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Courtesy RAF
Motto: "Scorpiones pungunt" ("Scorpions sting")

Though 84 Squadron has not disbanded, it is as good a time as any to look back at its notable history. One of several RAF squadrons to have been formed in the UK and then never to return to home shores, 84 began life as a training unit at Beaulieu on 7 January 1917. In September, it went to France to join
the other RFC fighter squadrons and immediately began offensive patrols over the Western Front with its SE5As. Disbanded on 30 January 1920, the unit was soon reformed, this time at Baghdad equipped with DH9As and spent two decades policing the skies of Iraq and Mesopotamia, subsequently flying Wapitis, Vincents and Blenheims. In September 1940, the Squadron moved to Egypt to join the bombing campaign in the Western Desert, but was soon on the move again, this time to Greece, but the ill-fated defence of the country resulted in 84 returning to Iraq. Following a brief visit to the Far East, the unit again regrouped in India and re-equipped with Vengeance dive-bombers. At war's end, the unit, now equipped with Mosquitos, moved to Java before relocating again, this time to Singapore in May 1946. In February 1949, the unit received Brigands and a year later joined Operation Firedog in Malaya, but following a succession of accidents, the type was grounded and the unit disbanded.

84 Squadron reformed in Egypt on 20 February 1953, this time as a transport squadron flying Valettas, and these were employed during the Suez campaign in 1957. Three years later, the distinctive Beverley arrived, and these remained on strength until replaced by Andovers in August 1967. These aircraft served until the British withdrawal from the Middle East, and the Squadron was once more disbanded in October 1971. On 17 January 1972, the Whirlwind equipped 1563 (SAR) Flight and UN Helicopter Detachment in Cyprus were combined to form a new 84 Squadron, and the unit has remained there ever since, receiving Wessex HC2 helicopters in 1982. In the mid 80s the unit became unique in operating the HU5C variant, all of which were ex-Royal Navy machines. A surplus of HC2 aircraft became available in the early 90s and the Squadron once more operated the RAF's original HC2 variant through to its retirement this year.

Wessex goes West

Geoff Stockle/ Aeromedia reports on the final RAF flight of the venerable Wessex

Thursday 20 February 2003 marked a significant day for the RAF, although it went largely unnoticed by most. After 40 years of stalwart service, the last four RAF Westland Wessex made their final flight. The aircraft were officially withdrawn from 84 Squadron at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus on 31 January but their final movement under official RAF ownership was the transit from Brize Norton to Shawbury for storage pending their future.

Final few

Following the retirement activities, the four machines were prepared for the journey home via a Volga AN124, and by 5 February were all at Brize Norton. So, on 20 February and following an hour's technical delay, the aptly titled 'Scorpion Formation' left RAF Brize Norton, arriving at RAF Shawbury at 14:00 in very un-Cyprus like conditions. A small welcoming party and several enthusiasts on the approach witnessed the last RAF Wessex formation break smartly into the circuit and land on the Visiting Aircraft Section ramp. Interestingly, only three were airborne during the retirement event as XR588 refused to join in the fun and remained grounded with technical problems.

The future of the Wessex has not yet been decided, although several air arms still use the type and so it is possible they may be sold overseas. It seems unlikely that one will find its way to Shawbury's gate where the type became a daily sight during its training career with 2 Flying Training School (FTS).

The HU5C variant as used in the 1980sThe prototype Wessex HC2 (XM299 - a HAS1 conversion) first flew on 18 January 1962 and a further 60 were ordered for RAF use entering service in 1964. During its RAF career, the Wessex was stationed at home as well as RAF Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong and, of course, Cyprus. 84 Squadron was divided into 'A' (Search and Rescue) and 'B' (UN forces in Cyprus ground support) flights with the familiar yellow SAR machines operating from Akrotiri and B Flight's camouflaged aircraft from Nicosia. In more recent years the two flights merged at Akrotiri and even the humble Wessex succumbed to 'grey paint fever', though retaining the light blue band and union flag on the engine cowling. These identifiers being introduced during the Whirlwind era, as did the playing card emblems on the rotor masts. When five aircraft were in use, a Joker was also used, but for the record the final four were: XT680 'Diamond', XS675 'Spade', XV730 'Club' and XR588 'Heart' (this aircraft is the oldest flying Wessex, being a pre-production airframe).

Akrotiri's Station Crest - Courtesy RAFThe continuing requirement for an RAF presence on Cyprus will be maintained by 84 Squadron, its new equipment being four Bell 412 Griffin HAR2s, specially configured for the SAR role. The first aircraft, ZJ703, is already at Valley for crew training. The remaining three, ZJ704-706, are being prepared at Redhill and will fly out in late April. Colours and markings are still to be decided, but hopefully the scorpion emblem will still be carried..Providing a stop-gap in the meantime will be 203 Squadron and its Sea Kings - as the Sea King training unit, one has to feel sorry for the poor current students who have had to relinquish a Cornish winter for the sun of Cyprus during their conversion!!

84 Squadron's OC, Sqn Ldr Nicky Smith. Picture courtesy  RAFThe Griffins will be operated under the Civilian Owned Military Registration System (COMAR), though will still be commanded by 84's current OC, Squadron Leader Nicky Smith and operated as a military unit. It would therefore seem safe to assume then that 84's Scorpions will remain abroad for some time to come providing a 'protective sting' for the civilians and military people of Cyprus.

With thanks to Sqn Ldr Martin Locke (CRO RAF Shawbury), RAF News and MOD (RAF) website.

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