No. 54 Squadron RAF

Number 54 Squadron (sometimes written as No. LIV Squadron) is a squadron of the Royal Air Force. It is based at RAF Waddington, England.[2] On 1 September 2005 it took on the role of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Operational Conversion Unit, responsible for training all RAF crews assigned to the E-3D Sentry AEW1 and the Nimrod R1 and the Sentinel R1 as well as running the Qualified Weapons Instructor Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Course (QWI ISR). The squadron was previously a SEPECAT Jaguar strike fighter unit, operating from RAF Coltishall, until it was disbanded on 11 March 2005. Since September 2005 the unit has been formally titled 54(Reserve) Squadron, until the (Reserve) nameplate was removed from all training squadrons in 2018.[3]

No. 54 Squadron RAF
Active5 May 1916 – 1 April 1918 (RFC)
1 April 1918 – 25 October 1919 (RAF)
15 January 1930 – 31 October 1945
15 November 1946 – 11 March 2005
1 September 2005 – present
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Air Force
TypeFlying squadron
RoleIntelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Operational Conversion Unit
Part ofNo. 1 Group RAF
Home stationRAF Waddington
Motto(s)Audax omnia perpeti
(Latin for Boldness endures anything)[1]
Battle honours * Honours marked with an asterisk may be emblazoned on the Squadron Standard
Squadron badgeLion rampant semée de lys. The badge combines features of the arms of France and Flanders, commemorating the squadron's battles on the Western Front during the First World War. Approved by King George VI.[1]
Squadron roundel
Squadron codesDL (Apr 1939 – Sep 1939, Apr 1944 – Oct 1945)
KL (Sep 1939 – Jun 1942)
HF (Nov 1945 – Apr 1948)
(Codes taken over from No. 183 Sqn)
GA–GZ (Jaguars)


World War I

No. 54 Squadron was formed at Castle Bromwich on 5 May 1916. Like many others formed at the same time, was tasked with Home Defence duties flying BE2Cs and Avro 504s. Four months later, however, it re-equipped with Sopwith Pups, being the first Royal Flying Corps Squadron to operate the Pup. It moved to France as a day fighter squadron in December 1916. It was initially used as for bomber escort, claiming its first kill, an Albatros D.III, in April 1917, but specialised in attacking enemy observation balloons during the Battle of Arras.[4][5]

The Pup soon became outclassed in air combat, however, and No. 54 concentrated on ground attack missions until it could re-equip with Sopwith Camels in December 1917, allowing to return to fighter duties, providing protection for Army co-operation squadrons. The German Spring Offensive saw a return to low level attack missions, carrying out both ground attack and fighter missions until the end of the War. In February 1919, the Squadron returned to RAF Yatesbury, reduced to cadre status and was disbanded on 25 October 1919.[5][6]

Eleven flying aces had served in the squadron. They included Ernest James Salter, Henry Maddocks, George Hackwill, Frank Hudson, Francis Kitto, Oliver Sutton, Michael Gonne, George Hyde, Reginald Maxwell, Oliver Stewart and William Strugnell.[7]

Between the wars

The Squadron was reformed at RAF Hornchurch on 15 January 1930 as a fighter squadron equipped initially with dual-control Siskin Trainers until Bristol Bulldog fighters were received in April that year.[8] The squadron had a brief stay at RAF Upavon in 1931, prior to returning to RAF Hornchurch.[9] The Bulldogs were replaced by Gloster Gauntlets, in September 1936 and Gladiators in April 1937,[10] before the Squadron's first monoplane, the Supermarine Spitfire, arrived in March 1939.[11]

World War II

The early days of World War II were spent patrolling the Kent coast until, in May 1940, the unit provided air cover for the evacuation of Dunkirk, claiming 31 aircraft shot down for the loss of 4 pilots and seven Spitfires.[11]

