If you enjoy the edited version of the No 23 Squadron history (below) and would like to read the full story of 'The Red Eagles' you will be pleased to know that there is a book available called 'The Red Eagles- A History of No 23 Squadron Royal Air Force 1915-1994' written by Peter Rudd DFC. For further details contact Peter Rudd by email

The Bases of 23 Sqn
The Aircraft of 23 Sqn

A Brief History of No 23 Squadron

On 1st September 1915, Captain Louis Arbon Strange was posted to Fort Grange, Gosport, Hampshire to form No 23 Squadron. He arrived from Farnborough in an Avro 504 and the following day found himself in possession of "an office, a sergeant and three men, an old 80hp Gnome Bleriot and the bits and pieces of two Henri Farmans", in addition to the Avro machine.

Owing to the untimely onset of appendicitis, (the now promoted) Major Strange had handed over to Major R E T Hogg by March 1916 when the Squadron deployed to the Western Front, equipped with FE2b aircraft. Initially flying fighter-reconnaissance patrols, the unit later added ground attack to its capabilities when, in early 1917, they re-equipped with 18 SPAD VIIs which were a good match for the enemy's Albatross DIII machines. By 1st April 1918 when the RFC became the Royal Air Force, 23 Squadron were enjoying considerable success flying Sopwith Dolphins against such formidable adversaries as the "Richthofen Circus" commanded by Hauptmann H Goering.

The Squadron returned to the United Kingdom in March 1919 and was disbanded at Waddington in December that year. During the period of disarmament which followed the Great War, the strength of the RAF was reduced by some 90% from 3300 aircraft and 188 squadrons, to a mere 330 aeroplanes by 1922. However, the following year, when it was realised that even the French Air Force boasted more than 600 aircraft, the British Government set about forming the Home Defence Air Force, of which 23 became part from its reformation at Henlow with Sopwith Snipe aircraft on 1st July 1925. Quickly building an enviable reputation for display flying with Gloster Gamecocks, the Squadron continued to operate single engined aircraft, including Bristol Bulldogs and Hawker Harts/Demons, throughout the '20s and '30s. It was during this period that the Form 540 (Squadron official history) records the posting of a 23 Squadron pilot to Uxbridge as "Supernumerary Non-Effective Sick" following a flying accident on 14th December 1931. Pilot Officer D R S Bader, being adept at low-level aerobatics in the Gamecock aircraft, had been cruelly caught out by the different characteristics of the recently introduced Bulldog.

In December 1938, the Squadron finally parted with biplanes and took on charge the twin-engined Bristol Blenheim monoplane in the night-fighter role. In the early years of WWII, 23 Squadron undertook shipping protection and intruder missions.

It was is the latter role that the squadron became to forerunner in developing the tactics and ability to take the battle into the enemy’s own territory. In October 1940, Douglas Havoc’s began arriving and were supplemented by Boston’s from the same United States manufacturer, sixteen months later. The Squadron converted to Mosquito IIs in July 1942 and moved to Luqa, Malta in December of that year, from whence the long-range intruder missions were flown to targets in Sicily, Italy, Tunisia and southern France. To further enhance the squadron’s strike capability, May 1943 saw the arrival of the more versatile Mosquito FBVI. A welcome return to ‘Blighty’ marked the transfer to the newly formed 100 Group, Bomber Command and a move to Little Snoring, Norfolk in June 1944. Thereafter, the pattern of bomber escort and night interdiction missions continued until the end of the War and the Squadron disbanded in September 1945.

Remaining in East Anglia, No 23 Squadron reformed just one year later with Mosquito NF30s at Wittering and quickly upgraded to NF36s before moving to Coltishall, a base with which the Squadron was to enjoy an intermittent, but long association during the '50s and '60s. In September 1951, piston-engined aircraft gave way to jet powered types with the introduction of the Vampire and later Venom night fighters. With the appearance of the Gloster Javelin FAW4, the Squadron became a high performance, all-weather unit geared to round-the-clock defence. Later the more powerful Javelin FAW9 enabled the unit to pioneer inflight refueling and, with new-found mobility, to deploy overseas more frequently. A move to Leuchars in March 1963 was followed seventeen months later with ‘23’ becoming the second squadron to receive the English Electric Lightning F3 which was adorned with the distinctive red eagle on a white fin. Playing its full part throughout the long Cold War, the Squadron re-equipped with the F6 in May 1967. In October 1975, the Squadron received its third American aircraft type, the McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR2, and moved to Coningsby. From February 1976 until March 1983, 23 Squadron enjoyed a period of relative stability at RAF Wattisham where the burden of Quick Reaction Alert duties was shared with 56 Squadron. Contributing to the maintenance of the air defence of the Falkland Islands Protection Zone in the South Atlantic from April 1983 to November 1988, moving in the process from Stanley to Mount Pleasant before the weight was finally taken by No 1435 Flight. Re-equipment with Tornado F3s took place at Leeming in November 1988 and 23 Squadron aircrew participated in Operation Granby (the Gulf War) in 1990 before the Squadron last disbanded at the end of February 1994.

In 1995, it was decided to respond to the expansion and increasing importance of the RAF Airborne Early Warning Force, by forming a second operational Sentry AEW/E-3D unit to compliment No 8 Squadron, with whom the sole responsibility for the role had rested since the Avro Shackleton AEW2 entered service in 1972. No 23 Squadron was accordingly selected to reform at RAF Waddington on 1st April 1996. The 100-strong squadron will eventually comprise four combat-ready crews and a Training Flight composed of E-3D OCU instructors from the fomer Sentry Training Squadron. No 23 Squadron shares the seven RAF E-3D aircraft with No 8 Squadron and plays its full part in the E-3D Component of the NATO AEW Force which has become synonymous with RAF Waddington since 1990. Members of No 23 Squadron take the greatest pride in bringing renewed life to an illustrious Squadron Standard and look forward to ensuring that, in operating this most complex and capable aircraft in pursuance of national defence and international operations, No 23 Squadron will ever remain "Always Having Attacked".

The Squadron's founder, Lt. Col. Louis Strange DSO OBE MC DFC, retired from the Service through ill health in 1921, but subsequently enjoyed an eventful career in civil aviation, before returning to battle in 1940 as a (50 year old) Pilot Officer in the Volunteer Reserve. During his "third" career he won a Bar to his DFC flying a Hurricane, pioneered the parachute training of Britain's airborne forces and established the Marine Ships Fighter Units for the catapult-launching of convoy defence Hurricanes. He continued to fly after the War and died in 1966, aged 75 years. In recognition of the high esteem in which he is held and his important contribution to military aviation, the Squadron Briefing Room, in the new No 23 Squadron Headquarters building, which was officially opened by the AOCinC Strike Command on 2nd April 1997, has been named "The Strange Room".


Maintained by: 23 Squadron