No. 263 Squadron RAF

No. 263 Squadron RAF
No. 263 Squadron RAF
263 Squadron badge
Official Squadron Badge Crest of No. 263 Squadron RAF
Active 27 September 1918 - 16 May 1919
20 October 1939 - 28 August 1945
29 August 1945 - 1 July 1958
1 June 1959 - 30 June 1963
Country United Kingdom United Kingdom
Branch Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Royal Air Force
Part of RAF Fighter Command
Nickname Fellowship of the Bellows
Motto Latin: Ex ungue leonem
("One knows the lion by his claws")
Engagements Italy (1918-19)
Norway (1940)
Squadron Badge heraldry A lion rampant, holding in its forepaws a cross
The lion represents the squadron's association with Scotland, the cross comes from the flag of Norway[1]
Squadron Codes HE (Oct 1939 - May 1950)

No 263 Squadron was an Royal Air Force fighter squadron formed in Italy towards the end of World War I. After being disbanded in 1919 it reformed in 1939 flying mainly strike and heavy fighter aircraft until becoming No 1 Squadron in 1958.



First World War

The squadron was formed in Italy on 27 September 1918 from flights of the Royal Naval Air Service after that service's amalgamation with the Royal Flying Corps to form the RAF. It flew Sopwith Babys and Felixstowe F3s from Otranto reconnoitring for submarines escaping from the Adriatic Sea into the Mediterranean Sea. The squadron was disbanded on 16 May 1919.[2][3]

Second World War

The squadron reformed as a fighter squadron at RAF Filton near Bristol on 20 October 1939 taking over some of 605 Squadron's biplane Gloster Gladiator Mk.Is. It became operational towards the end of the year and scrambled for the first time on 12 January 1940. Around this time the squadron received 22 Gloster Gladiator Mk.IIs to replace the Mk.Is [3][4]

Gloster Gladiator and Norway

Gloster Gladiator Mk.I in RNoAF colours

The Gladiator may look like a World War I aircraft, but with twice the speed of most World War I fighters it had considerably better performance. However, as a fighter, it did not compare well with the type of enemy aircraft it might expect to meet in World War II, it was only slightly faster than the bomber it would soon meet in Norway – the Heinkel 111.

Germany invaded Norway on 9 April 1940 and 263 Squadron was soon instructed to prepare for a move. On 20 April the aircraft were flown, via RAF Sealand, to Scapa Flow, Scotland where Fleet Air Arm pilots landed them on the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious[5] and 18 Gladiators sailed for Norway. On 24 April after two days sailing the Squadron flew their aircraft off the carrier to a landing strip on the frozen lake Lesjaskogsvatnet in Oppland in central southern Norway.

Unfortunately the squadron was extremely short of ground staff and equipment, few of their Gladiators had been prepared for combat when the Luftwaffe struck with Heinkel 111s shortly after daybreak on 25 April. By the end of 26 April, although 263 Squadron had managed to destroy two Heinkels all their aircraft had been destroyed or rendered unservicable and by the end of the month the squadron was ordered home.

The re-equipped squadron returned to the far north of Norway on 21 May flying from Bardufoss airfield, near Narvik and being reinforced by No 46 Squadron whose Hurricanes arrived a few days later, using an airstrip at Skånland. Due to unsuitable ground at Skånland 46 Squadron moved so that both were operating from Bardufoss by 27 May.

The squadrons had been ordered to defend the fleet anchorage at Skånland and the military base at Harstad on the island of Hinnøya. Action was short but intense before the squadrons were instructed on 2 June to prepare for evacuation; 263 Squadron had flown 249 sorties and claimed 26 enemy aircraft destroyed. 263's ten surviving Gladiators were landed on HMS Glorious on 7 June. Glorious sailed but was unfortunate to encounter German battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst. She was sunk and along with the aircraft from four squadrons 263 Squadron lost its CO, S/Ldr John W Donaldson, F/Lt Alvin T Williams and P.O. Sidney Robert McNamara along with seven other pilots.[2][3][4][6][7]

Westland Whirlwind

Westland Whirlwind of No. 137 Squadron RAF

The Westland Whirlwind was the first cannon-armed fighter for the RAF, first flown in October 1938 and at the production stage by 1940. It was a twin engined heavy fighter (also able to function as a fighter bomber with 500 lb bombload. With 4 20mm Hispano cannon in the nose, it was more powerful than an 8-gunned fighter like the Spitfire or Hurricane. It was fast, matching the current Spitfire's maximum speed, but performed best at low altitude and was used for convoy escort and against small targets in the channel and northern France. Only 114 were produced (compared with over 20,000 Spitfires)

No. 263 Squadron was to spend the next six months with 13 Group near Edinburgh, they reassembled on 10 June 1940 at RAF Drem and after two weeks moved to RAF Grangemouth where they spent three months before returning to Drem until November when they moved south to be nearer their intended targets in north France and the English Channel.

During their time in Scotland they were to sort out the final problems with the Rolls-Royce Peregrine engines and Hispano cannon, to fill the gap they were provided with Hawker Hurricanes which were flown in action a few times. Production of the Peregrine by Rolls-Royce was slow and it was November before they were fully equipped and the Hurricanes had disappeared. The squadron then transferred to RAF Exeter, commencing Chameleon patrols against enemy E-boats stationed in the English Channel and Western Approaches who would rescue bomber crews who had "ditched" in the sea. Here on the 12 January 1941 a section patrolling near the Isles of Scilly located a Junkers Ju 88 and Pilot Officer (PO) Stein was credited with a probable.

