The Javelin ‘In Action’

Being a product of the Cold War, the Javelin was very fortunate never to have been involved in a conflict during its operational service career. The majority of home-based squadrons serving with Fighter Command during their Javelin period would have been involved in a seemingly endless round of QRAs (Quick Reaction Alerts) and PIs (Practice Interceptions), not to mention a large number of exercises. The latter would have included Fighter Command and NATO-organised exercises plus a number of squadron exchanges.

In West Germany, the potential for scrambles and a resulting interception was much higher, although the four Javelin units, Nos 3, 11, 87 and 96 Squadrons, which covered a period from February 1958 until January 1966, had to compete with a number of other NATO air forces, including the USAF, who all had their own ‘Battle Flight’ arrangement.

The following is a summary of the Javelin’s more interesting deployments and encounters.

Berlin 1961–62

In the summer of 1961, the Soviets threatened to blockade Berlin again and, to bolster the four squadrons already in place, two more were sent from the UK. These were No. 41 Squadron, who sent a dozen aircraft to RAF Geilenkirchen in August, and No. 85 Squadron, who moved to RAF Laarbrüch in September 1961. No. 29 Squadron also took a turn to deploy to West Germany, the unit arriving before Christmas at Geilenkirchen. The crisis continued into 1962 and the need to call upon RAF fighters to keep the Berlin air corridors clear still remained a possibility. No. 33 Squadron also took a turn with a four-month detachment with four Javelins at RAF Gütersloh, an airfield that was considerably closer to the Berlin corridors. The Luftwaffe also made Celle available for the No. 33 Squadron commitment, which took a hit when one of their four aircraft, F(AW).9 XH794, overshot the runway at Wildenrath on 9 March 1962 following a hydraulics failure.

A dozen Javelin F(AW).8s of No. 41 Squadron joined the West German party when they arrived at Gütersloh on 3 April 1962. This was bolstered by a further three aircraft the following day, which actually gave No. 41 Squadron the capability to put together a flying programme as well as maintaining a high state of readiness. By late 1962, the tension had subsided and the UK-based units began to return to normal again while those at the ‘sharp end’ in West Germany waited for the next crisis to take place.

The Far East 1961–68

Originally equipped with the Meteor NF.14, No. 60 Squadron, based at RAF Tengah, Singapore, began to receive the much-awaited Javelin F(AW).9 from July 1961. Actually delivering the aircraft to the Far East was a major logistical challenge which involved a two-stage deployment, flying from RAF Waterbeach through Istres, Luqa, El Adem, Diyabakir, Tehran, Bahrain, Sharjah, Masirah, Karachi, New Delhi, Benares, Calcutta, Rangoon, Bangkok, Butterworth and finally Tengah. This epic journey was not achieved without loss – of the second batch of aircraft to head east, one was damaged in a refuelling accident and F(AW).9 XH791 went down over the Ganges Delta on 5 August 1961 with the loss of the pilot.

By September 1961, No. 60 Squadron had a dozen Javelins on strength, which was a sufficient number to take part in a number of exercises and detachments before the unit’s first real operational task. This came on 23 May 1962, when the squadron was ordered to come to 15 minutes’ readiness because the Indonesian Air Force was equipped with the AS-1 air-to-surface missile-armed Tupolev Tu-16KS ‘Badger’. Based at Medan in Northern Sumatra, these were the first examples of the Tu-16 to be seen operating outside of the Soviet Union and they posed quite a threat. A pair of Javelins had been deployed to Butterworth and they scrambled for the first time on 29 May but the Tu-16s remained inside Indonesian airspace, well clear of the approaching No. 60 Squadron aircraft. More Tu-16s were delivered to the Indonesian Air Force in June and this time a pair of No. 60 Squadron Javelins managed to intercept five of them between them, taking photographs to confirm.

