No.120 Squadron

Standing on a demi-terrestrial globe, a falcon close
Standing on a demi-terrestrial globe, a falcon close
01 January 1918

No 120 Squadron was formed at Cramlington on 1 January 1918. The squadron did not become operational before the end of the war. Between February and August 1919 it carried mail between the UK, France and Germany providing the world's first regular international mail service. The squadron disbanded on 21 October 1919.

The unit reformed on 2 June 1941 at RAF Nutts Corner as a maritime reconnaissance squadron. The Squadron was equipped with the long-range Liberator aircraft. These provided air cover far out over the Atlantic, especially over the large central gap, which was outside the range of conventional air support. The Squadron flew anti-U Boat operations and convoy escort. The unit emerged as the RAF's top-scoring anti-submarine squadron, with fourteen U-Boats destroyed and half shares in three others, plus at least eight damaged. No 120 Squadron disbanded on 4 June 1945.

On 1 October 1946 No 160 Squadron was renumbered No 120 Squadron. In 1947 the Squadron was detached to Palestine and flew patrols to detect illegal immigrants.

During the sixties the main operating area was the North Atlantic, with the Squadron exercising with Royal Navy and NATO forces, although frequently it was called upon to locate and shadow Soviet naval forces. In 1966 detachments were sent to the Far East to assist during the Indonesian confrontation and during 1968-9 further detachments operated from Sharjah, where sorties were flown to detect illegal immigrants into the Persian Gulf States.

Late 1973 saw the Squadron's involvement in the 'Cod War' flying surveillance sorties over Iceland's disputed fishing limits. Support was provided to the RN and to British trawlers in the face of harassment by Icelandic gunboats.

Along with other Nimrod squadrons the unit’s task was expanded in 1977 to include OPERATION TAPESTRY to locate, report and photograph foreign fishing boats within the UK's new 200 mile fishing limit and also to monitor the North Sea oil rigs and pipelines.
On 1 April 1979 a Squadron aircraft made the last British military flight out of Luqa, Malta. During the Falklands Crisis of spring 1982 No 120 Squadron crewed the first Mk 2 Nimrods to arrive at Ascension Island, the Forward Operating Base during the campaign. A No 120 Squadron crew made the first Falklands to UK direct flight on 18 November 1983, covering the 7689 nautical miles in 18 hours and 15 minutes.

On 12 August 1990 No 120 Squadron was the first to deploy crews to the Persian Gulf area for Operation Granby following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. This was followed in 1993 with crews deploying to Sigonella Sicily for OPERATION SHARP GUARD, the blockade of the former republic of Yugoslavia.

During 2003 men and machines from this unit participated in OPERATION TELIC. Coalition forces, led by the United States overthrew the Iraqi regime led by Saddam Hussein in a short campaign.


Various types 1918 - 1918
DH9 1918 - 1919
Liberator I/II/III/V/VI/VIII 1941 - 1947
Lancaster 3 1946 - 1951
Shackleton 1/2/3 1951 - 1971
Nimrod 1/2 1970 - current (1 July 2006)

Reference Sources

The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force
James J Halley Air Britain (Historians) Ltd 1988

RAF Squadrons
Wg Cdr C G Jefford Airlife 2001

Coastal Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and their aircraft
John D R Rawlings Jane’s Publishing 1982

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