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No. 617 Squadron RAF

Number 617 Squadron is a Royal Air Force aircraft squadron, based at RAF Marham in Norfolk.[2] It is commonly known as the "Dambusters", for its actions during Operation Chastise against German dams during the Second World War. In the early 21st century it operated the Tornado GR4 in the ground attack and reconnaissance role until being disbanded in the spring of 2014. The squadron reformed on 17 April 2018, and was equipped at RAF Marham during summer 2018 with the F-35 Lightning II, becoming the UK's first squadron with this advanced V/STOL type.

No. 617 Squadron RAF
Squadron badge
Squadron badge
  • 21 Mar 1943 – 15 Dec 1955
  • 1 May 1958 – 31 Dec 1981
  • 1 Jan 1983 – 1 Apr 2014
  • 17 April 2018 – present
CountryUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
BranchAir Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Air Force
TypeFlying squadron
RoleMulti–role combat
Part ofNo. 1 Group RAF
Home stationRAF Marham
Nickname(s)'The Dambusters'
Motto(s)Après moi le déluge
(French for After me, the flood)[1]
AircraftLockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II
Battle honours
  • Fortress Europe (1943–1945)*
  • The Dams (1943)*
  • Biscay Ports (1944)*
  • France and Germany (1944–1945)*
  • Normandy (1944)*
  • Tirpitz*
  • Channel & North Sea (1944–1945)*
  • German Ports (1945)*
  • Gulf (1991)
  • Iraq (2003–2011)*
* Honours marked with an asterisk may be emblazoned on the Squadron Standard
Guy Gibson
Leonard Cheshire
Willie Tait
John Fauquier
Squadron badge heraldryOn a roundel, a dam in fesse, fractured by three flashes of lightning in pile and issuant from the breach water proper. The broken dam is indicative of the successful attack on the dams in May 1943. Approved by King George VI in March 1944.
Squadron roundelRAF 617 Sqn.svg
Squadron codesAJ (1943-1946)
KC (1943-1952) (used alongside AJ)
YZ (1945) (only used on aircraft used to carry 'Grand Slam' bombs)
AJ-A to AJ-Z (Tornados)



Between the warsEdit

According to the squadron's entry in Flying Units of the RAF by Alan Lake, 617 was allocated the unit identification code MZ for the period April to September 1939, even though the unit did not actually exist at the time.

Second World WarEdit

The squadron was formed under great secrecy at RAF Scampton during the Second World War on 21 March 1943. It included Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force personnel and was formed for the specific task of attacking three major dams that contributed water and power to the Ruhr industrial region in Germany: the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe. The plan was given the codename Operation Chastise and carried out on 17 May 1943. The squadron had to develop the tactics to deploy Barnes Wallis's "Bouncing bomb", and undertook some of its training over the dams of the Upper Derwent Valley in Derbyshire, as the towers on the dam walls were similar to those to be found on some of the target dams in Germany.

The squadron's badge, approved by King George VI, depicts the bursting of a dam in commemoration of Chastise. The squadron's chosen motto was "Après moi le déluge" ("After me, the flood"), a humorous double entendre on a famous saying of Madame de Pompadour to King Louis XV, made on the loss at the Battle of Rossbach by the French. The original commander of 617 Squadron, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the raid. Guy Gibson also owned a black Labrador named Nigger, who was the mascot of the squadron for some time. Alas, Nigger was killed on the evening of the raid, being run over outside the base.

King George VI visiting 617 Squadron in 1943

After the raid, Gibson was withdrawn from flying (due to the high number of raids he had been on) and went on a publicity tour. George Holden became commanding officer (CO) in July, but he was shot down and killed on his fourth mission, Operation Garlic in September 1943, in an attack on the Dortmund-Ems Canal; he had four of Gibson's crew with him. H. B. "Mick" Martin took command temporarily, before Leonard Cheshire took over as CO. Cheshire developed and personally took part in the special target marking techniques required, which went far beyond the precision delivered by the standard Pathfinder units – by the end he was marking the targets from a Mustang fighter. He was also awarded the VC.

