No.51 Squadron

A goose volant
A goose volant
Swift and sure
15 May 1916

No 51 Squadron was formed at Thetford on 15 May 1916 as a home defence unit using airfields in East Anglia for anti-Zeppelin patrols. In addition, the Squadron gave night flying training to aircrew destined to join other squadrons in France. On 13 June 1919 the squadron disbanded.

On 5 March 1937 No 58 Squadron’s B Flight became No 51 Squadron. War was declared at 1100 hours on 3 September 1939, and on the same day the Squadron took part in a leaflet raid over the Hamburg area. This was the first time that RAF aircraft penetrated into Germany during the war.

In March 1940, the Squadron took part in the first Bomber Command attack on a German land target. The Squadron was also involved in the first attack on Italy. Another first occurred in 1941, when parachutists were dropped into southern Italy.

In May 1942 the Squadron was attached to Coastal Command and is credited with several attacks on U-boats, including confirmed damage to U-256. The Squadron returned to Bomber Command in October 1942. From this time until the end of war, the Squadron played an active part in the many mass raids by Bomber Command; against targets in Germany, operations in support of D-Day landings and the Allied advance through France.

On 8 May 1945 the squadron was transferred to Transport Command. Transport duties included the repatriation of Far East POWs and in 1948 the Berlin Airlift. The unit disbanded on 31 October 1950.

On 21 August 1958 No 192 Squadron was renumbered No 51 Squadron. The Squadron began a long association with radar and telecommunications research and operational surveillance duties. The Squadron was involved in the South Atlantic campaign in 1982. In August 1990, Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait and the British response, OPERATION GRANBY, commenced immediately. The Squadron deployed in August 1990 and remained in theatre until March 1991. During this period the Squadron flew missions in support of OPERATION DESERT SHIELD.

The Squadron returned to its normal duties until June 1991 when it was tasked to fly operations in the Adriatic. In June 1992, No 51 Squadron commenced regular deployments to Italy and carried out operations in support of UN operations in area. The intelligence-gathering nature of the squadron’s duties mean it is one of the most shadowy units in today’s RAF.

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. Based at Waddington the squadron continues to undertake its specialised work as part of No 3 Group.


BE2c/d/e 1916 – 1917
BE12 1916 - 1917
FE2b 1916 - 1918
Camel 1918 – 1919
Virginia X 1937 –1938
Anson I 1937 – 1938
Whitley II/III/IV/V 1938 – 1942
Halifax II/III 1942 – 1945
Stirling V 1945 – 1946
York 1946 – 1950
Canberra 2 1958 – 1974
Comet 2 1958 – 1974
Nimrod R1 1971 – current (17 March 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 aircraft
John D R Rawlings Jane’s Publishing 1982

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