No.21 Squadron

A hand erased at the wrist, holding a dumb-bell
A hand erased at the wrist, holding a dumb-bell
Viribus vincimus - By strength we conquer
23 July 1915
31 March 1975

Formed at Netheravon the unit moved to France in 1916. The unit operated as a reconnaissance squadron but bombing raids were also undertaken. On 30 June 1916 the squadron pioneered the use of the RAF 336lb heavy case bomb. With increased German fighter strength the squadron re-equipped as a single seat fighter unit. The BE12 was useless in this role and reverted to bombing operations. With the arrival of RE8s No 21 Squadron became a corps reconnaissance unit. In February 1919 it returned to the UK and on 1 October 1919 disbanded.

No 21 Squadron reformed on 3 December 1935 at RAF Bircham Newton as a light bomber squadron. The unit saw little action in the first few months of World War 2 and it was not until the German attacks on France and the Low Countries that the squadron saw action against enemy columns. In June 1940 No 21 Squadron began anti-shipping and coastal operations which continued after it flew to Malta in December 1941. On 14 March 1942 it disbanded.

Reformed the same day at RAF Bodney, Norfolk the squadron remained a light bomber unit for the rest of the war. Two of its most spectacular missions were low level attacks on the Gestapo Headquarters at Aarhus, Denmark on 31 October 1944 and the Gestapo Headquarters at Copenhagen on 21 March 1945. No 21 Squadron formed part of the occupation forces until it disbanded on 7 November 1947.

On 21 September 1953 the squadron reformed at RAF Scampton as a part of the UK Canberra force. It disbanded on 30 June 1957. On 1 October 1958 No 542 Squadron was renumbered No 21 Squadron. The majority of the unit took part in the British nuclear bomb trials in Australia. On 15 January 1959 the squadron again disbanded.

On 1 May 1959 the squadron reformed as the first Twin Pioneer squadron and moved to Kenya. In June 1965 it moved to Aden in support of British operations against rebels in the Radfan. It disbanded on 15 September 1967 as the British withdrew from Aden. On 3 February 1969 the Western Communications Squadron was redesignated No 21 Squadron. Final disbandment took place on 31 March 1976.


RE7 1915 - 1916
BE2c/e 1916 - 1916
BE12 1916 - 1917
RE8 1917 - 1919
Hind 1936 - 1938
Blenheim I/IV 1938 - 1942
Ventura 1942 - 1943
Mosquito VI 1943 - 1947
Canberra 2/6 1953 - 1959
Twin Pioneer 1958 - 1967
Dakota 1965 - 1967
Andover 1965 - 1967
Pembroke 1969 - 1976
Devon 1969 – 1976

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

Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and their aircraft Phillip J R Moyes Macdonald & Jane’s 1976

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

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