From Defence to Attack

World War I

No. 50 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps founded at Dover on 15 May 1916. It was equipped with a mixture of aircraft, including Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2s and Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12s in the home defence role, having flights based at various airfields around Kent. It flew its first combat mission in August 1916, when its aircraft helped to repel a German Zeppelin. On 7 July 1917 a 50 Squadron Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8 shot down a German Gotha bomber off the North Foreland of Kent. In February 1918, it discarded its miscellany of aircraft to standardise on the more capable Sopwith Camel fighter, continuing to defend Kent. By October 1918, it was operating its Camels as night fighters. It was during this period that the squadron started using the running dogs device on squadron aircraft, a tradition that continued until 1984. The device arose from the radio call sign Dingo that the squadron was allocated as part of the Home Defence network. It disbanded on 13 June 1919. The last CO of the squadron before it disbanded was Major Arthur Harris later to become Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War.

Reformation and World War II

No. 50 Squadron reformed at RAF Waddington on 3 May 1937, equipped with Hawker Hind biplane light bombers. It started to convert to the Handley Page Hampden monoplane medium bomber in December 1938, discarding its last Hinds in January 1939. It was still equipped with Hampdens when the Second World War broke out, forming part of 5 Group, Bomber Command. It flew its first bombing raid on 19 March 1940 against the seaplane base at Hörnum on the island of Sylt. On 12 April 1940, in attempt to attack German warships off Kristiansand returning from the German invasion of Norway, 50 Squadron took part in what was the largest British air raid of the war so far, with a total of 83 RAF bombers attempting to attack the German fleet. When 12 Hampdens of 50 and 44 Squadron spotted a German warship and attempted to attack, they lost 6 of their number to beam attacks by German fighters, with 13 officers and men from 50 Squadron dead or missing. After these losses, daylight attacks with Hampdens were abandoned. 50 Squadron continued operations by night, taking part in the RAF's strategic bombing offensive against the Germans through the remainder of 1940 and 1941. It re-equipped with Avro Manchesters from April 1942. The Manchester was disappointing, however, with unreliable engines and had a lower ceiling than the Hampden it replaced. Despite these problems, 50 Squadron continued in operations, contributing 17 Manchesters to Operation Millienium the "1,000 aircraft" raid against Cologne on 30/31 May 1942. It lost two aircraft that night, one of which piloted by Flying Officer Leslie Thomas Manser who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for pressing on with the attack after his aircraft was heavily damaged, and when a crash became inevitable, sacrificing his own life by remaining at the controls to allow the rest of his crew to parachute to safety.

The Squadron soon re-equipped with the four-engined Avro Lancaster, which it used for the rest of the war against German targets, flying its last mission of the war against an Oil Refinery at Vallø in Norway on 25/26 April 1945. The squadron flew 7,135 sorties during the war with a loss of 176 aircraft. It replaced its Lancasters with Avro Lincolns in 1946, disbanding at Waddington on 31 January 1951.

Jet operations

No 50 Squadron re-formed at RAF Binbrook on 15 August 1952, equipped with the English Electric Canberra light jet bomber. It moved to RAF Upwood in January 1956, disbanding on 1 October 1959. It reformed again at RAF Waddington on 1 August 1962 on the Avro Vulcan V bomber, using ex-617 Squadron Vulcan B.1s made surplus after 617 Squadron re-equipped with Vulcan B.2s. It received Vulcan B.2s in December 1966, and was still operating them when the Falklands War broke out in April 1982, with two Vulcan crews from 50 Squadron selected for Operation Black Buck missions. The Falklands War, and the continuing need to maintain supply flights to the South Atlantic after the end of the war, resulted in a shortage of air-to-air refuelling tankers, and it was decided to convert six of 50 Squadron's Vulcans to single point tankers, the first conversion flying on 18 June 1982 and entering service on 23 June. The squadron was the last unit to operate the Vulcan which remained in service in the tanking role until the squadron disbanded on 31 March 1984.

