No 617 Squadron was formed at Scampton on 21 March 1943, under the command of by Wg Cdr Guy Gibson specifically to undertake an operation to breach the Ruhr Dams using Barnes Wallis’ Upkeep weapon – the bouncing bomb. After intensive training the Mohne and Eder dams were breached on the night of 16/17 May 1943, in a spectacular low-level operation resulting in the loss of 8 of the 19 participating aircraft.
Following this success the Squadron was retained as a specialist bombing unit. After a costly low-level attack on the Dortmund Ems Canal in September 1943 Canal command of the Squadron passed to Wg Cdr Leonard Cheshire. Under his leadership, the Squadron mounted highly destructive precision raids on targets in occupied territory, using 12,000lb blast bombs. Using Mosquito aircraft to mark targets, new and even more accurate bombing techniques were pioneered.
On D-Day, the Squadron performed a vital role in deceiving German forces as to the true destination of the invasion fleet. Precision attacks continued with Barnes Wallis' 12,000lb “Tallboy” deep penetration bomb, targeting a railway tunnel, U-boat pens and large V-weapon sites. After completing his 100th operation Wg Cdr Cheshire relinquished his command to Wg Cdr “Willie” Tait. The autumn of 1944 saw attention turn to the German battleship Tirpitz, which was finally sunk after three operations, one being mounted from Russia. Dams again featured on the target list, and in October the Kembs Barrage was breached by Tallboys dropped from low level.
The spring of 1945 saw an addition to the Squadron’s arsenal, with the advent of the 22,000 lb Grand Slam. Under the command of Gp Capt Fauquier RCAF the Squadron’s specialist skills and weapons were exploited against railway viaducts and naval targets, culminating in a final operation against Hitler’s Berchtesgaden retreat on April 25 1945.
Japan’s surrender precluded the Squadron’s participation in Tiger Force, Bomber Command’s contribution to the war in the Far East, and in January 1946 the Squadron was dispatched to India, returning to the UK after four months to commence re-equipment with Avro Lincolns. The following year saw a goodwill tour of the United States, involving the first direct crossing of the Atlantic by an RAF squadron. January 1952 saw the Squadron re-equip with Canberras. After 10 years of peace, the Squadron again saw action in 1955 with operations against the Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
The Squadron disbanded at the end of 1955 and re-formed on 1 May 1958, again at Scampton, equipped with the Avro Vulcan. As part of V-Force the Squadron’s offensive capability was enhanced in 1963 when it became the first Squadron to become operational with Blue Steel. Reverting back to a low-level conventional role during the 1970s the Squadron’s Vulcans continued to be a familiar sight in the Lincolnshire skies until the Squadron disbanded in December 1981.
Reformed as a Tornado unit at Marham in 1983 the Squadron soon re-confirmed its precision bombing capabilities and in 1984 became the first non-American unit to win not only the Le May but also the Meyer trophies in competition against its American counterparts.
In 1990 the Squadron sent detachments to the Middle East for what was to become the Gulf War 1, where it introduced TIALD laser guidance. After the cease-fire the Squadron crews continued to serve in this theatre, patrolling the Southern “No-Fly” zone. The onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003 saw seen the Squadron operational again and on 21 March 2003, exactly 60 years after its formation, the Squadron again had the honour of introducing the RAF’s latest weapon into operational use - “Storm Shadow” - a conventionally armed stand-off missile capable of precision targeting over a range of up to 175 miles. From 2004 until the Squadron was disbanded in 2014, it was in active Service in Iraq and Afghanistan upholding the Squadron’s enviable reputation for determination and accuracy in the face of fierce resistance. No 617 Squadron will reform in 2018 as the UK’s first Joint Strike Fighter (Lightning II) Squadron at RAF Marham.
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