No. 51 Squadron RAF

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No. 51 Squadron RAF
Squadron badge
Active15 May 1916 – 1 April 1918 (RFC)
1 April 1918 – 13 June 1919 (RAF)
5 March 1937 – 30 October 1950
21 August 1958 – present
CountryUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
Branch Royal Air Force
TypeFlying squadron
RoleSignals intelligence
SizeThree aircraft
Part ofNo. 1 Group
Home stationRAF Waddington
Nickname(s)'York's own squadron'
Motto(s)Swift and Sure[1]
AircraftBoeing RC-135W Airseeker
Battle honours * Honours marked with an asterisk may be emblazoned on the Squadron Standard
Squadron badge heraldryA goose volant, chosen as a play on the word 'Anson', the aircraft which the squadron was flying when the badge was being designed, as 'Anser' is the Latin word for Goose, and it was felt that a heavy wild fowl was appropriate for a bomber squadron. Approved by King George VI in December 1937.
Squadron codesUT (Aug 1939 – Sep 1939)
MH (Sep 1939 – May 1945)
LK (? – Jan 1944)
('C' Flt which became 578 Sqn)
C6 (Jan 1944 – May 1945)
('C' Flt)
TB (May 1945 – Dec 1949)
MH (Dec 1949 – Oct 1950)

Number 51 Squadron is a squadron of the Royal Air Force. Since 2014 it has operated the Boeing RC-135W Airseeker R.1, more commonly referred to as the Rivet Joint, from RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire.

It had previously flown the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod R.1 from 1974 until 2011.[2] Following the Nimrod's retirement, crews from No. 51 Squadron trained alongside the United States Air Force on the RC-135W Rivet Joint, which was being acquired by the RAF under the Airseeker project.[3][4][5]


World War I[edit]

51 Squadron Royal Flying Corps flew B.E.2 and B.E.12 aircraft; the squadron formed at Thetford, Norfolk, before moving its headquarters to the airfield that later became RAF Marham. The squadron's primary role during the First World War was defence of the UK against German Zeppelin raids. It also used the Avro 504K to give night flying training to new pilots. The squadron disbanded in 1919.[6]

Interwar years[edit]

The squadron was reborn when 'B' Flight of 58 Squadron was renumbered as 51 Squadron at Driffield in March 1937, flying Virginias and Ansons. At this time the squadron badge was being chosen and a goose was chosen as a play on words: the squadron was flying the Anson and the Latin for goose is Anser. It was also appropriate for a bomber unit to have a heavy wild fowl to represent it.[7]

World War II[edit]

Loading bombs into a 51 Squadron Halifax at RAF Snaith
51 Squadron Halifax crew hand in their parachutes after a raid on the Ruhr

51 Squadron dropped leaflets over Germany on the very first night of the Second World War, using the Whitley aircraft.[8]

In February 1942, led by the legendary Percy Pickard, 51 Squadron carried 119 paratroops and an RAF flight sergeant skilled in electronics to Bruneval, France, in converted Whitleys. The men then carried out a very successful raid on a German radar installation, removing parts of a new type known as a Würzburg, which they took back to Britain.[9]

A brief period as part of Coastal Command patrolling against the U-boats in the Bay of Biscay preceded the re-equipment with the Halifax in 1942. 51 spent the rest of the war in Europe flying as part of No. 4 Group RAF, RAF Bomber Command's strategic bombing offensive against the Nazis, operating from RAF Snaith in East Yorkshire.[10]


The squadron became part of Transport Command with Stirlings and later Yorks following the end of the European war, transporting men and material to India and the Far East. The squadron disbanded in 1950, after taking part in the Berlin Airlift.

