It was born in battle, created to carry out one of the most daring raids of World War II. Now, more than 70 years later, the RAF Squadron known as ‘The Dambusters’ have flown their final mission.
Officer Commanding 617 Squadron, Wing Commander David Arthurton will now bring the Dambusters back home to RAF Lossiemouth.
“Today, in the skies over Afghanistan 617 Squadron completed its last flight as a Tornado Squadron. It is fitting that this milestone event occurred on Operations, delivering decisive air power much as our forebears did in 1943. Back then the Squadron was employed on offensive operations whereas today we’re trying to set the conditions for enduring security and peace. I think there are many parallels – the team spirit that existed back then endures to this day and I think the focus on getting the job done is exactly the same.”
Squadron Leader Mark Jackson The last flight was a mission in support of coalition troops; the Tornado Force in Afghanistan fulfil the vital Close Air Support and Reconnaissance roles, providing protection and information from above directly to commanders on the ground. This task is now handed over to No II (Army Co-operation) Squadron from RAF Marham.
During their final operational tour the Dambusters flew 188 missions, clocking up more than 1500 total flying hours supported by 11,352 engineering man hours. Squadron Leader Mark Jackson was the pilot selected to lead the final flight.
“As I stepped down from the aircraft for the last time, my emotions were mixed. Tinged with sadness is an overwhelming sense of achievement for what the Squadron have accomplished. I am sure that the original Dambusters felt a similar poignancy at the end of their iconic raid and would echo how very proud I am of those that serve today.”
The Dambusters have a legacy of low level flying from their origins in World War II. In Afghanistan they carried out 14 Shows of Force, flying fast and low to deter enemy forces from attacking coalition ground troops.
“If we’re doing a Show of Force we can be cleared down to a very low level, but I can’t imagine flying that low for three hours to a target to drop a weapon at a specific time, and then to fly all the way back again whilst also being shot at. You can’t really understand that; we talk about the threat of small arms fire but it’s nothing compared to what they had to face in 1943. They came back from their mission pulling out bits of trees and twigs from the aircraft, they were literally skimming the trees to get there.”
A thumbs up from a member of the ground crew and Squadron Leader Mark Jackson taxis his GR4 out of it’s protective RES for the last sortie of the famous 617 Sqn @The Dambusters'.
“Most of us on the Squadron asked to come here for a specific reason. Hopefully in some way we’re honouring the original Dambusters by continuing to be on Operations. Even though we’re due to disband in March this year we will reform as the RAF’s first Lightning II Squadron in 2018. The Squadron will continue to be at the forefront of air combat in defence of the UK.”
Wing Commander Arthurton looks forward to the return of the Dambusters.
“The spirit and ethos of this famous Squadron will no doubt endure as it embarks on the next chapter of its illustrious history.”
Editor: Lesley Woods
Photographs: Sgt Pugsley/ Lesley Woods
RAF/MOD Crown Copyright 2014