263 Squadron

No 263 Squadron was an RAF 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.

World War I

The squadron was formed in Italy on 27 September 1918 from flights of the RNAS after that service's amalgamation with the RFC to form the RAF. It flew Sopwith Babys, Felixstowe F3s from Otranto reconnoitring for submarines escaping from the Adriatic Sea into the Mediterranean Sea. The squadron was disbanded on 16 May 1919.

World War II

The squadron reformed as a fighter squadron at RAF Filton near Bristol on 20 October 1939 taking over some of 605 Squadron's Gloster Gladiator MkI biplanes. 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 MkIIs to replace the MkIs

The Gladiator may look like a WWI aircraft, but with twice the speed of most WWI 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 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 (one source[2] gives HMS Furious) 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 battle cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst. She was sunk and along with the aircraft from four squadrons 263 Squadron lost its CO, S/Ldr John W Donaldson, and F/Lt Alvin T Williams along with eight other pilots


The Westland Whirlwind was a new aircraft, first flown in October 1938 and at the production stage by 1940. Only 114 were produced (compared with over 20,000 Spitfires). It was a twin engined heavy fighter or fighter bomber capable of carrying a 500lb bombload and could hit hard for its day as it was armed with 20mm Hispano cannon mounted in the nose, directly in the pilot's line of sight. It was fast, matching the current Spitfire's maximum speed, but performed best at low altitide and was used for convoy escort and against small targets in the channel and northern France.

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.

263 Squadron Whirlwind I
Jul 1940 - Dec 1943


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 rates for the Whirlwind were slow, 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 to 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 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


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.

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.


Commanding officers

Served from[2][7] Name Missing/killed in action  
October 1939 Sqn/Ldr John W Donaldson, DSO, AFC 9 June 1940 aged 29
10 Jun 1940 Sqn/Ldr H Eeles
December 1940 Sqn/Ldr Munro
February 1941 Sqn/Ldr A E Donaldson, DFC, AFC
August 1941 Sqn/Ldr Thomas P Pugh, DFC 2 August 1943 aged 23 later W/Cmdr with 182 Squadron
February 1942 Sqn/Ldr Robert S Woodward, DFC 7 December 1942 aged 23
11 December 1942 Sqn/Ldr Geoffrey B Warnes, DSO, DFC
June 1943 Sqn/Ldr Ernest R Baker, DSO, DFC Bar 16 June 1944 aged 30 later W/Cmdr
December 1943 Sqn/Ldr Geoffrey B Warnes, DSO, DFC 22 February 1944 aged 29
25 February 1944 Sqn/Ldr Henri A C Gonay 14 June 1944 aged 30 ex. of Belgian Air Force
June 1944 Sqn/Ldr R D Rutter, DFC
January 1945 Sqn/Ldr Martin T S Rumbold
August 1945 263 Squadron disbanded


Arrival[2][8] Base
10 Jun 1940 RAF Drem
28 Jun 1940 RAF Grangemouth with detachment at RAF Turnhouse
2 Sep 1940 RAF Drem with detachments at RAF Macmerry and RAF Prestwick
28 Nov 1940 RAF Exeter with detachment at RAF St Eval
24 Feb 1941 RAF St Eval
18 Mar 1941 RAF Portreath
10 Apr 1941 RAF Filton
7 Aug 1941 RAF Charmy Down
19 Dec 1941 RAF Warmwell
23 Dec 1941 RAF Charmy Down
28 Jan 1942 RAF Colerne
10 Feb 1942 RAF Fairwood Common
18 Apr 1942 RAF Angle with detachment at RAF Portreath
15 Aug 1942 RAF Colerne
13 Sep 1942 RAF Warmwell with detachments at RAF Predannack and RAF Fairwood Common
20 Feb 1943 RAF Harrowbeer
15 Mar 1943 RAF Warmwell
Mar 1943 RAF Predannack
15 Apr 1943 RAF Warmwell
19 Jun 1943 RAF Zeals
12 Jul 1943 RAF Warmwell
7 Sep 1943 RAF Manston
10 Sep 1943 RAF Warmwell
5 Dec 1943 RAF Ibsley
5 Jan 1944 RAF Fairwood Common Armament Practice Camp
23 Jan 1944 RAF Beaulieu
6 Mar 1944 RAF Warmwell
19 Mar 1944 RAF Harrowbeer
19 Jun 1944 RAF Bolt Head
10 Jul 1944 RAF Hurn
23 Jul 1944 RAF Eastchurch

External links

bullet The history of No 263 squadron at raf.mod.uk


  1. ^ a b c RAF – Squadron history.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Rawlings, John D R. (1969). Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Macdonald & Co.
  3. ^ a b Web site for Alex Crawford's Gloster Gladiator. Mushroom Model Publications. (2002).
  4. ^ RAF Museum web site
  5. ^ New Zealand Electronic Text Centre.
  6. ^ Wikipedia article Westland Whirlwind
  7. ^ Commonwealth War Graves Commission web
  8. ^ RAF Fighter Command Web
Copyright (c) 2007 Laurie Wilson
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document
under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation;
with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.


 Close Window