At the close of 1955, the RAF’s night fighter force comprised 11 squadrons of what could best be described as “interim” types. The twin boom de Havilland Venoms NF 2A and NF 3 and the Armstrong Whitworth built Meteors NF 12 (pictured left) and NF 14 were all developments of single seat day fighters.
February 1956 however marked the start of a new era for the RAF and 46 Squadron at Odiham, Hampshire. The unit had been chosen to be the first to re equip with the new Gloster Javelin, first flown on 26 November 1951. Designed from the outset as a night and all-weather fighter, fitted with AI.17 radar and powered by two Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire turbojets, delivering twice the power of a Meteor or three times that of a Venom, the big delta was a highly effective interceptor. A year later, the systematic conversion of the rest of Fighter Command’s night fighter squadrons began, starting with the Venom units.
At Horsham St Faith (now Norwich Airport) , 141 (renumbered 41 in 1958) and 23 Squadrons received their new Gloster Javelin Fighter All Weather (FAW) 4s in early 1957. These units were followed by 151 Squadron, which re-equipped with FAW 5s at Turnhouse ( now Edinburgh Airport). According to 151 Squadron’s diary, the pilots were :
“unanimous in their praise for the handling qualities of the Javelin, which is a beautiful aircraft to fly …indeed, flying a Javelin after the Venom is like driving a Bentley after an MG.”
The Javelin FAW 4 introduced refinements to the flying controls including an all-flying tailplane. The Javelin FAW 5 had been similar to the FAW 4 but with longer range while the FAW 6 again featured AI22 radar. The summer of 1957 also saw founder unit 46 Squadron re equipping for the second time – with the Javelin FAW 2. This had the same improvements over the FAW 1 as the FAW 4 but featured American built AI 22 radar in a slightly shortened nose. October 1957 also saw the RAF take delivery of the two seat trainer version of the Gloster Javelin – the T3.
The rolling programme continued with the last of the Venom NF 3 units, 89 Squadron (re numbered 85 in November 1958) based at Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, taking on Gloster Javelin FAW 6s (pictured left). The operations diary recorded that 89 Squadron’s pilots:
“expressed their delight at the aircraft’s handling qualities and the well laid out cockpits. How pleasant it is to fly an aircraft in the role for which it was primarily designed, instead of a mutilated version of a mundane day-fighter.”
The first of the Meteor night-fighter units, 29 Squadron, started its conversion to the Gloster Javelin FAW 6 at Acklington, Northumberland, at the end of 1957, followed by 33 Squadron, receiving its first Gloster Javelin FAW 7 in July 1958. The year closed with the conversion of 25 and 64 Squadrons at Waterbeach, to the FAW 7. The last Meteor unit to convert was 72, at Church Fenton, Yorkshire, in April 1959.
The Javelin FAW 7 was distinguished by more powerful engines and the option of carrying under wing drop tanks and missile armament.
In West Germany, the 2nd Tactical Air Force underwent a similar transformation. At Bruggen, 87 Squadron inherited 46 Squadron’s “second hand” FAW 1s in September 1957. The massive increase in operational capability of the Javelin over the Meteor was demonstrated during Exercise Argus in October 1957 when four Meteors and a Javelin were scrambled to intercept an English Electric Canberra flying above 40 000′. The unit diarist recorded:
“The Meteors were two miles behind and not gaining when the Javelin came over the top and completed the interception.”
At Geilenkirchen, 96 Squadron received its first FAW 4s in September 1958 but in January 1958 it was renumbered 3 Squadron, making 96 the shortest lived Javelin unit. The new 3 Squadron took its place on Battle Flight roster in March 1959.
The two remaining Meteor squadrons in Germany were modified to carry de Havilland Firestreak air-to-air missiles. Perhaps the most important development during 1959 though was the introduction of the Gloster Javelin FAW 8 with re-heated Sapphire engines and American built AI 22 radar. Delivery of Mark 8 started to 41 Squadron, which reported the variant:
“has proved pleasant to fly, with no handling problems. Its rate of climb and performance at altitude are most refreshing after the Javelin Mark 4 and 5.”
A major conversion project started at the end of 1959, in which FAW 7s were sent back to Gloster to be rebuilt to FAW 8 standard and re-designated as FAW9s. Fighter Command entered the 1960s with an all-weather force comprising ten Javelin squadrons. Most were equipped with the latest missile armed variants or about to convert to them.
Part of the fallout of the 1957 Defence Review meant three of the ten, 46 Squadron on Javelin FAW2s at Waterbeach, 72 at Leconfield, Yorkshire and 151 at Leuchars – both flying FAW5s – were disbanded in mid 1961.
