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No. 78 Squadron RAF

No. 78 Squadron RAF
78 Squadron badge
Active 1916–1918
Role Battlefield Support Helicopter
Garrison/HQ RAF Benson, Oxfordshire
Motto "Nemo non paratus" (Nobody unprepared)
Equipment AgustaWestland Merlin HC3/HC3A
A heraldic tiger

No. 78 Squadron of the Royal Air Force operates the Merlin HC3/3A transport helicopter from RAF Benson. Until December 2007 it was the operator of two Westland Sea King HAR3s from RAF Mount Pleasant, Falkland Islands.


World War 1

No. 78 Squadron was formed as part of the Royal Flying Corps on 1 November 1916 for home defence at Harrietsham and tasked with protecting the southern English coast. It was originally equipped with obsolescent BE2 and more modern BE12 fighters. On the night of 25 September 1917 a Captain Bell of the squadron encountered a German Gotha and attacked it over Joyce Green. John Rawlings, writing in Fighter Squadrons of the Royal Air Force (1969), stated that 'it was believed that he damaged it for one of the German raiders failed to return that night, being lost at sea.'[1] The squadron received Sopwith 1½ Strutters in late 1917, followed by Sopwith Camels in mid-1918. It arrived at Sutton's Farm, under the command of Major Cuthbert Rowden, in September 1917 and was there until December 1919, with a detachment at Biggin Hill. The squadron disbanded on 31 December 1919 following the Armistice.


During the buildup of the RAF in the period before World War II, No. 78 Squadron was reformed at RAF Boscombe Down on 1 November 1936, twenty-two years after it was first formed, by redesignating a flight of the Handley Page Heyford equipped No. 10 Squadron. The new squadron moved to RAF Dishforth in Yorkshire early in 1937, joining No. 4 Group RAF of RAF Bomber Command. In July 1937 it was equipped with Armstrong Whitworth Whitley night bombers.[2]

On the outbreak of the Second World War, the squadron was designated as a training squadron.[3] It moved to RAF Linton-on-Ouse on 15 October 1939, returning to Dishforth in July when it returned to front-line duties as a night bomber squadron. In February 1941, Whitleys from 78 Squadron and No. 51 Squadron, flying from Malta, were used to drop paratroops over southern Italy for Operation Colossus, the first British paratroop operation of the Second World War. In April 1941, the squadron moved to RAF Middleton St. George. In September, the squadron flew its first bombing raid against Berlin. It moved again, to RAF Croft, in October 1941.[2][4]

In early 1942, the squadron started to receive four-engine Handley Page Halifaxes to replace its Whitleys, with conversion being completed in March that year, and flying its first operation with the Halifax, against Ostend on 29 April 1942.[2] On the night of 30/31 May 1942, 78 Squadron contributed 22 Halifaxes to Operation Millennium, the first "1,000 bomber" raid against Cologne.[2]

The squadron moved back to Middleton St. George in June 1942 and to Linton-on-Ouse in September 1942.[2] In June 1943, the squadron moved to RAF Breighton to free up Linton-on Ouse for the Canadian bomber force of No. 6 Group RAF.[4]

In January 1944 the squadron replaced its Merlin-powered Halifax B.IIs with Halifax B.IIIs, powered by Bristol Hercules radial engines which gave greater performance. The squadron continued in the bomber mission until the end of the war in Europe, both against German cities and in direct support of allied ground forces during and after the invasion of France in June 1944. In total, the squadron had dropped 17000 t of bombs and mines during 6,337 operational sorties, losing 182 aircraft but claiming 28 enemy fighters shot down.[5]

Transport operations

In May 1945 the squadron was transferred into Transport Command, re-equipping with Dakotas in July–August 1945 and moving to Cairo in September, flying transport operations around the Middle East and Air-Sea Rescue patrols over the Eastern Mediterranian.[6] It remained active in the post-war period as a transport squadron, converting to Valettas in April 1950, before being disbanded at RAF Fayid in Egypt on 30 September 1954.[6][4]

The squadron was reformed on 24 April 1956 at RAF Khormaksar in Aden, operating Scottish Aviation Pioneer single-engine STOL transports. These were replaced by larger, twin-engined, Twin Pioneers in November 1958.[6] In 1965 these were transferred to No. 21 Squadron and the squadron converted to a helicopter unit operating the Wessex. It transferred to RAF Sharjah in 1967, continuing to fly in the army support and Search and Rescue roles until being disbanded in 1971.[7]

Helicopter operations

The Squadron reformed on 22 May 1986 when No. 1310 Flight, operating Boeing Chinooks, and the Westland Sea King HAR.3 equipeed No. 1564 Flight merged at RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands.[8][3] Originally operating the Chinook HC.1, these were later replaced with HC.2s.

From 1988 to 2007, No. 78 Squadron was the only RAF squadron permanently based in the Falkland Islands. The four Tornado F3s which provide air defence are operated by No. 1435 Flight, while No. 1312 Flight operated a single Vickers VC10 and one Lockheed Hercules C.3.

In December 2007, No. 78 Squadron reverted to its previous identity of No. 1564 Flight and a new No. 78 Squadron formed at RAF Benson as part of the Joint Helicopter Command, flying the Merlin HC3 and the new Merlin HC3A helicopters purchased from Denmark. By 2008, the total fleet of twenty eight RAF Merlin helicopters will be operated in a pool with 28 (AC) Squadron, also based at RAF Benson.[9]

Following the transfer of the squadrons Merlins to the Fleet Air Arm, 78 Squadron was disbanded on 30 September 2014. [10]

Aircraft operated

See also


  1. ^ John Rawlings, Fighter Squadrons of the Royal Air Force, MacDonald, 1969, p.193
  2. ^ a b c d e Rawlings Air Pictorial April 1961, p. 104.
  3. ^ a b "78 Squadron". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  4. ^ a b c "No 76 - 80 Squadron Histories". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. 21 August 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  5. ^ Rawling Air Pictorial April 1961, pp. 104–105.
  6. ^ a b c Rawlings Air Pictorial April 1961, p. 105.
  7. ^ Rawlings 1982, pp. 39–40, 91.
  8. ^ Ashworth 1989, p. 157.
  9. ^ 78 Squadron Operational
  10. ^
  • Ashworth, Chris. Encyclopedia of Modern Royal Air Force Squadrons. Wellingborough, UK: Patrick Stephens Limited, 1989. ISBn 1-85260-013-6.
  • Rawlings, John D. R. Coastal, Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Jane's Publishing Company, 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0187-5.
  • Rawlings, J.D.R. "Squadron Histories: No. 78". Air Pictorial, Vol. 23 No. 4, April 1961. pp. 104–105.
  • Squadron history at

External links

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