No. 50 Squadron

Royal Air Force








Updated: May 2008

Service History

With the exception short detachments to Costal Command  in 1939 and 1940, the of two squadron served with No. 5 Group from the outbreak until the end of hostilities


Squadron Identity Letters



Waddington, Dunholme Lodge, Spilsby (twice),

Skellingthorpe (twice)



Operational Performance

Operational Sorties And Losses



Bombing Targets Tasked

Mine Laying Areas Tasked


Total Sorties


Aircraft Lost


5 GP








5 GP








5 GP































Of Note:

An additional 26 Hampden’s and 27 Lancaster’s destroyed in non-operational crashes

Victoria Cross : F/O L.T. Manser, posthumously, 1,000 Bomber Raid on Cologne 30/31 May 1942

Flew the most Lancaster sorties in No. 5 Group

Flew third highest Lancaster sorties of all squadron’s in Bomber Command

Dropped highest bomb tonnage (approx. 21,000 tons) in No. 5 Group, this is believed to also be the fourth highest tonnage dropped in al of Bomber Command


No. 50 Squadron, RAF


Source: The Bomber Command War Diaries, By Matrin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt

50 Squadron History


Copyright Larry Wright, 1995


World War I History


Fifty Squadron's beginnings originate well before the outbreak of the Second World War and can in fact be traced prior to the formation of the Royal Air Force.

The squadron was formed from the nucleus of Number Twenty Reserve Squadron on 15 May 1916 at Swingate Down and designated number Fifty Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. And at that time was one of only twenty five or so squadrons in existence within the Royal Flying Corps. Classified as a Home Defense Unit and initially equipped with the Royal Aircraft Factory's single engined, two seat biplane fighter's; the BE2C and BE12's. The squadron like all others of this time period fell under the control of the British Army.


By June 1916, the squadron began what was to be a common occurrence throughout its history, the conversion from one aircraft type to another. In this case it saw their BE2C and BE12's exchanged for Vickers ES1's. Designed under the direction of Harold Barnwell, these single engined, single seat, biplanes were considered as tractor scout aircraft and were nicknamed of "The Barnwell Bullet." With only a top speed of 114 mph at 5,000 feet, the aircraft was only a slight improvement over the roughly 100 mph at 3,100 feet of the BE2C and BE12's.


With the conversion period complete the squadron appears to have settled into a regular routine of training and operational sorties. By October, the squadron was uprooted from its base at Swingate Down and relocated to Harrietsham. However, flying detachments were soon dispatched to Detling, Bekesbourne and Throwley all in the southern English county of Kent. It is unclear precisely how long these detachments were away from Harrietsham or for that matter if they occurred at the same time or individually.

Christmas 1916 appears to have come early, as new Royal Aircraft Factory single engined, two seat biplane BE12A and BE2A's began to arrive in December. Once again the squadron reverted back the process of conversion to a new aircraft type. However, with both types proving to be a disappointment, a mere three months were to pass before the entire conversion process was again undertaken. By March 1917, orders had arrived to begin conversion to the single engine, single seat Bristol M.1B monoplane fighter.


With the arrival of May and no less than two months after completing the conversion to the Bristol M.1B. New orders were once again received requiring to convert to two new types of aircraft. These being the Armstrong Whitworth AW FK8 and the Royal Aircraft Factory RE8; both types being singled engined, two seat biplanes designed for reconnaissance and bombing duties.


The powers that be must have been extremely popular with fifty squadrons' personnel around this time. No sooner had May turned into June than orders were received for the squadron to convert yet again. This time to Sopwith's single engined, single seat biplane fighter; the "Sopwith Pup."

With conversion to the Pup complete and with the return to regular flying, some stability appears to have returned. As no further conversions or movements appear to have graced the squadron for the remainder of the year.


As January 1918 dawned and the squadron entered what was to turn out to be the final year of the war. Orders were once again received to convert to a new aircraft type, the Pups were to be exchanged for the Royal Aircraft Factory's single engined, two seat BE12B biplane fighter.

On 5 March 1918 new orders again came through, this time ordering the squadron to relocate to Bekesbourne, Kent. An airfield they had previously had a detachment of aircraft at in late 1916.


With the move complete and resumption of regular flying. May soon arrived and with it yet another set of orders to begin conversion to the Royal Aircraft Factory's single engined, single seat, SE5A biplane fighter.


As spring gave way to summer and with the improved weather, it seemed only fitting that orders be received for the squadron to once again convert to a new aircraft type. In July the SE5A's were exchanged for Sopwith's single engined, single seat Camel F1 biplane fighter.


