No. 39 Squadron RAF

No. 39 Squadron RAF
No. 39 Squadron RAF
39 Squadron badge
Active 15 April 1916
Role Reconnaissance
Garrison/HQ Creech AFB Nevada
Motto "Die noctuque" (By day and night)
Equipment 5 x MQ-9 Reaper
Battle honours Home Defence 1916-1918, East Africa 1940, Egypt and Libya 1940-1943, Greece 1941, Mediterranean 1941-1943, Malta 1942, North Africa 1942-1943, South East Europe 1944-1945
A winged bomb

No. 39 Squadron of the Royal Air Force operates the MQ-9 Reaper since 2007, operating from Creech AFB, Nevada, USA.



World War I

39 Squadron was founded at Hounslow Heath Aerodrome in April 1916 with B.E.2s and Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12s in an attempt to defend against German Zeppelin raids on London.[1] It achieved its first success on the night of 2/3 September 1916, when Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson shot down the German Airship Schütte-Lanz SL11, being awarded the Victoria Cross for this action. On 23 September 1916, the German Navy launched another Zeppelin raid against London. Responding to this raid, 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Sowrey of 39 Squadron shot down Zeppelin L.32, while another 39 Squadron B.E.2 engaged Zeppelin L.33, already damaged by anti-aircraft fire, with L.33 force landing at Little Wigborough, Essex, and being destroyed by its crew.[2] It continued in the defence of London, being re-equipped with Bristol F.2 Fighters in September 1917, but had no more success against German raiders. At least one Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8 was operated by the unit.[3] In October 1918 it was re-equipped with Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b aircraft and sent to France for night bombing, but was disbanded five days after the Armistice.[1][4]

It was reformed post-war, receiving 18 Airco DH.9As at RAF Spitalgate in Lincolnshire in February 1923.[1][4] In December 1929 it was transferred to Risalpur, North-West Frontier Province India (now part of Pakistan), receiving Westland Wapitis.[5] It was used for Air Policing in the North West Frontier, carrying out bombing missions against rebelling tribemen and their villages, and support for the army. In December 1931 it was re-equipped with Hawker Harts, operations continuing as before, also being used as part of the relief effort following the 1935 Balochistan earthquake, flying supplies to devastated Quetta and carrying out medical evacuations.[6]

World War II

A 39 Sqn Beaufort II at Luqa, Malta, in June 1943.

During World War II, No. 39 operated the Bristol Blenheim and Martin Maryland out of Egypt before converting to the Bristol Beaufort in August–September 1941 for anti-shipping operations, at first armed with bombs but from January 1942 adding torpedo attack to its roles.[7] In late 1941 the unit was split up. One flight moved to Luqa, Malta in December 1941: six months later this flight was combined with others from 86 and 217 Squadrons to eventually form a new 39 Squadron. In 1943 the unit re-equipped with Bristol Beaufighter aircraft in the ground attack role and moved back to Egypt then on to Italy.[4] During the Greek Civil War, it sent rocket-armed aircraft to participate in RAF operations.[8] In December 1944, it re-equipped with Martin Marauders, flying medium bombing missions in support of Tito's Partisans.[9] It re-equipped with de Havilland Mosquitos in 1946,[1] disbanding later in the year.

Post World War II

It reformed as a fighter squadron equipped with the Hawker Typhoon at Nairobi on 1 April 1948, disbanding on 28 February 1949, but reforming the next day at RAF Fayid in Egypt, flying de Havilland Mosquito NF Mk 36 night fighters.[10] It re-equipped with Gloster Meteor night fighters in March 1953, moving to Malta in January 1955, operating them until 30 June 1958. No. 39 reformed the next day by renumbering 69 Squadron, flying reconnaissance Canberras, moving to RAF Wyton in September 1970, disbanding on 1 June 1982.[4]

The squadron was reformed on 1 July 1992 when No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit RAF at Wyton, equipped with Canberra PR Mk 9 aircraft was re-numbered 39, moving to RAF Marham in December 1993, where it also received Canberra PR Mk 7s.[4] It was the last remaining military operator of the Canberra (in the photographic reconnaissance role) before the Squadron disbanded on 30 July 2006.


