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No. 39 Squadron RAF
File:39 Squadron RAF.jpg
Active 15 April 1916
Role Reconnaissance
Garrison/HQ Creech AFB Nevada
Motto(s) "Die noctuque" (By day and night)
Equipment 5 x MQ-9 Reaper
Battle honours Home Defence 1916–1918, East Africa 1940, Egypt and Libya 1940–1943, Greece 1941, Mediterranean 1941–1943, Malta 1942, North Africa 1942–1943, South East Europe 1944–1945
A winged bomb

No. 39 Squadron of the Royal Air Force operates the MQ-9 Reaper since 2007, operating from Creech AFB, Nevada, USA.


World War I

39 Squadron was founded at Hounslow Heath Aerodrome in April 1916 with B.E.2s and Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12s in an attempt to defend against German Zeppelin raids on London.[1] It achieved its first success on the night of 2/3 September 1916, when Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson shot down the German Airship Schütte-Lanz SL11, being awarded the Victoria Cross for this action. On 23 September 1916, the German Navy launched another Zeppelin raid against London. Responding to this raid, 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Sowrey of 39 Squadron shot down Zeppelin L.32, while another 39 Squadron B.E.2 engaged Zeppelin L.33, already damaged by anti-aircraft fire, with L.33 force landing at Little Wigborough, Essex, and being destroyed by its crew.[2] On the night of 1/2 October 1916, 2nd Lieutenant W. L. Tempest of 39 Squadron, flying a B.E.2c, spotted Zeppelin L.31 illuminated by searchlights over southwest London and shot it down with the loss of the entire airship crew.[3][4]

The Squadron continued in the defence of London, supplementing its B.E.2s and B.E.12s with three Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5s to help deal with daylight attacks by German Gotha bombers,[5] with at least one Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8 also operated by the unit.[6] The squadron re-equipped with Bristol F.2 Fighters in September 1917,[7] but had no more success against German raiders until the night of 19/20 1918, when a 39 Squadron Bristol Fighter shot down a Gotha bomber.[8] In October 1918 it was re-equipped with Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b aircraft and sent to France for night bombing, but was disbanded five days after the Armistice.[1][9]

Between the wars

It was reformed on 1 July 1919, when 37 Squadron based at Biggin Hill was renumbered. The squadron was reduced to a cadre in December 1919, but did not disband, and in April 1921 it was decided to return the Squadron to operations. By May that year, the squadron was fully manned and received a number of Avro 504 to train aircrew in preparation for operating more warlike aircraft.[10] These arrived in February 1923 when the Squadron, now based at RAF Spitalgate in Lincolnshire received 18 Airco DH.9As.[1][9][lower-alpha 1] As well as training for its role as a day bomber, the squadron also was chosen to perform a formation flying display at the RAF Air Pagent at Hendon in 1923,[14][15] repeating its appearance in 1926 and 1927, when it flew joint formation flying and bombing displays with 207 Squadron.[16] In January 1928, the squadron moved from Spitalgate to RAF Bircham Newton in Norfolk, where it began to prepare to a prospective move to British India.[17]

In December 1929 it left the United Kingdom, leaving behind its DH.9As to equip 101 Squadron.[18] It arrived at Risalpur, North-West Frontier Province India (now part of Pakistan) at the end of January 1929, receiving its complement of twelve Westland Wapitis (which had been shipped out separately) in March that year.[19][20] It was used for Air Policing in the North West Frontier, carrying out bombing missions against rebelling tribemen and their villages, and support for the army. In December 1931 it was re-equipped with Hawker Harts, operations continuing as before, also being used as part of the relief effort following the 1935 Balochistan earthquake, flying supplies to devastated Quetta and carrying out medical evacuations.[21] Major military operations included support of the Second Mohmand Campaign of 1935 against hostile tribemen in Mohmand Territory,[22] and operations against supporters of the Faqir of Ipi in 1938.[23]

World War II

Martin Marylands of 39 Squadron operating from a landing ground in the Western Desrt in 1941

In 1939 the squadron re-equipped with more modern Bristol Blenheim I twin-engined monoplane bombers. As the threat of war increased, it was decided to strengthen British defences in the Far Wast by moving 39 Squadron to Singapore, with the squadron setting off with nine Blenheims on 6 August. The ferry trip was a disaster, with six aircraft wrecked, and three men killed, including Wing Commander Burton Ankers, commander of the 2nd Indian Wing Station at Risalpur, whose Blenheim caught fire and crashed after being struck by lightning.[24][25] In April 1940, the squadron was ordered back to India, arriving at Lahore on 25 April, and then to strengthen defences in the Middle East, being ordered to reinforce Aden, setting out on 5 May, with the air component reaching Aden on 13 May and the groundcrew arriving by ship on 10 June 1940.[26]

On that day, Italy declared war on Great Britain and France, and No. 39 Squadron was quickly committed to action against Italian East Africa, carrying out its first combat mission of the war on 12 June when a force of Blenheims attacked Dire Dawa airfield in Ethiopia, causing little damage.[27] The squadron continued operations against Italian forces until 24 November, when it was ordered to transfer to Egypt to support the planned offensive in the Western Desert (Operation Compass), with the first aircraft leaving Aden for Helwan on 29 November.[28][29]