Unknown to the squadron at this time was that this conversion, their eighth in three years, was to be their last at least during the First World War. The Camels would continue in squadron service until 13 June 1919 when orders for the disbandment of fifty squadron, Royal Flying Corps, were issued.


World War II History


By the mid 1930's, the threat of war was once again on the horizon and the Royal Force began to expand its front line strength and re-equip its existing squadrons. It was only a matter of time before Fifty Squadron, Royal Air Force was reformed.


RAF Waddington was originally opened in November 1916 as a Royal Flying Corps training station and had continued operationally throughout the peacetime period. By May 1937 the station had only just been re-opened after being almost totally rebuilt to the RAF's Expansion Scheme Standard. Its grass runways had been replaced with three concrete/tarmac runways, the permanent building structures had been upgraded and five new C-Type hangers had been added. It was only fitting that with a newly opened station, a newly formed squadron should take up residence. On 3 May 1937 orders were issued instructing various key personnel to report and equipment to be delivered to RAF Waddington. The reformation of fifty squadron had begun in earnest.


Reformed under the command of Number 5 Group, Royal Air Force, Bomber Command. It was obvious that whereas the squadron had served in a home defense role during the First World War; its new role was envisioned to be strictly offensive in nature.

With the arrival of the first of the squadron's single engined, two seat, open cockpit Hawker Hind biplane light bombers; the squadron settled down to the lengthy task of becoming "operational."


The process of becoming "operational" normally takes longer for a newly formed squadron to achieve than one that is already considered "operational" and is simply re-equipping with new aircraft. Such squadrons can become operational again in a fairly short period of time, namely the amount of time required for the aircrews to be converted and its ground crews to be trained from one aircraft type to another. However, this is not generally the case for a newly formed squadron as the process requires not only the aircrews be trained, but also its aircraft servicing, administration, motor pool, armory sections, etcetera; to achieve "operational" status. It is not clear when the squadron completed this work up period and was classified "operational."


By December 1938 the squadron returned to its World War One tradition of re-equipping and traded in its Hinds for twin-engined monoplane Handley Page Hampdens bombers.


With yet another period of non-operational time under their belt, but now fully converted to the Hampden. The squadron found itself temporarily transferred to Coastal Command to assist in patrols against U-boat's and blockade runners. To make matters worse their aircraft and crews were detached over this time to three separate airfields namely Lossiemouth, Wick and Kinloss.


None of these detachments could have been very popular with either the air or ground crews. As servicing facilities often had to be shared with another resident squadron or were extremely primitive. Accommodation would often be a case of wherever a spare bed could be found or resulted in off station accommodations having to be arranged. While off station accommodations were somewhat inconvenient, they did usually allow for a warm and somewhat comfortable bed. But often required personnel to sometimes become creative in traveling to and from the station.


It must have been with some relief that around the spring of 1939, orders were issued transferring the squadron back to Bomber Command.

With the transfer and its return to RAF Waddington completed. The squadron returned to its regular routine of training and undertaking various degrees of offensive bombing and sea mining operations.


On 10 July 1940 orders were received for the squadron to move to Hatfield Woodhouse, a newly opened station in Yorkshire. The airfield was equipped with three concrete/tarmac runways and five C-Type hangers. Unfortunately, the majority of the accommodation for both ground and aircrew personnel were the cheaply built and nearly always cold nissen huts. By August, the airfield had been renamed Lindholme and was to be the squadrons' home for the better part of the next year. Although, from June 1941 onwards the station was shared with 408 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force.


With the anticipated formation of Number 6 Group, Royal Canadian Air Force, various airfields in or around Yorkshire were regrouped and resident squadron's transferred to new stations within the operational areas of their respective Groups. It is probable that this is one of the reasons why on 20 July 1941 orders were issued to move to RAF Swinderby in Lincolnshire. The move appearing to have been completed with normal RAF efficiency and it is very possible that operational flying was undertaken within twenty-four hours of the moves completion.


Fifty squadron's stay at Swinderby was to be short however, and by 26 November 1941 orders had been received to move to RAF Skellingthorpe also located in Lincolnshire.

Completed in October 1941 as a satellite airfield to RAF Swinderby. RAF Skellingthorpe, like many of the other stations the squadron had

been ordered to was a newly opened airfield. Furnished with three concrete/tarmac runways, one Type B1 and two Type T2 hangers; accommodations were once again in the form of the now standard, but much unliked, nissen hut.


By the spring of 1942 the squadrons' Hampdens were beginning to show their age and limitations. Their lack of range, bomb lifting capabilities and self defense being the most critical drawbacks. When orders arrived in April that the squadron was to begin receiving new twin-engined Avro Manchester medium bombers. It is unclear as to whether there was great excitement amongst the squadron's aircrews or a feeling of impending doom.