Tension in the region continued to mount when, in January 1963, a policy of ‘Confrontation’ was announced by the Indonesian government. In response, Operation Tramp was initiated and No. 60 Squadron was ordered to provide 24-hour QRA, which was made up of a pair of fully armed Javelins at permanent 30 minutes’ readiness. By September 1963, Operation Tramp was increased to six Javelins and, from 21 October, Tramp was increased further with two aircraft at 2 minutes’ readiness at Butterworth. The latter scenario was alleviated slightly thanks to the Sabres of No. 77 Squadron, RAAF, based at Butterworth, who covered the daylight hours while the No. 60 Squadron detachment covered the nights. By November 1963, a four-strong detachment from No. 64 Squadron, who were already in India, was diverted to support Operation Tramp; this was a sign of things to come because No. 64 Squadron was based at Binbrook at this time but would later be moved in its entirety to Tengah. No. 60 Squadron’s area of operations continued to grow as, by late 1963, they also included Borneo. The answer was to create a new ‘C’ Flight at Butterworth, which was duly equipped with four F(AW).9Rs, led by Sqn Ldr J. G. Ince, and operated by No. 23 Squadron crews under the banner of Operation Merino. The longer range F(AW).9R was greatly appreciated in the region and raised the number of operational Javelins at Butterworth to eight.

During the early hours of 25 February 1964, the Sarawak and Sabah boundaries were declared as an ADIZ thanks to an Indonesian declaration that they would supply guerrilla forces in Borneo from the air. As a result, the OC of No. 60 Squadron led a pair of Javelins and a detachment of No. 20 Squadron Hawker Hunters 400 miles east of Tengah to Kuching and a further four Javelins were relocated to RAF Labuan, another 360 miles further away. The Javelins were kept at a high state of readiness and a number of low-level standing patrols were flown, not to mention escort duties for RAF and RNZAF transport aircraft on supply drops.

Now stretched across a 1,000-mile-long front, No. 60 Squadron had two Javelins at Labuan, another pair at Kuching, two more at Butterworth and four at Tengah, all on QRA. Wg Cdr Fraser was very concerned about how over-stretched the squadron was at this time stating that ‘…..the Javelin is not the aircraft for operating away from base without considerable technical backing’. However, the ground crew worked long hours and serviceability rates remained high thanks to their efforts.

The Indonesians became increasingly active in Borneo during April 1964 and one Javelin crew was lucky to remain unscathed when sixty 12.5 mm rounds were fired at their aircraft while they were escorting a supply drop; luckily none of them hit the fighter. A second Javelin F(AW).9, XH876, was also fired upon in the region a few weeks later and, after landing at Kuching, a single hole in an engine intake showed how close they had come to being seriously damaged. In another incident, on 16 May a pair of Javelins from Kuching played a significant role in the capture of a launch which was refusing to comply with orders from a patrol vessel to stop. However, after a couple of full reheat low passes over the launch, the captain of the launch quickly surrendered before it was boarded by crew from HMS Wilkieston.

Javelin F(AW).9R XH896 was hit by ground fire on 16 October during a low-level patrol over Borneo but, once again, the crew were fortunate not be injured and the damage to the aircraft was minimal. During November, the tension continued to rise and standing patrols were carried out at night over Kuala Lumpur while the Indonesians continued to enter into the Sarawak and Sabah regions. One particular incident involved the 1st Battalion, 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkhas, on 10 December, who were ambushed by approximately 100 guerrillas. The Gurkhas called for air support and fortunately Flt Lt R. E. Lockhart and Flt Lt S. H. Davies were already on a routine patrol out of Labuan in F(AW).9R XH908. There was no chance of using the Javelin’s guns to deter the guerrillas; however, the aircraft’s reheat was once again used to full effect and was lit as Lockhart flew over the Indonesians at very low level. The noise was so intense that the guerrillas thought they were being bombed and withdrew.