AIR TO AIR REFUELLING
Some of 23 Squadron’s FAW 9s had been fitted with air-to-air refuelling (AAR) probes in May 1960 and crews started working with Vickers Valiant tankers of 214 Squadron. Training started with “dry” hook ups (no fuel transferred) progressing to “wet” contacts later in the month. A contingency plan to reinforce the Far East with two Javelin squadrons to Singapore had been drawn up in early 1960. However, a large scale AAR deployment on this scale had never before been attempted and a proving flight was required.
After months of preparation by 23 and 214 Squadrons, Exercise Dyke started in late October 1960 to send four Javelin FAW9s to Singapore. First, two Javelins stages via Orange (France), Luqa (Malta) and El Adem (Libya) to Nicosia (Cyprus) then via Diyabakir (Turkey) Mehrabad (Tehran) and Sharjah (Oman) to Mauripur (India) arriving there on 30 September 1960. Here the aircraft were fitted with AAR probes needed from the final leg.
Meanwhile, another pair of Javelins led by the officer commanding 23 Squadron left England on 29 September. After rendezvous with Valiants they flew to Mauripur, stopping only at Akrotiri, Cyprus, on the way.
The two pairs of Javelins left Mauripur accompanied by Valiants on 3 and 5 October, arriving at Changi, Singapore, on 4 and 7 October, having night stopped at Gan, in the Maldives. The lead pair had made the trip to Singapore in little less than 20 hours flying time, with only three landings along the way. Exercise Dyke had proved the possibility of deploying over the full distance to Singapore. Another exercise, Pounce, was needed to test the complex logisitics of moving a large number of aircraft over a long range.
Exercise Pounce in June 1961 involved eight Javelins, five crews from 23 and another three from 64 Squadron, operating from Karachi. Movements of this relatively large number of aircraft required an intricate tanker plan, whereby four pairs of Javelins were “tanked” to Akrotiri, Muharraq (Bahrain), then Mauripur, over four days, arriving by 14 June. After ten days in Pakistan, the Javelins and Valiants retraced their steps, returning to Coltishall, Norfolk, over the next six days.
In mid 1962 a number of FAW 9s were returned to Gloster for modification into the long range version, the FAW 9R. This entailed changes to the fuel system so that the aircraft could carry a 230 gallon (1 045 litre) drop tank on each of the under wing pylons. In October 1962, a section of three of 23 Squadron’s “new” FAW 9Rs flew non stop from Coltishall to Aden for tropical trials of the under wing tanks. This 8 1/2 hour flight supported by the Valiant tankers covered some 4 000 miles.
LOOK DOWN SHOOT DOWN
In the autumn of 1962, the men of 25 and 33 Squadrons learnt that their aircraft were required to re-equip RAF Germany. In November 1962, 33 Squadron disbanded at Middleton St George, Durham, and all of its Javelins, with most of the aircrew, were dispatched to Geilenkirchen to become 5 Squadron. The following month, 25 Squadron stood down at Leuchars to form the nucleus of a new 11 Squadron at Laarbruch.
At the same time, 85 Squadron participated in an exercise that gave a good indication of the future of air defence in the mid 1960s. The targets were Valiants at low level. By then V-bombers had switched to low flying tactics and Javelin crews found their lack of experience in this environment was telling.
The officer commanding 85 Squadron wrote:
“The exercise was enjoyable and proved conclusively that the way to attack this country is at 250′ in conditions of low stratus and poor visibility. Scarcely any of the Valiants were seen, let alone attacked,and our three “splashes” [kill claims] were achieved more by good fortune than good management.”
After Exercise Maenad, in which the targets were V bombers at 250′, such intercepts became a monthly fixture. With practice, flying patrol lines at 500′, Javelin crews achieved some success in this new regime.
HIGH AND LOW
In response to the deteriorating situation in Aden, the Hunter Fighter Ground Attack (FGA) 9s of 43 Squadron transferred from Cyprus to Khormaksar in early 1963. Javelin FAW 9s of 29 Squadron took 43 Squadron’s place at Nicosia. Meanwhile, in the UK,85 Squadron was disbanded in March. From its peak strength of ten squadrons at the beginning of 1960, Fighter Command had just three Javelin units remaining in the UK: 23 Squadron at Leuchars and 64 Squadron at Binbrook, Lincolnshire, with FAW 9Rs and 41 at Wattisham, Suffolk, with FAW 8s.
Exercise Canterloup pulled together the experiences and lessons of Dyke and Pounce by deploying 12 Javelins to Singapore in 1963. Supported by Valiants, Javelins of 23 Squadron routed via Akrotiri, Bahrain, Mauripur and Gan arrived at Tengah between 13 and 16 January 1963. After a brief stay in Singapore, all crews and aircraft were back at Coltishall by the end of the month.