Whereas the Hampden had its operational drawbacks, the aircraft was by and large a safe and dependable one. The Manchester on the other hand, which had entered squadron service in November 1940, had already built a reputation as a disappointing, if not fatal aircraft to fly. Although, graced with an enormous bomb bay and capable of carrying 10,350 lbs of bombs almost one thousand miles. The Manchester had from its conception been plagued with hydraulic problems and in the majority of cases was incapable of flying for extended periods on only one engine. Neither of these short comings could have instilled great confidence in the squadron's aircrews.


With the conversion process complete, the squadron returned to operational status and continued to carry out bombing and mining sorties until May 1942. At which time orders were received advising of the imminent re-equipping of the squadron with four-engined Avro Lancaster's.


The Lancaster, was basically a Manchester fuselage mounted to a revised main wing that held four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines rather than two Vulture engines. The redesign allowed Avro to produce an aircraft that had good handling characteristics, range, immense bomb lifting capability and most importantly was liked by the aircrews who flew them. By wars end no less than sixty one squadrons, plus numerous training and specialist units were equipped with various marks of the Lancaster.

On 20 June 1942 new orders were received and fifty squadron was once again on the move, this time back to RAF Swinderby. According to the station records, no units appear to have been in residence from February 1942 until this time. It is possible that the squadrons return may have coincided with the re-opening of the station after some kind of renovations. Possibly the lengthening of the three concrete runways to allow for the longer take-off's required by heavy bombers. With conversion and the relocation of the squadron complete, bombing operations were once again undertaken and continued on an almost continuous basis.


As the autumn of 1942 was coming to an end and with it the arrival of the longer nights of winter. The squadron prepared itself for the upcoming operations that would see far deeper penetrations into German held territory. However, as the morning of 16 October dawned, so did the arrival of new movement orders. Fifty squadron was once again to return RAF Skellingthorpe, the station they had left only four months earlier.


Once again the station records show that during the period fifty squadrons absence, no other units had taken up residence. Again it appears that had been temporarily closed for renovations, which probably also included the extension of the three runways.

Although joined in November 1943 by sixty one squadron, fifty squadron was to conclude its wartime operations flying Lancaster's from RAF Skellingthorpe.

With the end of the European War in May 1945. The RAF then turned their efforts towards the formation of an bomber force capable of attacking the Japanese mainland from bases located within Pacific theatre. It is possible that the orders issued on 16 June 1945 for the squadron to move to RAF Sturgate were a prelude to the squadron joining Tiger Force.


However, with the dropping of two atomic bombs during August 1945 by American Army Air Force B-29 bombers, resulting in the capitulation of all Japanese forces and consequently ending all hostilities. Tiger Force was not destined to operate against Japan.


With no further need for a large bomber force, the Air Ministry began the enormous task of dismantling the war machine that had taken the fight to the enemy for almost six years.


Post War History


Fifty squadron was not to be among the squadrons disbanded. Re-equipped with the four-engined Avro Lincoln B.2 bomber and stationed back at their original World War Two airfield at RAF Waddington. The squadron continued in operational service until finally being disbanded on 31 January 1951.


The squadrons history does not end here. A further two reformations and disbandments were to occur in the coming years.


The first on 15 August 1952, saw squadron return to its wartime role of a heavy bomber squadron. Equipped with the Canberra B.2 bomber and stationed at RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire and at RAF Upwood in Huntingdonshire. Disbandment orders were again issued on 1 October 1959.


The second on 1 August 1961, again returned the squadron to its role as a heavy bomber squadron and renewed its long association with Avro aircraft. Initially equipped with Avro's Vulcan B.1 bomber and formed from a nucleus of aircrews taken from 617 Squadron, the squadron once again was stationed at RAF Waddington. In January 1966 Vulcan B.2's began to replace the aging B.1's, this variant being capable of carrying either conventional bombs or nuclear weapons systems. It was also while flying this version of the Vulcan that in April 1982 the squadron to was ordered to prepare several aircraft for possible conventional bombing operations during the Falklands War.

Although Vulcan bombing operations were carried out, none of fifty squadron's crews saw action during this time. With the end of hostilities in June 1982 all of the aircraft were returned to their previous nuclear configurations.


In June 1982 the Vulcan B2's were replaced with Vulcan B.2(K)'s and the squadron flew this variant until the retirement of all Vulcan's from line service was ordered. The final, at least up until to now, disbandment orders were issued on 21 March 1984.


