View Full Version : "Grim reapers"

Compass Call
7th Dec 2003, 08:50
A friend has told me that during the late 50s there was a Canberra squadron nicknamed "The Grim Reapers". Can anybody tell me anything about this squadron? In particular were the aircraft 'Special' in any way. Just curious really, as the name sounds somewhat lethal! Any photos would also be appreciated.

Thanks in advance.


John (Gary) Cooper
7th Dec 2003, 15:21

Grim Reapers Squadron: Whilst at RAF Katunayake, Ceylon in 1959 this squadron transitted through Kat where someone had hastily daubed in red paint Grim Reapers. Apart from myself taking the pics I know nothing more re the squadron than that, a photo of said graffiti can be seen on my website:

http://community.webshots.com/user/hastingsgan click on to RAF Katunayake/Negombo Album No 4 photograph number 35. Edited 9th Dec as higher resolution photo added.

8th Dec 2003, 00:23
Can't make out the detail on your pic John, and it pixelates if zoomed up.

I have a vague recollection, could these Canberras be the ones involved in radiation monitoring (ie flying through mushroom clouds) after A/H bomb test in Oz?

John (Gary) Cooper
8th Dec 2003, 03:30

Not good I'm afraid on blowup, the original is in the loft with hundreds of others! I do believe the Canberras were on their way back to the UK, I seem to recall a white Canberra from Upwood/Boscombe flying thro' mushroom clouds, I have a piccy of that somewhere too.

Les Bywaters is the Canberra man, I'll see if I can get him to post a reply.

8th Dec 2003, 08:34
Have nothing on a "Grim Reapers" sqn, sorry. :(

Name rings a bell though, and for some reason Op Fire Dog and 9 Sqn come to mind (Malayan emergency) - that would be around the date of John's picture - on their way back. Mind you 617, 12 and 101 were also in that set-to, and more including the RAAF Cans and the RNZAF (with a "loaned" sqn of B.2s from the RAF).

Don't think it was the H or A tests - Op Grapple or the previous Op Hot Box. The latter only used two Cans - WH710 and WH962. Op Grapple used dozens of course in 56 - 58(ish), but their out and back routes were generally via Hickam and the states. probably wrong though. :rolleyes:

I'll ask around but I hope someone here can fill in the details. :O

8th Dec 2003, 19:14
No. 109 Squadron (part of 8 Group, Pathfinders) had a Mosquito B.IV named 'Grim Reaper' in 1943. 109 operated Canberras (B.2s, later B.6s) from 1952 until disbandment in February 1957, so maybe that's the connection?

9th Dec 2003, 02:07
OK, it's retraction time . . . :uhoh:

Earlier I said I didn't think the "GrimReaper" was associated with the Grapple series of nuke tests, well - w r o n g! :(

I've enlarged part of John's pic and you can just make out a mushroom cloud in the centre.


Then, knowing John's propensity to take thousands of photos, had another shufti through his site and discovered another couple of pics of the "Grim Reaper" Canberras. In one shot, you can make out a serial - WH887 - on the B.2 (the other Can in the pic is a T.4). WH887 was with 1323 Flt which became 542 Sqn. This flight/squadron was formed initially to do "sniffing" for the Grapple tests so it's fairly safe to say that John photographed one of the Oz based 542 Sqn "C" Flight aircraft en route to/from the UK. (887 went back to RAF Upwood where 542 Sqn were for a short period before becoming 21 Sqn at that base.)

Therefore, the "Grim Reapers" Canberras WERE part of the nuke tests (so Gainesy was right! :ok: ) and the nose-art was obviously a squadron thing.

John (Gary) Cooper
9th Dec 2003, 02:41
I will get these pics out of the loft, rescan them to a higher resolution and post the better images. I do recall mention of some Canberras flying through cloud to take 'dust samples'.

Thanks Beeayeate for bringing those other two to my attention.

Compass Call
9th Dec 2003, 05:34
Gentlemen, thank you for your response. I look forward to seeing the clearer picture of the 'Grim Reaper' artwork when John posts it.

My father was a flying instructor with the Ceylonese Air Force in the early 50s and flew one of the support aircraft in The Purple Plain but not any of the Mossies. We left in '54, so a bit before your time :ok:


9th Dec 2003, 06:06
Gentlemen, thank you for your response. I look forward to seeing the clearer picture of the 'Grim Reaper' artwork when John posts it.