From July, the Squadron was heavily engaged in the Battle of Britain, often using RAF Manston as a forward operating base. The fighting was intense, and losses were heavy, with the Squadron being withdrawn to RAF Catterick on 2 September 1940.[12][13] One notable pilot during the first year of the year was "Al" Deere, who claimed 11 German aircraft shot down,[14] while himself being shot down 7 times.[15]

No. 54 Squadron returned to Hornchurch in February 1941,[16] flying fighter sweeps and bomber escort missions over Northern France until November 1941, when it moved north to RAF Castletown, Caithness, undertaking coastal patrols over the Pentland Firth. In June 1942, the squadron was moved to RAF Wellingore, to prepare for moving to Australia.[17]

In mid-1942, the squadron joined No. 1 Wing (Spitfire Wing) of the Royal Australian Air Force, a Spitfire unit responsible for air defence duties against Japanese aircraft in the Darwin area. No. 54 Squadron arrived at RAAF Station Darwin on 17 January. Initially, the wing as a whole suffered from the inexperience of its pilots and mechanical problems caused during the shipment of Spitfires. Although contact with the Japanese was generally brief, 54 Squadron pilots scored a number of kills. Following the end of the war, the squadron disbanded in Melbourne on 31 October 1945.[18]

Post World War II

On 15 November 1945 No. 183 Squadron RAF, a Hawker Tempest ground-attack unit based at RAF Chilbolton near Oxford, was renumbered to No. 54 Squadron and spent a year training pilots destined for overseas service before receiving Vampires and moving to RAF Odiham on 22 November 1947.[19]

In 1948, six Vampires from the Squadron made history when they completed the first crossing of the Atlantic by jet aircraft. Flying in 3 legs with over 8 hours in the air and accompanied by ground crew in Avro Yorks[20] Following a three-year stint with Meteors, which arrived in April 1952, Hunters arrived in March 1955, and the Squadron took up fighter duties with Hunter Mk 4s in September 1955. Reequipped with Mk 6s as part of No 38 Group, frequently deploying to trouble spots around the world as part of the Group's Offensive Strike Wing. The Squadron was the first jet RAF formation team to trail smoke with a team of six Vampires.[21]

In 1955, No 54 Squadron flew a formation of four Hawker Hunter F1 aircraft. The following year the Squadron team adopted the name The Black Knights – the pilots wore black flying suits. They re-equipped to Mk9s gradually as the squadron relocated from RAF Odiham [22] to RAF Stradishall in July 1959 with Hunter Mk9s and to RAF West Raynham, Norfolk, in 1963.[23]

The squadron was briefly disbanded on 1 September 1969, however was reformed the same day after being re-equipped with McDonnell-Douglas Phantoms at RAF Coningsby in 1969.[24]

By 1974 when twelve SEPECAT Jaguar aircraft were delivered the squadron had re-located to RAF Coltishall. From 1975[25] until at least 1994[26] (the last year for which data is available) the squadron's wartime role was as an operational squadron in the front line assigned to SACEUR with twelve Jaguar aircraft, eight WE.177 tactical nuclear bombs, and a variety of conventional weapons. In a high-intensity European war the unit's role was to support land forces on the Continent resisting an assault by the Red Army on Western Europe, first with conventional weapons and secondly with tactical nuclear weapons, should a conflict escalate to that stage, by striking beyond the forward edge of the battlefield into enemy-held areas. The apparent mismatch between aircraft numbers and nuclear bombs was a consequence of RAF staff planners concluding that with some aircraft held back from the conventional phase as a reserve, there would be one-third attrition of aircraft, leaving the remaining survivors numerically strong enough to deliver the squadron's entire stockpile of eight nuclear bombs.[27]

Post Cold War

The squadron moved to RAF Coltishall in 1974 and, following the retirement of the WE.177 nuclear weapon in the late 1990s, took on a more expeditionary footing with a number of operational deployments including flights over Northern Iraq from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and flights over the Balkans from Gioia del Colle Air Base in Italy. With the decision taken to run the Jaguar fleet down in anticipation of the arrival of its replacement, the Typhoon, No 54 Squadron was disbanded at RAF Coltishall on 11 March 2005.[24]


Reformed as No. 54 (Reserve) Squadron at RAF Waddington on 1 September 2005 it re-roled as the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Operational Conversion Unit, responsible for training all mission crews for the E-3D Sentry AEW1, the Nimrod R1 and the Sentinel R.1. The unit is also responsible for the delivery of the Qualified Weapons Instructor Course for ISR (QWI ISR)[2] and trains crews for the newly acquired RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft.[2] Crew from No. 54 Squadron ferried the first RAF Boeing Poseidon MRA.1 ZP801 from the Boeing Renton Factory, Seattle, to NAS Jacksonville, Florida, on 31 October 2019.[28][29]


Wartime locations included:
Locations in Britain

Locations in Australia:

Commanding officers

Wartime commanding Officers included:

  • Sqn.Ldr. E. M Gibbs – 13 August 1942
  • Sqn.Ldr. R.B Newton – 11 January 1944
  • Sqn.Ldr J.B.H Nicholas – 1 July 1945
  • F-Lt D.M Gossland – 30 October 1945

Aircraft operated

Aircraft operated included:[30][31][32]

See also

Former RAF Jaguar units



  1. Rawlings 1978, p. 132.
  2. "RAF Waddington". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  3. "54 (R) Sqn". RAF Waddington. Royal Air Force. Retrieved 5 April 2011.
  4. Halley 1971, pp. 51–52.
  5. Rawlings Air Pictorial August 1971, p. 294.
  6. Halley 1971, pp. 52–53.
  7. "William Victor Strugnell". The Aerodrome. 2016. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  8. Halley 1971, pp. 53–54.
  9. Halley 1971, p. 65.
  10. Gustavsson, Håkan. "Gloster Gladiator in 54 RAF Squadron service". Biplane Fighter Aces from the Second World War. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
  11. Halley 1971, p. 54.
  12. Halley 1971, pp. 54–55.
  13. Rawlings Air Pictorial August 1971, pp. 295–296.
  14. "Acting Flight Lieutenant Alan Christopher Deere, D.F.C. (40370)". London Gazette, Issue 34940, 6 September 1940, p. 5407.
  15. Halley 1971, p.55.
  16. 54 Sqn bases 1939–45
  17. Halley 1971, pp. 55–56.
  18. "No. 54 Squadron (RAF): Second World War". History of War. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  19. "RAF Odiham". Hawker Tempest. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  20. "How the Vampires Crossed". Flight. 1948. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  21. Halley 1971, p. 59.
  22. Personal service with 54 Squadron
  23. "Day Fighter Combat School visit to No's 1 & 54 Squadrons at RAF West Raynham". National Archives. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  24. "54 Squadron". The Phantomeers. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  25. RAF nuclear front line Order-of-Battle 1975
  26. RAF nuclear front line Order-of-Battle 1994
  27. Weapon overview @ Carriage
  28. "We've got the keys to our first P-8A Poseidon!". RAF Lossiemouth (Facebook). 29 October 2019. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  29. Jennings, Gareth (30 October 2019). "UK receives first Poseidon MRA1". London: Jane's 360. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  30. "No 54 Squadron Aircraft & Markings 1916 - 1945". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  31. "No 54 Squadron Aircraft & Markings 1945 - Current". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  32. "54 Squadron". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 17 November 2019.


  • Halley, James J. Famous Fighter Squadrons of the RAF: Volume 1. Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Hylton Lacey Publishers Ltd., 1971. ISBN 0-85064-100-4.
  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth 1918–1988. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1988. ISBN 0-85130-164-9.
  • Jefford, C.G. RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing, 1988 (second edition 2001). ISBN 1-85310-053-6.
  • Rawlings, John. Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Macdonald and Jane's Publishers Ltd., 1969 (second edition 1976). ISBN 0-354-01028-X.
  • Rawlings, John. "History of No. 54 Squadron". Air Pictorial, August 1971, Vol 33 No 8. pp. 294–297.

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