It was the turn of 64 Squadron to deploy to Kalaikunda, to the west of Calcutta, to participate in Exercise Shiksa in October 1963. Over the three days 12 aircraft used AAR support to stage to India via Nicosia and Bahrain. The exercise was held in early November, during which the Javelins operated against Royal Australian Air Force and Indian Air Force Canberras. The start of the so-called “Confrontation” with Indonesia resulted in four Gloster deltas being dispatched to the Far East as reinforcements rather than returning home.
By early 1964, only two Javelin units remained in Fighter Command’s order of battle. Depleted to almost half strength by its reinforcement of Singapore, 23 Squadron disbanded in September. Binbrook based 64 Squadron’s “A” Flight had also deployed to Singapore, but “B” Flight remained in Lincolnshire. After operating as two independent flights for five months, 64 Squadron re formed as a complete unit at Tengah in April 1965.
The role of RAF Germany’s Javelin force officially became that of low level air defence from October 1964. However, events were already overtaking 5 Squadron, which was disbanded in September 1965 and 11 Squadron followed five months later.
CYPRUS AND AFRICA
Violence broke out between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in mid December 1963. As a result, 29 Squadron put up a number of standing patrols to deter incursions by Turkish aircraft. Battle Flight scrambles to intercept Turkish F-84F Thunderstreaks became regular events over the next three months.
Two years later, in response to Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, 29 was dispatched to Zambia. Ten aircraft deployed to Ndola in Zambia’s Copper Belt in early December 1965 to take up a defensive readiness state. At Ndola, the Javelin detachment used Zambian Air Force facilities on the airfield, but the domestic arrangements were pretty basic. A major airlift brought fuel and oil into Zambia via Aden, but even so in the early days there was only enough fuel for three sorties per day. Four aircraft were moved forward to Lusaka, where conditions were even more challenging. The short runway, 4 000′ above sea level, was close to the limits for Javelin operations. Initially, “ops” from Lusaka were limited to scrambles only. Two fully armed aircraft were kept at readiness, one at 10 minutes and another at 30 minutes reaction time. Over the next eight months, the quick reaction alert (QRA) aircraft were typically scrambled about twice a month, but any radar tracks from Rhodesia had usually turned south well before they reached Zambian airspace. The last operational scramble from Lusaka was made on 11 August 1965 and 29 Squadron’s detachment to Zambia was withdrawn at the end of the month. The Squadron disbanded in Cyprus in 1966.
In Singapore, 60 Squadron finally traded its obsolete Meteor NF 14s for Javelin FAW 9s in the summer of 1961. This re-equipment proved timely, for the Indonesian government announced its policy of “Confrontation” in January 1963. A 24 hour QRA, Operation Tramp, was established, with two – and later six – live armed Javelins kept at 30 minutes readiness at Tengah. In October 1963 this was raised further to include a pair of Javelins at two minute’s readiness based at Butterworth in Malaya. As the situation deteriorated further in November 1963, four aircraft and crews were diverted from 64’s detachment in India to reinforce Singapore and Malaya. One of the defining characteristics of the Confrontation period was that vast distances and land areas had to be patrolled and defended: Butterworth was more than 300 miles north west of Singapore, with all the complications of command and control that it brought.
By the end of 1963, it was clear that RAF fighters would also be needed to support operations over Borneo and more Javelins would be required. A new “C” flight was established at Butterworth under the command of Squadron Leader J.G. Ince, who arrived in Malaya at the head of another four Javelins and crews from 23 Squadron – during Operation Merino – in January 1964. This brought the total number of Javelins at Butterworth to eight and the first FAW 9Rs to the Far East, providing a nucleus of longer range aircraft.
Indonesia declared its intention to supply guerilla forces in Borneo by air in February 1964. Two Javelins, plus a detachment of 20 Squadron’s Hunter FGA9s were deployed to Kuching, 400 miles east of Singapore. Four more were established at Labuan – a further 360 miles distant. Fighters were maintained at readiness at Kuching and Labuan, but low level standing patrols were also routinely staged along the borders as were close escort sorties for transports carrying out supply drops. Conditions were challenging: the operating area was a vast and generally poorly mapped jungle which included mountains rising above 13 000′. At the end of February 1964, 60 Squadron were stretched over a 1000 mile front. The unit was maintaining QRA with two Javelins at at Labuan, two at Kuching, four at Tengah and a further two at Butterworth. Indonesian activity intensified in Borneo over April 1964 and, while escorting a supply drop, a Javelin was fired on by a 12.5 mm anti aircraft gun. Intelligence received later indicated that 60 rounds had been fired, although none had hit the aircraft.