On 15 July 1943 12 aircraft of the squadron took off from Scampton to attack targets in Northern Italy. All aircraft attacked and proceeded to North Africa without loss. The targets were San Polo d'Enza and Arquata Scrivia power stations; it was hoped that the attacks would delay German troops who were travelling down into Italy on the electrified railway system to support the Italian front. The operation met little opposition but the targets were obscured by valley haze and were not destroyed. The 12 crews returned to Scampton on 25 July from North Africa after bombing Leghorn docks on the return journey. The raid on Leghorn Docks was not a great success, due to mist shrouding the target. On 29 July 1943 nine aircraft took off from Scampton to drop leaflets on Milan, Bologna, Genoa and Turin in Italy. All aircraft completed the mission and landed safely in Blida North Africa. Seven of the aircraft returned to Scampton on 1st August, one on the 5th and the last on the 8th.

Throughout the rest of the war, the squadron continued in a specialist and precision-bombing role, including the use of the enormous "Tallboy" and "Grand Slam" ground-penetrating earthquake bombs, on targets such as concrete U-boat shelters and bridges. Several failed attempts were made on The Dortmund-Ems Canal in 1943 (Operation Garlic). However, it was finally breached with Tallboys in September 1944.

A particularly notable series of attacks caused the disabling and sinking of Tirpitz. Tirpitz had been moved into a fjord in northern Norway where she threatened the Arctic convoys and was too far north to be attacked by air from the UK. She had already been damaged by an attack by Royal Navy midget submarines and a series of attacks from carrier-borne aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm, but both attacks had failed to sink her. The task was given to No. 9 and No. 617 Squadrons where they were deployed to Yagodnik, near Archangel a staging base in Russia to attack Tirpitz with Tallboy bombs. On 15 September 1944, the RAF bombers struck the battleship in the forecastle, which rendered her unseaworthy, so she was sent to the Tromsø fjord where temporary repairs were made so she was anchored as a floating battery.[3] This fjord was in range of bombers operating from Scotland and from there, in October, she was attacked again, but cloud cover thwarted the attack. Finally on 12 November 1944, the two squadrons attacked Tirpitz. The first bombs missed their target, but following aircraft scored two direct hits in quick succession. Within ten minutes of the first bomb hitting the Tirpitz, she suffered a magazine explosion at her "C" turret and capsized killing 1,000 of her 1,700 crew.[4] All three RAF attacks on Tirpitz were led by Wing Commander J. B. "Willy" Tait, who had succeeded Cheshire as CO of No. 617 Squadron in July 1944.[5] Among those pilots participating in the raids was Flight Lieutenant John Leavitt, an American who piloted one of the 31 Lancasters. Leavitt's aircraft dropped one of the bombs that hit Tirpitz dead centre.[6] Despite both squadrons claiming that it was their bombs that actually sank the Tirpitz, it was the Tallboy bomb, dropped from a No. 9 Sqn Lancaster WS-Y (LM220) piloted by Flying Officer Dougie Tweddle that is attributed to the sinking of the warship.[7][8] F/O Tweddle was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in the operations against Tirpitz.

During the Second World War the Squadron carried out 1,599 operational sorties with the loss of 32 aircraft.[9]

Dam Busters memorial at Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire

The Second World War exploits of the squadron and Chastise in particular, were described in Guy Gibson's own 1944 account Enemy Coast Ahead, as well as Paul Brickhill's 1951 book The Dam Busters and a 1955 film, though the accuracy and completeness of these accounts were compromised by many of the documents relating to the war years still being secured by the Official Secrets Act. The definitive work however is considered The Dambusters Raid by John Sweetman.[10] It is based on careful research and cross checking of original documents as well as interviews with survivors of the raid.

In 2006, it was announced that New Zealand film director Peter Jackson and David Frost would co-produce a re-make of the film. It has been scripted by Stephen Fry and will be directed by Christian Rivers. The last living Dam Buster pilot at the time, New Zealander Les Munro (1919-2015), offered his services as a technical adviser.[11]

In 2010 the National Archives released documents that showed it was considered using 617 Squadron to target the Italian leader Mussolini in July or August 1943. The British believed if Mussolini was killed it might take Italy out of the war. It would have been a flight carried out at extremely low level with the targets of Mussolini's headquarters and residence in Rome. Neither of these targets were within 1,500 yards of the Vatican, which the Allies had promised not to damage. However within two weeks of the plan being suggested, Mussolini was ousted by his opponents and replaced by Pietro Badoglio, leading to an armistice with the Allies in September.