A detachment of three Blenheims operated with 45 Squadron over the Western Desert from 10 December, flying harassment raids against Italian-held airfields, while the remainder of the Squadron remained at Helwan while it recovered from the operations in East Africa, and started to replace its Blenheim Is with Blenheim IVs. In January, however, the squadron was ordered to recall the three aircraft detachment and hand over the squadron's Blenheims to 11 Squadron, which was to deploy to Greece. To replace its Blenheim IVs, 39 Squadron received Martin Maryland bombers, originally built for the French Air Force, becoming the first RAF squadron to operate the Maryland.[30][31] Owing to the long range of the Maryland, 39 Squadron used it mainly for reconnaissance. The squadron was heavily deployed during the Battle of Crete, claiming at least two Junkers Ju 52 transport aircraft shot down in the course of its operations during the battle.[32][33]

A 39 Sqn Beaufort II at Luqa, Malta, in June 1943.

In August–September 1941, the squadron partly converted to the Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber for anti-shipping operations, although it retained a flight of Marylands until January 1942. At first the Squadron's Beauforts were armed with bombs but from January 1942 it added torpedo attack to its roles.[34][35] In late 1941 the unit was split up. One flight moved to Luqa, Malta in December 1941: six months later this flight was combined with others from 86 and 217 Squadrons to eventually form a new 39 Squadron. In 1943 the unit re-equipped with Bristol Beaufighter aircraft in the ground attack role and moved back to Egypt then on to Italy.[9] During the Greek Civil War, it sent rocket-armed aircraft to participate in RAF operations.[36] In December 1944, it re-equipped with Martin Marauders, flying medium bombing missions in support of Tito's Partisans.[37] It re-equipped with de Havilland Mosquitos in 1946,[1] disbanding later in the year.

Post World War II

It reformed as a fighter squadron equipped with the Hawker Tempest at Nairobi on 1 April 1948, disbanding on 28 February 1949, but reforming the next day at RAF Fayid in Egypt, flying de Havilland Mosquito NF Mk 36 night fighters.[38] It re-equipped with Gloster Meteor night fighters in March 1953, moving to Malta in January 1955, operating them until 30 June 1958. No. 39 reformed the next day by renumbering 69 Squadron, flying reconnaissance Canberras, moving to RAF Wyton in September 1970, disbanding on 1 June 1982.[9]

The squadron was reformed on 1 July 1992 when No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit RAF at Wyton, equipped with Canberra PR Mk 9 aircraft was re-numbered 39, moving to RAF Marham in December 1993, where it also received Canberra PR Mk 7s.[9] It was the last remaining military operator of the Canberra (in the photographic reconnaissance role) before the Squadron disbanded on 30 July 2006.


Four RAF badges in a row, each showing letters RAF, inside a blue laurel, with a crown above it and wings to either side

RAF Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) 'Wings', which differ only slightly from the current RAF pilot badge by having blue laurel leaves to identify the specialisation.

In January 2005, a new unit, No 1115 Flight, was formed at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada to operate the RAF's first UAVs. Operating the MQ-1 Predator, the unit began training personnel in the operation of UAVs, prior to the stand up of a new squadron. 39 Squadron was reformed in March 2007, with the former 1115 Flight becoming 'A' Flight, while 'B' Flight received the MQ-9 Reaper. The squadron has now relocated to RAF Waddington in Linconshire. On November 9, 2007 the Ministry of Defence announced that the squadron's MQ-9 Reapers had begun operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban.[39]

As of March 2009, the squadron operated 12 three-man teams to pilot its Reaper aircraft. Supporting intelligence specialists, Information Communications Technicians, signallers, and meteorologists bring the total number of squadron personnel to around 90. The squadron operated two aircraft but planned to have a total of six by the end of 2009.[40]

As of April 2011, five Reaper aircraft were in operation, with a further five on order.[41] In 2012 it was announced that RAF XIII Squadron would operate five Reapers from RAF Waddington, in Lincolnshire, UK and No. 39 Squadron personnel and their five Reapers would relocate from Creech Air Force Base to Waddington with personnel beginning to return to the UK in 2013.[42]