The Squadron was reactivated in March 2007 from the previous RAF UAV force, No. 1115 Flight, and comprises five flights:

  • A Flight -operating the MQ-1 Predator as part of the USAF.
  • B, C & D Flights - operates the MQ-9 Reaper RPAs.
  • E Flight will continue to maintain technicians on the USAF MQ-1 and MQ-9s based at Creech AFB

The squadron is now located in Nevada until its return to the UK at an undetermined time.

On November 9, 2007 the Ministry of Defence announced that the squadron's MQ-9 Reapers had begun operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban.[11]

As of March 2009, the squadron operated 12 three-man teams to pilot its Reaper aircraft. Supporting intelligence specialists, signallers, and meteorologists bring the total number of squadron personnel to around 90. The squadron operated two aircraft but planned to have a total of six by the end of 2009.[12]

As of April 2011, 5 Reaper aircraft are in operation, with a further 5 on order.[13]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d Lewis 1959, p.29.
  2. ^ Flight 20 May 1932, p.454.
  3. ^ Bruce 1982, pp.103, 105.
  4. ^ a b c d e "39 Squadron". Royal Air Force, Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  5. ^ Delve 1995, pp.50—51.
  6. ^ Delve 1995, pp.56—57.
  7. ^ Delve 1996, pp. 26–28.
  8. ^ Rickard, J. "No. 39 Squadron (RAF) during the Second World War". Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  9. ^ "39 Squadron Marauder History 1944-45". 39 Squadron : B26 Marauder Association. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  10. ^ Verney, P, 'Post war use of the Mosquito in the M.E.A.F.'
  11. ^ BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Skynet military launch is delayed
  12. ^ Rayment, Sean. "RAF Bomb The Taliban From 8,000 Miles Away", Sunday Telegraph, March 21, 2009.
  13. ^ "RAF - Reaper". Royal Air Force. 2011. Retrieved 30 April 2011. 


  • "MEMORIAL TO No. 39 (H.D.) SQUADRON". Flight, 20 May 1932. p. 454.
  • Bruce, J.M. "The Aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps (Military Wing)." London: Putnam and Company, 1982. ISBN 0-370-30084-x
  • Delve, Ken. The Winged Bomb: History of 39 Squadron RAF. Earl Shilton, Leicester, UK: Midland Counties Publications, 1985. ISBN 0-90459-756-3.
  • Delve, Ken. "Guardians of the Frontier: No 39 Squadron in the North West Frontier". Air Enthusiast, No.58, July–August 1995. Stamford UK:Key Publishing. ISSN 0143-5450. pp. 50–58.
  • Delve, Ken. "Beaufort Weather:Mediterranean anti-shipping strikes by 39 Squadron". Air Enthusiast, No. 65, September/October 1996. Stamford UK:Key Publishing. ISSN 0143-5450. pp. 26–39.
  • Flintham, V. (1990) Air Wars and Aircraft: A Detailed Record of Air Combat, 1945 to the Present. Facts on File. ISBN 0816023565
  • 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.
  • Hatcher, Peter J. Partisan Wings: The Biferno Journal. The Story of No. 39 Squadron RAF, and its use of the Martin Marauder as part of the Balkan Air Force in support of the Partisan Army in Yugoslavia. Miami, Florida: Trente Nova Publishing, 1994.
  • Jefford, Wing Commander C.G., MBE,BA,RAF (Retd). RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing, 2001. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
  • Lewis, Peter. Squadron Histories: R.F.C, R.N.A.S. and R.A.F. 1912-59. Lonon:Putnam, 1959.
  • Moyes, Philip J.R. Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd., 1964 (new edition 1976). ISBN 0-354-01027-1.
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Coastal, Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Jane's Publishing Company Ltd., 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0187-5.
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd., 1969 (new edition 1976, reprinted 1978). ISBN 0-354-01028-X.
  • Airforces monthly - April 2007

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