No. 22 Squadron RAF

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No. 22 Squadron RAF
22 Squadron RAF crest.jpg
Active1 September 1915
Role Search and rescue
Part of Search and Rescue Force
Garrison/HQ RAF Valley plus detached Flights
Motto(s)Preux et audicieux
(French: "Valiant and Brave") [1]
Equipment Westland Sea King HAR.3
Battle honours Western Front 1916–1918, Somme 1916, Ypres 1917, Hindenburg Line, Channel and North Sea 1939–1941, Mediterranean 1942, Eastern Waters 1942–1944, Burma 1944–1945
On a Torteaux, a Maltese Cross throughout, overall a 'pi' fimbriated

No. 22 Squadron of the Royal Air Force operated the Westland Sea King HAR.3 and HAR.3A at three stations in the southern United Kingdom. The squadron was originally formed in 1915 as an aerial reconnaissance unit of the Royal Flying Corps serving on the Western Front during First World War. Becoming part of the Royal Air Force on its formation in 1918, it was disbanded the following year as part of the post-First World War scaling back of the RAF. During the Second World War the squadron operated in the torpedo bomber role over the North Sea and then in the Mediterranean and the Far East. Between 1955 and 2015 the squadron provided military search and rescue over the United Kingdom.




The squadron was formed at Fort Grange, Gosport on 1 September 1915 from a nucleus of men and equipment split off from 13 Squadron. [2] The squadron trained on a variety of aircraft types, including the Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2c, the Maurice Farman Shorthorn, the Bleriot XI and the Curtiss JN-3. It received its intended operational type, the Royal Aircraft Factory FE.2b in February 1916, passing 14 BE.2s to 33 Squadron. [3]

The squadron moved to France on 1 April 1916, and soon settled down to carrying out reconnaissance missions over the front lines. [3] It flew fighter patrols during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, [4] in addition to its normal reconnaissance and photography duties in support of the army. [5] One notable casualty during the Somme was Auberon Herbert, 9th Baron Lucas, the former Liberal politician and cabinet minister, who was wounded when attacked by German fighter aircraft on 3 November 1916, and died of his wounds the same day. [6]

From July 1917, the squadron started to replace its FE.2s with faster and more capable Bristol F.2 Fighters also known as the 'Brisfit', receiving its full complement of 18 aircraft by 24 August. [7] This was in time to allow the squadron to take part in the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge in September 1917. [8] The squadron was heavily deployed during the German Spring Offensive of 1918, and was forced to change bases due to the German advance, [7] [9] and later, as the Allies drove the Germans out of France in the Hundred Days Offensive, changed bases to keep up with the Allied advances. [7]

The squadron moved to Spich, near Cologne in Germany as part of the British Army of Occupation in March 1919, leaving for home at the end of August that year. After a period as a cadre unit (without aircraft) at RAF Ford, the squadron formally disbanded on 31 December 1919. [10] By the time it was demobilised, it had had 27 flying aces within its ranks, both pilots and observers, including William Meggitt, Samuel Frederick Henry Thompson, Alfred Atkey, John Everard Gurdon, William Frederick James Harvey, Ernest Elton, Frank Weare, Carleton Main Clement, Frank George Gibbons, Edwin C. Bromley, Chester Thompson, Hiram Frank Davison, Sydney A. Oades, George William Bulmer, George S. L. Hayward, Stanley Wallage, Frederick Stanton, James Bush, Rothesay Stuart Wortley, William Lewis Wells, Chester Stairs Duffus, [11] John Howard Umney, [12] Josiah Lewis Morgan, [13] and Dennis Waight. [14]


The squadron's second incarnation was as one of two test squadrons (the other being 15 Squadron) supporting the Aeroplane Experimental Establishment at Martlesham Heath, Suffolk. For 10 years following its reformation on 24 July 1923, the squadron was involved in testing new aircraft before they were accepted for service or sold overseas. The two test squadrons were disbanded on 1 May 1934. [7]


The squadron reformed again on 1 May 1934 at RAF Donibristle near Edinburgh, Scotland in the torpedo bomber role, flying Vickers Vildebeest I biplanes. From March 1935, the squadron began to re-equip with the improved Vildebeest III, with a more powerful engine and carrying an observer as a third crew member. [15] In October 1935, as part of Britain's response to the Abyssinia crisis, the squadron was deployed to Malta, returning to Britain in August 1936 after the threat of war between the United Kingdom and Italy receded. [16]

On 14 December 1936, part of the squadron was detached to form 42 Squadron, also equipped with the Vildebeest, while in March 1938, 22 Squadron moved south to RAF Thorney Island. [17]

