No.39 Squadron

A winged bomb
A winged bomb
Die noctuque - By Day and Night
15 April 1916

No 39 Squadron formed at Hounslow on 15 April 1916 as a home defence unit. The squadron operated a series of detached fights in defence of London. On the night on 2/3 September 1916 the first enemy airship, Schutte-Lanz SL11, shot down on English soil was brought down by a No 39 Squadron aircraft flown by Lt Leefe Robinson, who was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross for the action. On 23/24 September the unit scored another success when Lt F Sowrey shot down Zeppelin L32 near Billericay. On the same night Second Lieutenant A de B Brandon helped anti aircraft guns to bring down another German Zeppelin this time L.33. Finally Lt W J Tempest brought down Zeppelin L31 at Potters Bar on the night of 1/2 October 1916. In November 1918 the unit moved to France but on 16 November 1918 it disbanded.

On 1 July 1919 No 37 Squadron was renumbered No 39 Squadron but remained a cadre until February 1923 when it received its first aircraft. It operated as a day bomber unit. In December 1928 the unit moved to India for operations on the North West Frontier. The squadron moved briefly to Singapore in 1939 but was moved to the Middle East in 1940. After Italy declared war in June 1940 No 39 Squadron bombed enemy targets in Italian East Africa. In November 1940 it moved to Egypt. Anti-shipping, mine-laying and reconnaissance missions occupied the unit until June 1943. From then until the end of the war No 39 Squadron concentrated on anti-shipping and night intruder operations covering Italy, the Balkans and northern Italy. In October 1945 the squadron moved to Sudan. On 8 September 1946 the unit disbanded.

On 1 April 1948 the unit reformed at Nairobi, Kenya as a fighter squadron. It disbanded again on 28 February 1949. On 1 March 1949 it reformed at Fayid, Egypt as a night fighter squadron. It moved to Malta in January 1955 and disbanded on 30 June 1958.

On 1 July 1958 No 69 Squadron was renumbered No 39 Squadron. It operated as a Canberra reconnaissance unit from Malta until September 1970 when it returned to the UK. No 69 Squadron disbanded on 28 May 1983 when its tasks were taken over by No 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit.

In July 1992 No 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit was renumbered No 39 (1 PRU) Squadron.

No 39 (1 PRU) Squadron has the capability to operate independently throughout the world which it does on a regular basis. The unit played a leading role in the multi-national force that deployed to Uganda in a humanitarian mission to search for refugees in Eastern Zaire in December 1996. In 2001 the unit has been operating over Afghanistan as part of the Allied War Against Terrorism.

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.

On Thursday 1 September 2005, a 39 Squadron aircraft made the last ever mission flight by an RAF Canberra T.4, signalling the end of 45 years of service. This was a precursor to the disbandment of 39 Squadron, planned for 31 July 2006.


BE2c/e 1916 - 1917
BE12/12a 1916 - 1917
F2b 1917 - 1918
DH9A 1923 - 1928
Wapiti 1929 - 1931
Hart 1931 - 1939
Blenheim I/IV 1939 - 1941
Maryland 1941 - 1942
Beaufort 1941 - 1943
Beaufighter X 1943 - 1945
Marauder 1944 - 1946
Mosquito 26 1946 - 1946
Meteor NF 13 1953 - 1958
Canberra 3/7/9 1958 - current (30 June 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

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

Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and their aircraft John D R Rawlings Crecy Books 1993

Coastal Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and their

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