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No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron Article

Serving the monarch and the country since 1916

THE Coronation this weekend will see the military play a major role in proceedings, with RAF personnel amongst the thousands of ceremonial troops who will march the route between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, accompanying King Charles and Camilla, the Queen Consort.

RAF Odiham staged a full-scale rehearsal for a ceremony that will see the largest parade of military personnel since Winston Churchill’s funeral in January 1965, the station transformed into a replica of the route, complete with 7,000 military marchers.

Following the King’s Coronation Parade, the undoubted highlight for many will be the flypast of Buckingham Palace to honour the newly-crowned monarch, with 68 aircraft scheduled to be involved in the route over the Mall at around 2.30pm. The King and his family will watch from the balcony at Buckingham Palace while military aircraft pass overhead: from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight that defended the country’s skies 80 years ago through to the Typhoons that are today’s first responders to any potential incursion to UK airspace.

The finale of the flypast will be a display from the Red Arrows, the aerobatics team sending red white and blue smoke billowing over the Mall in a fitting salute from the RAF to the King.

The history of aerobatics and the RAF dates back a century, No. 32 Squadron the early pioneers of the art, their London Defended show flying for six nights a week during the British Empire Exhibition from May 9 to June 1, 1925.

The Squadron was already nine years old when it performed with its Sopwith Snipes over the ‘new’ Wembley Stadium, their aircraft painted red and fitted with white lights on the wings tail and fuselage, firing blank ammunition into the stadium crowd and dropping pyrotechnics on to the ground.

A lineup of S.E.5a aircraft belonging to 32 Squadron

(A lineup of S.E.5a aircraft belonging to 32 Squadron)

No. 32 was formed under the Royal Flying Corps banner on January 12, 1916 at Netheravon on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire as a fighter squadron, moving over to France in May of that year. They were handed the dangerous task of flying patrols over the Western Front, including the Somme and Arras battlefields, the Squadron’s aircraft including Arco DH.2s and DH.5s, and then in December 1917 the S.E.5a, a fighter seen as superior to the better-known Sopwith Camel.

The Squadron was disbanded in December 1919, reforming on April 1, 1923, at RAF Kenley in Surrey with Sopwith Snipe fighters, later replaced by Gloster aircraft: Grebes and then Gamecocks.

It was 1938 that No. 32 became a Hurricane squadron, and in 1940 they were handed the role of flying patrols over northern France. During the Battle of Britain, they operated from a forward station at RAF Hawkinge near Folkestone, but their permanent base was at Biggin Hill, before they were moved to Acklington in Northumberland in August 1940, returning south in December of that year.

Late in 1942 the Squadron were involved in the North Africa landings of Allied forces, arriving in Algeria in December, seven months later becoming a Spitfire unit before they moved on to Italy. In September 1944, No. 32 moved again to Greece, taking part in the Greek Civil War until February 1945.

Post war, the Squadron were based at a variety of overseas locations including Palestine, Cyprus, Egypt and Jordan, operating a range of aircraft including de Havilland Vampires and Venoms, before in January 1957, No. 32 converted to English Electric Canberras, flying out of Cyprus for more than a decade before being disbanded in February 1969.

Hawker Siddeley Andover of No. 32 Squadron
(Hawker Siddeley Andover of No. 32 Squadron)

In 1969, the Metropolitan Communication Squadron – providing air transport for the Royal Family and the UK government – was renamed No. 32 Squadron, now flying Hawker Siddeley Andovers and Westland Whirlwind HC.10 helicopters from Northolt.

The Squadron also acquired a number of business jets in the early 1970s along with a variety of aircraft which would normally be described as non-military, and in April 1995, the Queen’s Flight was merged with the Squadron becoming No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron. The availability of No. 32’s aircraft to VIP passengers, only if not required for military operations, was made official in 1999, the MoD stating: “The principal purpose of 32 Squadron [is] to provide communications and logistical support to military operations; the Squadron’s capacity should be based on military needs only and any royal or other non-military use of … spare capacity is secondary to its military purpose.”

32 Sqn BAe 146
(32 Sqn BAe 146)

Their military work continued while serving the Royal Family and government, the Squadron’s aircraft involved in many recent conflicts including Operations Granby and Telic (Gulf Wars) and Operation Veritas in Afghanistan.

In 2004, the distinct red, white and blue livery on their aircraft was removed for security reasons, the markings deemed too distinctive amid a heightened fear of terrorist attacks; the BAe 146s No. 32 Squadron were operating at that point were also fitted with missile countermeasures.

In 2015, the Squadron received an Italian AugustaWestland AW109SP helicopter, with an announcement in February 2022 that No. 32 would be switching to Dassault Falcon 900LX aircraft – the Envoy IV CC Mk1. The RAF name given synonymous with No. 32s role in defence diplomacy and transporting key military and diplomatic personnel around the globe: ‘A’ Flight operating the two Dassaults and ‘B’ Flight the AW 109SP.

32 Sqn Envoy IV CC Mk1
(32 Sqn Envoy IV CC Mk1)

Two of the four Bae 146 aircraft used by No. 32 are now on display at Duxford and at the South Wales Aviation Museum at St Athan; the other two were sold.

Other duties of the Squadron vary from the short-notice transport of compassionate cases or emergency medical equipment, to the delivery of spare parts to stranded aircraft. No. 32 have also been handed the task in the past of flying war criminals to The Hague.

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