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Royal Air Force (RAF) Buccaneer

There was a great deal of discussion about why the Air Force insisted upon having its own type in this generation of planes. Superficially, at any rate, it seemed that the NA39 Buccaneer, could have been adapted to serve a Royal Air Force purpose as well with, of course, the important advantage that it would have been ready in 1962 as against, perhaps, 1965 or later. As early as 1958 there was discussion of the Buccaneer as a replacement for the Canberra bomber.

Attempts as earl as 1958 to interest the Royal Air Force in the type as a replacement for the Canberra bomber were unsuccessful. Skeptics had never before known the Royal Navy to develop an aeroplane which was even remotely usable by the Royal Air Force. In time of financial stringency, the Defence Minister tried to force the R.A.F. to take this aircraft. But the R.A.F. requirement is a low flying aircraft, a "hedge-hopper". If the NA39 had been called upon to perform that task, "its bolts would have drawn and its wings dropped off".

It is not unreasonable to suggest, since there is considerable evidence for it, that, had the Navy not ordered the Blackburn NA.39 Buccaneer, and thereby contaminated it with its blessing, the Royal Air Force might very well have ordered that aircraft, and thus got for the taxpayer in general very much better value for the public investment which went into it. However, at that time the Royal Air Force wanted its own. So it decided to go ahead for the TSR2.

However, following the termination of its intended replacement, the American F-111, the Buccaneer S2 variant was ordered in July 1968. A total of 108 Buccaneers entered RAF service. Forty-six were new aircraft; the balance came from the Fleet Air Arm, as aircraft carriers were phased out in the 1970s. From 1972 two squadrons of Buccaneers served in RAF Germany until replaced by Tornados in 1984. Maritime strike/attack and reconnaissance then became the aircraft's primary role, along with the secondary task of carrying laser designator equipment for precision attacks.

In October 1969 the Buccaneer entered RAF service with No. 12 Sqn at RAF Honington in the Maritime Strike role. In January 1971 the second RAF Buccaneer unit formed when No. 15 Sqn at RAF Honington receives the type. The following year they become the first Buccaneer NATO squadron when they moved to Germany in the low-level penetration role prior to the arrival of Tornado in service. The Squadron converted to the Panavia Tornado GR1 in 1983 becoming the first operational Tornado Squadron in Germany.

208 Squadron was reformed on 1st July 1974 at RAF Honington, flying the Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer S2A. The Squadron became the first RAF participant in Exercise Red Flag in North America. On 1st July 1983 it moved to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland and changed from an overland to a maritime role. In September of that year, in support of the International Peace Keeping Force in Lebanon, the Squadron flew missions over Beirut as part of Operation Pulsator. In 1986, the Squadron’s Buccaneer aircraft were equipped with the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile to enhance their maritime attack capability.

With the grounding of the Buccaneer fleet in 1980, surplus Hunters were issued as temporary replacements to enable Buccaneer pilots to retain their flying currency. By September 1980, the Buccaneer had been returned to flying status.

By the late 1980s a large portion of RAF assets were devoted to maritime and ground strike and attack missions. These included Tornado, Jaguar GR.1, and Harrier GR.3 aircraft assigned to the Second Allied Tactical Air Force (2 ATAF) in the FRG. Buccaneer S.2 aircraft performed maritime strike and attack missions. Buccaneer aircraft provided maritime strike and attack capabilities, although the age of the Buccaneer fleet made it unlikely that they will remain in service beyond the mid 1990s. Nimrod patrol aircraft supported the Buccaneer mission and also aided in antisubmarine warfare (ASW) missions. As of 1987 there were no announced plans to replace Buccaneer aircraft, although there was speculation that this role will be carried on by the procurement of additional Tornado aircraft equipped with Sea Eagle antiship weapons.

In 1991, the RAF operated three Buccaneer squadrons, Nos 12 & 208 Squadrons and No 237 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit), all based at RAF Lossiemouth. The entire force consisted of about 30 airframes and the role was exclusively maritime attack, with the sole exception of No 237 OCU which also had a reserve war role involving overland Laser designation (target marking), from low level, for Jaguar aircraft. Therefore the then AOC 18 Group - Air Marshal Sir Michael Steer - foresaw a possible requirement for overland Laser designation and instructed the Buccaneers to commence the appropriate low-level overland training.

Although the Buccaneer was seen in 1969 as an interim type pending the development of the Panavia Tornado, the last examples were not retired until March 1994. Major changes took place in 1993 with the Buccaneer anti-shipping squadrons starting to be replaced by the Tornado. On 1 October 12(B) Sqn lost its Buccaneers but kept its squadron number-plate when re-equipped with Tornados. On 1 November, the Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit, renamed XV(Reserve) Sqn arrived from RAF Honington in Suffolk. At the end of March 1994, the Buccaneer was retired from service and, on 4th April, the Squadron moved to RAF Valley, where it was re-designated as 208 (Reserve) Squadron, flying Hawk T.Mk1/1.A aircraft.






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Page last modified: 22-05-2013 19:41:12 ZULU