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No. 51 Squadron RAF

No. 51 Squadron RAF
File:51 Squadron RAF.png
Squadron crest
Active 15 May 1916 (RFC) – 13 June 1919
5 March 1937 – 30 October 1950
21 August 1958 – Present
Country 23x15px United Kingdom
Branch 23px Royal Air Force
Role Signals Intelligence
Part of No. 2 Group RAF
Base RAF Mildenhall
Nickname "York's 'own' Squadron"
Motto Swift and Sure
Aircraft Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint
Battle honours Home Defence, 1916–1918*; Channel & North Sea, 1940–1943; Norway, 1940*; France & Low Countries, 1940*; Ruhr, 1940–1945*; Fortress Europe, 1940–1944*; German Ports, 1940–1945; Invasion Ports, 1940; Biscay Ports, 1940–1944; Berlin, 1940–1944; Baltic, 1940–1944*; Biscay, 1942*; Italy, 1943*; France & Germany, 1944–1945*; Normandy, 1944; Walcheren; Rhine; South Atlantic, 1982; Gulf, 1991; Iraq, 2003; Kosovo.
Honours marked with an asterix* are those emblazoned on the Squadron Standard
Squadron Badge heraldry A goose volant
Squadron Codes UT (Aug 1939 – Sep 1939)
MH (Sep 1939 – May 1945, Dec 1949 – Oct 1950
LK (? – Jan 1944)
('C' Flt which became 578 Sqn)
C6 (Jan 1944 – May 1945)
('C' Flt)
TB (May 1945 – Dec 1949)
File:51 Squadron Halifax crew return from Ruhr WWII IWM CH 10293.jpg
51 Squadron Halifax crew hand in their parachutes after a raid on the Ruhr
File:First Rivet Joint Aircraft Lands at RAF Waddington MOD 45156408.jpg
First British RC-135W (ZZ664) arrives at Waddington in November 2013

No. 51 Squadron of the Royal Air Force most recently operated the Nimrod R1 from RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire until June 2011.[1] Crews from No. 51 Squadron are currently training alongside the United States Air Force on the RC-135W Rivet Joint, which is planned to enter service with the RAF in October 2014[2] under the Airseeker project.[3]


World War I

Formed at Thetford, Norfolk, 51 Squadron Royal Flying Corps flew B.E.2 and B.E.12 aircraft. 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.

Interwar years

The squadron was reborn when part of 150 Squadron was renumbered as 51 Squadron 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.[4]

World War II

51 Squadron dropped leaflets over Germany on the very first night of the Second World War, using the Whitley aircraft; bombs replaced leaflets in early 1940. 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.


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.[5] 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 and English Electric Canberras, the former being replaced by a modified version of the Hawker-Siddeley Nimrod in 1974. Three of the Canberras were retired from service in 1974, with the final Canberra following in 1976.

A move to RAF Waddington occurred in 1995 after RAF Wyton changed its role from an operational flying RAF station. Several of the support organisations, EWOSE (Electronic Warfare Operational Support Establishment) and EWAD (Electronic Warfare and Avionics Detachment), EWTU (Electronic Warfare and Training Unit) relocated at the same time.

The squadron has taken part in most operations the British armed forces have been involved with in recent years, including the Falklands War, the first Gulf War, operations in Kosovo and the war in Iraq in 2003.

In February 2008, UK press reports suggested that 51 Squadron had listened in to Taliban insurgents speaking in West Yorkshire and West Midlands accents, suggesting that they were British raised, if not British citizens.[6]

One of the three Nimrods on strength was retired at the end of November 2009 with the other two remaining in service until June 2011.[1] The Nimrods will be replaced by three Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft starting in 2014.[7] In January 2011 personnel from 51 Squadron began training at Offutt Air Force Base in the US for conversion to the RC-135. Crews will deploy on joint missions with the USAF 343rd Reconnaissance Squadron until the new aircraft are available.[8] The first RC135W (ZZ664) was delivered ahead of schedule to the Royal Air Force on 12 November 2013, for final approval and testing by the Defence Support and Equipment team prior to its release to service from the UK MAA.

51 Squadron is currently deployed, and will if necessary temporarily relocate to RAF Mildenhall, where USAF Rivet Joints also operate, due to the resurfacing of the runway at Waddington.[9]

Aircraft operated

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 "Nimrod R1 makes final flight" Defence Management Journal, 28 June 2011. Retrieved: 28 June 2011.
  2. "Ministry of Defence - The Major Projects Report 2012 Appendix 3" (PDF). National Audit Office. 8 January 2013. p. 32. 
  3. Perry, Dominic (12 November 2013). "PICTURES: First RAF Rivet Joint aircraft arrives in UK". Flight Global. Retrieved 18 December 2013. 
  4. Moyes 1976, p. 78.
  5. Lake 2001, p. 130–131.
  6. "RAF surveillance planes hear Taliban fighters talking in Brummie and Yorkshire accents". Daily Mail. 11 February 2008. 
  7. Peruzzi, Luca (20 May 2010). "RAF prepares for final Afghan deployment with Nimrod R1". Flight International. Retrieved 21 January 2011. 
  8. Hoyle, Craig (14 January 2011). "RAF personnel start Rivet Joint training". Flight International. Retrieved 21 January 2011. 


  • 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.
  • 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