^ Delve 1995, pp.56–57.
  26. ^ Delve 1985, pp. 50–51.
  27. ^ Delve 1985, p. 53.
  28. ^ Delve 1985, pp. 54–55.
  29. ^ Franks, Norman. "Wing Commander B. Ankers DSO, DCM". Aeroplane, Vol. 41, No. 9, September 2013. pp. 64–65.
  30. ^ Delve 1985, pp. 55–56.
  31. ^ Shores 1996, p. 18.
  32. ^ Delve 1985, pp. 57–60.
  33. ^ Shores 1996, p. 80.
  34. ^ Shores, Massimello and Guest 2012, pp. 114–115.
  35. ^ Delve 1985, pp. 62–62.
  36. ^ Delve 1985, pp. 62, 64.
  37. ^ Shores, Massimello and Guest 2012, pp. 191, 199.
  38. ^ Delve 1985, p. 65.
  39. ^ Delve 1996, pp. 26–28.
  40. ^ Rickard, J. "No. 39 Squadron (RAF) during the Second World War". Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  41. ^ "39 Squadron Marauder History 1944–45". 39 Squadron : B26 Marauder Association. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  42. ^ Verney, P, 'Post war use of the Mosquito in the M.E.A.F.'
  43. ^ Delve 1985, pp. 144–145.
  44. ^ Delve 1985, pp. 145–147.
  45. ^ Delve 1985, pp. 149–151.
  46. ^ Delve 1985, pp. 152–153.
  47. ^ Delve 1985, p. 153.
  48. ^ Delve 1985, p. 154.
  49. ^ Jackson 1988, p. 69.
  50. ^ "No 36 - 40 Squadron Histories". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  51. ^ "Skynet military launch is delayed". 9 November 2007 – via
  52. ^ Rayment, Sean. "RAF Bomb The Taliban From 8,000 Miles Away", Sunday Telegraph, 21 March 2009.
  53. ^ "RAF – Reaper". Royal Air Force. 2011. Retrieved 30 April 2011.
  54. ^ "RAF Reaper drone was involved in botched US Syria airstrike". The Register. 19 September 2016. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  55. ^ Delve 1985, pp. 169–170.


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  • Bruce, J.M. The Aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps (Military Wing) London: Putnam and Company, 1982. ISBN 0-370-30084-X
  • Chorlton, Martyn. Defenders of the North West Frontier. Aeroplane, Vol.39, No.8, August 2011. ISSN 0143-7240. pp. 24–28.
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External links[edit]