RFC History
History: 59th Squadron has a proud history of service since formation on 1st August 1916 at Narborough Airfield in Norfolk. Narborough was Britain's largest aerodrome during the First World War comprising 7 large hangers and 1000 acres of land but little remains of it today other than a track leading across the fields. The hard work of the Narborough History Society saw in 2011 the unveiling of the Narborough Aerodrome Memorial to pay hommage to the men and women who served there during the First World War. Read more from the Narborough Research Group site (59squadronraf.org.uk)
Image Source - Ian Burt


....:::: 59th Squadron RFC - Special Recon Unit - The Great War ::::....
59th Squadron RE.8 - circa 1917 - (www.raf.mod.uk)
Upon formation on 1/8/1916 they were under the command of Lieutenant A.C Horsbrugh (a veteran of the Front). They were the first squadron to form in West Norfolk, formed from the excess machines available from 35th Sqn. Shortly after on the 14th, command of 59th Sqn was handed over to Major R. Egerton. A few months passed as (I would assume) the squadron was trained up and in February of 1917, they left for France and the War. The Squadron was mainly employed as a Corps unit, apart from two intervals of three weeks each, during which time they were on Army work. According to the Squadron ORB, Major Egerton was killed in a flying accident on 25th Dec. 1917 and on the 27th, command was passed to Major C.J Mackay until the end of hostilities. During the Great War they flew R.E.8 and Brisfit (Bristol F.2 fighter) bi-planes and were attached to the Royal Flying Corps (renamed Royal Air Force 1st April 1918) flying artillery spotting and recon missions. The R.E.8 was the work horse of the squadron, with the bulk of he work carried out with this aircraft. Only a very small number of Brisfit's were used, perhaps just two.

"...Of the forty pilots and observers deemed ready for duty overseas, more than half had been to France before. This time they were to sustain heavy losses and figure prominently in the Honours and Awards lists - eleven Military Crosses, twelve Distinguished Flying Crosses (and one bar), seven Military Medals and one Distinguished Conduct Medal. The squadron was employed at the Front from Arras to St. Quentin, and by the time the war ended 108 officers were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. 59 Squadron also claimed a unique reputation for its excellent photographs, copies of which were continually being demanded by various units..." (59squadronraf.org.uk)

"No 59 Sqn did suffer badly in early 1917, but settled down once the peculiarities of the RE8 were understood. In April 1917 No 59 Sqn was allocated an additional three aircraft from No 21 Sqn, giving them 21 instead of the normal 18. This was to enable the unit to have sufficient machines to carry out their patrols and other duties..." (1914-1918.invisionzone.com)


4A - 59th Squadron RE.8 on a reconnaissance flight over the Western Front


59th Sqn RE.8 Markings shown on the right

59th's marking prior to 22 March 1918, when squadron markings were removed from two-seaters, was two vertical bars around the fuselage behind the roundel. According to Les Rogers' authoritative British Aviation Squadron Markings of World War I, these bars were, for some reason, red or black in some form of flight marking. The RE8 marked '1A' that Centurion refers to was B5106, the marking was that of the individual machine in 'A' Flight. A3213 was '4A', and E1209 was '6A'. (1914-1918.invisionzone.com)

A sketch by Lt. Bernard Instone (Andrew Allen)


"Bloody April" - The Red Baron: was especially well known to 59th airmen, after he took part in the shooting down of five of six RE.8's within minutes of them engaging Jasta 11 (led by the Baron) on the 13th of April 1917. The 59th crews due to a tactical error had been left without a fighter escort and this proved to be a disaster. Most were KIA, atleast one become a POW. Part of their escort took off 20 mins late and another section lost contact with eachother along the way...

During this battle The Baron claimed his 41st victory. I have come across a page on flicker that deals with this encounter. It contains an image of one of the 59th aircraft (shot down on this day) with a German officer posing by the charred remains of the crew... personally I find this image rather morbid but I will leave the decision to view it up to you. 2nd Lt Andrew Omerod was also shot down during this air battle and his memorial site contains detailed information about this fateful mission and also excerpts from the The Sqn Work Record Book and also from the Squadron Record Book. This story has also inspired a mission to be added to the online game "Rise of Flight" (above). The Squadron ORB files Air 27/554-557 contain little information of the Great War era and the information it does contain is a basic fact one page summary.


59th Squadron airmen on the Western Front with their pet bunnies. (IWM)

The Pilot and Observer of a Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 biplane (serial number B5106) of 59th Squadron receiving instructions. Image © IWM (Q 12167).

...We Shall Remember...