100 years ago today on 6 October 1914, No. 6 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps made its first ever operational deployment.
The Squadron had been formed at Farnborough on 31 January that year and on the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914 it had to give up most of its pilots and aircraft in order to put all of the available strength of the Royal Flying Corps into the field.
At the beginning of the First World War only five fixed-wing squadrons had been formed, namely Numbers 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. All were short of men, machines and transport but No. 6 Squadron was little more than a nucleus.
Another three squadrons had been authorised but of these, No. 7 was only a small cadre, No. 1 had just begun to reform as an aeroplane squadron after beginning its life as a balloon squadron, and No. 8 had not moved beyond the paper stage. Therefore the decision was made to mobilise Numbers 2, 3, 4 and 5 squadrons and transfer most of the pilots and aircraft from 6 Squadron to the mobilising squadrons.
In September 1914, the first reinforcement to the Expeditionary Force of the Royal Flying Corps was sent to replace casualties in the squadrons in France. Again, 6 Squadron provided pilots and aircraft and one flight led by the squadron commander, Major John Becke, flew to France. On arrival, the pilots and machines were posted to No. 2 Squadron and Major Becke returned to Farnborough to continue his Squadron’s build-up.
At the beginning of October 1914 a plan was drawn up to provide a squadron of aircraft to accompany the 7th Infantry Division and the 3rd Cavalry Division under General Sir Henry Rawlinson in the effort to save Antwerp.
So on 4 October, orders were issued for 6 Squadron to get ready at once to go overseas. On 5 October No. 6 Squadron sent an advance party to Southampton and on 6 October the main party left Farnborough and embarked at Southampton along with the advance party for the crossing to Ostend. Also on 6 October, twelve aircraft of No. 6 Squadron left for Dover.
The aircraft were a mixture of BE2s, BE8s and Henri Farman biplanes. On 7 October, only eight of these aircraft were ready to fly overseas and they were flown to Bruges where they all arrived safely.
The remaining four aircraft and pilots followed on 8 and 10 October but 6 Squadron's first operational sorties took place on 8 October with two reconnaissance flights from Bruges over the lines in Belgium.& The deployment of the whole squadron within two days and the mounting of operations with four days notice was a remarkable feat.
Today, 6 Squadron again holds an expeditionary commitment, ready to deploy at short notice to the four corners of the globe. The biplanes have been replaced by a modern jet fighter, the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4. The Squadron is no longer limited to reconnaissance but can operate in the air to air and air to ground roles.
Wing Commander Jim Walls is the current Officer Commanding of 6 Squadron. He is full of pride for his current charges, he said of the Squadron's history:
In our centenary year we will continue to look back at the notable achievements of No. 6 Squadron over the last century of aviation. We are proud of our history and the feats achieved by our predecessors, and continually strive to match the standards that they have set.