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42 Squadron

Déjà vu as ‘Roxy’ takes command on the return to duty for No. 42 Squadron

FORMER members of No. 42 Squadron will be celebrating the news that the unit has been reformed – a 12-year hiatus ending with the first sortie flown on September 26 from their new home at Lossiemouth.

Now a combined Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) training crews and engineers on both the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and the Wedgetail airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft, No. 42 were last in operation during the Nimrod era, the precursor of the P-8A that was withdrawn from service in 2011.

The first sortie from their new home on the Moray coast had Squadron Leader Stuart Roxburgh in command, fitting with ‘Roxy’ also the aircraft commander of the final Nimrod MR2 flight on May 26, 2010.

The origins of No. 42 date from WWI, formed from crews of No. 19 Squadron at RAF Filton near Bristol on April 1, 1916, spending the Great War flying reconnaissance sorties, operating Royal Aircraft Factory B.E. 2s over the Western and the Austro-Italian Fronts.

Bristol Beaufort of 42 Squadron, March 1941
(Bristol Beaufort of 42 Squadron, March 1941)

The squadron was disbanded at RAF Netheravon on Salisbury Plain in June 1919, reforming in December 1936 at Donibristle near Edinburgh as a torpedo bomber unit, flying Vickers Vildebeest biplanes. The squadron moved with their Vildebeests to RAF Bircham Newton in 1939, and while in Norfolk their aircraft were updated to Bristol Beauforts, the unit focusing on anti-shipping and mine-laying missions.

In June 1942, No. 42 left for the Far East with a stopover in the Middle East, and while there they were involved in attacks on German and Italian shipping in the Mediterranenan. In December 1942, the squadron arrived in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, and started operations over Burma in the early part of 1943, later converting to Hawker Hurricanes and becoming a fighter-bomber unit.

On June 30, 1945, while still in the Far East, No. 42 disbanded, reforming 24 hours later when 146 Squadron was renumbered, now operating Republic Thunderbolts Mk IIs, an American-made high-altitude fighter, the unit remaining on active duty until the end of the Burma campaign, disbanding a second time in 1945 on December 30 at Meiktila (now part of Myanmar).

The following year, October 1, 1946, No. 254 Squadron was renumbered No. 42 Squadron at Thorney Island in West Sussex, operating as a strike unit forming part of Coastal Command, now flying Bristol Beaufighters; this role lasted little more than a year, with a more lengthy disbandment occurring on October 15, 1947.

Avro Shackleton MR.2 WG533 of No. 42 Squadron at Blackbushe Airport, September 1956
(Avro Shackleton MR.2 WG533 of No. 42 Squadron at Blackbushe Airport, September 1956 - RuthAS)

It was almost five years before No. 42 reformed, this time in Cornwall at RAF St Eval on June 28, 1952, operating as a maritime reconnaissance unit flying the Avro Shackleton, the beginning of a near 20-year attachment to the aircraft, first with MR.1s, converting to MR.2s two years later.

On January 11, 1955, the unit suffered what many consider its darkest day when two of its MR.2s were believed to have collided while on an exercise around the coasts of England and Ireland: carrying out a routine 15-hour patrol operation. The two aircraft made contact midway through the exercise to confirm they were flying at the prescribed 85-mile distance from one another, but an hour later all contact was lost with both aircraft somewhere near Fastnet Rock.

A massive search and rescue operation was launched by air and sea in a bid to locate the two aircraft, but three days of continued examination of the ocean near where the aircraft were last believed to be flying yielded no clue as to the whereabouts of the MR.2s. A total of 18 airmen went down with the Shackletons, the incident labelled by a board of inquiry as “the most catastrophic of all the Shackleton losses”. It wasn’t until July 1966 that part of the engine of one of the aircraft was discovered in the net of a trawler working off the south west coast of Ireland, the first discovery of any remnant of the two aircraft or their crews.

In October 1958, No. 42 Squadron made the short trip along the north Cornish coast, relocating to RAF St Mawgan, retaining its maritime patrol role for the next 13 years with its Shackletons upgraded to MR.3s in December 1965. The unit was also involved in a range of overseas operations including relief work in the Caribbean, and in Mozambique in 1966 when the Beira Patrol was blocking oil shipments to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

In 1971, No. 42 Squadron began converting to the successor to the Shackleton, the Nimrod, a decade later the unit playing a crucial role during the Falklands War, relocating to Wideawake on Ascension Island in April 1982 to carry out patrols across the south Atlantic and provide protection for the Task Force sailing south.

Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR.2 XV226 42 Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, May 1992
(Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR.2 XV226 42 Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, May 1992 - Mike Freer)

In 1990, units from the squadron were deployed to a base in Oman and also to RAF Akrotiri ahead of Operation Granby, the fist Gulf War that saw Allied forces drive Iraqi troops out of Kuwait following their invasion of the country.

A year after their return to the UK on October 1, 1992, No. 42 Squadron was disbanded, later reforming as the Nimrod OCU becoming No. 42 (Reserve) Squadron at RAF Kinloss, taking over from No. 236 OCU. Its new role saw No. 42 responsible for type-specific training, standardisation, and the examination of crew members for the fleet of Nimrods.

It was March 30, 2010 when No. 42 took the Nimrod MR.2 on a farewell tour of some old haunts to say goodbye, included St Mawgan, RAF Valley and Lossiemouth, before making plans to take on what was a planned new role as OCU for the Nimrod MRA4. Unfortunately, the new Nimrod was cancelled as part of a Defence and Security Review, No. 42 Squadron disbanding on May 26, 2011 along with the other Nimrod units.

It would be 12-year wait for No. 42 to be back on duty, the recent return welcomed by all who served in the squadron, and all associated with the RAF. “As the aircraft commander of the final Nimrod MR2 sortie – crewed by members of STANEVAL (Standards and Evaluation) and No. 42 Squadron – it was an honour and privilege to be the aircraft commander of the first Poseidon sortie for a newly resurrected No. 42 Squadron,” noted Sqn Ldr ‘Roxy’ Roxburgh.

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