Geilenkirchen

In spite of appalling weather at Base that included snow, freezing rain and sleet, everyone “set to” with a will and the Squadron Commander led the first aircraft out of Leconfield.  The Station Commander, Group Captain W.E. Hedley OBE, met them at Geilenkirchen then they went on to the Mess where the Station had laid on a barrel of beer and a rousing welcome.  The hospitality and assistance extended to the Squadron was magnificent and this proved to be a foretaste of what was to come.

On the following morning, Thursday 30th December 1965, the Commander-in-Chief RAF Germany, Air Marshal D.F. Spotswood CB CBE DSO DFC, came down to welcome the Squadron; a large party of senior officers including Lieutenant General Burniaux DFC, Commander of the 2nd ATAF, accompanied him.  That afternoon, Wing Commander Gilbert led four aircraft in a fly past and in the evening they featured on the TV programme “Hier und Heute”.  Following the fly past everyone repaired to the Officers’ Mess for an official luncheon.  The C in C gave a welcoming address and the Squadron members were able to meet and talk to the other guests.  One of the visiting senior officers, Colonel Bruenier of the Belgian Air Force, proved to be an ex-member of 92 Squadron.

The Squadron soon settled in at their new station and was not slow to discover the pleasures of skiing in the nearby Eifel region.  On the social front the first major event was on February 7th 1966 when the Mess dined out No 11 Squadron and said hello to 92.  This was an action filled evening and 92 proved their superiority at Mess games.  On the 21st the USAF detachment at Geilenkirchen gave a most enjoyable “Look at the States” party and on the 27th the nursing sisters at the Royal Air Force Hospital at Wegberg invited a number of the Squadron pilots to a “Tramps Party” which by all accounts was “quite a night”.

Also during February, 92 Squadron was once again presented with the Dacre Trophy, this time by Air Marshal Sir Douglas Morris KCB CBE DSO DFC.  This Trophy was awarded to the most efficient squadron in Fighter Command and the Squadron received this award for its achievements in 1965.

While stationed at Geilenkirchen, the Squadron were required to hold the Battle Flight commitment at Gütersloh, only sixty eight nautical miles from the East German border.  This commitment of two aircraft on five minutes readiness was shared with 19 Squadron and came up every other month.  It involved a detachment of pilots and ground crew who had to make the journey to Gütersloh by road where they would take turns at sitting in a little tin hut waiting for the Bell to ring.

The purpose of the Gütersloh Battle Flight, which continued after the two Lightning Squadrons moved to Gütersloh, differed in some way from the UK Battle Flight or QRA, as it became known.  In Germany the task of Battle Flight was as much to prevent light aircraft based in West Germany from straying over the border into Soviet Occupied East Germany, than to prevent aircraft from the East coming too far West.  The Lightning with its unbeatable reaction time could be airborne within three minutes of the bell ringing, even when the pilots were sitting in the crew room adjacent to the aircraft hangar.  Within another seven minutes a Lightning could be at the border and vectored onto the ‘target’ aircraft.  Then he would fly past it, waggle his wings and turn onto a Westerly heading.  The pilot of the light aircraft would get the message and do likewise, then on landing would probably receive a very heavy fine and lose his licence.

Also at Gütersloh, the pilots used to carry out flight simulator practices that helped to improve their operational efficiency, which always suffered when the Squadron had to provide aircraft for Battle Flight.

The Squadron’s primary role in Germany under the Supreme Allied Commander Europe was maintaining the integrity of the West German airspace.  The secondary role being that of air defence interception.  To achieve this a start was made in widening the scope of flying training and Supersonic, Low Level and ECM (Electronic Counter Measures) sorties were flown in addition to a number of interesting Exercise ‘Roulette’ missions, to test the cross servicing capability of other NATO airfields.