Aircraft of No.50 Squadron

Dates Aircraft Variant
May 1916 – September 1917 Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 B.E.2c
May 1916 – May 1918 Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12  
June 1916 – July 1917 Vickers E.S.1[22]  
December 1916 – August 1917 Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12 B.E.12a
December 1916 – February 1918 Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 B.E.2e
March 1917 – March 1917 Bristol M.1 M.1B
May 1917 – June 1917 Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8  
May 1917 – January 1918 Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8  
June 1917 – July 1917 Sopwith Pup  
January 1918 – June 1918 Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12 B.E.12b
May 1918 – July 1918 Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 S.E.5a
July 1918 – June 1919 Sopwith Camel  
May 1937 – January 1939 Hawker Hind  
December 1938 – April 1942 Handley Page Hampden  
April 1942 – June 1942 Avro Manchester  
May 1942 – October 1946 Avro Lancaster I & III
July 1946 – January 1951 Avro Lincoln B.2
August 1952 – October 1959 English Electric Canberra B.2
August 1961 – October 1966 Avro Vulcan B.1
January 1966 – March 1984 Avro Vulcan B.2
June 1982 – March 1984 Avro Vulcan K.2

Stations operated from.

No. 50 Squadron Royal Air Force

Commanding officers

May 16                 Major M G Christie DSO MC

Feb 17                   Major A T Watson

Oct 17                   Major A de B Brandon DSO MC

Aug 18                  Major W Sowrey

Dec 18                  Major A T Harris AFC.

(Later Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris GCB OBE AFC)

Jun 37                   Sqn Ldr R B Sutherland DFC

Jul 38                    Wg Cdr L Young

Apr 40                   Wg Cdr R T Taafe OBE

Jun 40                   Wg Cdr N D Crockart

Jun 40                    Wg Cdr G W Golledge

Dec 40                  Wg Cdr G A Walker DSO DFC.

(Later Air Chief Marshal Sir Augustus Walker GCB CBE DSO DFC AFC )

Oct 41                   Wg Cdr R J Oxley DSO DFC

Oct 42                   Wg Cdr W M Russell DFC

Aug 43                  Wg Cdr R McFarlane DSO DFC

Dec 43                  Wg Cdr E Pullen DFC

Jan 44                   Wg Cdr A W Heward DFC AFC.

(Later Air Chief Marshal Sir Anthony Heward KCB OBE DFC* AFC)

Jun 44                   Wg Cdr R T Frogley

Mar 45                 Wg Cdr J Flint DFC GM DFM

Jan 46                  Wg Cdr R M Coad AFC

May 46                Wg Cdr G A V Kuyvett

May 47                Sqn Ldr T W Rippingale DSO DFC

May 49                Sqn Ldr A C Peach

Oct 52                  Sqn Ldr J S Owen

Jul 54                   Sqn Ldr G Hampton DFC

May 56                Sqn Ldr G E Kerridge

Dec 56                 Wg Cdr E P Landon DFC

Aug 61                 Wg Cdr B A Primavesi

Jul 63                   Wg Cdr W J Stacey

(Later Air Chief Marshal Sir John Stacey KCB CB)

Jun 65                  Wg Cdr J F W Pembridge AFC

Jun 67                  Wg Cdr M G Bradley AFC

Jul 69                   Wg Cdr G T Smeaton

Dec 70                 Wg Cdr D W Lowe

Apr 73                 Wg Cdr A Parkes

Jul 75                  Wg Cdr D Ward

Jul 77                  Wg Cdr N B Baldwin

(Later Air Vice Marshal N B Baldwin CB CBE)

Jul 79                  Wg Cdr T Garden

(Later Air Marshal Lord Garden KCB)

Jan 81                  Wg Cdr C P Lumb

A Supporter of the association has compiled an operational history of 50 Squadron in WWII. Starting from its formation in 1937. At the moment it goes up to 1943. With more work to do. He is please to share his story on our web site for anyone who is researching the Squadron. You can download the Pdf files of his story by clicking on the relative links.

50 SQUADRON ORB 1939-1942.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [1.2 MB]
Operational History 1943.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [499.2 KB]