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101 Squadron

No. 101 Squadron pays tribute to one of its most famous sons

THE RAF family, and No. 101 Squadron in particular, joined together in mourning after losing one of its oldest sons – Flt Lt Russell ‘Rusty’ Waughman DFC AFC.

A WW2 officer, Rusty was a Lancaster pilot who, amongst dozens of other missions, took part in the Nuremburg raid on the evening of March 31, 1944, a night when the RAF losses exceeded those during the whole of the Battle of Britain.

The County Durham-born war hero died just a month short of his 101st birthday surrounded by his family at his home in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, a few months after meeting King Charles at a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of the Dambusters raid.

Flt Lt Russell ‘Rusty’ Waughman DFC AFC
(Flt Lt Russell ‘Rusty’ Waughman DFC AFC)

Rusty was just 20 when he began flying operations with 101 Squadron in November 1943, at a time when the Lancaster’s importance to the war effort was growing considerably; 101’s fleet of Lancasters had started to be equipped with a top-secret radio jamming device, an addition that made them highly vulnerable to being tracked and attacked, the result being that the squadron had the highest casualty rate of any RAF unit during the war.

The squadron itself was no stranger to dangerous missions in both world wars, its history dating back to the latter part of WWI, formed on July 12, 1917, at Farnborough, operating Royal Aircraft Factory FE2bs, soon moving over to France where they were utilised as a night bomber squadron.

First disbanded in December 1919, No. 101 reformed in March 1928 at RAF Bircham Newton in Norfolk as a bomber squadron, flying the Boulton Paul Sidestrand, switching a decade later to the Bristol Blenheim, an aircraft it operated over the early part of WW2.

An Airborne Cigar (ABC) Lancaster I of No. 101 Squadron dropping bombs over Duisburg, 1944
(An Airborne Cigar (ABC) Lancaster I of No. 101 Squadron dropping bombs over Duisburg, 1944)

It was 1941 when No. 101 started flying the Vickers Wellington, an aircraft that was replaced the following year with the Lancaster, the unit’s new aircraft soon upgraded to incorporate the radio jamming system – codenamed ‘Airborne Cigar’. Along with the new device, an additional crew member with an understanding of German was added to the rota of every Lancaster, jamming German fighter control broadcasts, and also posing as an enemy controller to spread disinformation amongst Luftwaffe aircrews.

However, to do this meant breaking radio silence, making the Lancasters that were distinguishable from similar aircraft because they boasted two large vertical antennae from the middle of their fuselage, highly vulnerable to German attacks, a fact that was not lost on Rusty Waughman, who survived 30 bombing missions and a mid-air collision with another Lancaster over Belgium, somehow guiding his stricken aircraft back home to Lincolnshire.

In a 2022 documentary Lancaster, Rusty revealed exactly what it was like to fly the strategic bomber, typically stoically saying the constant dangers were something everyone involved just accepted.

“You knew you were facing death all the time,” said Rusty. “Night after night after night. But it was just a thing you accepted.”

Post war, No. 101 Squadron moved to RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire, soon operating Avro Lincolns, and taking part in raids in Aden (now Yemen) in October 1947. It was May 25, 1950, when No. 101 Squadron became the RAF’s first jet bomber unit, taking delivery of English Electric Canberra.

In February 1955, No. 101 became the first bomber squadron to serve in the Far East, four Canberras arriving in Changi in the eastern region of Singapore, before being deployed to RAF Butterworth in Malaysia. Over two months, 98 raids were conducted by No. 101 Squadron, before they headed back to Binbrook in June 1955.

101 Squadron Vulcan B.2 of the RAF Waddington Wing in 1972
(101 Squadron Vulcan B.2 of the RAF Waddington Wing in 1972)

A return to Malaysia the following year was followed by operations conducted during the Suez crisis, before 101 was disbanded in February 1957, reforming eight months’ later with Avro Vulcans at RAF Finningley in Yorkshire, becoming part of the V-bomber force which carried Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

The squadron relocated in 1961 to RAF Waddington in Oxfordshire and on June 20 of that year, a 101 Vulcan flew non-stop from their new home to the Royal Australian Air Force Base in Richmond, New South Wales, around 30 miles north west of Sydney. At that time, it was the longest recorded non-stop flight by a Vulcan, a journey in excess of 10,000 nautical miles made possible by air-to-air refuelling.

The unit’s long association with the Vulcan is best remembered during the Falklands War in 1982, 101 Squadron participating in Operation Black Buck, 8000-mile raids from the Ascension Islands to bomb Port Stanley airfield, the longest bombing missions in history, which involved complex air-to-air refuelling plans using Victor tankers.

VC-10 C.Mk 1 XR808 of 101 Squadron with special markings for 50 years of VC-10 and 95 years of 101 Squadron
(VC-10 C.Mk 1 XR808 of 101 Squadron with special markings for 50 years of VC-10 and 95 years of 101 Squadron)

In August 1982, No. 101 disbanded, reforming two years later at Brize Norton as a flight refuelling unit with Vickers VC10s, deploying during the Gulf War in the early 1990s and during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. When the VC10 was retired in 2013, 101 Squadron started operating Airbus Voyagers, an aircraft the unit still flies today.

Rusty himself served the squadron with distinction both during the war and after hostilities ended, taking part in the Berlin Airlift, later becoming an instructor and examiner with No. 30 Squadron Transport Command, before resigning his commission in 1952 to look after his sick wife.

As the number of RAF WW2 veterans grows ever smaller, the importance of hearing their stories takes on greater significance, with Rusty in great demand during the latter part of his life. In 2018, he took part in Project Propeller, paying tribute to the aircrews that were involved in WW2 operations.

During the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s flypast, the noise of the Lancaster brought back a host of memories for Rusty who said: "The noise appears, a great characteristic noise, it brings back so many memories, it's been exceptional.

“It’s difficult to imagine we flew those things... it goes back a long time. It’s a wonderful effort for people like myself, all the veterans, getting all together and it’s a little nostalgia.”

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