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[RAF Elsham Wolds] [Coastal Command Lincolnshire] [22 Squadron RAF Coastal Command]

22 Squadron RAF – Coastal Command

22 Squadron crest

22 has an interesting crest. The use of the symbol 'pi is said to have originated from the fact that during part of WW1, No 22 was part of No 7 Wing and that when taking off in a certain direction aircraft of No 22 flew over the HQ of No 7 Wing. This lead to the use of 'pi because 'pi can be expressed mathematically as "22 over 7". The Maltese Cross must be related to their posting to Malta during the 1936/36 Abyssinian Crisis.

22 arrived in France equipped with FE.2bs on 1 April 1916 having been formed at Gosport on 1 September the previous year.

22 Squadron FE 2b Bertangles 1916

22 Squadron FE 2b Bertangles 1916

It operated in the Army Reconnaissance role until July 1917 when it converted to the Bristol F2b and the fighter-reconnaissance role. Becoming part of the Army of Occupation it returned to Britain in September 1919, disbanding at Ford on 31 December 1919.

22 Squadron Bristol F2B

22 Squadron Bristol F2B

It was reformed on 24 July 1923 as part of the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Martlesham Heath, where it undertook trials on various types prior to their acceptance or otherwise into service. When it was redesignated the Performance Testing Squadron on 1 May 1934 a new No 22 came into being at Donibristle. It was now in the Torpedo-bomber role, equipped with Vickers Vildebeests which it took with it to Malta in October 1935 during the Abyssinian Crisis. Returning to the UK in August 1936 and moving to Thorny Island in 1938 it was November 1939 before replacements for the Vildebeests began to arrive.

Vicker Vildebeest

Vicker Vildebeest

These were in the form of the Bristol Beaufort, with which the squadron carried out its first operation on 15 April 1940.

Bristol Beaufort 22 Squadron North Coates

Bristol Beaufort 22 Squadron North Coates

At one point the squadron also trained Maryland crews ('C' Flight) who later joined No 431 Flight in Malta.

Martin Maryland

Martin Maryland

During this period a 22 Squadron pilot, Kenneth Campbell RAFVR, was awarded the VC for a daring attack on the German capital ship Gneisenau which was in Brest harbour having been repaired and removed from dry dock the day before. Campbell’s successfully attacked the Gneisenau scoring a torpedo hit which resulted in the ship having to be returned to dry dock and taking 6 months to repair the damage. Sadly Campbell and his crew were shot down by flak and crashed into the harbour killing all on board.

Amongst the Maryland crews that were trained on C Flight and were sent to Malta to form 431 Flight to undertake photo reconnaissance work was the legendary Adrian Warburton, one of the great pilots and characters of the RAF and WW2. His work as a photo reconnaissance pilot in that theatre of operations was unparalleled. and recognised by the award of a DSO and bar and DFC and two bars and an American DFC.  He was also a fighter ace being credited with 9 kills. Sadly he did not survive the war being killed on the 12 April 1944 over Germany.

22 Squadron Campbell and Warburton

22 Squadron Campbell and Warburton

Operations continued against coastal targets and shipping until March 1942 when the squadron began its move overseas, arriving in Ceylon on 28 April 1942. After an attempt by the Japanese to attack Ceylon further expected attacks did not materialise and No 22 found itself carrying out escort and anti-submarine patrols. Re-equipment with Beaufighters occurred in June 1944 and from December, that year it moved to Burma and began ground attack and ASR missions, disbanding on 30 September 1945.

Bristol Beaufighter 27 Squadron SEAC 1945

Bristol Beaufighters  SEAC 1945. These examples are 27 Squadron

It reformed again in the Far East on 1 May 1946 at Seletar when No 89 Squadron was redesignated but on 15 August it disbanded yet again.

There then followed a eight and a half year break until 15 February 1955 when it reformed at Thomey Island as a Search and Rescue Helicopter unit, however, during this period (11 December 1949 - 20 December 1954) it was linked to No 29 Squadron as a way of keeping that number alive. As such it has operated detached flights at various locations around the British Isles and has been equipped with the Sycamore HC Mk 14s (1955), Whirlwind HAR Mk 2 (1955 - 1963), Whirlwind HAR Mk 10 (1962 - 1981), Wessex HAR Mk 2 (1976 - 1997) and Sea King HAR Mk 3/3A (1997 - 2015). In July 2015 the last SAR flight was carried out by 'C' Flight at RAF Valley with UK SAR responsibility being transferred to the Coastguard and Maritime Agency.

Prince William served with 22 Squadron flying Sea Kings

22 Squadron Prince William

22 Squadron Prince William with Squadron crest clearly evident

In May 2020, the Squadron re-formed at RAF Benson as the Operational Evaluation Unit of the Joint Helicopter Command under the Air Warfare Branch. They are responsible for testing all new equipment to be used on eight helicopter types used across the three Services.

Compiled by David Fell with photos from my  own archive, IWM, WWP and RAF website



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