There were emotional scenes at RAF Lossiemouth this week as the 13 crews and 110 engineers of 617 Squadron, 'The Dambusters', were welcomed home from Afghanistan by their families and friends.
617 Squadron contributed enormously to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission during their three-and-a-half month deployment with the unique capabilities of the Tornado GR4. The aircraft fulfills two key roles in Afghanistan - close air support and reconnaissance.
The Officer Commanding 617 Squadron, Wing Commander Keith Taylor, spoke to his personnel and their families yesterday, before they left for some well-deserved post-operational deployment leave. He said:
May I thank you for maintaining your focus on the job in hand over the past three-and-a-half months, especially during the recent testing times. It really has been a tremendous team effort from the 617 Squadron family. Enjoy your leave.
RAF Lossiemouth’s Station Commander, Group Captain Andy Hine, also took a few minutes to congratulate the squadron and address the families.
He echoed the words of the Officer Commanding 617 Squadron, saying:
You have done a remarkable job. You delivered the task asked of you and added much more value, as was widely recognised by those who worked alongside you.
Flight Lieutenant Joe Hourston, who was met at Lossiemouth by his girlfriend, said:
It is great to come back; I am looking forward to a rest and the cool Scottish weather. It is really great to see all the guys back with their families.
During the course of their tour, the Dambusters flew more than 420 sorties, accumulating in excess of 1,300 hours in the air, providing close air support and reconnaissance for coalition forces.
Their latest deployment saw the squadron in action 68 years on, to the day, from that famous mission which gave them their name - the successful strike on German dams in the Ruhr Valley during the Second World War.
This time though the target was not dams in Germany, but a suspected improvised explosive device factory. The Dambusters provided support to Canadian ground troops as they moved in on the target, providing protection from the air, and warning the ground troops of any suspicious movement in the vicinity. As a result, three insurgents were detained.
While in Afghanistan, the squadron was given another opportunity to make history. A sortie in late June saw the Dambusters take Tornado through the milestone of flying one million hours in RAF service. See Related News.
Before leaving Afghanistan, 617 Squadron handed over the mantle of the resident Tornado GR4 detachment at Kandahar Airfield to 31 Squadron, ‘The Goldstars’.
The seamless transition between Lossiemouth-based 617 Squadron and 31 Squadron, from RAF Marham, will enable the sustainment of Tornado GR4 operations in Afghanistan, providing close air support and tactical reconnaissance for British and coalition forces across the country.
Officer Commanding 31 Squadron, Wing Commander Jim Mulholland, said:
After an excellent handover from 617 Squadron, 31 Squadron will continue to maintain the highest standards of operational service to the coalition ground forces serving in Afghanistan.