Enjoyed doing it CC :ok:, and it gets John a bit of exercise climbing into his loft. It's not often Canberras are mentioned on the net, or anywhere, it's not a "sexy" jet y'see. :(

Anyway, when John lays his mitts on the pics they'll probably turn out to be something completely different, it always seems to turn out that way doesn't it! :hmm: :hmm:

PS . . . what the T.4's doing there is intriguing though.

John (Gary) Cooper
9th Dec 2003, 15:18
Amended to:

http://community.webshots.com/user/hastingsgan click on to RAF Katunayake/Negombo Album No 4 photograph number 35. Edited 9th Dec as higher resolution photo added. Plus WH667 has been enhanced, this is photo No 36.

There is also a line drawing of WH667 a B Mk.2 Canberra of 10 Squadron RAF Scampton on www.raf.mod.uk/reds/scampton.html

Was your father one of the pilots on the Sikorsky S51 Dragonfly bought by the RCyAF, if so, two years later one of these was used as a camera platform for the filming of The Bridge on the River Kwai

9th Dec 2003, 17:20
Thanks for those John, I said it would all change didn't I. :confused:

When I saw the original pic showing the serial on your site I dithered between WH667 and WH887. Chose 887 as you know, wrong choice. WH667 was indeed a 45 Sqd Canberra around the time of Op Firedog.

The source of the nose art changes then. It is in all probability a "zap" by the USAF "Grim Reapers" sqn and was probably put on 667 during one of the many inter-service visits between our FEAF and the US bases? Zaps were abundant back then.

So, scratch the nuke stuff above, these tired old eyes that saw a "mushroom", now see a scythe!

Still intriqued by the T.4 though.

Ah well, 'twas interesting for a while.


9th Dec 2003, 17:21
I thank you. (Thinks, where do these random snippets dwell? Can't even remember what the missus asked me to buy today.):(

9th Dec 2003, 17:39

Ooops. . . .:(

Sorry about that. :\

But I'm sure your random snippets will be useful in future encounters. Like I say, I've not lost my mind, I've got it backed-up here . . . somewhere.


Iron City
9th Dec 2003, 21:50
Don't know a USAF squadron named Grim Reapers but the USN one is VF-101, the F-14 training squadron. They have been based at NAS Oceana for eons, though in the 1950's were split between Key West and other places like Cecil Field.

Having seen the air wing of Ark Royal at Cecil it is not beyond the realm of possibility that one or more RAF a/c transited. However, had a close look at rescanned photo on the Community Webshots site and the Grim Reaper art doesn't look like any of the incarnations of the VF-101 Grim Reaper that I have ever seen.

9th Dec 2003, 22:13
Think that the 493rd FS is another 'Grim Reapers' (USAF).

(According to a link through the DoD website, the 31st Cadet Squadron at the Air Force Academy is also, believe it or not, invested with the same monniker.)

However, the 13th Bombardment Squadron was 'The Devil's Own Grim Reapers'...

If you go here (http://kalaniosullivan.com/KunsanAB/3rdBW/Howitwasa3.html) (and can tolerate the music) there is a badge that looks really rather similar to that in the picture. The 13th later flew B-57s.

9th Dec 2003, 23:28
Well, Archi. seems to have cleared that one up.
(For those on tenterhooks, it was a loaf).

9th Dec 2003, 23:42

45 Sq used to visit 13th BS at Clark AFB on Ex 'Joss Stick'. Ceylon was one of the desitnations for 'Lone Rangers'. Suggests that Beeayeate's thoughts about zapping are spot on.

So getting back to CC's original question...

1. Yes, there was a Canberra squadron called the 'Grim Reapers' in the late 1950s; it was just that it was a USAF unit with B-57Bs.

2. Yes, it was, in a way, a special unit at the end of its time on Canberras - it flew the night-attack, LLLTV-equipped B-57Gs, dropping PW1.

Compass Call
10th Dec 2003, 05:01
Thanks again gents. It would seem that my friend must have seen the Canberra that is pictured on John's website.

By the way John you have some excellent photos there:ok: My father was at Negombo (I think) flying Chipmunks and anything else he could get his hands on. He was an ex Typhoon pilot and reckoned nothing could beat it. He never did like the 'new fangled jets' and finished his flying days on Shackletons.