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History of No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron
Fulmina Regis Iusta

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No. 44 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, was formed on 24 July 1917 at Hainault Farm, near Ilford, Essex under the command of Major T O B Hubbard AFC.  Initially equipped with Sopwith 1 ½ Strutters, which were elderly two-seat fighters no longer suitable for operations on the Western Front, the Squadron was assigned to the Home Front.  These aircraft were obsolete and soon replaced with Sopwith Camels and the Squadron began to fulfil their role as night fighters to oppose the German night bombing campaign against London.  By the end of WWI the Squadron was commanded by Major Arthur Harris, later to be the Air Officer Commanding RAF Bomber Command in WWII.

Disbanded in 1919, the Squadron reformed in the bombing role in March 1937at Wyton, equipped with Hawker Hinds.  Moving to RAF Waddington later that year, it was equipped first with the Bristol Blenheim and then, in 1939, with Handley Page Hampdens. This aircraft was flown by the Squadron for the first two years of combat operations in WWII.

In 1941 the Squadron was renamed No 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron in honour of the Rhodesian contribution to Britain’s war effort.  It also recognised that up to 25% of the air and ground crew were Rhodesian.  The badge is based on the seal of Lobengula, the chief of the Matebele, and the elephant symbolises heavy attacks.

The Squadron received its first Lancaster in December 1941.  It became the first squadron fully equipped with the new aircraft, flying the first Lancaster operation of the war on 3 March 1942.  The Squadron then flew in all of the major bombing campaigns of the war but notably took part in an audacious 12 aircraft low level daylight raid on the MAN diesel engine works at Augsburg on 17 April 1942.  For his outstanding skill and courage in leading this raid the then Flight Commander, Sqn Ldr J D Nettleton was awarded the Victoria Cross.

In 1943, led by the now Wg Cdr Nettleton, the Squadron moved to RAF Dunholme Lodge and finally, in Sep 1944, to RAF Spilsby.  By the end of WW11 the Squadron had suffered the third highest casualties of Bomber Command.  The total sorties and losses were:

    Handley Page Hampden – 2043 sorties (43 lost)

    Avro Lancaster – 4362 sorties (149 lost in combat, 22 in flying accidents)

In July 1945 the Squadron moved to Mepal, Cambridge as part of Tiger force, to prepare for operations in the Far East.  However, the war ended after the use of atomic weapons in August 1945, and the Squadron reverted to it’s normal role with Bomber Command.

After the war (from 1946–1947) the squadron was re-equipped with Avro Lincolns, converting to the Boeing Washington (the RAF name for the B-29 Superfortress in British service), in 1951 and then the English Electric Canberra during the Suez Crisis before disbanding on 16 July 1957.  Reformed yet again at RAF Waddington during 1960 as part of RAF Bomber Command's V bomber force maintaining the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent, the squadron was equipped with the Avro Vulcan B1 from August 1960, upgraded to the Vulcan B1A in January 1961.

In 1964, after the advent of Soviet SAMs effective up to higher altitudes, Bomber Command re-assigned V-bombers from high level to low level penetration operations.  During this time the squadron trained for its operational role in North America, the Middle East and the Far East.  In January 1968 the Squadron was equipped with eight Vulcan B Mk 2 aircraft armed with WE177 laydown bombs.  This improved survivability markedly by enabling the delivery aircraft to remain at low level throughout the penetration and weapon delivery.

Following the transfer of responsibility for the nuclear deterrent to the Royal Navy in 1969 the squadron was reassigned to SACEUR for tactical strike missions.  In a high-intensity European war the squadron's role was to support land forces resisting a Soviet attack into Western Europe by striking deep into enemy-held areas beyond the forward edge of the battlefield, striking at enemy concentrations and infrastructure, first with conventional weapons and secondly with tactical nuclear weapons as required, should a conflict escalate to that stage.

The squadron’s Vulcan B2s served in that low-level penetration role until 1982 when they saw action during the Falklands War.  Following the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands on 2nd April 1982, the big question at Waddington was what, if anything, the RAF could do in response?  The answer was not long in coming.  On Good Friday morning, 9th April, the Station was tasked to generate 10 Vulcan aircraft in the conventional bombing role and reactivate the air-to-air refuelling systems.  The fact that the air refuelling system had been inhibited since the 1960s and conventional bombing had not been practised since 1974, was of little consequence.  At the time, Waddington had 32 Vulcans on strength and, if a full load of 21 x 1000lb bombs was to be carried, the aircraft selected should come from the more powerful 300 series Olympus engined aircraft, which numbered approximately half the fleet.  The aircraft were declared ready for use within 48 hours and some of them were from 44 Sqn.  Each Squadron Commander was asked to nominate his most capable crews and when it became apparent that very few could be given the necessary air-to-air refuelling training, because of the shortage of Victor tankers, one crew was chosen from each of 44 and 101 Squadrons and two from 50 Sqn.

The full story of the subsequent operations is told in the excellent book by Rowland White, ‘VULCAN 607’.  This aircraft, XM607, was a 44 Squadron Vulcan B Mk 2.  It became the Station Gate Guardian in 1983 and is now on display alongside the A15.  At the end of the conflict, all four crews who flew in the South Atlantic were posted to 44 Squadron and served in the conventional bombing role until the Squadron disbanded in December 1982.  At the 2007 reunion, held that year in June, no less than 16 of the original 22 Vulcan aircrew involved in the South Atlantic conflict returned to the Station to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the event with more than 130 Association members.

