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 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.
|Served from||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||–||–|
|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|
|The history of No 263 squadron at raf.mod.uk|