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30 Squadron

Distance and cargo never a barrier

THE ramping up of military exercises and combined NATO enterprises in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seen RAF personnel taking part in a range of operations alongside allies from across the globe.

One of the latest saw military personnel conducting trials in Romania on how quickly they could deploy NATO weaponry – an A400M Atlas aircraft crewed by both 30 and LXX Squadrons from the RAF used to transport essential equipment. The weaponry in question was the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, HIMARS (multiple rocket launcher), with the trial carried out at Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase, located near the Black Sea coastal port of Constanta.

And more recently, 30 and LXX conducted the longest-range air drop performed by a RAF Atlas, flying direct from Oxfordshire to Morocco to replenish supplies as part of Exercise Jebel Sahara.  

 

It was only a year ago that No. 30 Squadron reformed with the A400M, The Princess Royal in attendance at the ceremony in her role as Honorary Air Commodore of RAF Brize Norton, five years after No. 30 operated its last Hercules flight. It seemed fitting that 2016 marked the end of the unit’s near 50-year association with the Hercules, coinciding with the centenary of the squadron’s first recorded air drop during the siege of Kut-al-Amara in modern-day Iraq – the Hercules known as much for its humanitarian work dropping food and supplies as for carrying military personnel and equipment.

The siege of Kut in 1916 was the worst case of its kind in the history of the British Army at that point, approximately 13,000 British-Indian soldiers surrendering to the Ottoman Army after 147-days when they were starved of supplies. 

As the perilous nature of the troops trapped at Kut became clear, desperate measures were needed, so eight BE.2 planes from No. 30 Squadron, along with a further seven RNAS aircraft, dropped food and supplies by parachute to the besieged garrison. Despite continuing their perilous missions for 15 days until April 29, 1916, they could not keep up with demand of both troops and civilians, so the infamous surrender was agreed; four unsuccessful attempts to free the Allied troops and the prolonged nature of the impasse resulted in a total of 40,000 killed or wounded.

The air drops came two years after the then un-numbered unit’s formation at Farnborough in November 1914, flying its first operations in Egypt, the majority of its work during the First World War taking place in Mesopotamia, now modern-day Iraq – the No. 30 moniker not arriving until March 24, 1915.   

30 Squadron Westland Wapiti Mk.IIa flying over Mosul, Iraq, in 1932

(30 Squadron Westland Wapiti Mk.IIa flying over Mosul, Iraq, in 1932)

Post-war, they continued colonial operations out of both Iraq and Iran, helping crush a number of revolts against British rule, and in 1939 the squadron moved to RAF Ismailia in Egypt, carrying out escort missions and fighter defence during the North African campaign.

In 1940, the unit was moved to Greece, located at Eleusis airfield near Athens, from where it defended the capital city from both Italian and German forces, before being forced by the German’s blitzkrieg to retreat first to Crete, where a memorial stone was erected to the memory of the members of Nos. 30 and 33 Squadrons killed in the battle for control of Maleme Airfield in May, 1941.  

They moved again back to Egypt, and in February 1942 they headed to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), before carrying out one of its most memorable, and costly, missions on Easter Sunday that year. A joint force of Nos. 30 and 258 Squadrons were scrambled to meet a Japanese carrier attack force, losing eight aircraft as 14 of the 18 enemy planes were brought down. They moved on to Burma in February 1944, carrying out low-level ground attack duties and escorting Dakota and C-46 transportation flights.

30 Squadron Republic Thunderbolt Mk. II taking off from Chittagong, 1944

(30 Squadron Republic Thunderbolt Mk. II taking off from Chittagong, 1944)

After Japan surrendered in August 1945, the unit remained in India, swapping its Thunderbolts for Hawker Tempests in March 1946, before being disbanded in April 1947 at Agra.

Returning home for the first time in 25 years, No. 30 reformed at RAF Oakington in Cambridgeshire in November 1947, flying Dakotas on supply missions and humanitarian flights during the Berlin Airlift, which followed the Soviet blockade of parts of West Berlin. The unit continued its transport role for the next two decades, flying a range of aircraft including the four-engine Blackburn Beverley which they operated until 1967, the unit then temporarily disbanding before they reformed at Fairford the following year with their first delivery of Hercules.

Four years later and Squadron 30 were on their way to RAF Lyneham, their home for 40 years before the closure of the station in 2011. While operating out of Lyneham the squadron played an integral role during the Falklands War in 1982, operating supplies’ lines to the Ascension Islands – Hercules at that heightened time were flying out of Lyneham at a rate of one every four hours, taking a route via Gibraltar. Crews from Squadrons 30 and 24 were also tasked with training on the first Hercules tankers in RAF service.

30 Squadron C130J Hercules at Bardufoss Airfield in Norway 2008

(30 Squadron C130J Hercules at Bardufoss Airfield in Norway 2008)

The frequency of operational flying during the Falklands, however, were superseded a few years later during the first Gulf War, Operation Granby seeing Squadron 30 undertaking their busiest period since World War Two: in an eight-month period from August 1990 they flew in excess of 8,500 hours between their home station and the Gulf.

They were again key to Operation Telic, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and supported British military action in Afghanistan – No. 30 based at, and flying out of, Basra and Kabul.

While direct British involvement in major overseas operations fell to its lowest level for more than two decades following the withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, the Ukraine crisis has intensified the work of the RAF and the other armed forces with NATO colleagues.

The recent efforts in Romania demonstrated the ability of the RAF’s Air Mobility Force, with No. 30 Squadron at its heart, to deliver equipment to its allies, and cooperate to safeguard and protect the territory of its NATO allies.

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