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Squadron crest courtesy of RAF websiteSecond II None

The Tornado GR4A is the current mount of II(AC) SquadronGary Parsons reports from Marham on the 90th anniversary of the RAF's oldest fixed-wing squadron

The weekend of 5/6 April 2002 saw number II(AC) Squadron, based at Marham, near King's Lynn, celebrate its ninetieth year of continuous service with the Royal Air Force. Appropriately, the airfield's present commanding officer, Group Captain Richard Garwood, originates from West Norfolk, being born and raised in Heacham, near Hunstanton. Richard, known as Dick, was posted to II(AC) Squadron at RAF Laarbruch in West Germany during 1990. He was soon involved in build-up work for Operation 'Granby', the mobilisation of forces to be sent to the Middle East after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. During the subsequent war, more frequently referred to as 'Desert Storm', he flew 19 night low-level reconnaissance sorties and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) - proof indeed that there are modern day heroes.

ZA371/CAfter the war, II(AC) Squadron left RAF Laarbruch for a new permanent home at RAF Marham. On 26 April 1996 Dick took control of the squadron and subsequently the airfield in 2001. Today Wing Commander R. M. Poole leads the squadron.

Although numerically the second squadron of the air force, II(AC) claims to be the oldest fixed-wing squadron of any air force in the world. Superseding No. 1 Squadron, No. 2 formed on 13 May 1912 at Farnborough together with No. 3 Squadron, both squadrons equipped with BE2s, but the premier unit was formed around a balloon unit and so did not possess any aeroplanes.ZA373/-The commanding officers of Nos. 2 and 3 Squadrons agreed to take off for the first time together, this event being re-enacted on 13 May 1997 for the 85th anniversary when Wing Commander 'Dick' Garwood and the OC of 3 Squadron took off from Farnborough's runway in their respective Tornado and Harrier.

Today, the squadron uses Roman numerals in its title, and the AC stands for Army Co-operation, reflecting the close liaison the unit has with ground forces. Dick Garwood's DFC is certainly not the first decoration to be bestowed on one of the squadron's pilots, as the unit has a long and distinguished record in action. It began in August 1914 when the squadron became the first airborne unit to move to another country when it located to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force - later in the month it mounted its first reconnaissance flight in anger and in November became the first ever to use cameras in the air. Later in the Great War, on 26 April 1915, Second Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse was mortally wounded in an attack on Ghent and subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross - this was the first VC ZA400/Tto be awarded to an airman. Rhodes-Moorhouse had attacked troop positions single-handedly, flying on his own so as to save weight, enabling him to take a 1001b bomb. He was hit several times by small arms fire but was successful in his mission, returning to base and compiling a full combat report. He later died of his injuries - ironically it is thought he may have lived if he had force-landed near friendly lines and received immediate medical attention.

In 1916 the squadron painted a black triangle on all its aircraft to avoid 'friendly fire' incidents. This formed the basis of the squadron emblem that can be seen today, although the triangle has been reversed to white. The 'Wake knot' insignia also carried was given to the squadron in 1912 by Sir Hereward Wake, the word 'Hereward' also being adopted as the squadron slogan.

ZA404/WA second Victoria Cross was awarded during March 1918, this time to Second Lieutenant MacLeod, a Canadian. His aircraft on fire, he climbed out onto the wing and flew the aircraft back to base by leaning into the cockpit, thereby saving his life and that of his observer who had been badly wounded and was unable to use his parachute.

Between the wars the squadron had a variety of homes including Ireland, Digby, Manston, Andover and Shanghai, where the local racecourse was used as an airfield. As war approached in September 1939 the squadron was based at Cambridge flying the Lysander, later famous for flying spies into occupied territory at night. August 1941 saw the squadron revert to a more normal fighter role with first P-40 Tomahawks and later P51 Mustangs, the latter fitted with F42 cameras for the reconnaissance role that has been the main duty of the unit ever since its formation. On D-Day, Air Commodore Geddes of the squadron brought back the first pictures of the landings, and the following month a return to France was achieved. The squadron quickly moved through France and Belgium as the advance progressed and ended the war with Spitfire Mk XIVs at Twenthe, today a busy Royal Netherlands Air Force base with F-16s.

ZD711/IINorth Sea practice missions are the norm these daysSince the Second World War, up until the move to Marham in 1991, the squadron was based in West Germany at a variety of bases, but mainly at Laarbruch. A move into the jet age came in 1950 with the arrival of the Meteor, the Swift following for a short while between 1957 and 1961 superseded by the Hunter, Phantom and Jaguar. Tornados re-equipped the squadron in January 1989, the GR1A variant bringing increased versatility by being all-weather capable. Night Vision Goggles could be used on the GR1A to permit operations at night from a blacked-out airfield and enable strike missions to be undertaken at low-level during darkness.

Following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 six aircraft deployed to Dharhan in Saudi Arabia as a joint II(AC) and 13 Squadron reconnaissance detachment. This was the beginning of a close association with 13 Squadron, its present day neighbours at Marham, but at the time 13 was based at Honington, near Thetford. During 'Desert Storm' 128 missions were flown without loss, all by night and at low level, successfully searching out Iraqi Scud launchers as well as conducting many other traditional recce tasks.

ZG711/-Presently, duties include regular deployments to the Gulf and Turkey for peacekeeping duties enforcing the UN no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, together with providing the tactical reconnaissance role with its sister unit at Marham, 13 Squadron. Norfolk is indeed the home of RAF reconnaissance as together with the two Tornado units, 39(PRU) Squadron operates out of Marham with Canberra aircraft in the high level recce role and 41(F) Squadron at Coltishall undertakes similar tasks to II(AC) but with the Jaguar GR3A.

Assigned to the Allied Rapid Reaction Force, No. II(AC) may be called into action at any time, upholding both its own fine tradition and history and now that of Norfolk, for so long the home of much of the allied offensive during 1941 to 1945.

Foreigners on showAs part of the celebratory weekend, a photoday was arranged for local enthusiasts and the squadron's families, with several visiting aircraft from other RAF units and some foreign air forces. SAOEU Tornado GR4Some glorious early Spring sunshine, although tempered by a cool stiff breeze from the east provided superb light for excellent photography, the unit's Tornado GR4As being spread amongst the HAS complex each equipped with a different array of weaponry and underslung loads. It was an excellent event, aided by the weather, raising some 10,000 for base charities and proving that it is possible to open the doors to the public in these security conscious times. Top marks to the squadron for making the effort - let's hope for many more as each successive squadron celebrates 90 years young!

Visitors on display
Merlin HC3 Chinook HC2 Mirage 2000D Mirage 2000D
TF-104G-M F-4F F-4F Jaguar GR3A
Harrier GR7 Harrier GR7 Canberra T4 Tornado GR4 - 31 Squadron
Tornado GR4 - 9 Squadron Tornado GR4A - 13 Squadron F-15E Hunter T7
Friday 5 April provided an opportunity to photograph the arrivals - all pictures courtesy of Warplane
Canberra T4 F-4F F-4F Mirage 2000D

 

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