No. 617 Sqn Canberra B2

After the end of the Second World War, the Squadron replaced its Lancasters with Avro Lincolns, following those in 1952 with the English Electric Canberra jet bomber. The squadron was deployed to Malaya for four months in 1955, returning to RAF Binbrook to be disbanded on 15 December 1955. Reformed at RAF Scampton on 1 May 1958 as part of RAF Bomber Command's V-bomber force maintaining the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent, the Squadron was equipped with the Avro Vulcan B1 from Aug 1960.[12] By 23 May 1961 its aircraft were the upgraded Vulcan B1A[13] fitted with the ECM tailpod. The Squadron's assigned role was high-level strategic bombing with a variety of free fall nuclear bombs. Both the B1 and B1A types were equipped with various free-fall nuclear weapons. These may have included Blue Danube, Red Beard, Violet Club the Interim Megaton Weapon, Yellow Sun Mk.1 and certainly Yellow Sun Mk2. American bombs were also supplied to the RAF V-bombers for a short period under the Project E arrangements.[14]

No. 617 Sqn Vulcan B2

The Squadron began almost immediately to upgrade yet again to the Vulcan B2, taking delivery of the first on 1 September 1961,[15] although its high-level strategic bombing role remained unchanged until the advent of effective Soviet Surface-to-Air Missiles forced Bomber Command to reassign V-bombers from high-altitude operations to low-level penetration operations in March 1963, when the Squadron's Vulcans adopted a mission profile that included a 'pop-up' manoeuvre from 500–1,000 ft[16] to above 12,000 ft for safe release of Blue Steel

Vulcans were configured for the Blue Steel stand-off bomb and 617 Squadron was the first to be declared operational with it in August 1962,[17] until in January 1970 the squadron's eight Vulcan B2 aircraft were re-equipped with the new strategic laydown bomb, WE.177B[18] which improved aircraft survivability by enabling aircraft to remain at low-level during weapon release.[19][20]

Following the transfer of responsibility for the nuclear deterrent to the Royal Navy, the Squadron was reassigned to SACEUR for tactical strike missions. In a high-intensity European war the Squadron's role was to support land forces on the Continent by striking deep into enemy-held areas beyond the forward edge of the battlefield, striking at enemy concentrations and infrastructure, with WE.177 tactical nuclear weapons, should a conflict escalate to that stage. The Squadron's eight aircraft were allocated eight WE.177 nuclear bombs. As the Vulcan's bomb bay was configured to carry only one, and assuming that RAF staff planners had factored in their usual allowance for attrition in the early conventional phase of a continental war, leaving sufficient surviving aircraft to deliver the full stockpile of nuclear weapons, it is a reasonable conclusion that the Vulcan force was held in reserve for nuclear strike duties only. The squadron's Vulcan B2s served mainly in that low-level penetration role until disbandment on 31 December 1981.[21]

Tornado GR4 in special markings for the 70th Anniversary of the Dams raid

The Squadron reformed on 1 January 1983 at RAF Marham, re-equipped with twelve Tornado GR1 aircraft and eighteen WE.177 nuclear bombs,[22] and the Squadron's role assigned to SACEUR remained one of support for land forces on the Continent. Its Tornado aircraft were each able to carry two WE.177 bombs and the ratio of weapons to aircraft at full strength increased to 1.5:1, with an allowance now made for attrition in the conventional opening phase of a continental war. The Squadron continued in this role until the WE.177 weapons were retired and No. 617 Squadron relinquished its nuclear delivery capability.[23] 617 Squadron was deployed to King Faisal Air Base, Saudi Arabia following the 1990 Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait and subsequently took part in Operation Granby in January–February 1991. A Tornado of 617 Squadron carried out the first TIALD sortie of the campaign. In all the squadron flew 91 sorties and scored 229 direct hits with Paveway laser-guided bombs, including destroying 10 of the 22 hardened bunkers at H-3 Air Base.[24]

The first four F-35B Lightnings of 617 Squadron on their delivery flight to the UK.