Aircraft operated

From [43] except where stated

See also



  1. While some sources state that 39 Squadron received its DH.9As in 1923,[7][9] others suggest that they arrived earlier, either in 1921 [11][12] or 1922.[13]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Lewis 1959, p.29.
  2. Flight 20 May 1932, p.454.
  3. Cole and Cheesman 1984, pp. 174–176.
  4. Delve 1985, p.18.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Cole and Cheeseman 1984, pp. 256, 265.
  6. Bruce 1982, pp.103, 105.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Halley 1980, p. 72.
  8. Cole and Cheeseman 1984, p. 428.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 "39 Squadron". Royal Air Force, Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  10. Delve 1985, pp. 22–23.
  11. Moyes1964, pp. 59–60.
  12. Thetford Aeroplane Monthly August 1992, pp. 20–21.
  13. Delve 1985, p. 23.
  14. Delve 1985, pp. 24–25.
  15. Flight 5 July 1923, pp. 362–363.
  16. Thetford Aeroplane Monthly August 1992, p. 21.
  17. Delve 1985, p. 28.
  18. Thetford Aeroplane Monthly August 1992, pp. 20–22.
  19. Delve 1985, pp. 29, 31.
  20. Delve 1995, pp.50–51.
  21. Delve 1995, pp.56–57.
  22. Delve 1985, pp. 50–51.
  23. Delve 1985, p. 53.
  24. Delve 1985, pp. 54–55.
  25. Franks, Norman. "Wing Commander B. Ankers DSO, DCM". Aeroplane, Vol. 41, No. 9, September 2013. pp. 64–65.
  26. Delve 1985, pp. 55–56.
  27. Shores 1996, p. 18.
  28. Delve 1985, pp. 57–60.
  29. Shores 1996, p. 80.
  30. Shores, Massimello and Guest 2012, pp. 114–115.
  31. Delve 1985, pp. 62–62.
  32. Delve 1985, pp. 62, 64.
  33. Shores, Massimello and Guest 2012, pp. 191, 199.
  34. Delve 1985, p. 65.
  35. Delve 1996, pp. 26–28.
  36. Rickard, J. "No. 39 Squadron (RAF) during the Second World War". Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  37. "39 Squadron Marauder History 1944–45". 39 Squadron : B26 Marauder Association. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  38. Verney, P, 'Post war use of the Mosquito in the M.E.A.F.'
  39. BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Skynet military launch is delayed
  40. Rayment, Sean. "RAF Bomb The Taliban From 8,000 Miles Away", Sunday Telegraph, March 21, 2009.
  41. "RAF – Reaper". Royal Air Force. 2011. Retrieved 30 April 2011. 
  42. (23 October 2012) UK Reaper force set to double, Retrieved 19 March 2012
  43. Delve 1985, pp. 169–170.


  • Bruce, J.M. The Aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps (Military Wing) London: Putnam and Company, 1982. ISBN 0-370-30084-X
  • Chorlton, Martyn. Defenders of the North West Frontier. Aeroplane, Vol.39, No.8, August 2011. ISSN 0143-7240. pp. 24–28.
  • Cole, Christopher and E.F. Cheesman. The Air Defence of Great Britain 1914–1918. London: Putnam, 1984. ISBN 0-370-30538-8.
  • Delve, Ken. The Winged Bomb: History of 39 Squadron RAF. Earl Shilton, Leicester, UK: Midland Counties Publications, 1985. ISBN 0-904597-56-3.
  • Delve, Ken. "Guardians of the Frontier: No 39 Squadron in the North West Frontier". Air Enthusiast, No.58, July–August 1995. Stamford UK:Key Publishing. ISSN 0143-5450. pp. 50–58.
  • Delve, Ken. "Beaufort Weather:Mediterranean anti-shipping strikes by 39 Squadron". Air Enthusiast, No. 65, September/October 1996. Stamford UK:Key Publishing. ISSN 0143-5450. pp. 26–39.
  • Flintham, V. (1990) Air Wars and Aircraft: A Detailed Record of Air Combat, 1945 to the Present. Facts on File. ISBN 0816023565
  • "The Fourth R.A.F. Aerial Pagent". Flight, Vol. XV, No. 758, 5 July 1923, pp. 359–367.
  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force. Tonbridge, Kent, UK:Air Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1980. ISBN 0-85130-083-9.
  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth, 1918–1988. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1988. ISBN 0-85130-164-9.
  • Hatcher, Peter J. Partisan Wings: The Biferno Journal. The Story of No. 39 Squadron RAF, and its use of the Martin Marauder as part of the Balkan Air Force in support of the Partisan Army in Yugoslavia. Miami, Florida: Trente Nova Publishing, 1994.
  • Jefford, Wing Commander C.G., MBE,BA,RAF (Retd). RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing, 2001. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
  • Lewis, Peter. Squadron Histories: R.F.C, R.N.A.S. and R.A.F. 1912–59. Lonon:Putnam, 1959.
  • "MEMORIAL TO No. 39 (H.D.) SQUADRON". Flight, 20 May 1932. p. 454.
  • Moyes, Philip J.R. Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd., 1964 (new edition 1976). ISBN 0-354-01027-1.
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Coastal, Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Jane's Publishing Company Ltd., 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0187-5.
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd., 1969 (new edition 1976, reprinted 1978). ISBN 0-354-01028-X.
  • Shores, Christopher. Dust Clouds in the Middle East: The Air War for East Africa, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Madagascar, 1940–42. London: Grub Street, 1996. ISBN 1-898697-37-X.
  • Shores, Christopher, Giovanni Massimello and Richard Guest. A History of the Mediterranean Air War. London: Grub Street, 2012. ISBN 978-1-908117-07-6.
  • Thetford, Owen. "By Day and By Night — Part 3". Aeroplane Monthly, Vol. 20, No. 8, August 1992. ISSN 0143-7240. pp. 16–22.
  • Airforces monthly – April 2007

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