No. 263 Squadron flew Whirlwinds until the end of 1943 these three years being spent in the west :– two years in airfields around Wiltshire, Dorset and Gloucestershire; six months in south Wales and six months in Devon and Cornwall. Apart from periods of training and "rest & recuperation" the squadrons operations involved:– Air-ground attacks on airfields, railways and roads in north France; air-sea attacks on enemy shipping (E-boats and armed trawlers), sea convoy escort and bomber escort.[2][3]

Hawker Typhoon

Hawker Typhoon

Like the Whirlwind, the Hawker Typhoon 1B was a fighter bomber or strike fighter. Although only powered by a single engine, the Napier Sabre, it was more powerful (2,260 hp) than the two Peregrine (885 hp each) Whirlwind engines. As well as four cannon it could be armed with two (later four) 500 lb (227 kg) bombs or eight "60lb" rockets. Like the Whirlwind it performed at its best at lower altitudes.

In December 1943, 263 Squadron became non-operational while aircrew and ground staff became familiar with the new plane. By the end of the month flying on the Whirlwind had shrunk to 22 hours and over 309 hours had been flown on the Typhoon. After two weeks Armament Practice Camp at RAF Fairwood Common, the squadron became operational again on 1 February 1944 and attacked for the first time on 3 February when three divebombing operations took place.

In 1944, the squadron along with another Typhoon squadron and a Spitfire escort was mistakenly ordered to attack a Royal Navy minesweeping flotilla with the result that HMS Britomart and HMS Hussar were sunk, 117 sailors killed and another 153 wounded.[8]

Cap Arcona

On 3 May 1945, three ships, the Cap Arcona, the Thielbek and the Deutschland, were sunk as a result of four separate attacks by Hawker Typhoons of No. 83 Group RAF. After No. 184 Squadron RAF and No. 198 Squadron RAF it was 263 Squadron's, by then based in RAF Ahlhorn (Großenkneten) who were led by Squadron Leader Martin T. S. Rumbold.

Post war

After disbandment on 28 August 1945, No. 616 Squadron RAF with the Gloster Meteor jet fighters was renumbered as 263 squadron at RAF Acklington. After Meteors, 263 Squadron moved onto Hawker Hunters in 1955. The unit arrived at Wattisham in October 1950, and transferred to Stradishall in August 1957. It was disbanded there on 1 July 1958 and renumbered to become No. 1 Squadron RAF. It was reformed for the last time on 1 June 1959 to operate the Bristol Bloodhound surface-to-air missile at RAF Watton until disbanding on 30 June 1963.[9]


Commanding Officers during World War II[3][10]
Served from Name Notes
October 1939 Sqn/Ldr John W Donaldson, DSO, AFC Missing/KIA 9 June 1940 aged 29
10 June 1940 Sqn/Ldr H Eeles
December 1940 Sqn/Ldr Munro
February 1941 Sqn/Ldr Arthur Hay Donaldson, DFC, AFC
August 1941 Sqn/Ldr Thomas P Pugh, DFC later W/Cmdr with 182 Squadron MIA/KIA 2 August 1943 aged 23
February 1942 Sqn/Ldr Robert S Woodward, DFC MIA/KIA 7 December 1942 aged 23
11 December 1942 Sqn/Ldr Geoffrey Berrington Warnes, DSO, DFC
June 1943 Sqn/Ldr Ernest R Baker, DSO, DFC Bar later W/Cmdr, MIA/KIA 16 June 1944 aged 30
December 1943 Sqn/Ldr Geoffrey Berrington Warnes, DSO, DFC MIA/KIA 22 February 1944 aged 29
25 February 1944 Sqn/Ldr Henri A C Gonay formerly of Belgian Air Force, MIA/KIA 14 June 1944 aged 30
June 1944 Sqn/Ldr R D Rutter, DFC
January 1945 – August 1945 Sqn/Ldr Martin T S Rumbold, DFC Bar 263 Squadron disbanded
Bases during World War II
Arrival Base
10 June 1940 RAF Drem
28 June 1940 RAF Grangemouth with detachment at RAF Turnhouse
2 September 1940 RAF Drem with detachments at RAF Macmerry and RAF Prestwick
28 November 1940 RAF Exeter with detachment at RAF St Eval
24 February 1941 RAF St Eval
18 March 1941 RAF Portreath
10 April 1941 RAF Filton
7 August 1941 RAF Charmy Down
19 December 1941 RAF Warmwell
23 December 1941 RAF Charmy Down
28 January 1942 RAF Colerne
10 February 1942 RAF Fairwood Common
18 April 1942 RAF Angle with detachment at RAF Portreath
15 August 1942 RAF Colerne, Northern Ireland
13 September 1942 RAF Warmwell with detachments at RAF Predannack and RAF Fairwood Common
20 February 1943 RAF Harrowbeer
15 March 1943 RAF Warmwell
March 1943 RAF Predannack
15 April 1943 RAF Warmwell
19 June 1943 RAF Zeals
12 July 1943 RAF Warmwell
7 September 1943 RAF Manston
10 September 1943 RAF Warmwell
5 December 1943 RAF Ibsley
5 January 1944 RAF Fairwood Common Armament Practice Camp
23 January 1944 RAF Beaulieu
6 March 1944 RAF Warmwell
19 March 1944 RAF Harrowbeer
19 June 1944 RAF Bolt Head
10 July 1944 RAF Hurn
23 July 1944 RAF Eastchurch


See also




  • Crawford, Alex. Gloster Gladiator. Sandomierz, Poland/Redbourn, UK: Mushroom Model Publications, 2002. ISBN 83-916327-0-9.
  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth, 1918-1988. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1988. ISBN 0-85130-164-9.
  • Jefford, Wing Commander C.G. MBE, BA, RAF (Retd.). RAF Squadrons, A Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing, 1998 (Second edition 2001). ISBN 978-1-84037-141-2.
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd., 1969 (new edition 1976, reprinted 1978). ISBN 0-354-01028-X.

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