Parsons reports: On 28 July 2000 No. 1 (F) Squadron
formally departed RAF Wittering and relocated to neighbouring RAF
Cottesmore, joining its two sister RAF Harrier squadrons, Nos. 3 and
IV(AC) Squadrons. It ended thirty-one years of Harrier operations
at Wittering for the premier squadron, a remarkable length of time
in times of constant change in the armed services.
To mark the occasion, nine Harrier GR7s carried out a flypast in a figure "1"
formation, led by the current Officer Commanding No. 1 (F) Squadron, Wing Commander Sean
Bell. This formation, exclusive to 1 (F) Squadron, is only flown to mark significant
points in the squadron's history and is rarely seen. The formation transited Norfolk and Lincoln, before flying over the squadron's hangar at
11:38 am, and turning on finals to Cottesmore. As the formation is rarely flown,
rehearsals comprised of two separate elements, the two only coming together on the day
itself. The squadron was well prepared, as all the formation flying was controlled by
Squadron Leader Gary Waterfall, former Red Arrows and Harrier display pilot.
The move to Cottesmore was announced by the Secretary of State for Defence in his
statement on the Strategic Defence Review, and forms an integral part of Joint Force Harrier. This is the first time in the
Harrier's history that all three operational RAF squadrons have been co-located at the
No. 1 (Fighter) Squadron, Royal Air Force, can trace its history back to 1878 when it was
formed at Woolwich as No.1 Balloon Company of the Royal Engineers. It became No. 1
Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps at Farnborough on 13 May 1912 still with balloons, but
re-equipped with the Longhorn on 14 August 1914.
It became a fighter squadron in July 1916 when it was equipped with a number of Nieuport
17CLs, flying offensive patrols over the lines against German circuses. Its first large
operation was the Battle of Arras in 1917 during which the squadron scorecard reached 200
enemy aircraft. Returning to the UK in March 1919, the squadron disbanded in the
following January, only to reform the next day in India with Nieuport Nighthawks and
Sopwith Snipes. Fifteen months later the squadron moved to Hinaidi in Iraq where it was
employed in carrying out policing duties until it again disbanded in November 1926.
In February 1927 1 (F) Squadron began its long association with Tangmere, in Sussex, where
it was reformed as a Home Defence Fighter squadron with Siskins. Receiving Hawker Fury Is
in February 1932, the squadron gained a reputation for its aerobatics prowess, giving
displays at venues throughout the world. The squadron started to re-equip with Hurricanes
in October 1938.
Heavy involvement in the Battle of France led the squadron to be
withdrawn to Tangmere by 23 June 1940. In August it marked its entry into the Battle of
Britain by destroying two Messerschmitt BF110s; there was no let up in the fighting until
9 September when the squadron moved North to Wittering for a rest, the first time 1 (F)
Squadron would be associated with the Cambridgeshire airfield.
In February 1941 the squadron started 'Rhubarbs' and night flying; during the month the
first of its Hurricane IIAs arrived. This heralded a period of change for the squadron
whose strength now included both Czechs and Poles; the emphasis increasingly focused on
night flying. In July it returned to Tangmere and, having achieved night operational
status, this became its main task. The squadron continued to conduct night intruder
patrols until re-equipping with Hawker Typhoons in July 1942; it then moved North to
Acklington where it reverted to daytime operations.
The unit exchanged its Typhoons for Spitfire XIs in April 1944 and with these continued
its bombing raids. In June the squadron began anti-V1 patrols and this became its
exclusive occupation, eventually tallying thirty-nine hits. In May 1945 it converted to
Spitfire F21s but these were only used operationally to cover the Channel Island landings.
In 1946 the squadron returned to Tangmere and took delivery of its first jet aircraft,
Gloster Meteors. These aircraft were followed by Hawker Hunter F5s which were flown from
Cyprus during the 1956 Suez crisis.
In June 1958 1 (F) Squadron was disbanded but reformed almost immediately on 1 July, to
fly Hunter F6s from Stradishall, by renumbering No. 2683 Squadron. It then moved to
Waterbeach from where, flying Hunter FGA 9s, it operated in the ground attack role as part
of 38 Group. The squadron continued in this role for the next eight years, operating out
of Waterbeach and then West Raynham.
1969 heralded a move to Wittering to commence conversion to the Harrier
GR1 and become the first operational squadron in the world to fly
this unique vertical/short take off and landing (VSTOL) aircraft.