On 29 March 1965, Flt Lt J. S. C. Davies and Lt R. Patterson, RN in F(AW).9R XH959 flew the 1,000th operational sortie over Borneo. Incursions into Sarawak continued during April and, during one such incident, a No. 60 Squadron crew was called upon to provide air support for ground troops south of Tebedu. Unable to directly assist, the crew managed to call up a gaggle of ground attack Hunters and the problem was quickly resolved. A similar incident took place a couple of weeks later when the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, was attacked by a larger force near Pang Amo, not far from Kuching. A pair of Javelins in the air at the time made sure that a Hastings and Valetta made it safely into the region to drop supplies to the paratroopers.

No. 64 Squadron was officially reformed at Tengah on 1 April 1965, having operated as a pair of flights between Binbrook and the Singaporean airfield. Just like No. 60 Squadron, No. 64 Squadron was quickly employed to provide air defence, with one detachment covering Singapore and the Malay Peninsula and a second covering Borneo, which helped to take some pressure off No. 60 Squadron’s extensive commitments. Within a few weeks, it was No. 64 Squadron’s turn to perform Operation Tramp for real when a pair of scrambles was made, both of them intercepting Indonesian Tu-16s.

75 per cent of No. 64 Squadron’s sorties were taken up while operating over Borneo and, in September alone, the Javelins flew 179 sorties. Advance warning of potential interceptions was always a frustration for the crews, who were given very little time to pick up aircraft crossing the Malaysian border with Kalimantan. One incident that still causes a stir to this day took place in September 1964 when a No. 64 Squadron Javelin met an Indonesian Lockheed C-130 Hercules at low level, head-on. The incident took place in a ‘valley close to the border’ and before the Javelin had a chance to engage, the Hercules made an evasive manoeuvre and slipped back across the border.

On Christmas Eve 1965, all of No. 64 Squadron’s aircraft and groundcrew had been withdrawn from Borneo and Butterworth and were finally centralised at Tengah. This scenario was to be short-lived because problems flared up in Borneo yet again and by February 1966, No. 64 Squadron found itself back in the theatre along with No. 60 Squadron, who contributed another four Javelins, basing them at Kuching. Just a few days later, on 17 February, Flt Lt C. V. Holman and Sqn Ldr G. Moores in F(AW).9 XH777 were involved in another ‘reheat’ confrontation. Sqn Ldr Moores spotted some suspicious movement on the ground and so Holman began a series of low-level passes, once again using the aircraft’s reheat to pin the guerrillas down. Holman kept this up for nearly 30 minutes before a nearby patrol of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Gurkha Rifles, attacked the guerrillas, resulting in one dead and five captured.

Despite the reduced tension, Tu-16 intercepts continued during the spring and early summer of 1966 before the ‘confrontation’ officially ended on 11 August. The very last operational Javelin sortie took place five days later and it was not long before both Nos 60 and 64 Squadrons were cut down to size. The former had been the RAF’s largest Javelin squadron with thirty aircraft on strength at its peak. However, before August 1966 was over, the two squadrons had been reduced to just twelve aircraft with sixteen aircrew apiece.

Both squadrons, while still continuing Operation Tramp to a lesser degree, slumped into a period of routine, practice flying and exercises until 15 June 1967, when No. 64 Squadron was disbanded. No. 60 Squadron, who had a local reputation for large formation flying which began when celebrating their own 50th Anniversary on 30 April 1966, followed suit on 2 May 1968 with a final ‘Diamond Nine’. The Javelin had worked hard in the Far East and it was most fitting that it was in this theatre that the aircraft was operationally ‘bowed out’.

Cyprus 1963

Britain found itself between a rock and hard place when, in December 1963, the Greek and Turkish Cypriots began fighting. Trouble had been brewing since Cyprus had gained her independence in August 1960. No. 29 Squadron, which was based at RAF Nicosia at the time, was on the front line thanks to regular low-level passes by Turkish fighters and increasing threats on the ground from armed gangs. The squadron was relocated to the more secure RAF Akrotiri during a very short notice move, which was carried out swiftly at night, and from there began a number of operational sorties. These mainly involved flying standing patrols with the objective of stopping Turkish fighters from flying low-level incursions. No. 29 Squadron briefly returned to Nicosia, only to settle back at Akrotiri from mid-January 1964 onwards. Here, one aircraft was maintained at 2 minutes’ readiness during the day and another aircraft at 10 minutes’ readiness at night while a second aircraft was also kept in reserve at 30 minutes’ readiness. The majority, if not all, of the Turkish aircraft were Republic F-84F Thunderstreaks and, without exception, they would drop their tanks and turn north to vacate the area once a Javelin had intercepted them. Under strict orders not to engage the Turkish Air Force aircraft once they were turning away, the No. 29 Squadron Javelins would stay with the intercept for 20 or sometimes 30 miles before being recalled back to their patrol zone or back to base. The final interception took place in April 1964; it was to be the last of sixty-two operational sorties.

