15% DISCOUNT

From Balloons to Typhoons

From Balloons to Typhoons – the Squadron still spearheading the nation’s Air Defences

A few years ago, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack visited RAF Lossiemouth labelling it as “critical – one of our most important air bases.” 

Events over the past few months have made the base even more crucial to the UK’s air defences, and as such No 1 (F) Squadron is undoubtedly among the most important in the British military.

The squadron boasting the motto ‘First in All Things’ remains where it has been for well over a century – at the forefront of the country’s air defences. No. 1 forms part of the Northern Quick Reaction Alert, QRA; the military’s first response to any enemy aircraft approaching UK airspace, with the southern arm at Coningsby in Lincolnshire.

The squadron has had many homes over the years, both in the UK and abroad, and is currently based at the station which sits on the Moray coast, about 40 miles east of Inverness.

Unsurprisingly, No.1 (F) squadron is the RAF’s oldest, its origins dating back almost 150 years to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. Formed in 1878 as No. 1 Balloon Company which, as the name suggests, was created by officers experimenting with hydrogen-filled balloons and their use in military conflict.

Balloons were used during operations in Bechualand – part of which is now Botswana – and Suakin, now Sudan, in the 1880s, with extensive use also during the Boer War from 1899 to 1902. In 1911, the air balloon battalion of the Royal Engineers was formed with the balloon school at Farnborough becoming No.1 Company. 

The establishment of the Royal Flying Corps, RFC, in 1912 saw the No.1 Company of the Air Battalion redesignated as No.1 Squadron, RFC, becoming an air squadron two years later as all airships were handed over to the Royal Navy.

At the outbreak of the First World War, No. 1 Squadron relocated to France and in the process took command of a range of aircraft including Moranes, Avro 504s and BE8s – air duels against their German counterparts initially taking place using rifles, pistols and grenades.

An Avro 504

(An Avro 504)

By the end of the Great War, the Squadron had seen 60 of its own killed in action, including those lost in flying accidents, 33 wounded, with a further 36 taken prisoner. In the plus column they had downed 310 enemy planes and were seen as the most successful fighter squadron in the RAF, which was officially formed in 1918 with the merger of the RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service.

Post-war the squadron was disbanded and reformed on a number of occasions, working in areas such as the North West Frontier – today’s Pakistan – and Iraq, before it was reformed at RAF Tangmere in Sussex; back in England the squadron gained a reputation as an aerobatic unit after taking receipt of the Hawker Fury. It was during a display at Zurich in 1937 that the squadron was made aware that, despite their own skills, the Germans boasted superior aircraft in the Messerschmitt and Dornier.

The following year the squadron received the Hawker Hurricane Mk I and at the outbreak of the Second World War they were deployed to France, claiming a first success when Pilot Officer Peter Mould shot down a Dornier in October 1939 – the first German aircraft shot down over the Western Front in the Second World War.

Pilot Officer "Taffy" Clowes climbing into his No. 1 Squadron Hawker Hurricane Mk.I (P3395) at RAF Wittering, in October 1940.

(Pilot Officer "Taffy" Clowes climbing into his No. 1 Squadron Hawker Hurricane Mk.I (P3395) at RAF Wittering, in October 1940.)

When the Battle of France started in May 1940, they were bombed out of their base north west of Paris, eventually being evacuated back to Britain in June, returning to Tangmere.

Shortly after their return, the Battle of Britain began, with the squadron pivotal in the country’s successful defence against the German Luftwaffe. The following year they were assigned to bomber escort duties, assisted in the defence of London during the Blitz, took part in night flying missions, as well as making low level swoops over enemy territory.

By 1944 they had been assigned Spitfires and took part in the D-Day operation, as well as playing a key role in the battle against the V1 Doodlebugs, utilising the improved speed of the iconic wartime plane to shoot down the flying bombs before they reached their destinations on the mainland. They continued escort duties, helping the Lancasters on their missions over Germany, and at the end of the war, 15 Spitfires of No.1 Squadron took part in the first Battle of Britain flypast.

The end of hostilities saw the squadron return to Tangmere and take receipt of Britain’s first jet, the Gloster Meteor, an aircraft that commenced operational use in the summer of 1944 with No. 16 Squadron.

With the governments of Britain and the US keen to cement their strong ties, an exchange programme saw American pilot Major Robin Olds command the squadron from October 1948 to September 1949.

During the Suez crisis in 1956, No. 1 Squadron operated from Cyprus, and in 1969 they became the first in the world to receive the Harrier Jump Jet, capable of vertical/short take-off and landing operations, V/STOL. A year later, Flight Lieutenant Neal Wharton of One Squadron ended up in a Northumberland field when he piloted the first Harrier to be lost – ejecting 100ft above the ground a little more than one second before the jet crashed near RAF Ouston due to engine failure.

A 1 Squadron Harrier GR3 takes off from the airfield at Port Stanley during the Falkland War.

(A 1 Squadron Harrier GR3 takes off from the airfield at Port Stanley during the Falkland War.)

In 1982 the squadron was deployed to HMS Hermes, one of the two aircraft carriers in the Task Force that departed to reclaim the Falklands Islands. During the conflict, Flight Lieutenant Jeff Glover’s Harrier, operating a reconnaissance mission from Hermes, was hit by a blowpipe SAM near Port Howard on the West Falklands; ejecting into the water with several broken bones, he was rescued at gunpoint by the invaders. He became the only British POW of the war, spending around seven weeks as captive both on the Falklands and in Argentina before his release.

The squadron was also in action during both Gulf Wars in the 1990s and 2000s, and in 1995 the squadron relocated to Italy ahead of involvement in the Balkans conflict. In the early 2000s, soon after they relocated from RAF Wittering to RAF Cottesmore, they were detached to Kandahar in Afghanistan for reconnaissance and anti-terrorist operations.

1 Squadron Typhoon

(1 Squadron Typhoon)

In 2010 a defence review saw the Harriers effectively removed from operation, the squadron reforming in 2012 with the Eurofighter Typhoon at RAF Leuchars near St Andrew’s in Fife. Two years later they relocated to Lossiemouth from where they operate today as one of the two QRAs, critical as first responders to any air incursions from enemy planes.

Other Articles You May Also Enjoy

Tempest Project Gathers Pace
Tempest Project Gathers Pace
Tempest project gathers pace as Defence Chiefs sign official treaty
Read More
RAF in Oxfordshire Part Two
RAF in Oxfordshire Part Two
RAF in Oxfordshire part two K-W
Read More
RAF in Oxfordshire Part One
RAF in Oxfordshire Part One
A hotbed of aircraft activity from pre-WWI to the present day, Oxfordshire remains a key location for RAF operations
Read More
83 Squadron
83 Squadron
Missing crew members from No. 83 Squadron finally found as Lancaster bomber is recovered
Read More
Gloster Javelin
Gloster Javelin
The short-lived jet that was the last to bear the famous Gloster name
Read More
RAF in Hertfordshire
RAF in Hertfordshire
For a county that skirts the northern sector of England’s capital city, Hertfordshire could be described as being a litt
Read More
RAF Leeming
RAF Leeming
Leeming still key to the nation’s air defences more than 80 years after its first squadrons arrived
Read More
42 Squadron
42 Squadron
Déjà vu as ‘Roxy’ takes command on the return to duty for No. 42 Squadron
Read More

Leave a comment