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No. 54 Squadron (sometimes written as No. LIV Squadron) is a squadron of the Royal Air Force. It is a reserve squadron based at RAF Waddingtonmarker, England. On 1 September 2005 it took on the role of Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Operational Conversion Unit, responsible for training all RAF crews assigned to the Sentry AEW1 and the Nimrod R1. The unit will also train crews of the Sentinel R1 when it comes into service.The squadron was previously a SEPECAT Jaguar strike fighter unit, operating from RAF Coltishallmarker, until it was disbanded on 11 March 2005.

Squadron History

World War I

No. 54 Squadron was formed at Castle Bromwichmarker 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 transferred to day fighter missions and moved to France escorting bombers and attacking observation balloons equipped with Sopwith Pup's. The final months of the War were spent flying Sopwith Camel's in ground attack as well as fighter sorties. In February 1919, the Squadron returned to RAF Yatesburymarker, reduced to cadre status and was disbanded on 25 October 1919.

Between the wars

The Squadron was reformed at RAF Hornchurchmarker on 15 January 1930 as a fighter squadron equipped initially with Siskins. The squadron had a brief stay at RAF Upavonmarker in 1931, prior to returning to RAF Hornchurch. The Siskins were subsequently replaced with Bulldogs, Gloster Gauntlets in September 1936 and Gladiators in April 1937, before the Squadron's first monoplane, the Supermarine Spitfire, arrived in March 1939.

World War II

Pilots of 54 Squadron, May 1941

The early days of World War II were spent patrolling the Kent coast, until, in May-June 1940, the unit provided air cover for the evacuation of Dunkirk. Following this, the Squadron was heavily engaged in the Battle of Britain, until it moved north to RAF Castletown, in November 1940 to regroup, prior to undertaking coastal patrols. In June 1942, the squadron was moved to RAF Wellingore, to prepare for moving to Australia

Locations in England

In mid-1942, the squadron left for Australia. In January, 1943, it joined No. 1 Wing (Spitfire Wing) of the Royal Australian Air Force, a Spitfire unit responsible for air defence duties against Japanesemarker aircraft in the Darwinmarker area, under Wing Commander Clive Caldwell. 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 Melbournemarker on 31 October 1945.

Locations in Australia:

Commanding Officers
  • 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

Post War

On 15 November 1946 No. 183 Squadron RAF, a Hawker Tempest ground-attack unit based at RAF Chilboltonmarker 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 Odihammarker a year later.
Vampire fighters
In 1948, six Vampires from the Squadron made history when they completed the first crossing of the Atlantic by jet aircraft. Following a three year stint with Meteors, which arrived in April 1952, Hunters arrived in March 1955, and the Squadron took up ground-attack duties 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 relocated to RAF Stradishallmarker in July 1959 and to RAF West Raynhammarker in 1963.

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 Coningsbymarker in 1969.

By 1974 when twelve SEPECAT Jaguar aircraft were delivered the squadron had re-located to RAF Coltishallmarker. From 1975 until at least 1994 (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.

Remarkably, the squadron, its role and aircraft have remained almost the same till 2005, albeit at a different base (Coltishall), updated Jaguar aircraft, and retirement of the WE.177 nuclear weapon 1994-98.

With the move to a more expeditionary footing, the squadron has seen a number of operational deployments in recent years including Northern Iraq and the Balkans.

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. The Squadron Standard is now housed in Norwich Cathedral.

Reformed as No. 54 (Reserve) Squadron at RAF Waddingtonmarker on 1 September 2005 it re-roled as the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Conversion Unit, responsible for training all mission crews for the Sentry AEW1 and the Nimrod R1. The unit will also train crews of the Sentinel R.1 when it comes into service.

Aerial display

No 54 Squadron was the first jet RAF formation team to trail smoke with a team of five Vampires. In 1955, No 54 Squadron flew a formation of four Hawker Hunter aircraft. The following year the Squadron team adopted the name The Black Knights - the pilots wore black flying suits.

See also

RAF Jaguar units




  • 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.

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