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December 1982. A rehearsal for the 44 squadron disbandment fly past. Monty Montgomery, Martin Withers, John Reeve and Neil Mc Dougal over RAF Waddington's Alpha Dispesrsal

In June 1982, Vulcan XH 558 was converted into a Vulcan B Mk 2(K) Tanker and flew with 50 Squadron before reverting to its original form in 1985 and flying for a further 8 years as the Vulcan Display Aircraft.  Squadron Leaders Paul Milliken and David Thomas, both former members of 44 Squadron, were the display pilots.  Following the aircraft’s retirement from RAF service, a dedicated team of enthusiasts led by Dr Robert Pleming at Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire vowed to restore 558 to an airworthy condition.  In 2006 the ambitious ‘Vulcan To The Sky’ project was born.  Despite daunting technical and financial obstacles, the aircraft was finally ready to fly in 2008 and has been delighting air show crowds ever since.   The crew flying the Vulcan on its return to the air were all former members of the Squadron and are members of the Association.  They are: Sqn Ldr David Thomas, pilot; Sqn Ldr Martin Withers, pilot; Sqn Ldr Andy Marson, navigator and Sqn Ldr Barry Masefield, AEO.

No. 44 Squadron Commanding Officers

Maj GWM Murlis-Green DSO MC 29 Aug 17
Maj AT Harris 11 Jun 18
Maj TFN Gerrard 19 Dec 18
Maj CJQ Brand 24 Mar 19
Flt Lt IM Cameron 8 Mar 37
Sqn Ldr JA Tindall 26 Apr 37
Wg Cdr JN Boothman AFC 3 Sep 39
Wg Cdr WJM Ackerman 8 Dec 39
Wg Cdr DW Reid 12 Mar 40
Wg Cdr St Misselbrook DSO 20 Mar 41
Wg Cdr RAB Learoyd VC 19 Dec 41
Wg Cdr Lynch-Blosse DFC 8 May 42
Wg Cdr KP Smales DSO DFC 10 May 42
Wg Cdr JD Nettleton VC 1 Feb 43
Wg Cdr EA Williamson 15 Jul 43
Wg Cdr RL Boowes 1 Aug 43
Wg Cdr FW Thompson DFC AFC 3 Feb 44
Wg Cdr RA Newmarch 9 Nov 44
Wg Cdr SE Flett 1 Apr 45
Wg Cdr SC Birch 12 Jun 45
Wg Cdr JW Monk 1 Apr 46
Sqn Ldr VW Hinkley 4 Nov 46
Sqn Ldr EQ Moody 31 Jan 48
Sqn Ldr RL Wade DFC 21 Sep 49
Sqn Ldr L Preddy AFC 16 Feb 53
Sqn Ldr ET Ware DFC 27 Jul 53
Sqn Ldr SE Bulford AFC 3 Sep 53
Sqn Ldr JW Barling DSO DFC 29 Jul 55
Wg Cdr LF Banks DFC AFC 10 Aug 60
Wg Cdr JAG Jackson DFC AFC 25 Oct 60
Wg Cdr FR Lockyer 1 Aug 62
Wg Cdr MA D’Arcy 21 Oct 64
Wg Cdr V McNabney GM 27 Jun 66
Wg Cdr WE Bliss 22 Jul 68
Wg Cdr MD Fenner 19 Jul 70
Wg Cdr CM King 16 Jun 72
Wg Cdr DJ Dawes 6 Sep 74
Wg Cdr WA Mears 20 Sep 76
Wg Cdr ACR Ingoldby 7 Aug 78
Wg Cdr SA Baldwin MBE 11 Jul 80

No. 44 Squadron Bases

Hainault Farm, Essex Jul 17-Jul 19
North Weald, Essex Jul 19-Dec 19
Wyton, Hunts Mar 37-Apr 37
Andover Hants Apr 37-Jun 37
Waddington, Lincs Jun 37-May 43
Dunholme Lodge, Lincs May 43-Sep 43
Spilsby, Lincs Sep 44-Jul 45
Mepal, Cambs Jul 45-Aug 45
Mildenhall, Suffolk Aug 45-Aug 46
Wyton, Hunts Aug 46-Jan 51
Marham, Norfolk Jan 51-May 51
Coningsby, Lincs May 51-May 54
Cottesmore, Rutland May 54-Feb 55
Honnington, Suffolk Feb 55-Jul 57
Waddington, Lincs Aug 60-Dec 82

No. 44 Squadron Aircraft Flown

Photo Courtesy of Piotr Gryzowski

Sopwith Strutter

Sopwith Camel Jul 17-Dec 19

Hawker Hind Mar 37-Dec 37

Bristol Blenheim Dec 37-Feb 39

Handley Page Hampden Feb 39-Dec 41

Avro Anson Feb 39-Jun 39

Avro Lancaster Dec 41-Jun 47

Avro Lincoln Oct 45-Jan 51

Boeing Washington Apr 51-Jan53

English Electric, Canberra Apr 53-Jul 57

Avro Vulcan Aug 60-Dec 82

Copyright Charles Toop: