Is this the end of the squadron that won the RAF's first dogfight VC?

5th May 2007
Daily Mail

The oldest squadron in the world's oldest air force could face the axe

No6 Squadron RAF Association is based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire

The RAF's oldest squadron could face the axe after 93 years of heroic service.

No6 Squadron's proud roll of honour includes Major Lanoe Hawker, the man who won the first VC for aerial combat.

But after the last ten of its ageing Jaguar fighter bombers were taken out of service last week, the squadron is to be disbanded while it awaits delivery of new Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft in a year's time. Its 300 pilots and ground staff will be transferred to other RAF units.

Major Lanoe Hawker, the man who won the first VC for aerial combat.

Hundreds of former personnel belonging to the No6 Squadron RAF Association - some of whose members served as long ago as 1936 - suspect that once the unit is mothballed, it will never be reformed because of Ministry of Defence spending cuts.

The association wrote to Defence Secretary Des Browne, demanding two existing Typhoons are transferred to No6 Squadron, whose motto "Oculi Exercitus' means 'the eyes of the Army', so the unit can retain its unbroken record of service, thought to be the longest of any air force in the world.

Major Hawker, whose motto was 'attack everything', won his VC in 1915, the year after the squadron was formed, when he used a German captive balloon to shield him from enemy fire while he attacked a Zeppelin airship in his 77mph BE2c biplane.

He went on to claim eight combat kills before being shot down in 1916, aged just 25, by the infamous Red Baron, Baron Manfred von Richthofen, after a 30-minute dogfight in northern France.

The dogfight, behind enemy lines, was one of the longest recorded at the time. Richthofen's machine guns jammed at the last minute, but one of the final bullets he fired hit Major Hawker in the head, killing him instantly.

During the Second World War, No6 Squadron was known as the "Tin Openers' after helping destroy Rommel's Tiger tanks in the North Africa campaign using 40mm cannons from its Hurricanes.

In the final days of the war, the squadron converted to rocket- firing Hurricanes and fought in Italy and Yugoslavia. After VE Day it was posted to the Middle East for operations in Palestine, Suez and Jordan, where the government awarded No6 its own Jordanian Royal Standard.

More recently, the squadron, based at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire, saw service in the first Gulf War in 1991, the Balkans and Northern Iraq.

Ken Hopper, 65, from Maidstone, Kent, who served as a flight mechanic on Vampire fighter bombers with the squadron in the Fifties, said last night: "Our association members are dismayed at plans to stand down the squadron even for a short time. It will lose the status of being the longest continuously serving squadron in the RAF and, perhaps, the world.

"Although it is the MoD's intention to reinstate the squadron, there is no guarantee this reformation will be forthcoming. This is what's worrying us."

An MoD spokesman said: "We cannot comment on the No6 Squadron Association's letter until the Minister has responded."