NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

RAF's 'Dambusters' squadron to be disbanded and reformed

Image caption Air and ground crews of 617 Squadron fly and maintain Tornado GR4s

The RAF's famous "Dambusters" squadron is to be disbanded next year and reformed in 2016 to fly the new F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter.

Created during World War II, 617 Squadron carried out the "bouncing bomb" raid to destroy dams in Germany.

Now based at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray and flying Tornados, the reformed squadron will be stationed at RAF Marham in Norfolk.

The F-35B is also to be operated from aircraft carriers.

When it reforms in 2016, 617 Squadron will have both RAF and Royal Navy personnel.

There will also be another squadron flying Lightning II jets. It will carry a Royal Navy squadron number but have personnel from both services.

There are about 175 personnel in 617, who will transfer to other Tornado squadrons, retrain on the Typhoon aircraft, or move to another part of the organisation.

Image caption The F-35B is a variant of a US fighter developed by Lockheed Martin

The disbandment forms part of the RAF's Tornado force drawdown and opens the way for the move of Typhoon squadrons from Leuchars in Fife to Lossiemouth.

Those squadrons will transfer from next year, with about 350 service personnel relocating to the Moray station.

Lightning IIs will be operated from the Royal Navy's two new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers, the first of which is nearing completion at Rosyth, in Fife.

Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, made the announcement on the disbandment at a Royal United Services Institute conference on air power.

In a speech to senior representatives of air forces from around the world, Sir Stephen said 617 Squadron would disband on 1 April.

He said the move formed part of a planned drawdown of the RAF's Tornado GR4 force.

Sir Stephen said: "I am delighted to announce that 617 Squadron's outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom's air power - past and present - will unequivocally continue when it reforms as the UK's first operational F-35B Lightning II squadron."

He added: "Lightning shall be operated jointly by the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm pilots, from land or from the Queen Elizabeth Class carrier.

"Overall, a hugely flexible and futuristic joint capability."

Previously, 617 Squadron was disbanded when crews switched from Lancaster bombers to Vulcan jets - Britain's nuclear bomber - and then Tornado aircraft.

The 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid was marked in May this year.

It was carried out by 133 airmen, flying 19 Lancaster bombers armed with the "bouncing bombs" designed by Sir Barnes Wallis.

Codenamed Operation Chastise, 56 of the men who took off on the mission did not return.

Out of 19 bombers, eight were shot down. Three men were captured and 53 were killed.

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