In 1993 617 Sqn began the changeover to anti-shipping and by 1994 was operating from RAF Lossiemouth assigned to SACLANT, flying the Tornado GR1B with the Sea Eagle missile. The Squadron also routinely deployed in support Operation Resinate and Operation Bolton, the RAF contribution to Operation Southern Watch, the last time being in the spring and summer of 2000 to Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait.

In December 1994, Flight Lieutenant Jo Salter became the first combat ready fast jet pilot.[25]

The Squadron continued its pioneering heritage by becoming the first RAF squadron to fire the MBDA Storm Shadow cruise missile, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2011 the Squadron's commanding officer was Wing Commander Keith Taylor, who had replaced Wing Commander David Cooper, since promoted to Group Captain and appointed to Station Commander at RAF Marham.[citation needed]

In July 2013, it was announced that 617 Squadron would become the first operational RAF unit to receive the F-35 Lightning. 617 Squadron disbanded on 28 March 2014[26] as part of the draw-down of the Tornado force. Since 2016 it has been in the process of forming ahead of becoming the first British front line squadron with the F-35 Lightning II.[27] 617 Sqn will be composed of both RAF and Royal Navy personnel, operating both from RAF Marham,[28] and from the Royal Navy's new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers.[29] It will fly alongside the Fleet Air Arm's 809 NAS as part of the Lightning Force.[30] 617 Sqn is expected to return to Marham in the summer of 2018 following training at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina.[31] On 6 June 2018, a quartet of F-35s of 617 Squadron, supported by three Voyagers and an Atlas, made an eight hour flight across the Atlantic to become the first of the UK's aircraft to be based permanently at Marham.[32] On the 6th August 2018 5 more F-35B's arrived at RAF Marham in Norfolk for 617 Squadron.

Aircraft operatedEdit

List of aircraft operated by No. 617 Squadron.[33][34][35]

Battle honoursEdit

On the squadron standard

Fortress Europe 1943-1945, The Dams, Biscay Ports 1944, France and Germany 1944-1945, Normandy 1944, Tirpitz, Channel and North Sea 1944-1945, German Ports 1945, Gulf 1991, Iraq 2003-2011.

Commanding officersEdit

The following men have commanded 617 Squadron:[36][37]

1943 – 1955Edit

  • March 1943, Wing Commander G P Gibson
  • August 1943, Wing Commander G W Holden
  • September 1943 Squadron Leader H B Martin
  • November 1943, Wing Commander G L Cheshire
  • July 1944, Wing Commander J B Tait
  • December 1944, Wing Commander J E Fauquier
  • April 1945, Wing Commander J E Grindon
  • June 1945, Wing Commander C Fothergill
  • April 1946, Squadron Leader C K Saxelby
  • May 1947, Wing Commander C D Milne (for goodwill visit to USA)
  • July 1947, Squadron Leader C K Saxelby
  • February 1948, Squadron Leader P G Brodie
  • May 1950, Squadron Leader W H Thallon
  • June 1952, Squadron Leader M J O'Bryen-Nichols
  • Dec 1952, Squadron Leader D Roberts
  • May 1954, Squadron Leader J A Ruck (Squadron disbanded December 1955)

1958 – 1981Edit

  • May 1958, Wing Commander D Bower[38] (Squadron reformed with Vulcans)
  • May 1960, Wing Commander L G A Bastard
  • December 1962, Wing Commander H G Currell
  • March 1965, Wing Commander D G L Heywood
  • March 1967, Wing Commander R C Allen
  • March 1969, Wing Commander C A Vasey
  • March 1971, Wing Commander F M A Hines
  • October 1973, Wing Commander V L Warrington
  • September 1975, Wing Commander R B Gilvary
  • July 1977, Wing Commander F Mason (brief tenure due to illness)
  • July 1977, Wing Commander J N Stephenson-Oliver
  • August 1979, Wing Commander J N Herbertson (Squadron disbanded December 1981)

1983 –Edit

  • January 1983, Wing Commander A J Harrison (Squadron reformed with Tornados)
  • June 1985, Wing Commander P J J Day
  • January 1988, Wing Commander N J Day
  • May 1990, Wing Commander R D Iveson
  • March 1993, Wing Commander J H Dickinson
  • July 1995, Wing Commander I L Dugmore
  • March 1998, Wing Commander G E Thwaites
  • September 2000, Wing Commander D G Robertson
  • July 2003, Wing Commander A Monkman
  • January 2006, Wing Commander S P Rochelle
  • January 2008, Wing Commander D J E Cooper
  • October 2010, Wing Commander K D Taylor
  • October 2012, Wing Commander D S Arthurton
  • April 2018, Wing Commander J R Butcher