In April the first NATO Tactical Evaluation of the Squadron, a surprise Exercise, was sprung on them at eight o’clock on the 14th.  However, due to heavy snow showers the pilots spent many hours at cockpit readiness with only little flying.  The exercise was curtailed and the Tactical team went away to return in the warmer months.  At Gütersloh, Battle Flight commitment continued to absorb much of the Squadron’s effort but this was hardly surprising since this task was the Squadron’s ‘raison d’être’ in RAF Germany.

Four representatives from the Lightning OCU at Coltishall under Wing Commander Swiney visited the Squadron in July.  Under their terms of reference as the CFS (Central Flying School) agency the “trappers” flew with each member of the Squadron in the two seat trainer, the Lightning T4.  One of the trappers, Flight Lieutenant Dave Liggitt was later to be promoted and return to 92 as a Flight Commander.  The July promotion list also had news in store for 92.  Squadron Leader Cabourne the ‘A’ Flight Commander was promoted to Wing Commander and left for Binbrook and Flight Lieutenant Chris Bruce was promoted to Squadron Leader and took over as the new OC ‘A’ Flight.

In August, 92 became the first Lightning squadron in Germany to achieve its target of three hundred hours.  This was quite a triumph as for fifteen days the Squadron was ‘on Battle Flight” and the Squadron was still one pilot light, with only fifteen members.

September was a magnificent month of parties neatly rounded off by Squadron Leader Sam Lucas the Solo Aerobatics Pilot who threw an open house to consume his great excess of duty free liquor prior to his departure to the States.

At the end of the month six aircraft went to France for a Squadron exchange with the French Air Force at Cambrai, the home of the 1/12th Squadron who flew the Super Mystère B2.  The whole stay was tremendously exciting and not a single evening passed without a party.  The highlight of the stay was a weekend in Paris that was a visit to remember.

The remainder of the year was taken up with visits to Belgium for a Fighter Integration Meeting at Beauvechain and another MPC at RAF Valley, this time plagued by bad weather.  Back in Germany the Squadron began its December Battle Flight.  The only really significant event during this period was the “graunching” of one Squadron Leader’s ankle in a car accident with a Belgian driver.  OC ‘A’ Flight, Chris Bruce, was duly incarcerated and put off flying for the next few weeks.

The New Year started in true 92 style with a very drunken Roman Orgy.  The Squadron arrived at the New Year’s Eve Fancy Dress Ball at Geilenkirchen with the Boss being carried by a team of slave girls (wives), but on reaching the Ante room carpet, all collapsed in a heap of laughter.  Everyone had a whale of a time and certainly christened 1967.

The year started with the Lightning T4 appearing on the local news, twice.  Joe Gilbert, airborne one day, came back into the circuit, put the undercarriage down and found to his horror that the port wheel was well and truly locked up.  After several attempts and a gallon of adrenalin, it came down and the Boss landed safely.  Then chain-smoked twenty cigarettes during the flight brief.

The second incident happened to Chris Bruce and Ed Stein when they had an engine fire while doing an Instrument Rating Test.  They landed safely but someone put an advertisement in a local paper that read:

    “For sale one Lightning, only 10,000 miles, one owner (titled), never raced or rallied, heated windscreen, 100 spare tyres, £100,000 O.N.O.  Apply Wing Commander Gilbert PO Box 42 (chauffeurs provided).”

The next event in the year was the Air Defence Competition, to be flown in June, and practice for this started in February.  However, there were other tasks including the Battle Flight commitment, which provided Flight Lieutenant Jerry Bowler with an operational scramble in April.  Jerry’s target turned out to be a Russian TU 104 airliner that was fifty miles south of track.  The next task was the survival of another two weeks of Carlsberg, Aquavit and Raw Eggs and Herrings at Aalborg in Denmark, the home of No 726 Squadron of the Royal Danish Air Force.

Apart from several complaints of insomnia and headache nearly everyone experienced a back seat ride in the Danish TF 104, a two seat Starfighter.  Their comments ranged from “How on earth does it fly” to “It’s different anyway”. 

Back at Geilenkirchen the remainder of the Squadron tried to emulate the superb hospitality given by the Danes.  The routine ranged from coach trips to Aachen and Cologne, a day trip down the Rhine and a superb “Snake Eye” party at Chris and Jenny Bruce’s, where all the Danes were well and truly ‘snaked’.

