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IX(B) Squadron Royal Air Force – Agile, Adaptable and Very Capable By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

With a long and fascinating history of mission engagement through two world-wars followed by frequent deployments in later 20th and 21st century conflicts, few could argue that the squadron motto “Per Noctem Volamus” (Throughout The Night We Fly) fits well in terms of describing the fantastic journey that IX(B) Squadron has travelled so far.

The oldest dedicated bomber squadron in the world and one that over the past thirty-years has been one of the most constantly active front-line fast jet squadrons in the Royal Air Force. Agile, adaptable and very capable, a can-do, will do approach and a culture to match.

Since its formation in 1914 the squadron has flown no fewer than 22 different aircraft types. Today, equipped with the superb variable geometry Tornado GR4 multi-role aircraft capability able to deliver offensive air to ground bombing and tactical reconnaissance missions wherever and whenever called upon to deploy, IX(B) Squadron continues a long history and tradition of excellence for which it is deservedly well respected.

Rightly proud of a long history and achievement, IX Squadron was formed as a unit of the Royal Flying Corps in 1914. Not only does this make what is now IX (B) Squadron one of the oldest in terms of formation and certainly the oldest dedicated bomber squadron in the Royal Air Force, it was also the first to be equipped with wireless telegraphy used to direct artillery.

Based at RAF Marham in Norfolk since 2001, IX(B) Squadron together with 12 and 31 Squadrons today form the primary Tornado GR4 Force capability. Under Commanding Officer, Group Captain Steve Ward, the Tornado GR4 Force is formidable capability and will remain the UK’s primary front line air to ground precision bombing capability until the last of the three squadrons is due to be stood down on the 31st March 2019.

On that date, following the completion of the Project Centurion Typhoon fleet enhancement and upgrade programme being conducted by BAE Systems, Royal Air Force Typhoon Multi-Role capability will have taken over the primary fast jet multi-role capability role. In the meantime, RAF Marham continues to move through a major programme of infrastructure investment and development as it gears up for transition F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II capability.

During the three decades that Panavia Tornado GR1/GR4 aircraft capability has been in front-line service with the Royal Air Force (142 Royal Air Force Tornado GR1’s were upgraded to GR4 standard under the Tornado Mid-Life [MLU] Update programme from 1997 with the final aircraft delivered by BAE Systems in 2003. The Tornado MLU to GR4 standard had included fitting of Forward-Looking Infra-Red [FLIR], a wide angle Head-Up Display (HUD], improved cockpit displays, Night Vision Goggle [NVG] compatibility, new avionics and weapons systems, updated software and Global Positioning Systems [GPS]). Since then, the Tornado GR4 has been in almost constant deployment. The MLU also upgraded Tornado Complex Weapons Capability including Storm Shadow stand-off missile, Brimstone advanced anti-armour weapon, Paveway 1V (the aircraft can also deliver Paveway 11) laser guided bombs plus new sensors including the RAPTOR airborne reconnaissance pods and the superb Litening targeting pod system. Tornado GR4 remains superb all-round, all-weather multi-role capability at its best.

IX(B) Squadron had been the first NATO Squadron to be equipped with Tornado GR-1 capability back in June 1982. In the years that followed, IX (B) Squadron would deploy to the Falkland Islands, to Dhahran in Saudi Arabia from where it would play a very significant role in Gulf War 1 against Iraq.

IX(B) Squadron Tornado GR4 aircraft were also deployed to support Op Telic in the second Gulf War in Iraq between 2003 to 2011 (five Royal Air Force Tornado squadrons were involved and it was during this period that the first Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missile was fired from a GR4). IX (B) Squadron had also been deployed in to Kosovo during 1999 and these were followed by deployments to Afghanistan in 2009, Libya (OP Ellamy) in 2011 and subsequently, based at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, the squadron is one of three RAF Tornado and two Typhoon squadrons deployed as part of the Allied Force conducting ongoing front-line bombing and reconnaissance mission operations in both Iraq and Syria.

The list of former Commanding Officers of IX(B) Squadron makes very formidable reading and I am honored to have personally known a number of these including the current Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach plus others amongst which are Air Marshal Stuart Evans together with the recently retired Air Marshal Greg Bagwell.

There is a common denominator to be found amongst many former 1X(B) Commanding Officers and one that emanates from words such as excellence, delivery and leadership qualities which they clearly all have in abundance. If correct then perhaps it reasons why so many former IX(B) Squadron CO’s have subsequently climbed the Royal Air Force promotion ladder to achieve senior positions during the remainder of their service careers. Given the important mark that so many have left behind at IX(B) Squadron, such facts should not come as any surprise.