Zambia/Rhodesian Crisis Dec. 1965 – Aug. 1966

Tension in southern Africa peaked when the Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) took place on 11 November 1965. The United Kingdom’s response was more political than military and began with economic sanctions, followed by the movement of military units into Zambia to make the Rhodesians think twice about attacking the Kariba Dam. No. 29 Squadron, based at RAF Akrotiri, was the nearest Javelin unit by some margin but it would still take a multi-stop, long-range operation to get the fighters to the region. Things happened fast, though, and on 19 November all flying was stopped so that long-range tanks could be fitted and, just five days later, the aircraft were already carrying out proving flights between Akrotiri and RAF Luqa. Ten Javelins were prepared for the trip while ground personnel were placed at 12-hour readiness. Led by the CO, Wg Cdr K. Burge, the ten Javelins departed Akrotiri on 28 November, travelling via Diyabakir, Dezful/Vahdati and ending the day at RAF Masirah. Onwards to RAF Khormaksar on 29 November and further south to Kenya where, at midday on 1 December, the ten Javelins arrived at Nairobi. The No. 29 Squadron detachment remained at Nairobi for three days and then nine aircraft departed for Ndola in Zambia, where they were joined by the rest of squadron, who had arrived in three No. 70 Squadron Handley Page Hastings.

Operationally, Ndola was adequate for a Javelin squadron’s needs, thanks to the Zambian Air Force facilities; however, the domestic arrangements were slightly below par. The RAF would make do, but one serious commodity that was in short supply was fuel and, thanks to the United Kingdom’s sanctions, Rhodesia had turned off the oil pipe into Zambia. This obviously had a direct impact on No. 29 Squadron operations and a major airlift of fuel from Aden into Zambia, via RAF Bristol Britannias, was begun. At first, there was only enough fuel for three sorties per day; as the detachment continued this situation did improve, but No. 29 Squadron operations would be continually restricted during their time in Zambia.

In order to place No. 29 Squadron much closer to Rhodesia, four aircraft were deployed to Lusaka, a mere 55 miles from the border. Compared to Ndola, Lusaka was pretty primitive; Squadron Operations was a tent while accommodation, located at the local showground, could only be described as substandard. Lusaka was located at 4,000 ft ASL and, with only a 6,600-foot-long runway, the Javelin was on the cusp of being able to actually fly out of the airfield. As a result, flying was restricted to scrambles only and a pair of aircraft were kept fully armed, one at 10 minutes’, and the other at 30 minutes’ readiness.

With only a couple of scrambles per month on average, against targets that never ventured near the Rhodesian border, let alone over it, morale began to decline due to the poor accommodation at Lusaka and the lack of flying. By the summer of 1966, sufficient fuel had been flown in to support up to 120 Javelin sorties per month and a combination of more rotations between Lusaka and Ndola and the increased opportunity to return to Akrotiri when an aircraft needed servicing, morale began to rise again. The Javelin had performed well in very difficult conditions and, during the nine-month-long detachment only two incidents, both as a result of undercarriage fractures, had occurred, although both aircraft were damaged beyond repair (DBR).

Fg Off. M. B. Langham and Fg Off. R. J. P. MacRae carried out the last operational scramble in Zambia on 11 August 1966 in F(AW).9R XH891. By the end of the month, No. 29 Squadron was back home at Akrotiri.