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The Ton reaches Ninety

Mick Britton reports from RAF Leeming as 100 Squadron celebrates its ninetieth anniversary. Pictures by the author unless credited otherwise

Leeming-based 100 Squadron (known as the 'Ton') has just reached a milestone in its history by celebrating the 90th anniversary of its formation that took place in 1917 when it became the Royal Flying Corps' first specialist night bomber squadron, equipped with the Vickers FE2b. Among its early operations were nocturnal visits to disturb the sleep of Manfred von Richtoften's Flying Circus, which were noted in the Baron's memoirs. At this time the squadron acquired its skull and crossbones emblem from a flag, stolen from a French bordello, which was later formally incorporated into the squadron badge, and now appears on the fins of the squadron's Hawk aircraft.

The early years - ungainly bombers
The Royal Flying Corps' first specialist night bomber squadron, equipped with the not-ungainly-at-the-time Vickers FE2b
100 Squadron ended the Great War equipped with a much more potent aircraft in the shape of the ungainly Handley Page O/400, known as the 'bloody paralyser'
In Singapore the squadron was wiped out when attempting to stem the Japanese invasion whilst still equipped with the obsolete and very ungainly Vickers Vildebeest
In 1946 the squadron flew the less ungainly Lincoln, using it in Malaya in 1950 to join in operations against Communist terrorists
Certainly not ungainly was the English Electric Canberra, not used as a bomber but in the Target Facilities role, a task still undertaken by today's Hawks

100 Squadron ended the Great War equipped with a much more potent aircraft in the shape of the Handley Page O/400, known as the 'bloody paralyser', which had the range to strike the German homeland from France. Disbanded in 1919, the squadron reformed a year later in Ireland, equipped with the Bristol Fighter, where it served briefly in support of security forces against Sinn Fein before moving back home - first to Spitalgate and then Eastchurch, where it re-equipped with first the DH9 and then the Fairey Fawn. A further move took it to Donibristle, where it converted to the torpedo bomber role with the Vickers Vildebeest, prior to moving overseas in 1933 to Singapore, where it was wiped out when attempting to stem the Japanese invasion whilst still equipped with these obsolete biplanes.

Back in the UK the squadron reformed at the end of 1942 at Waltham near Grimsby, in its original bomber role equipped with a state-of-the-art aircraft in the shape of the Avro Lancaster, with which it participated to the full in a second bombing campaign against Germany. Retained in the post-war bomber force, it moved to Lindholme in 1946, exchanging its Lancasters for Lincolns, which it flew to Malaya in 1950 to join in operations against the Communist Terrorists. A further colonial policing operation followed in 1953 when 'A' Flight flew out to Kenya to join the campaign against the Mau Mau. However, during the following year it entered the jet age when it re-equipped with the Canberra B2 at Wittering, which was to be its home for some considerable time as it subsequently became part of the elite 'V' force that represented Britain's nuclear deterrent when it swapped its Canberras for Handley Page's latest 'bloody paralyser', the Victor B2 in 1966. This chapter was to be brief, as within a few years the advent of Polaris brought about the transfer of the nuclear deterrent to the Navy and the RAF began to dismantle its 'V' force.

The break up of the Wittering Victor wing brought about another disbandment of the 'Ton' in 1968 but four years later it reformed at West Raynham in Norfolk in the target facilities role, equipped once more with the now venerable Canberra. When that station became a Bloodhound base and flying ceased the squadron moved on, first to Marham and then Wyton, where it converted to the BAe Hawk in 1992. Shortly thereafter flying also ceased at Wyton and the Ton moved north to Finningley, finally arriving at Leeming in September 1995 when the South Yorkshire base closed.

Today's 'Ton' has a unique role within the RAF encompassing a wide variety of tasks, which makes it one of the busiest units and takes it all over Europe. Its role is no longer merely target facilities (although it does conduct intercept training with the Tornado F3 and Typhoon air defence squadrons) but also providing aggressor capability to the front line squadrons of the RAF and increasingly to other NATO air forces. For example, the squadron has recently returned from a detachment to Slovakia, where it provided Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) to Sliac-based Mig-29s. It also regularly exercises with NATO Navies, often in conjunction with the Falcons of FRA, for which the Hawks simulate air-launched anti-ship missiles and also provides Forward Fighter Controller Training an increasingly important function, given NATO's growing commitment in the war in Afghanistan. Another vital element within the squadron is the Navigator Training Unit, which develops the back-seaters for both the Tornado F3 and GR4 forces.

Ton-up club

100 Squadron Reunion and Leeming Families' Day

The re-emergence of the BBMF Lancaster from its winter overhaul in the markings of 'The Phantom of the Ruhr', an aircraft operated by the 'Ton' and also 550, its sister Squadron at Waltham, has ensured that it would attract considerable publicity in 100 Squadron's anniversary year. More was forthcoming at the Squadron re-union that coincided with Leeming's Families' Day on Saturday 23 June, at which the Lancaster was the main attraction. Leeming's well-oiled publicity machine ensured that the public viewing area at the south end of the village was filling up nicely by 13:40 when the author left it for his 14:00 appointment with the station's MCO at the main gate. A small flying programme had been put together from the station's own resources, including a Grob Tutor from the Northumbrian UAS, a Hawk formation and a pair of F3s from XXV Squadron.

The Lancaster's arrival was keenly awaited throughout the afternoon after the departure of five Hawks at around 14:30 - it arrived around forty-five minutes later with a Hawk on each wing, who then broke away leaving the Lancaster to take centre-stage. It performed a number of runs along the axis of the small, disused cross runway before touching down just as the five Hawks in arrow formation roared overhead. These made several passes before breaking to land, taxiing in before the Lancaster, which had been holding on the cross runway. The crowd of 100 Squadron veterans and guests had spilled onto the concrete apron in their eagerness to see the Lancaster and had to be shooed back by conscientious ground crew. With the Hawks neatly parked, the Lancaster made its stately entrance like a Dowager Duchess at a Grand Ball, the focus of every pair of eyes and every camera. At first, only the Hawk pilots were allowed to approach her, but later after the flying programme finished the squadron association members were also allowed up close to have group photos taken alongside her, the highlight of their day.

A decent static display had been assembled, notable for including Tornado F3s in the markings of all three remaining frontline squadrons and a Chinook in the markings of the Falklands-based 78 Squadron. Other aircraft displayed were a II(AC) Squadron GR4, 29(R) Squadron Typhoon, 72(R) Squadron Tucano and a Navy Jetstream - and of course a 100 Squadron Hawk, although this was really rather superfluous given that almost every other squadron aircraft was on view, either on the active flight line or parked just a short distance beyond.


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