The Air Defence Competition itself was flown in June.  Chris Bruce, Geoff Denny and Jerry Bowler represented the Royal Air Force in the Sector Two team.  The Competition would have been a complete walkover for Sector Two had Geoff Denny not had two radar failures on two of the four events.  However, cooperation between the pilots and the Ground Control of Interception (GCI) Controllers from Auenhausen was excellent and resulted in the latter winning the GCI prize.

For the annual Missile Practice Camp at Valley in July, the Squadron was given seven missiles, because of the previous year’s disappointing success.

The detachment will be remembered by many for John Wolff’s shooting down the prized Jindivik, with about seventy five sorties to its credit.  There were mitigating circumstances, however, and the rest of the detachment was a tremendous success, both for the firing of missiles and the reacclimatization with English Beer.

The following month a new Squadron practice was formed which was to last for several years.  This was the spoofing (tricking) of the brand new pilots on their arrival.  On his arrival, Jack Glass was interviewed by John Holdway acting the part of the Boss and then by Rick McKnight as ‘B’ Flight Commander.  Jack spent a trying morning being interviewed by his new ‘Boss’ who practiced golf shots into his waste paper basket, going to the Post Office for £19-7-7d worth of postal orders, making very odd specialised cups of coffee and reading all the orders and Standing Operating Procedures that could be found.

The remainder of the year was focused on Babies, Bad Weather, Battle Flight and Birthdays, of which the most significant was the 50th Birthday of 92 Squadron.

The Anniversary Parade was held on November 8th 1967 with Air Commodore Wright as the reviewing officer.  After the parade the flying display began.  This consisted of a five aircraft Lightning display led by Squadron Leader Chris Bruce, a solo Lightning aerobatics display by Flight Lieutenant Bill Wratten of the “Bimbling 19th”, four Gnats from the Red Arrows led as usual by Squadron Leader Ray Hanna and finally the star prize the Spitfire in 92 Squadron Markings ( Registration AB910) flown by Flight Lieutenant ‘Nobby’ Armstrong from Coltishall.

In the evenings there was a monster thrash for the official guests and friends in the Officers’ Mess, while the rest of the Squadron had a thrash in the ‘Blue Diamond Club’.  As far as can be remembered everyone had a great time.  The new boss, Wing Commander Robinson, was heard to say in awe “My God, do you have parties like this often” to which a voice replied “Oh, two or three times a week”.  The Wing Commander replied, “Well this is going to be the shortest tour on record”.

An ex-Squadron Member, Bill Kelly (6ft 4ins) was seen with one arm round (5ft 4in) Air Commodore Wright’s shoulders while with his other hand pouring beer down the Air Commodore’s throat.

Wing Commander Robinson AFC took over command of the Squadron on November 22nd 1967 which was followed shortly afterwards by a Dining-out Night for Wing Commander Gilbert.  The highlight of the evening was the boss’s Mini in the dining room balanced on four tables and surrounded by people intent on making it unusable.

The remainder of the year was taken up by the preparations for the move to Royal Air Force Gütersloh.  The final Geilenkirchen guest night was held on February 19th 1968, with both No 3 Squadron and 92 represented in strength.  92 Squadron reigned supreme, however, with an excellent song (the forming of yet another tradition) bursting of balloons filled with feathers over No 3 Squadron and the kidnapping of the Mess President amid a haze of distress flare smoke.  After the usual games of tug of war, balancing on bottles and broomstick fighting, the Boss organized a charge across the anteroom that didn’t go down too well with those standing in the way.  From there the party proceeded to beer throwing and baths of water throwing to fire extinguisher spraying.  At some stage the Fire Brigade were called and a very enthusiastic German drove his engine through the drive in porch at the Mess entrance thereby demolishing half the roof while the fireman sprayed water in the front door.

The Squadron made a tactical withdrawal from Geilenkirchen and was comfortably settled in their new home on February 24th.

