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Surveillance to Chinooks: 100 years of 18 (B) Squadron

From adapting to different aircraft to mobilising at short notice, over its 100-year history 18 (B) Squadron has become known for its flexibility and dynamic approach.

May 2015 marks the Squadron's centenary and the milestone will be celebrated with a number of special events including the consecration of a new standard and a static aircraft display.

18(B) Squadron's centenary.As is common at significant birthdays members of the Squadron, now based at RAF Odiham as part of the RAF's Chinook fleet, have looked back at its varied history to reveal tales from both the First and the Second World War as well as the Falklands conflict.

The Squadron began life in 1915 and was originally part of the Royal Flying Corps, flying mainly biplanes. The new recruits were trained at RAF Northolt before deploying to the Western Front to join the war effort with reconnaissance aircraft.

Even in these early days of airborne combat technology quickly became outdated and the Squadron was re-equipped with different models several times before the end of the war, changing its role from strictly reconnaissance to reconnaissance and bombing. The (B) aspect of the Squadron's name pays homage to its bomber history.

Following a period of disbandment the Squadron was reformed just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

They were originally deployed to France, carrying out photographic missions and leaflet drops – even being called upon to drop an artificial leg for a Wing Commander who had been shot down and captured. By 1942 the Squadron had been moved to North Africa where one of its own was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for 'courage and unswerving devotion to duty'.

During a period of intense fighting, Wing Commander Hugh Malcolm responded to a call for help from infantry troops fighting on the front line. Despite the extremely high risks of launching a mission in daylight, over a battle field, and without fighter cover, Malcolm did not hesitate. Nine Blenheims took off and eight reached the target.

As soon as the pilots began dropping bombs they highlighted their location and were set upon by 50 enemy fighters. One by one they were shot down, with Wg Cdr Malcolm's Blenheim the last to disappear in flames.

The bravery and adaptability of the Squadron was called upon once again in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 1990s and into the 21st century. Following several periods of disbandment and reformation as well as various changes of aircraft since the end of the Second World War, 18 (B) were now flying Chinook helicopters, based at RAF Odiham.

The Squadron was involved in one of the first assaults of the Iraqi conflict when the Chinooks were tasked with ferrying more than 40 Royal Marine Commandos to a site by the Al Faw oil refinery. So contrary to popular belief, the first boots on Iraqi soil during the operation were not those of a Commando but those of the Air Load Master who had to disembark for fear of being trampled as the Commandos leapt into action!

Official celebrations at the station take place on May 15 when the Squadron will parade with their new standard.

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