A month later a Javelin flown by Flying Officers D.W. Barden and G.M. Warden was hit by ground fire. After landing at Kuching a small calibre bullet hole was discovered in the engine intake. Earlier, on 16 May, two Javelins had helped to capture a launch near Lundu, just to the west of Kuching. The vessel refused to comply with instructions from a patrol ship to stop, but two Javelins appeared on the scene and conducted such an impressive low-level beat up that those on board immediately surrendered. Operation Tramp was expanded to include daily dawn and dusk patrols along the Malayan coast and the Borneo detachments were each expanded to three aircraft and four crews. The FAW 9Rs tended to be used for the Borneo sector, as with two drop tanks and two missiles they could fly 1 3/4 hour patrols at low level. Crews and aircraft seconded from 23 and 64 Squadrons flew within 60 Squadron to spread the load.
After a busy summer, the situation seemed to be calming, but it soon flared up again. Another Javelin was hit by ground fire during a low level patrol over Borneo on 16 October 1964 but damage was superficial. The following month the alert state increased further at Tengah and standing patrols were flown at night in the Kuala Lumpur area. Incursions into Sarawak and Sabah by Indonesian irregulars continued. On 10 December 1964 a Gurkha patrol was ambushed in the jungle by about 100 guerrillas. In a critical situation, they called for air support and Flight Lieutenants R.E. Lockhart and S.H. Davies, on a routine patrol, were diverted to the scene. Unable to use the Javelin’s guns, Lockhart continuously buzzed the Indonesian position at low level, selecting reheat as he passed overhead. The afterburners lit with a bang, which led the insurgents to believe they were being bombed. Their attack faltered and they withdrew. The 1 000 th “op” over the island of Borneo was staged on 29 March 1965. This commitment represented roughly 75% of the newly re-formed 64 Squadron’s total flying. In October 1965, 64 Squadron’s Javelins were withdrawn from Borneo.
BADGERS SETT IN
Russian built Indonesian Tupolev Tu-16 Badger bombers were intercepted regularly from Tengah. On 26 June 1965, a 60 Squadron crew scrambled and intercepted a Badger, which carried no markings. This was in contravention of Article 3 of the 1923 Hague Rules of Air Warfare. A crew from 64 Squadron launched on 30 August 1965 and shadowed a Tupolev along the international border in the middle of the Malacca Straits. On 21 September 1965, a Javelin was diverted from a routine training sortie to monitor another Tu-16 in the Malacca Straits.
Although Javelin operations in Borneo had largely ceased in January 1966, the Confrontation was not yet over. At the beginning of February 1966, 64 Squadron’s Javelins were back on the island. Later in the month, 60 Squadron also sent four Javelins to Kuching.
On 17 February 1966, just after they had arrived in Borneo, Flight Lieutenant C.V. Holman and Squadron Leader G. Moores of 60 Squadron were scrambled to help locate a guerrilla force. Over a jungle clearing in the search area, Moores spotted movement and Holman spent the next 30 minutes carrying out low level beat ups with reheat. The insurgents were pinned down and a Gurkha patrol was able to engage them, killing one and capturing five.
The Confrontation officially ended in August 1966 and this heralded a swift reduction in the size of the fighter presence in Singapore. At the height of the showdown, 60 Squadron had been the largest Javelin unit in the RAF with a complement of over 30. Both 60 and 64 Squadrons at Tengah were reduced to an establishment of 12 aircraft and 16 aircrew. In June 1967 it was the turn of 64 Squadron to disband.
Although the threat from Indonesia had largely dissipated by mid 1967, growing communist inspired unrest was causing concern in Hong Kong. In Exercise Gas Iron, 60 Squadron was ordered to provide a fighter presence. Four Javelins left Singapore on 22 June 1967, night-stopping at Labuan, before flying to Kai Tak, Hong Kong, via Clarke Field – a USAF base in the Philippines. All went smoothly and the Javelins stayed for a week. Two more slightly longer deployments to Hong Kong, Gas Iron II and III, followed over the next few months.
However, the days of 60 Squadron came to an end on 30 April 1968. The disbandment ceremony included a Diamond Nine flyby in daylight before Flight Lieutenant K.E. Fitchew led a four-ship in darkness with a spectacular use of reheat. The finale was ten Javelins taxiing to face the saluting platform for a simultaneous shutdown of 20 Armstrong Sapphire engines. At that moment, all the lights were doused except for a single spotlight shining on the flagstaff. The Last Post was sounded and the RAF Ensign was lowered.