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Pine, L.G. (1983). A dictionary of mottoes (1 ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 14. ISBN 0-7100-9339-X.
  2. ^ "617 SQUADRON". Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  3. ^ José M. Rico. "Battleship Tirpitz". Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  4. ^ John Asmussen. "Tirpitz - Menu". Retrieved 6 June 2014.[not in citation given]
  5. ^ Bomber Command: Tirpitz, 12 November 1944, Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary web site
  6. ^ John Leavitt, Daily Telegraph, 10 January 2010. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  7. ^ "Douglas Tweddle DFC". Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  8. ^ Garzke & Dulin 1985, p. 272.
  9. ^ Falconer 2003, page 256
  10. ^ Sweetman, John (2002) [1990]. The Dambusters Raid. London: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-35173-3.
  11. ^ .Alan Veitch, "Dambusters' Anzac legend" (Courier Mail 1 October 2006). Access date: 1 October 2006.
  12. ^ global / wmd / uk / 617 squadron. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  13. ^ Humphrey Wynn. RAF Strategic Nuclear Deterrent Forces: their origins, roles and deployment 1946–69. p566 ISBN 0-11-772833-0
  14. ^ Tim McLelland. The Avro Vulcan: a complete history. p120. ISBN 978-0-85979-127-4
  15. ^ Wynn. p566
  16. ^ McLelland. p155.
  17. ^ Wynn. p620
  18. ^ RAF nuclear front line Order-of-Battle 1970. None. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  19. ^ "Weapon overview".
  20. ^ "Carriage".
  21. ^ RAF nuclear front line Order-of-Battle 1981. None. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  22. ^ RAF nuclear front line Order-of-Battle 1983. None. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  23. ^ RAF nuclear front line Order-of-Battle 1993. None. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  24. ^ Jet Wars in the Nuclear Age: 1972 to the Present Day. Pen and Sword. 2016. pp. 199–206. ISBN 1473878713.
  25. ^ March, Peter R. (1998). Brace by Wire to Fly-By-Wire – 80 Years of the Royal Air Force 1918–1998. RAF Fairford: Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund Enterprises. p. 162. ISBN 1-899808-06-X.
  26. ^ "Final Salute for Historic RAF Squadrons". 28 March 2014. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  27. ^ Stevenson, Beth (20 May 2016). "UK F-35 commander highlights training challenge". Flight Global.
  28. ^ [1] - Defence Management, 23 March 2013
  29. ^ Dambusters To Be Next Lightning II Squadron - RAF, 18 July 2013
  30. ^ "Immortal air squadron to fly Royal Navy's newest jets". Royal Navy. 9 September 2013. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  31. ^ OC 617 Squadron takes his first flight in F-35B RAF news Retrieved 01 April 2018
  32. ^ "Four RAF F-35 fighter jets land in UK". BBC News. 6 June 2018. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  33. ^ Moyes1976, p. 285.
  34. ^ Halley 1988, p. 435.
  35. ^ Jefford 2001, pp. 101–102.
  36. ^ RAF 617 Squadron Crest. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  37. ^ CO name boards in 617 Squadron Mess, RAF Lossiemouth
  38. ^ D Bower. Retrieved 15 May 2012.


  • Arthur, Max (October 2008). Dambusters: A Landmark Oral History. Virgin Books. ISBN 1-905264-33-X. – first hand accounts of the planning, preparation and execution of the raid.
  • Bouquet, Tim 617 Going to War with Today's Dambusters. London: Orion (Orion Publishing Group Limited), 2012. ISBN 978-1-4091-4415-1
  • Falconer, J (2003). Bomber Command Handbook 1939–1945. Stroud, England: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-3171-X.
  • Garzke, William H.; Dulin, Robert O. (1985). Battleships: Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War II. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-87021-101-0.
  • 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.
  • 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, 1998 (second edition 2001). ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
  • 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.

External linksEdit