The squadron was still equipped with the Vildebeest when the Second World War broke out in September 1939, with the squadron carrying out anti-submarine patrols over the English Channel. [18] From November 1939 the squadron started to receive Bristol Beaufort twin-engined monoplanes to replace its obsolete biplanes. The Bristol Taurus engines of the Beaufort proved unreliable at first, and the squadron continuing to fly operations with the Vildebeest while converting to the Beaufort. It flew its last operational mission with the Vildebeest on 20 December 1939. [19]

The squadron moved to RAF North Coates in Lincolnshire on 8 April 1940, flying its first operational sorties from that base on 15 April when nine Beauforts set out to lay mines off the mouth of the River Elbe. [19]

In this role, the unit flew sorties over the North Sea from North Coates, Thorney Island, St Eval and Portreath. In April 1941, a pilot of the unit, F/O Kenneth Campbell, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for a daring attack on the Gneisenau in Brest harbour. [20]

In 1942, the unit was posted to North Africa before being moved to South East Asia, where it converted to the Bristol Beaufighter. No. 22 Squadron continued its anti-shipping role, this time using rockets. The squadron disbanded for the third time a month after war's end. [21]

Search and rescue (1955–2015)

Sycamore years

Reformed again in February 1955 with the Bristol Sycamore HC.12 at RAF Thorney Island, the squadron took on the Search and Rescue role with this helicopter until the Westland Whirlwind replaced it in June 1955. [22] The squadron performed military search and rescue until it was handed over to the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and Bristow Helicopters in October 2015. [23]

Whirlwind years

The squadron was initially equipped with Westland Whirlwind HAR.2s until August 1962, these were later replaced by the Whirlwind HAR.10s from August 1962. The squadron was based at RAF Thorney Island, [22] the early Whirlwind suffered from low power which seriously reduced its lift capability during hot weather. One of its successes was the rescue of a family from a yacht that was caught in a severe storm in or around Portsmouth harbour. The three were rescued one at a time and the winchman, a mechanic, was obliged to wait on deck until all were lifted off. The yacht broke up shortly after he was removed.[ citation needed ]

June 1955 - June 1956 - HQ at RAF Thorney Island [22]

June 1956 - April 1974 - HQ at RAF St Mawgan [22]

April 1974 - January 1976 - HQ at RAF Thorney Island [22]

January 1976 - June 1976 - HQ at RAF Finningley [22]

Wessex years

22 Squadron Westland Wessex HAR.2 on display at RAF Finningley in 1977. Westland Wessex HAR.2 XR518 22 Sq Valley FINN 30.07.77 edited-2.jpg
22 Squadron Westland Wessex HAR.2 on display at RAF Finningley in 1977.

The squadron was re-equipped with Westland Wessex's from June 1976 [22] its headquarters were at RAF Finningley and had flights at:

Sea King years

Sea King helicopter of 22 Squadron Sea.king.northdevon.arp.750pix.jpg
Sea King helicopter of 22 Squadron

Finally, in the mid-1990s, the squadron received six newly built Westland Sea King HAR.3A to supplement the Sea King HAR.3 aircraft which replaced the Wessex aircraft.

The squadron HQ was co-located with the SAR Force HQ at RAF Valley on Anglesey, Wales. [24] Detachments of at least two aircraft operated from three stations providing search and rescue cover in those parts of the country; these were: [25]

A and B Flights operated the Sea King HAR.3A. [25] C Flight shared a pool nominally of five Sea King HAR.3 aircraft with 203 (R) Sqn, the Operational Conversion Unit. [24]

By the end of 2015 RAF Search and Rescue's responsibilities were handed over to a civilian contractor Bristow, [26] 22 Squadron was stood down and the Sea King HAR 3A helicopters will be disposed of.

In July 2015, C Flight stood down [27] with A Flight following in October 2015. [28] [29]

Notable rescues

Honours and awards

In addition to the battle honours listed above (which are emblazoned on the Squadron Standard), the squadron has been granted the following battle honours: Cambrai 1917, Somme 1918, Lys, Amiens, France and Low Countries 1940, Invasion Ports 1940, Biscay Ports 1940–1941. [32]

Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for executing a torpedo attack on the German battleship Gneisenau in Brest harbour. Despite atrocious weather having prevented the other aircraft in the mission from reaching the harbour and, with virtually no chance of pulling out of the harbour, Campbell pressed home his attack and badly damaged the ship, being shot down in the process. He and his crew were buried with full military honours by the Germans in the cemetery at Brest. [21]

Notable servicemen

See also

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