Today, January 12th 2017, will mark the ‘dining-out’ of current IX(B) Squadron Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Ian Sharrocks. Knowing a number of squadron members as I do, it is suffice to say that having successfully led his squadron on intense overseas deployments over the past two years, Wing Commander Sharrocks, I know how very highly respected he is held by members of his squadron. He is also very well respected by fellow Tornado Force member squadrons and by Tornado Force and RAF Marham Base Commanding Officers.

As already mentioned, with RAF Marham now going through a period of radical infrastructure work in readiness for the base to be equipped with F-35 Litening II capability in 2018, Wing Commander Sharrocks has also been required to lead his squadron through a difficult period of upheaval. This has, for instance, required that the former IX(B) Squadron headquarters and mess building were demolished and replaced by superb new shared squadron headquarters.

Importantly and despite huge pressures of time in terms of the required squadron training regime and periods of physical deployment, Wing Commander Sharrocks who was awarded the Queens Commendation for Valuable Service in October 2016, has made time to ensure that the important history and archives of IX(B) Squadron have been properly preserved and are now on display in the squadron headquarters building in order to remind all those that follow into this fine squadron of the brilliant work it has done over the past 102 years.

I know that all those that have served with Wing Commander Sharrocks and who know him well as I do will share with me in wishing him great success as he continues to pursue his career within the Royal Air Force.

IX Squadron History

Number 1X Bomber (Squadron) is the oldest dedicated bomber squadron in the Royal Air Force. It was originally formed as a Royal Flying Corps (RFC) unit based at St Omer, France on the 8th December 1914 following the renaming of the Wireless Flight of the Royal Flying Corps Headquarters.

Equipped with the B.E.2 single-engine tractor two-seat bi-plane of which over 3,500 aircraft would be built between 1912 and 1918, the Number IX Squadron was disbanded in March 1915 only to be re-formed on 1 April 1915 based at Brooklands, Surrey and equipped with a mix of French developed the Maurice Farmans MF.11 Bleriot derivative bi-plane, B.E.2’s and various other Blériot aircraft (note that the French pioneer flyer had set up separate flying schools before the war in England at both Brooklands and Hendon).

Having moved to Dover on the 23rd July 1915 and re-equipped with five BE8a’s, some Avro 504s and one Martinsyde Scout aircraft, No IX Squadron was then moved back to St Omer on 12 December 1915 before moving yet again to Bertangles on 24th December 1915.

Bombing activities were first undertaken on 17 January 1916 and No IX Squadron would take part in the Somme offensive in 1916 and later, the Arras offensive in 1917. By then it had been re-eqipped with the Royal Aircraft Factory’s RE.8 two-seat biplane reconnaissance and bomber aircraft. Subsequently No IX Squadron would be stationed at Morlancourt from September 1917 equipped once again with the older B.E.2d’s.

In November 1918, following the Armistice, IX Squadron was moved to Premont where it remained until January 1919. It was then moved to Ludendorf where it would remain until it returned to the United Kingdom in August 1919. No 1X Squadron was then based at Castle Bromwich, Birmingham for a short period until it was disbanded on 31 December 1919.

Reformed as IX(B) Squadron on the 1st April 1924 based at Manston it was equipped with Vickers Vimy night bombers. Staying here for many years, In January 1925 the squadron received the first of what would be many Virginia type heavy bombers. This was followed in 1936 by the Handley Page Heyford, primarily a night bomber. This aircraft would be the last long-range heavy bi-plane bomber to serve in the Royal Air Force. .

In February 1939, IX(B) Squadron moved to Honington where it received Vickers Wellington medium bombers. The squadron was the first to drop bombs in World War II – on the 4th of September to be precise – these being used initially in anti-shipping sorties. In September 1942, Wellington bombers were replaced by Avro Lancaster bombers and, by now based at RAF Waddington, IX(B) Squadron would start taking part in Bomber Command’s strategic offensive against German targets.

During the rest of the Second World War period, IX(B) Squadron would be stationed at either Bardney, Scampton, Honington, Binbrook, Stradishall, Hemswell or Coningsby. It was while the squadron was based at Bardney that it first began dropping very large bombs, in particular the 12,000lb (5,440kg) ‘Tallboy’ bomb designed for specialist missions. 1X (B) squadron crews played a major role alongside 617 Squadron in the various mission attempts to sink the German battleship Tirpitz, including the final successful mission that sunk the ship off Tromso Fjord, Norway in 1944.

In January 1945, during an attack on the Dortmund-Ems canal, the IX(B) Squadron Avro Lancaster flown by Flying Officer H Denton was hit and caught fire. Subsequently, Flight Sergeant George Thompson was awarded the Victoria Cross for saving the lives of 2 crewmembers. Sadly, Flight Sergeant Thompson had been badly burned and died in hospital 3 weeks after his aircraft had been attacked.

