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No. 90 Squadron RAF
Active 8 October 1917 - 29 July 1918
14 August 1918 - 13 June 1919
15 March 1937 - 6 April 1940
3 May 1941 - 10 February 1942
7 November 1942 - 1 September 1950
4 October 1950 - 1 May 1956
1 January 1957 - 1 March 1965
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Air Force
Motto(s) Celer
Latin: "Swift"
Squadron Codes WP (1950-1956)

No. 90 Squadron RAF (sometimes written as No. XC Squadron) is a squadron of the Royal Air Force.


World War I

No. 90 Squadron was formed as a fighter squadron of the Royal Flying Corps at Shawbury in Shropshire on 8 October 1917, moving to Shotwick in North Wales on 5 December 1917.[1][2] It was equipped with a variety of types, including the Avro 504, Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b,[3] together with a number of Sopwith Pups.[4] The squadron was intended to equip with the new Sopwith Dolphin fighter, amd was intended to become operational in France in the spring of 1918, but although it received a few Dolphins in July 1918, it disbanded at Brockworth, Gloucestershire on 3 August 1918 without becoming operational.[1][5]

The squadron reformed on 14 August 1918 at RAF Buckminster, Leicestershire as a Home Defence squadron equipped with Avro 504Ks with the mission of defending the Midlands against German air attack.[1] Flights of Avro 504s were based at Buckminster, Leadenham and Wittering,[6] but the squadron saw no action, disbanding on 13 June 1919.[1]

World War II

The squadron reformed at RAF Bicester on 15 March 1937 from a flight of 101 Squadron, as a light bomber squadron equipped with Hawker Hind biplanes as its initial equipment. It replaced its Hinds with the more modern Bristol Blenheim twin-engined monoplane from May that year.[7] It replaced its Blenheim Is with Blenheim Mark IVs in early 1939, and on the outbreak of the Second World War, became a training squadron, training Blenheim crews for the rest of Bomber Command. It disbanded on 4 April 1940 when it merged with No. 35 Squadron to became part of No. 17 OTU.[1][2]

90 Squadron Fortress crew at RAF Polebrook before an attack on the German battleship Gneisenau at Brest, France

The squadron reformed once more at RAF Watton on 7 May 1941 as Bomber Command's first unit equipped with the American Boeing Fortress I four-engined heavy bomber, moving to West Raynham on 15 May.[1][8] 90 Squadron flew its first operational mission on 8 July 1941, when three Fortresses set off from RAF Polebrook to attack Wilhelmshaven (although only two of them actually managed to bomb the target).[9] The squadron typically flew small formations of Fortresses in high altitude daylight attacks,[8][10] taking part in a large scale attack on the German battleship Gneisenau at Brest, France on 24 July. Three Fortresses attacked were to attack from 30,000 ft (9,100 m), with the objective of drawing German fighters away from 18 Handley Page Hampdens attacking at lower altitudes. A larger force of 79 Vickers Wellingtons would attack later, while the fighters were meant to be refuelling. The operation did not work as expected, with 90 Squadron's Fortresses being unopposed, with the German defenders concentrating on the Hampdens and Wellingtons, shooting down two and ten respectively.[11][12] Small scale attacks continued, with four Fortresses attacking the German "Pocket Battleship Admiral Scheer at Oslo harbour on 8 September, losing two of their number to German fighters.[13] 90 Squadron flew its final operational mission over northern Europe on 25 September 1941. In 51 operational sorties, 25 were abandoned due to faults with the aircraft, with 50 tons of bombs being dropped, of which only about 1 ton hit the intended targets. The Fortress I was unsuitable for the type of very high-altitude operations by small formations on which the RAF used them.[14] Four aircraft were dispatched to Egypt in November (of which three reached their destination) for operations in support of the Western Desert Campaign, with the three survivors being merged into a detachment of 220 Squadron in December. The squadron surrendered its remaining Fortresses to 220 Squadron in January 1942, with the squadron flying a few Blenheims until it disbanded on 14 February 1942.[1][15]

On 7 November 1942 the Squadron again reformed as a night bomber squadron, part of No. 3 (Bomber) Group, at RAF Bottesford.[1] It was to be equipped with the Short Stirling Mk.I, receiving its first Stirling on 1 December and moving to RAF Ridgewell on 29 December 1942.[16] Its first operational venture were mining sorties in early January 1943.

