Dambusters start final mission with RAF’s 904 Expeditionary Air Wing

The Royal Air Force’s famous „Dambusters”, 617 Squadron, have taken over from 12 (Bomber) Squadron at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The handover marks the start of 617 Squadron’s final mission as a Tornado GR4 Squadron, working alongside the RAF’s 904 Expeditionary Air Wing at Kandahar.

A member of 617 Squadron aircrew inspects one of the aircraft he’ll be flying.

In its new role at Kandahar 617 Squadron will provide armed overwatch and vital aerial reconnaissance for Afghan-led ground forces. It is the last operational tour for 617 Squadron as a Tornado GR4 unit; next year the famous Squadron, currently celebrating its 70th Anniversary, will disband. It will reform in 2016 to fly the RAF’s new Lightning II aircraft.

12(B) Squadron’s commanding officer, Wing Commander Simon Strasdin, said he was proud of his squadron’s hard work at the Tornado Detachment over the last four months. ‘It’s been an outstanding tour for 12(B) Squadron – our last operational tour in Afghanistan and, indeed, our last ever. It’s a proud moment for the Squadron in our 99th Anniversary year. Through some immensely challenging times we’ve delivered air power across Afghanistan in support of ground forces, reaching nearly 2000 flying hours. I’m proud to hand over to the Dambusters, who are very well prepared and ready for the months ahead.’

Tornado GR4 from 12 (B) Sqn taking off from Kandahar Airfield (KAF) with 3 mile mountain in view.

Seventy years after their most famous mission to destroy strategic dams in Nazi Germany, 617 Squadron have spent the last six months preparing for their final deployment to Afghanistan. Their preparation ended with a rigorous exercise at RAF Lossiemouth, where the squadron faced a series of tough challenges designed to ensure they were fully prepared for their mission. The exercise scenarios included rocket attacks, aircraft scrambles, indirect fire, multiple casualties and ground attacks.

A member of 617 Squadron aircrew inspects one of the aircraft he’ll be flying.Wing Commander Simon Grapes took over from Wing Commander Strasdin as Officer Commanding Tornado Detachment. He said the exercise had left 617 Squadron ready for the task, and thanked 12(B) Squadron for their efforts. He added: ‘We’re delighted to be part of 904 Expeditionary Air Wing at Kandahar once more. 617 Squadron is well prepared and ready to continue working in support of the ISAF Coalition Mission – a particularly vital role during this transition phase, as the Afghan National Security Forces provide security for their nation.’

From its base at Kandahar, 617 Squadron will be ready to fly in support of Afghan-led ground forces at a moment’s notice. Most Tornado missions in Afghanistan don’t require the use of weapons, but the aircraft will be held at readiness and will be able to deliver highly accurate weapons when needed. The aircraft also carry a suite of advanced intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance equipment in the Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado (RAPTOR) and the Litening III (LIII) targeting pod, enabling them to provide incredibly detailed intelligence to ground commanders in support of their missions.

Wing Commander Grapes added: ‘This deployment is a fitting finale to the Dambusters’ Tornado GR4 chapter but we have the comforting knowledge that 617 Squadron will continue its proud history as it reforms in 2016 with the Lightning II.’

In a nod to the squadron’s historic final handover, 617 Squadron will formally take over at 12.06:17 hours on 2 November.


Editor: Flt Lt Lee

Photographs: Sgt Puglsey

Aircrew from 617 Sqn.

Technicians from 617 Sqn.

RAF/MOD Crown Copyright 2013