Fighter Squadron 21 (VF-21) Freelancers was an aviation unit of the United States Navy. Originally established in 1944 as VF-81 it was redesignated VF-13A in 1946, redesignated VF-131 in 1948, redesignated VF-64 in 1950 and redesignated VF-21 on 1 July 1959, it was disestablished on 31 January 1996. It was the third US Navy squadron to have the VF-21 designation.
|Fighter Squadron 21 (VF-21)|
VF-21 squadron patch
|Active||2 March 1944 - 31 January 1996|
F-4 Phantom II
|Engagements||World War II|
VF-21 embarked on its major deployment with the F3H-2 Demon on USS Midway in mid-1958. In June 1961 VF-21 was reassigned to Miramar. It was here VF-21 transitioned to the F-4 Phantom in 1963 and between November of that year to March 1964 it would be the last peace-time cruise for the next 10 years.
VF-21 returned to sea in March 1965 and were bound for the Vietnam war and VF-21's first aerial victories would be the first confirmed kills achieved by a U.S. Navy fighter squadron during that conflict. On June 17, 1965 Commander Louis Page and Lieutenant John Smith destroyed a MiG-17 with an AIM-7 Sparrow and moments later Lieutenant Jack Batson, jr and Lieutenant Commander Robert Doremus destroyed another MiG-17 with an AIM-7. VF-21 made six further deployments to the war zone aboard USS Coral Sea and USS Ranger between 1966 and 1973. In 1968 VF-21 upgraded to the F-4J and continued to operate this model until 1979.
In December 1979 VF-21 was re-equipped with the F-4S, but it was decided that the F-4S was not ideally suited to be used from USS Coral Sea which VF-21 would deploy on for its next cruise, and instead VF-21 deployed with the less effective F-4N. CVW-14 assigned control over VF-21 and the squadron returned to sea in 1981, spending seven months in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. A new deployment followed in 1983, where VF-21 was one of several squadrons that took part in Coral Sea's world cruise of that year which culminated in a change of fleet assignment to conduct operations in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The 1983 tour was also noteworthy in that it marked the last occasion on which US Navy Phantoms were to deploy from a US base, VF-21 joining with sister squadron VF-154 in a final "fly-in" to Miramar in mid-September. Although this was not the end of the F-4, some aircraft lingered on until November 4, VF-21 hosted a ceremony which honored "the end of an era" for the F-4 in fleet operations, VF-21 and VF-154 were the last US-based squadrons to fly F-4s (although there were two forward deployed squadrons continued to operate the F-4). VF-21 now transitioned to the F-14A Tomcat, the process was managed by VF-124 and it was not until later half of 1984 that VF-21 was declared fully operational, the first cruise was with CVW-14 aboard USS Constellation in early 1985.
In 1990 the squadron, with the rest of its air wing, moved to USS Independence. VF-21 arrived on station in the Persian Gulf on August 5, 1990 and was part of the Carrier Group that was America's first response to Iraq's August 2, 1990 Invasion of Kuwait. VF-21 maintained Combat Air Patrol "CAP" missions during Operation Desert Shield, the buildup of coalition forces to liberate Kuwait. However, the USS Independence battle group) was relieved on station by the Ranger and Midway Carrier battle groups at the onset of Operation Desert Storm. General Norman Schwarzkopf flew aboard the USS Independence to command the battle group; CBS Anchor Dan Rather reported from the USS Independence flight deck. VF-21 returned aboard the USS Independence to establish Operation Southern Watch immediately after Desert Storm.
In August 1991 USS Independence took over the role of USS Midway as the only carrier home ported outside the USA, at Yokosuka, Japan. During this change the squadron stayed with the same carrier but moved air wings, from CVW-14 to CVW-5. This was, because the Midway air wing had been without F-14s, as the older ship could not accommodate the F-14's size and weight.
In March 1996 during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis USS Independence and USS Nimitz were involved in operations to demonstrate US resolve in support of Taiwan. VF-21 returned from deployment on board the Independence in late 1995. This was their last at sea period and the squadron was soon after disestablished, the official ceremony was on the January 31, 1996.
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