The squadron again reformed in the 'Special Duties' role when No. 192 Squadron RAF was renumbered at RAF Watton on 21 August 1958, moving to nearby Wyton in April 1963.[11] It was only following the end of the Cold War that the signals intelligence role of the squadron was publicly recognised. Signals intelligence encompasses both Electronic Intelligence (Elint) and Communications Intelligence (Comint). The squadron flew this role using de Havilland Comets.[12] The Comets were replaced by a modified version of the Hawker-Siddeley Nimrod in 1974.[13]

First British RC-135W (ZZ664) arrives at Waddington in November 2013

One of the three Nimrods on strength was retired at the end of November 2009[14] with the other two remaining in service until June 2011.[2] The Nimrods were replaced by three Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft. In January 2011 personnel from 51 Squadron began training at Offutt Air Force Base in the US for conversion to the RC-135. Crews were to be deployed on joint missions with the USAF 343rd Reconnaissance Squadron until the new aircraft became available.[15] The first RC135W (ZZ664) was delivered to the Royal Air Force on 12 November 2013,[16] and entered operational service in 2014, taking part in Operation Shader against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.[17]

Aircraft operated[edit]

Aircraft operated have included:

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Pine, L.G. (1983). A dictionary of mottoes (1 ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 227. ISBN 0-7100-9339-X.
  2. ^ a b "Nimrod R1 makes final flight" Archived 25 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine Defence Management Journal, 28 June 2011. Retrieved: 28 June 2011.
  3. ^ "Ministry of Defence – The Major Projects Report 2012 Appendix 3" (PDF). National Audit Office. 8 January 2013. p. 32. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 December 2013.
  4. ^ "New RAF Intelligence Aircraft Arrives in UK Seven Months Early".
  5. ^ Perry, Dominic (12 November 2013). "PICTURES: First RAF Rivet Joint aircraft arrives in UK". Flight Global. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
  6. ^ "51 Squadron's War". Britain at War. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  7. ^ Moyes 1976, p. 78.
  8. ^ "No. 51 Squadron RAF". Royal Air Force Museum. Retrieved 26 November 2020.
  9. ^ Price, Alfred. Instruments of Darkness: The History of Electronic Warfare, 1939–1945.Naval Institute Press; Revised, Expanded ed. (Aug. 1 2017)
  10. ^ "No. 51 Squadron (RAF): Second World War". History of War. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  11. ^ Lake 2001, p. 130–131.
  12. ^ Aldrich, Robert (2011). GCHQ: Britain's Most Secret Intelligence Agency. Harper Collins. p. 121. ISBN 978-0007312665.
  13. ^ "UK squadron prepares for Nimrod R1 retirement". Flight Global. 18 February 2011. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  14. ^ Peruzzi, Luca (20 May 2010). "RAF prepares for final Afghan deployment with Nimrod R1". Flight International. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  15. ^ Hoyle, Craig (14 January 2011). "RAF personnel start Rivet Joint training". Flight International. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  16. ^ Perry, Dominic (12 November 2013). "PICTURES: First RAF Rivet Joint aircraft arrives in UK". Flight International. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  17. ^ Hoyle, Craig (21 July 2015). "RAF to take early delivery of UK's second Rivet Joint". Flight International. Retrieved 29 June 2019.


  • Ford, Keith S. Snaith days: Life with 51 Squadron, 1942–45. Warrington, Cheshire, UK: Compaid Graphics, 1993. ISBN 0-9517965-1-8.
  • Ford, Keith S. Swift and Sure: Eighty Years of 51 Squadron RAF (York's Own Squadron). Preston, Lancashire, UK: Compaid Graphics, 1997. ISBN 0-9517965-8-5.
  • Forster, Dave; Gibson, Chris (2015). Listening In. Hikoki Publications. ISBN 978-190210938-1.
  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force and Commonwealth, 1918–1988. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britai (Historians) Ltd., 1988. ISBN 0-85130-164-9.
  • Lake, Jon. "Wyton's Cold War spyplanes: No 51 Squadron's Canberras". International Air Power Review. Volume 1, 2001. Norwalk, Connecticut, USA: AIRtime Publishing. pp. 130–137. ISBN 1-880588-33-1. ISSN 1473-9917.
  • Moyes, Philip J.R. Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and Their Aircraft. London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd., 1964 (Revised edition 1976). ISBN 0-354-01027-1
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Coastal, Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and Their Aircraft. London: Jane's Publishing Company Ltd., 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0187-5.
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and Their Aircraft. London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd., 1969 (Revised edition 1976, reprinted 1978). ISBN 0-354-01028-X.
  • Ward, Chris. Royal Air Force Bomber Command Squadron Profiles, Number 16: 51 Squadron – Swift and Sure. Berkshire, UK: Ward Publishing, 1998.

External links[edit]