Two Tornados from 2 (Army Cooperation) Squadron used today’s technology to reproduce the images their D-Day counterparts took over Gold, Juno, Utah and Sword beaches in France.
On 06 June 1944, a II (AC) Squadron Mustang, piloted by Air Commodore Andrew Geddes, brought back the first pictures of the Normandy landings.
Two other squadron aircraft, piloted by Flight Lieutenant R H G Weighill and Flying Officer H J Shute, were also over the beaches when the first landing craft touched down.
The squadron flew 36 sorties on D-Day, mainly spotting for the naval bombardment. Now 70 years later, this latest recce saw Wing Commander Jez Holmes pilot one of the Tornados over France.
‘After imaging the D-Day beaches from 20,000 feet using the same type of reconnaissance pod that we were flying with in Afghanistan only a fortnight ago, we flew down the beaches at 1,000 feet replicating Air Commodore Geddes’ flight,’ he explained.
Back in 1944, II (AC) Squadron took images using huge, bulky cameras that were loaded onto the bottom of the aircraft. Then, getting a wide, panoramic image of the beaches took over 30 sorties but in the Tornado today it takes just one.
The Tornado is equipped with a modern precision guided weapons suite and world class reconnaissance sensors, such as the ‘reconnaissance airborne pod for Tornado’, or RAPTOR for short, which takes aerial images and can read the time on the face of Big Ben in London from the Isle of Wight.
It is the only fixed wing squadron flying in the world and was originally founded in 1912 in Farnborough. At the outbreak of the First World War II (AC) Squadron became the first RFC Squadron to cross the Channel, and concentrated on reconnaissance duties.
On 26 Apr 1915, 2nd Lt Rhodes-Moorhouse was awarded the first air VC during a raid on Courtrai. In March 1918 a second VC was awarded to 2nd Lt AA MacLeod when after shooting down 3 Fokker Triplanes his aircraft was damaged and caught fire. MacLeod managed to fly the aircraft whilst standing on the wing, and after crash-landing between allied and enemy lines, dragged his observer from the wreckage.
After the War, the Squadron was based in Ireland on Army co-operation duties during the partition, and then embarked to China during 1927. After returning home the Squadron was based at Manston and re-equipped with Atlas on Army co-operation work. Subsequent types flown include Audax and Hector biplanes and at the start of WWII was flying Lysanders.
A brief spell in France as part of the BEF in 1939, II (AC) Squadron returned to England and received Tomahawk fighter aircraft and then Mustangs in April 1942. In July 1944, II (AC) Squadron returned to France with Spitfire Mk.14s and later the Mk.11 photo-recce version as part of the Army of Occupation.