Gütersloh had been a Luftwaffe base in the Second World War and for a time had been Goering’s headquarters.  At the end of the war, along with all Nazi owned property in the Zone, it fell into British hands and was used as the main staging base during the Berlin Air Lift in the late 1940s.  Now its concrete roofed hangars, originally designed to house Messerschmitts, were filled with Hunters of Nos 4 and 20 Squadrons and Lightnings of 19 and 92.

The airfield was ideally suited to the two air defence squadrons, especially as they had been using the airfield for Battle Flight duties since they came to Germany.  The Squadrons shared the Battle Flight commitment for a while, both providing one aircraft on five minutes readiness.

The social side was no less strenuous than it had been at Geilenkirchen.  At Gütersloh, 92 were faced with a Welcoming Party, a Burn’s Night and a Cocktail Party in the first four days.  On the flying side, Taceval arrived at the beginning of February, which posed some new problems.  Amongst these were where did one put one’s automatic pistol and gas mask while flying and why did one carry them anyway.  At least it impressed the Taceval Team.

After Taceval those with strong dispositions began investigating the possibilities of night formation flying.  The first night was well chosen; with a full moon and “Eight Eighths” clear sky, at thirty thousand feet it was as light as day.  For those of a weaker nature the flight commanders offered low level PIs; the first time these had been flown since the Squadron’s Leconfield day.  The new flying programme ran quite smoothly with the only complaint coming from the Station Commander.  The sonic boom that awakened Station Headquarters at 0900 hours every morning was not approved of.

The Lightning has to land with sufficient fuel to make a diversion airfield, should his home base go Black (due to a blocked runway) just as he is approaching to land.  In the case of Gütersloh the nearest diversion airfields are the German Air Force base of Hopsten, forty miles to the North West and Hannover, sixty miles to the North East.  One day in April Gütersloh’s runway went ‘black’ with snow and crosswind and Squadron Leader Bruce and John Rooum were diverted to Hannover.  After a successful landing and being well looked after by BEA ground hostesses, they were recovered, much to their disgust, by an Army Air Corps Beaver which brought ground crew and brake chutes.  The decision to divert was in future a far easier decision for a pilot to make.

At the start of 1968 the Squadron bid farewell to the Engineering Officer, Wing Commander Kent, who was to return in three years time as the Commander of Engineering Wing.  They also welcomed Flying Officer Rick Peacock-Edwards.  Rick was a reputable squash player who represented the Squadron many times during his tour.  His success on the squash court was so often thwarted by unforeseen circumstances but on several occasions he was able to endure the travelling and the evening before the match and achieve some remarkable scores.

The Squadron’s sporting achievements were not confined to Rick’s energetic escapades and the soccer pitch provided the venue for the Squadron team to beat the 19th flat of foot in the Inter-Section final.

When the fair weather months arrived it was 92 Squadron’s turn to provide the RAF Germany solo Lightning Aerobatic pilot and this year Flight Lieutenant Jerry Bowler was chosen.  His first display was at the RAF Wildenrath Open Day where 92 were also represented by a formation of five Lightnings led by Squadron Leader Bruce.

Chris had been up to some aerobatics of his own not long before.  He was scrambled out of Battle Flight to identify an “unknown”.  It turned out to be a Hansa Executive Jet which he followed into the Hanover Airport circuit; as the Air Fair was in progress at the time he had to leave the area quickly and in the safest direction, which the Lightning is very good at, vertically upwards. 

The annual exchange was arranged with Lechfeld near Munich, the home of the 32nd Fighter Bomber Wing of the German Air Force.  As usual the exchange was good social value but this time the operational value was doubtful as they were a low level strike squadron and 92’s role at the time was almost purely high level interception.


By August the first of a new breed of Lightning started to arrive on the Squadron.  One by one the old Mk 2s were being flown to the BAC airfield at Warton where they were converted.  And so Ninety Two Squadron entered the next chapter of its history with the BAC Lightning Mk 2A.

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