No. 8 Squadron was formed at Brooklands on 1 January, 1915, as part of the Royal Flying Corps, and proceeded to France later in that year equipped with B.E.2c aircraft. The Squadron took an active part in the Battles of the Somme and Arras, and built up an excellent reputation for its co-operation with the Tank Corps. Outstanding work was also done in the Battle of Amiens, one of the Squadron’s pilots, Captain (later Air Cdre) F.M.F. West, being awarded the Victoria Cross for the part which he played in it.
The Squadron was disbanded at Duxford on 20 January, 1920, but re-formed and equipped with the De Havilland DH.9a at Helwan in Egypt on 18 October of the same year. In 1921, it was posted to Iraq (Mesopotamia, as it was then known) where it shared in the task of garrisoning the country, and took part in practically all the operations against local tribesmen, an important one being against Sheikh Mahmud at Sulaimaniya. No. 8 Squadron, in company with others, dropped over 28 tons of bombs on the town, and the subsequent surrender of the Sheikh’s forces averted what might have developed into a serious rising.
In April, 1928, No. 8 Squadron was posted to Aden to cooperate in the defence and pacification of the territory, which had been placed under Air Control earlier in the year. During the remaining inter-war years, the Squadron, based at Aden, continuously, carried out varied and valuable work against troublesome local tribes, the ‘Nineacks’ being superseded initially by Fairey IIIFs and latterly bu Vickers Vincents.
The outbreak of war found No. 8 Squadron still at Aden, partially re-equipped with Bristol Blenheim aircraft, with routine coastal reconnaissance flights and anti-submarine patrols as its main duties, broken by occasional punitive operations against local tribes for such offences as caravan looting or firing on British aircraft. During the East African Campaign of 1940/41, the Squadron was in continuous action against the Italians, and besides operating in close support of the land forces, made a very valuable series of bombing raids on enemy troop concentrations and lines of communication, particularly in the Assab area.
In April, 1941, with the campaign in British Somaliland at a successful conclusion, organised fighting in Abyssinia had moved beyond the Squadron’s range, although Assab itself was not occupied by our forces until 11 June. The fall of the last Red Sea port in enemy hands brought a close to the Squadron’s activities in the campaign, during which it had flown over 800 sorties involving nearly 3,000 operational flying hours.
No. 8 Squadron, re-organised with one flight of Blenheims and one of Vincents, was then called upon to undertake police patrol and communication work in the Aden Protectorate as well as in Somaliland, Eritrea and Abyssinia. The Squadron’s duties for the next months, during which period the Vincents were superseded by Blenheims, consisted almost entirely of armed reconnaissance flights over the Djibouti area for the purpose of observing the movements of Vichy French Submarines, and there are no outstanding incidents to record. In August, 1942, the presence of hostile submarines in the Gulf of Aden necessitated a continuous patrol over shipping and by the following month, organised patrols by detachments of the Squadron operating from advanced landing grounds at Bandar Kassim, Riyan, Salalah and Scuiscuiban were instituted. Lockheed Hudson and Vickers Wellingtons were allocated alongside the Blenheims to enable the squadron to perform its extended role. In spite of incessant patrols, very few submarines were sighted, and no claims were made, although in July, 1943, there was evidence that one was seriously damaged and possibly destroyed.
In May, 1944, No. 8 Squadron took part in an action which led to the destruction of a U-boat and the capture of its crew. During the following year, the Squadron carried on with its uneventful duties of convoy patrols, and anti-submarine and shipping sweeps. The extremely small number of ships lost in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden is an excellent testimony to the deterrent effect upon the enemy of No. 8 Squadron’s patrols, and it played an important part in securing the safety of the lines of communication to India and the Far East.
By now the area was no longer a war zone and on 15 May, 1945, No. 8 Squadron was disbanded, its number plate being transferred to No. 200 (Liberator) Squadron, at that time stationed at Minneriya, Ceylon. Thus, No. 8 Squadron continued its career as a Special Duty Unit, the primary task being supply dropping to clandestine agents in Malaya and Sumatra. Previously, No. 200 Squadron had been operating in a similar role over Burma, Siam and French Indo-China.
The new No. 8 Squadron was disbanded in November, 1945, but its association with Aden was revived on 1 September, 1946, when No. 114 Squadron, located at Khormaksar, was re-numbered No. 8. Equipped with Mosquito FB.6s, the squadron reverted to its light bomber role, tasked with polcing the Protectorate and securing the borders with the Yemen and other states. Hawker Tempests took over in 1947 followed by the Bristol Brigand B.1 two years later. The question as to whether bombers or fighters were best for the policing role was settled in 1952 when the first jest arrived in the shape of DH Vampire FB.5s. Like the Brigand, the Vampires were equipped with rocket rails and provided a good deterrent against hostile tribesmen. During the post war years the Squadron was frequently employed in operations designed to maintain the peace between the tribesmen of the Yemen and the adjoining territories.
Having re-equipped with the Venom, the Squadron was temporarily based in Cyprus during the 1956 Suez Operations, in which its role was one of ground attack. No sooner had it returned to Khormaksar, then 8 Squadron’s aircraft were back in their original role of the defence and policing of the Protectorate, carrying out assigned tasks in the interest of law, order and well-being throughout the area. The Squadron changed from Venoms to Hunter FGA.9 aircraft in January/ February, 1960, and was declared operational on type by the AOC Air Vice-Marshal David Lee on 8 March, 1960.
Its Hunters were operated in the policing role until April, 1961, when a fighter reconnaissance capability was added to the unit’s task using Hunter FR.10 aircraft. It continued in this dual role until May, 1963, when No. 1417 Fighter Reconnaissance Flight was reformed and the FR.10s were transferred to the new flight.
The status quo remained in force until 9 September, 1967, when the FR.10s were reallocated to the squadron inventory, concurrent with the disbandment of 1417 Flt. The squadron itself had departed Khormaksar for the last time on 8 August and headed for a temporary home at Masirah prior to moving on to its new home base at Muharraq, following the final withdrawal from Khormaksar. There it remained until December 1971 when it too was disbanded and its Hunters flown back to the UK. A fitting tribute that this legendary squadron should be the last to leave the Command, having been the first and only squadron in Aden for a very long time.
The unit number, however, was swiftly resurrected when it reformed as an AEW Shackleton squadron in January 1972.