8 Squadron – A Brief History
World War I: 1915 – 1918
Formed at Brooklands on 1 January 1915, No 8 Squadron immediately moved to Gosport and became the first RFC unit to be equipped from the start with one type of aircraft, the BE2c. These were taken to France in April and were used for bombing and reconnaissance flights until the Squadron was designated a dedicated Corps Reconnaissance Unit. Artillery spotting and tactical reconnaissance were then the primary tasks. The BE2s were replaced by Armstrong Whitworth FK8s in August 1917, and the following year the Squadron started to specialise in the spotting of anti-tank guns, being allocated to the Tank Corps in June 1918 for this purpose. It was on such a sortie that Captain FMF “Freddie” West MC, the B Flight Commander, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his outstanding dedication and bravery in pin-pointing enemy concentrations in the face of intense opposition and despite having been severely wounded. This was the first VC awarded to a member of the Royal Air Force after its formation in April 1918. The rugged but outdated “Big Acks”, (as the FK8s were affectionately known), were supplanted by Bristol Fighters in December 1918 when the Squadron was preparing to move into Germany as part of the occupation forces. This did not last long, for No 8 Squadron returned to the UK in July 1919 and disbanded on 20 January 1920.
Between the Wars: 1920 – 1939
No 8 Squadron reformed at Helwan, Egypt, on 18th October 1920, in the day bombing role, using DH 9As for the policing of Iraq and, from 1927, the Aden Protectorate. General purpose Fairey IIIFs replaced the venerable “Ninaks” in January 1928, and in April 1935 the capable Vickers Vincent arrived in Aden to help in the continuing task of keeping the more belligerent tribesmen in check. Much of this time in the Middle East was spent at Khormaksar in Aden and the Squadron’s association with this base was to last more than 40 years. This earned the Squadron’s Title of “Aden’s Own”.
World War II: 1939 – 1945
Eight Squadron received Blenheim MkI aircraft in April 1939 just before the start of WWII but a flight of the obsolescent Vincents was retained for operations into the interior of the Aden Protectorate until March 1942. The twin engine Blenheims flew coastal reconnaissance patrols and went into action against the Italians in Somaliland. In May 1942, No 8 became a general reconnaissance squadron equipped with Blenheim IVs, supplemented in September by the Mk V (Bisley) variant. Anti-submarine and convoy patrols were flown with these aircraft over the Indian Ocean and Red Sea, although little was achieved until Hudsons arrived in February 1943. Soon afterwards the Squadron could claim a sighting, and a U-boat “kill” came in July. During January 1944, general reconnaissance Wellingtons replaced the Hudsons on the endless round of monotonous patrolling which continued until 1st May 1945 when the Squadron disbanded. Ten days later, 8 Squadron re-formed at Jessore, India, by the simple expedient of re-numbering the Liberator-equipped 200 Squadron. Almost immediately, the Squadron moved to Ceylon for “special duties”, which meant supply dropping to Guerrilla forces in Malaya until the Japanese surrender. On 15 November 1945, the Squadron again disbanded only to re-form back in Aden on 1st September 1946.
Post War: 1945 – 1971
After disbanding in India in November 1945, 8 Squadron soon re-formed back in Aden on 1st September 1946 by re-numbering 114 Squadron; it thus became a light bomber Squadron flying Mosquitoes. Again “Aden’s Own” Squadron, No 8 received Tempest VIs in April 1947 for fighter ground attack work, these aircraft being replaced by the Brigand light bomber in July 1949. The Brigand was not a great success, and Vampire fighter-bombers arrived in December 1952, followed in turn by Venoms in 1955. The Venoms spent some time in Cyprus during “Operation Musketeer”, the Franco-British attack on Egypt, which was followed by increased unrest throughout southern Arabia. This led to long detachments in Sharjah, for which the Venoms were joined by Meteor FR9s, added to the strength in January 1958 for reconnaissance work. Hunter FGA9s replaced the Venoms in January 1960, followed by the Meteors giving way to Hunter FR10s in April 1961. Both went to Bahrain in June 1961 when Iraq threatened the tiny oil-rich state of Kuwait. The threat subsided but other detachments followed, reduced in scope after another upsurge in activity in the Protectorate of Aden and the arrival of 43 Squadron in March 1963 to form, with 8 Squadron (and the Shackletons of 37 Squadron), the Aden Strike Wing. The Hunter FR10s were hived off to form 1417 Flight in April, but were back with the Squadron in September 1967 when the unit moved to Bahrain, transferring to Sharjah for its final 3 months in southern Arabia before disbandonment on 15 Dec 1971.
Airborne Early Warning: 1972 – Present Day
On 8th January 1972, 8 Squadron re-formed for yet another very different role; that of airborne early warning using Shackletons. The first of the specially equipped AEW varient of the aircraft arrived at Kinloss during the spring of 1972, and in August 1973, the unit moved the short distance to Lossiemouth. Halved in size in 1981, the unit had to soldier on with the ageing and outdated Shackletons, firstly because of delays in the introduction of the replacement Nimrod AEW3s and then its cancellation. Thus in December 1986, seven Boeing E-3D AWACS (Sentry AEW Mk 1 in RAF parlance) were ordered to finally replace the venerable Shackletons. Finally on 30 June 1991, the Shackleton was replaced and the “new” 8 Squadron reformed at RAF Waddington near Lincoln on 1st July 1991. Equipped with arguably the finest AEW platform in the world the Squadron has now had 15 years flying the Sentry AEW and in that time has participated in a number of operations. The war in the Balkans led to nearly 10 years of continuous deployment to Aviano in Italy. More recently the “War against Terror” in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq involved an 8 Squadron presence in the desert once more. On 1 April 2005 the Squadron celebrated its 90th Anniversary, the picture below illustrates the anniversary art work proudly worn on the tail of ZH103.