Since this time 1 (F) Squadron has served in many parts of the globe, including Belize
and, most notably, the South Atlantic during the Falklands War in 1982. It undertook the
air defence role in Ascension Isle before deploying for aircraft carrier based operations
over the Falklands, equipped with Sidewinder air to air missiles. Aircraft flew for nine
hours, direct to Ascension Isle that set a new distance/duration record for the Harrier.
Some aircraft then flew direct to the South Atlantic, where they operated off HMS Hermes.
During this conflict, over 130 sorties were flown against heavily defended targets on the
Islands; three aircraft were shot down by enemy fire. All the pilots ejected successfully,
although one, who sustained shoulder injuries, was captured and became our only prisoner
of war - he was later repatriated to the UK. The squadron moved to RAF Stanley in the
Falklands at the end of hostilities and took on air defence duties until the latter part
of the year when it returned to Wittering.
1 (F) Squadron continued to fly the Harrier GR3 until 1989 when it converted to the second
generation Harrier GR5. In September 1992, having converted to the current state of the
art, computer driver, night capable GR7, the squadron commenced an intensive night flying
programme to conduct a trial into the use of the Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) and Night
Vision Goggles (NVG) which give the aircraft its extended role capability.
In April 1993 the Harrier Force took over the policing of the Northern Exclusion Zone in
Iraq from Jaguar aircraft. August 1993 saw 1 (F) Squadron deploy to Turkey to take its
turn in conducting 'Operation Warden'. The three operational Harrier squadrons were
rotated on a regular basis until 1995 when this commitment ceased for the Harrier Force.
In support of 'Operation Deny Flight' Harrier aircraft replaced Jaguars in August 1995; 1
(F) Squadron deployed to Gioia del Colle, Italy, in late November for the first of two
spells of operations in the Bosnia theatre.
addition to being declared to the Tri-Service Joint Rapid Defence
Force, 1 (F) Squadron is assigned to the NATO Supreme Allied Commander
and is at constant readiness to react quickly if ever called upon
to defend the realm. The squadron regularly deploys overseas to conduct
exercises from the Arctic to Southern Europe. It is fully trained
to conduct operations from Royal Navy aircraft carriers, and prior
to deploying on board HMS Invincible for Operation Bolton (21 November
1997 - 15 March 1998) the squadron had already deployed on two separate
occasions during 1997 to practice this role. In February 1999, in
support of Operation Deliberate Forge, 1 (F) Squadron again deployed
to Gioia del Colle to replace IV (AC) Squadron. Subsequently, 1 (F)
Squadron formed part
of the UK commitment to NATO's Operation Allied Force. Harrier GR7s
from the squadron were involved in operations throughout the air campaign
against the Serbs. The key to Harrier operations is flexibility, mobility
The squadron badge is a winged numeral '1' and is an adaptation of No. 1's first
unofficial badge which comprised a figure 'l' on the national marking within a laurel
wreath between two wings. The motto "In Omnibus Princeps" translates as
"Foremost in Everything". No. II(AC) Squadron is, however, always quick to point
out that it was the first squadron to fly 'real' aeroplanes.
Air Marshal Sir Kenneth
Hayr was the first Officer Commanding No. 1 (F) Squadron to convert to the Harrier in 1969
at Wittering. Visiting Wittering on the day that the squadron finally departed, he had
this to say on the introduction of the Harrier:
"It was the most exhilarating thing that you do at
the time - it was a truly amazing aeroplane. We were charged with almost experimenting, to
see how it functioned operationally, we used it tactically in a way that only helicopters
had been deployed before, not jets!"
How does it feel now that 1 (F) Squadron is leaving
Wittering? "An element of nostalgia and emotion; this has been 1 Squadron's base for
the last thirty years or so; that's unique. I'm a firm advocate of the Joint Harrier
concept, bringing the Sea Harrier and Royal Air Force Harrier together, with a view to
replacing this capability in the next generation with an aeroplane which will be even more
exciting. Nostalgia is compensated by the future; I think it's a bright future."
the departure of 1 (F) Squadron, RAF Wittering will remain "The
Home of the Harrier" - pilots will continue to be taught how
to fly the Harrier GR7 at 20 (R) Squadron, the Operational Conversion
Unit, the largest of the RAF's Harrier squadrons, and the Cottesmore
squadrons will use the vast airfield and its many take-off strips
for normal day-to-day training missions. In 2003, 899 Naval Air Squadron,
the Royal Navy's Harrier Operational Conversion Unit is scheduled
to move to RAF Wittering from Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in
Somerset. Wittering will see considerable investment in the intervening
years, including the construction of a 'ski-ramp' similar to that
at Yeovilton for carrier-style take-offs to be practised.