The months following saw the Stirling Mk.III (an improved version) introduced to the Squadron, which, as a three-flight unit was theoretically capable of providing 24 aircraft to the Group's Operational Battle Order. The unit's resources were thrown into the Battle of the Ruhr and sent to many of the German targets that were most heavily defended, including Berlin. The Squadron suffered considerable losses over an eight-month period and found it difficult to maintain reserves of men and machines.

The Stirlings suffered from deficiencies in design, due to restrictions laid down in the original Air Ministry specifications. After suffering heavy proportionate losses by type, their operations were restricted to Special Duties i.e.: Dropping sea mines, low level supply dropping to the Maquis, shorter bombing raids on invasion objectives. The Squadron was active on all these fronts.

Washington B.1 WF502 of 90 Squadron in September 1952

By June 1944 the Squadron had been declared operational on Lancasters.

The last raid was to Bremen on 22 April 1945, the squadron flew 4,613 operational sorties for Bomber Command during the war and lost 86 aircraft.[17]


The squadron continued to operate the Lancaster in the post-war Bomber Command until May 1947 when the squadron re-equipped with Lincolns. It carried out regular detachments from Wyton to Egypt and Rhodesia before it disbanded on 1 September 1950.

The squadron reformed postwar at RAF Marham on 4 October 1950 and was equipped with the B-29 Superfortress known in Great Britain as the Boeing Washington.

Vickers Valiant B(PR)K.1 of 90 Squadron in 1957 wearing the Squadron's XC symbol in a triangle on its fin

On 8 January 1953 a Washington from the squadron WF502 mysteriously crashed near Llanarmon-yn-Ial in Denbighshire with the loss of all 10 crewmen, it had flown into the ground at night.[18]

In November 1953 the squadron began re-equipping with Canberras. The squadron was disbanded on 1 May 1956.

On 1 January 1957, the squadron was reformed at RAF Honington as a V-Bomber squadron, receiving Vickers Valiants from March that year.[2][19] The squadron started to convert to an in-flight refueling mission in August 1961, becoming a dedicated tanker unit on 1 April 1962 when it officially lost its bomber role.[20] Structural problems with the Valiant fleet caused by metal fatigue resulted in the RAF's Valiant fleet being permanently grounded on 26 January 1965,[21] the squadron finally disbanding on 16 April 1965.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Halley 1980, p. 128.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "90 Squadron". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 30 November 2012. 
  3. Lewis 1959, p. 47.
  4. Davis 1999, p. 67.
  5. Davis 1999, pp. 130–131.
  6. Cole and Cheeseman, 1984, p. 460.
  7. Robertson Flight 19 January 1939.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Bomber Command No.90 Squadron". Bomber Command: Bomber Command Squadrons. Royal Air Force. Retrieved 30 November 2012. 
  9. Chorlton Aeroplane January 2013, pp. 37–38.
  10. "No 86 - 90 Squadron Histories". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. 30 December 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2012. 
  11. Chorlton Aeroplane January 2013, p. 38.
  12. Richards 1995, pp. 122–123.
  13. Chorlton Aeroplane January 2013, pp. 38–39.
  14. Chorlton Aeroplane January 2013, pp. 39–40.
  15. Chorlton Aeroplane January 2013, p. 40.
  16. Bowyer 2002, p. 161.
  17. Falconer 2003, p. 244
  18. Halley 1999, p. 139
  19. Brookes 2012, p. 92.
  20. Brookes 2012, p. 64.
  21. Brookes 2012, p. 89.

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