'TREMBLERS' come home
Gill Howie & Mark McEwan/Squadron Prints Ltd welcome back the first returnees from the Gulf
The bright and sunny afternoon of Friday 11 April 2003 heralded the return of the first RAF Leuchars based Tornado F3s from duties in the Gulf - thankfully for the aircrew without the excessive temperatures that Squadron members had been experiencing at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, which they had left the previous day.
These pilots and navigators of 'Treble-One' Squadron were the first RAF aircrew to arrive home from duties on Operation 'Telic', although on their departure from Leuchars some ten weeks before they were on their way to a routine deployment policing the skies in the Southern Iraq no-fly zone for Operation 'Resinate South', something they had done several times before - but this time they would be major players in 'Gulf War II'.
When Baghdad was bombed and the War on Iraq commenced, they found themselves in the thick of it, flying sorties for up to eight hours at a time, watching the anti-aircraft fire around them and the explosions below them. Although not a shot was fired, 43 and 111 Squadron crews played a vital role in the support and protection of tanker missions and covering low-level attack missions of the coalition forces, including that of the GR4 fleet from Lossiemouth and Marham. The F3s also flew over Baghdad and various airfields despite considerable missile activity from the Iraqis, but thankfully there were no serious incidents for the 'Tremblers'. There were some interesting moments however, which hopefully some of you will be able to hear around the airshow circuit at some point this year!
Initially four aircraft were due at 1330 hours with two more later in the afternoon, but it was a three-ship formation that eventually broke into the Leuchars circuit at 1515 after an unspecified delay. The fourth aircraft, having had tanker problems and requiring to make an unscheduled stop en-route, arrived a little over an hour later followed by a spirited early evening arrival by the remaining pair of F3s, this time without the glare of the mass media. The first wave's late arrival had only added to the tension and excitement amongst the families, the atmosphere electric as the aircraft flew in formation over the old control tower where the expectant throng was waving and cheering enthusiastically.
After landing on runway 27 they taxied in to the main ASP where they were welcomed home by Air Officer Scotland and RAF Leuchars Station Commander Group Captain Martin Routledge, along with many of their colleagues who had remained at Leuchars. Corks popped and the six officers were each handed a glass of chilled Champagne to welcome them back - it was handshakes all round while a lone piper played 'Scotland the Brave'. Families were reunited with their husbands, boyfriends and fathers, and it was definitely a very emotional moment for many, with shouts of "Daddy, Daddy!" from excited children. Although they had departed Leuchars for a routine deployment, it turned out to be a highly dangerous operation and one which made these officers really think about what was going on at home. Squadron Leader Rolfie Dunne, a Flight Commander on 111(F) Squadron, could not believe how much his five-month old daughter had grown - he admitted to feeling quite emotional as he flew in and glimpsed Leuchars for the first time in several weeks.
It was obvious that they were all very relieved to be back home, safe and sound into the arms of loved ones. Although some of the 'Tremblers' are home there are still several Leuchars-based aircraft out in the Gulf region, although it is hoped that they will be home shortly. This doesn't mean that the RAF are pulling out, but does mean that some of the extra assets sent out will soon be home - the UK armed forces will remain committed to Phase IV and the ongoing need for host nation support.
Interestingly, two of the initial wave of aircraft had highly colourful nose art applied and on the starboard side of the nose wheel door, and all three were named after WWII RAF Aces with appropriate artwork applied together with numerals signifying that particular Ace's tally of aerial victories. On the port side of the nose wheel door, names of ground crew responsible for servicing the jet were listed, no doubt in extremes of temperature and in a difficult working environment - all having an equally as important role to play. Operation Telic is almost at an end and both 43 and 111 Squadrons have upheld their mottos - Treble One's "Adstantes" meaning "Standing By" and 43's "Gloria Finis" meaning "Glory is the End". Both Squadrons performed faultlessly, with great honour and were undoubtedly a credit to not only Royal Air Force Leuchars but that of the Royal Air Force as a whole.
Details of the returning jets are as follows:
ZE161/UU 43 Squadron
ZE162/UR 111 Squadron
F3 ZE737/YM 111 Squadron
(ZE831)/XQ 111 Squadron
ZE164/UQ 111 Squadron
ZE808/XV 111 Squadron