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12 Squadron

The Typhoon team that is part of the RAF’s first joint squadron since World War Two

THE British Typhoon fleet is crucial to the defence of the UK and, as such, the RAF would be forgiven for putting concerns regarding the effect that operating the multi-role combat aircraft has on climate change fairly low on its agenda.

But even when it comes to protecting British airspace 24/7, reducing harmful emissions and cutting costs are at the forefront of military thinking. While the aircraft that can be scrambled in minutes and reach Mach 2 in a matter of seconds may be a long way from running on reconstituted cooking oil, their ground power is now provided by electric units, replacing diesel-power – the new system not only reducing harmful emissions by 90 per cent, but also cutting ground running costs by 80 per cent.

You can read more about those trials here 

The units will deliver sustainable power to Typhoons at Lossiemouth and Coningsby, keeping the jets ticking over prior to participating in training exercises or taking to the skies in response to any unwarranted incursion from foreign aircraft.

Typhoons from 12 Squadron take off, overlooking the Doha Skyline in Qatar

(Typhoons from 12 Squadron take off, overlooking the Doha Skyline in Qatar)

Among the squadrons benefitting from the changes will be No. 12 Squadron, the joint RAF and Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) unit, the RAF’s first joint squadron since WW2. Currently, the squadron is participating in events in Qatar, helping in security operations during the World Cup, but their permanent base is at Coningsby.

The squadron’s roots, however, lie at Netheravon in Wiltshire, formed from a flight of No. 1 Squadron in 1915 before heading over the Channel to France, flying operations over the Western Front during WW1.

12 Squadron Fairey Fox in 1929 at RAF Hendon

(12 Squadron Fairey Fox in 1929 at RAF Hendon)

Following the war, the squadron were supplied with a range of aircraft including the Fairey Fox, a light fighter and the inspiration behind the adoption of the fox’s head as part of the squadron badge and motto Leads the Field – they were the sole operators of the aircraft.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the squadron moved to France, and the following year on May 12, 1940, they were tasked with the duty of destroying a bridge over the Albert Canal in Belgium being used by the invading German Army.

Fairey Battle crews of No. 12 Squadron RAF consult their maps on the snow-covered airfield at Amifontaine, France. (c. 1939-40).

(Fairey Battle crews of No. 12 Squadron RAF consult their maps on the snow-covered airfield at Amifontaine, France. (c. 1939-40))

The mission was so perilous, with nearby attacks meeting sustained German defences, it was decided to ask for volunteers, with every pilot from No. 12 willingly offering their services. Fairey Battles were dispatched from the squadron along with a number of other aircraft creating diversions, the attack met by the expected considerable German ground and air defences – while many aircraft were destroyed and lives lost, the mission was accomplished with Flying Officer Donald Garland (aged 21) and Sergeant Thomas Gray (26), pilot and observer in the lead Battle, receiving VCs, albeit posthumously. Infamously, the third member of the crew Lawrence Reynolds (20), who was also killed, received no award.

The following month, the squadron returned to England, first at Finningley in Yorkshire before moving on to RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire, where their Battle numbers were replenished. They continued operations including hitting shipping in Boulogne Harbour, the unit the last to conduct missions using Battles before they were replaced by Wellington medium bombers. A further relocation to Wickenby in Lincolnshire saw No. 12 receive their first Lancaster bombers.

Post-war, the Wellingtons were replaced by Lincolns and it was 1952 before the jet age came to No. 12 with the Canberras, bombing operations undertaken included against guerrilla forces in Malaya in 1955 and against Egyptian targets during the Suez crisis of 1956.

The squadron was disbanded in July 1962, before reforming exactly a year later as part of the V-bomber force, Britain’s fleet of planes carrying the country’s nuclear deterrent. No. 12 operated Vulcans from RAF Coningsby, before moving to Cottesmore, and late in 1966 their role was altered to counter Soviet’s growing arsenal of surface-to-air-missiles: the high-altitude designation for Vulcans’ work reverting to low-level operations.

The introduction of the Polaris submarine lessened the need for bombers carrying nuclear weapons, the squadron being stood down at the end of 1967, reforming two years later at RAF Honington, this time with Buccaneers – initially they still carried a nuclear arsenal with No. 12 assigned to Supreme Allied Command Atlantic, SACLANT, in a maritime strike role, but in 1974 their WE.177 bombs were replaced by the Anglo-French Martel missiles.

12 Squadron Buccaneer

(12 Squadron Buccaneer)

In 1980, the squadron moved to Lossiemouth, continuing in their anti-shipping role, and a decade later No. 12s Buccaneers saw action in the first Gulf War, taking part in Operation Granby, the Buccaneers first combat missions: typically, two of the aircraft operated alongside four Tornados with the Buccaneers acting as target designators. By the time hostilities ended the Buccaneers had flown 218 sorties without loss, 1993 marking the end of No.12s near 25-year association with the Buccaneer.

In September 1993, No. 27 Squadron, then based at RAF Marham, disbanded, immediately reforming as No, 12 (B) Squadron with Tornados, and heading north of the border to Lossiemouth. They were involved in air strikes in 1998 in a bid to halt Saddam Hussein’s continued work on developing more advanced weapons – as part of Operation Desert Fox, No. 12 (B) were tasked with the British involvement in a joint enterprise with the US, operating out of Kuwait with attacks against military targets in Iraq.

They returned to the Gulf in 2001, and in 2003 their Tornado GR4s took part in Operation Telic, coalition forces ushering the end of Saddam Hussein’s reign of Iraq. They continued operations in the region throughout the 2000s, returning to the UK in 2008.

12 Squadron RAF Tornado GR4 taxis at Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan

(12 Squadron RAF Tornado GR4 taxis at Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan - 📸 MOD)

In 2010, No. 12 (B) was the first Tornado unit in Afghanistan, their GR4s providing assistance to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), providing close air support for British, Afghan and Canadian troops. Inbetween further operation in Afghanistan, they were involved in Operation Ellamy in 2011, the campaign to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, before disbanding again in March 2014. Reforming in January 2015, No. 12 (B) was commanded by Wing Commander Nikki Thomas, the first female RAF officer to take on the role in a fast jet squadron.

Their last Tornado mission took place on December 14, 2017 over Syria and Iraq as part of reconnaissance of ISIS forces, the same day the announcement was made that No. 12 Squadron would become a Typhoon unit, with the additional role of integrating Qatari air and ground crews in support of the Gulf state’s purchase of 24 of the aircraft.

No. 12 received their first Typhoon at Coningsby in July 2019, deploying to Qatar later that year to work alongside the QEAF, a partnership that continues to this day.

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