Fifty Squadron, Royal Air Force World War II Operational Statics Operational Performance - Overall:


- The squadron's combined aircraft types carried out the most operations (raids) in Bomber Command (767)

- Third highest total sorties dispatched in Bomber Command (7135)

- Fourth highest total of mine laying operations with Bomber Command (124)

- Second highest Hampden sorties dispatched in Bomber Command (2299)

- Sixth highest Manchester sorties dispatched in Bomber Command (126)

- Third highest Lancaster sorties dispatched in Bomber Command (4895)


Operational Performance - Within Group:


- The squadron's combined aircraft types carried out the most operations in 5 Group (767)

- Greatest number operational sorties dispatched in 5 Group (7135)

- Second highest Hampden sorties dispatched in 5 Group (2299)

- Sixth highest Manchester sorties dispatched in 5 Group (126)

- Highest total of Lancaster sorties dispatched in 5 Group (4710)


Losses - Overall:


- Eighth highest total aircraft losses in Bomber Command (176)

- Second highest losses of Hampdens in Bomber Command (57)

- Sixth highest losses of Manchesters in Bomber Command (7)

- Eighth highest losses of Lancaster's in Bomber Command (112)


Losses - Within Group:


- Second highest loss total in 5 Group (176)

- Second highest losses of Hampdens in 5 Group (57)

- Sixth highest losses of Manchesters in 5 Group (7)

- Fourth highest losses of Lancaster's in 5 Group (112)


Bomb Tonnage (all types):


Dropped approximately 21,000 tones of bombs, representing the highest total of any 5 Group squadron and is also believed to be the fourth highest total within Bomber Command.


Points Of Interest


Flying Officer L.T. Manser, flying Manchester L7301 was posthumously awarded Victoria Cross for his bravery during the one thousand bomber raid against Cologne on the night of 30/31 May 1942.


The possible origin of the squadron's motto "From Defense To Attack" may have come from the squadrons various roles in the two World Wars. During the First World War its role was as a "home defense" squadron, while during the Second World War it was of an "attacking bomber" squadron. Thus the transition from one role to another is truly reflected in the squadron's motto.


Operational Summary Raids Flown:


Hampdens - 226 bombing, 88 mine laying, 14 leaflet.

Manchester - 15 bombing, 10 mine laying, 9 leaflet.

Lancaster - 339 bombing, 26 mine laying.

Total - 620 bombing, 124 mine laying, 23 leaflet = 767 raids


Individual Aircraft Sorties And Losses:


Hampdens - 2,299 sorties, 57 aircraft lost (2.5 percent)

Manchester - 126 sorties, 7 aircraft lost (5.6 percent)

Lancaster - 4,710 sorties, 112 aircraft lost (2.4 percent)

Total - 7,135 sorties, 176 aircraft lost (2.5 percent)

An additional 26 Hampdens and 26 Lancaster's were destroyed in crashes which were not considered operational losses.


Service Summery of No. 50 Squadron First World War


15 May 1916 Formed at Swingate Down - nucleus from No20 RS equipped with BE2C & BE12

16 Jun 1916 re-equipped with Vickers ES1

23 Oct 1916 Move to Harrietsham, with detachments to Detling, Bekesbourne, Throwley.

Dec 1916 re-equipped with BE12A & BE2E

Mar 1917 re-equipped with Bristol M.1B

May 1917 re-equipped with RE8 & AW FK8

Jun 1917 re-equipped with Pup

Jan 1918 re-equipped with BE 12B

05 Mar 1918 to Bekesbourne

May 1918 re-equipped with SE 5A

Jul 1918 re-equipped with Camel

13 Jun 1919 Disbanded


Second World War


03 May 1937 Reformed at Waddington with Hawker Hind

Dec 1938 re-equipped with Handley Page Hampden with detachments to Lossiemouth, Wick, Kinloss

10 Jul 1940 to Hatfield Woodhouse/Lindholme

20 Jul 1941 to Swinderby

26 Nov 1941 to Skellingthorpe

Apr 1942 re-equipped with Avro Manchester Mk.I/IA

May 1942 re-equipped with Avro Lancaster Mk.I & III

20 Jun 1942 to Swinderby

16 Oct 1942 to Skellingthorpe

16 Jun 1945 to Sturgate


Post War


26 Jan 1946 to Waddington

Jul 1946 Re-equipped with Lincoln B.2

31 Jan 1951 Disbanded

15 Aug 1952 Reformed at Binbrook, equipped with Canberra B.2

8 Jan 1956 to Upwood

1 Oct 1959 Disbanded

1 Aug 1961 Reformed @ Waddington - nucleus from 617 Sqdn. equipped with Vulcan B.1

Jan 1966 Vulcan B.2

Jun 1982 Vulcan B.2(K)

21 Mar 1984 Disbanded.