After the Second World War ended, Avro Lincoln aircraft replaced Avro Lancaster bombers and these aircraft would continue in service until 1952 when IX (B) Squadron received the first of its English Electric Canberra jet-bombers. These superb aircraft would be used during three-months of operations in Malaya in 1956 and subsequently during the Suez crisis of 1956. It is also worth noting that IX(B) Squadron Canberra’s were in 1952 the first Royal Air Force aircraft to bomb from a height above 50,000 feet.

In March 1962, IX(B) Squadron would become part of the ‘V-Force’ flying Avro Vulcans and it then deployed to Cyprus for six years as part of the Near East Air Force before yet another disbandment occurred in April 1982. Four months later however, IX (B) Squadron was to be reformed again as the first RAF Panavia Tornado GR-1 squadron. Based initially at RAF Honington, during 1986, the squadron was moved to Bruggen in Germany where it would remain until that base closed in July 2001. IX (B) Squadron was then moved to RAF Marham.

It was during the period based at Bruggen that during 1990 IX(B) Squadron was deployed to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia to take part in allied operations during the first Gulf War. IX(B) Squadron crews led a number of substantial bombing raids delivering JP 233 and 1000lb bombs and they and their Tornado GR-1 capability earned considerable respect from their US colleagues. Indeed, I personally remember being told by USAF pilots at the time how surprised they were at how well Tornado performed particularly in respect of precision bombing activities. Apart from conducting operations over Southern Iraq in support of United Nations resolutions IX (B) Squadron would later be involved on operations in Kosovo during 1999.

IX(B) Squadron continued the tradition of achieving firsts in the Royal Air Force by becoming the first operational Panavia Tornado GR4 squadron in 1999. On its closure, IX(B) Squadron moved from Bruggen, Germany to RAF Marham on the 17th July 2001. The Norfolk base would soon become the largest and most important operational front-line base in the Royal Air Force and it would be where, along with 12 and 31 Squadrons, Tornado GR4 Force would operate.

The Panavia Tornado in both GR1 and GR4 form has now been in operation with IX(B) Squadron for over thirty years and will remain so for a further two.  This record of longevity surpasses the previous 20 year record of meritorious service which the Avro Vulcan provided to IX(B) Squadron from 1962 to 1982.

IX(B) Squadron deployed to Kuwait in February 2003 and would be heavily involved throughout the second Gulf War period as part of the Ali-Al Salem Combat Air Wing. The squadron continued to support on-going operations in the Gulf region for some time, deploying to a number of different bases in the Middle East in order to execute air operations over Iraq until the cessation of the TGRF’s support to Op TELIC in 2009.

Subsequently, IX(B) Squadron was deployed to Op HERRICK in Afghanistan in support of the NATO ISAF mission and during three and a half months deployment, flew over 1500 hours of sorties in support of ground troops.

1X Squadron Battle Honours include – Western Front 1915- 1918, Somme 1916, Ypres 1917, Amiens, Hindenburg Line, Channel and North Sea 1939-1945, Norway 1940, Baltic 1939-1945, France and Low Countries 1940, German Ports 1940-1945, Fortress Europe 1940-1944, Berlin 1941-1945, Biscay ports 1940-1945, Ruhr 1941-1945, France and Germany 1944-1945, Tirpitz*, The Dams*, Rhine, Gulf 1991, Kosovo, Iraq 2003.

The future? It is at this stage not known whether IX(B) Squadron which along with 31 Squadron (12 Squadron is planned to be stood down in 2018) will be formally stood down as Tornado squadrons on the 31st March 2019 will survive in number form or not.

With two Royal Air Force F-35 Litening II squadrons proposed, one of which is conformed as 617 Squadron, five front-line Typhoon FGR4 squadrons operating Tranche 2/3 aircraft planned together with two squadrons equipped with Tranche 1 Typhoon capability, it is clear that retained squadron number options are limited.

My current understanding is that the decision on which squadron numbers will survive following standing down of the remaining four Tornado squadrons, IX (B), 12, 31 (note that XV(R) Squadron continues to operate at RAF Lossiemouth as the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) for Tornado Force but is planned to be stood down on 31st March 2017) will be taken shortly by the Chief of the Air Staff. The hope will be that, as the oldest Royal Air Force bomber Squadron, IX (B) might eventually find itself stood-up as one of the five planned front line Royal Air Force Typhoon squadrons.

(I would like to acknowledge assistance provided by the IX(B) Squadron Association in relation to Squadron history, the Ministry of Defence and also, members of IX(B) Squadron for any assistance that provided during in writing this commentary.)

CHW (London – 12th January 2017)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon




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