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No. 203 Squadron RAF

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No. 203 Squadron RAF
ActiveRoyal Naval Air Service
1 September 1914 - 21 June 1915
5 November 1916 - 1 April 1918
Royal Air Force
1 April 1918 - 21 January 1920
1 March 1920 - 1 April 1923
1 January 1929 - 1 September 1956
1 November 1958 - 31 December 1977
16 October 1996 - 14 September 2014
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Air Force
TypeFlying squadron
Motto(s)Latin: Occidens oriensque
("West and east")[1]
Battle honoursWestern Front, 1914-1918
Independent Force & Germany, 1914-1918
Aegean, 1915
Somme, 1918
Hindenburg Line
East Africa, 1940-1941
Mediterranean, 1941-1943
Iraq, 1941
Syria, 1941
Egypt & Libya, 1941-1942
North Africa, 1943
Sicily, 1943
Eastern Waters, 1944-1945
Burma, 1945
Squadron codesPP (Apr 1939 – Sep 1939)[2]
NT (Sep 1939 – Mar 1940)[2]
CJ (Feb 1945 – Apr 1951)[2]
B (Apr 1951 - 1956)[2]
203 (1956 – Sep 1956, Nov 1956 - 1966)[2]

No. 203 Squadron RAF was originally formed as No. 3 Squadron Royal Naval Air Service. It was renumbered No. 203 when the Royal Air Force was formed on 1 April 1918.


First World War[edit]

The squadron can be traced to The Eastchurch Squadron, which formed Eastchurch in February 1914.[3] After mobilisation at the start of the First World War it was renamed No. 3 Wing RNAS, and then later as No. 3 (Naval) Squadron. In March 1915, the squadron, under the command of Commander Charles Samson, moved to the island of Tenedos, and began operating 18 aircraft in support of the Gallipoli Campaign. In the first weeks of the campaign they took over 700 photographs of the peninsula, and conducted other ground support tasks including spotting for naval gunfire, and reporting the movements of Ottoman troops. On 21 June 1915, the squadron became No. 3 Wing RNAS and was moved to Imbros.[4] On 19 November, during a raid against a railway junction near the Maritsa River in Bulgaria, Squadron Commander Richard Bell Davies won the Victoria Cross for landing to rescue a pilot who had been shot down, in the face of intense enemy fire. The squadron returned to the UK at the end of 1915, and was disbanded.[3]

A new No. 3 Squadron was formed at Saint Pol on 5 November 1916 from elements of No. 1 Wing RNAS. It then served as a fighter squadron on the Western Front. Among the numerous types of aircraft it was equipped with were the Nieuport 17, Nieuport 21, and Sopwith Pup, followed later by the Sopwith Camel.[5]

Among its notable Officers Commanding were Canada's first ace, Redford Mulock; Lloyd S. Breadner, future Air Marshal of the Royal Canadian Air Force; Raymond Collishaw, sixth scoring ace of the war; and Tom F. Hazell, the Royal Air Force's tenth scoring ace of the war.[5] The squadron produced a number of other notable aces, including Leonard Henry Rochford; Arthur Whealy; James Alpheus Glen; Edwin Hayne; William Sidebottom; Frederick C. Armstrong; Joseph Stewart Temple Fall; Harold Beamish; future Air Marshal Aubrey Ellwood; John Joseph Malone; John Denis Breakey; Frederick Britnell; Francis Casey; Australia's highest scoring ace, Robert A. Little; Harold Spencer Kerby; Alfred Williams Carter; and Herbert Travers.[6]

Eleven of the squadron's 23 aces were Canadian. The squadron claimed about 250 aerial victories during World War I.[6]

Interwar perIod[edit]

Following the Armistice the squadron eventually returned to the UK in March 1919. On 21 January 1920, the squadron disbanded at Scopwick. The squadron then reformed shortly after at RAF Leuchars, in Scotland, on 1 March 1920. It was equipped with Nieuport Nightjar biplane fighter aircraft, however, on 1 April 1923 it was reduced to Flight status as No. 402 (Fleet Fighter) Flight RAF. In 1929 the squadron reformed as a reconnaissance squadron out of No 482 (General Reconnaissance) Flight RAF based at RAF Mount Pleasant, in Plymouth. It was equipped with Supermarine Southampton flying boat. A couple of months later the squadron moved to Basra, in Iraq. In 1931 it re-equipped with Short Rangoon, a three-engined biplane flying boat.[2]

Second World War[edit]

Shortly before the start of the war the squadron was re-equipped with Short Singapore III, long-range maritime patrol flying boat.[7] and in 1940 with Bristol Blenheim, a twin-engined monoplane light bomber. The squadron flew patrols over the Red Sea from Basra. At the end of 1941 the squadron operated Bristol Blenheim IV, undertaking reconnaissance over the Mediterranean from various bases in Western Egypt, flying patrols from the Libyan coast out as far as Crete. In 1942 the squadron re-equipped with Martin Baltimore, an American twin-engined light attack bomber, also used as a reconnaissance aircraft and was involved in operations in Syria. In 1943 the squadron was posted to RAF Santacruz,[8] in Bombay (now called Mumbai), then British India and was re-equipped with Vickers Wellington, a twin-engined long range medium bomber, to fly coastal patrols. The squadron converted to Consolidated Liberator aircraft in November 1944 and began anti-shipping patrols over the Bay of Bengal.

Post war[edit]

HS Nimrod MR.1 of No. 203 Squadron wearing the unit's badge on its fin in 1977 when displayed at RAF Finningley.

The squadron returned to the UK in 1947 and re-equipped with Avro Lancasters. In July 1954, the squadron was flying Neptune MR.2s from RAF Topcliffe, along with No.s No. 36 and No. 210 Squadrons as part of No. 19 Group, RAF Coastal Command.[9] The squadron remained a Maritime Reconnaissance squadron for the remainder of its existence operating Avro Shackletons and then Hawker Siddeley Nimrods from RAF Luqa between July 1971 and December 1977.[10] The squadron disbanded on 31 December 1977 at RAF Luqa in Malta, by which time it was part of No. 18 Group within RAF Strike Command.[11]

Sea Kings[edit]

The squadron was reformed in October 1996, when the Westland Sea King Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) at RAF St Mawgan in Cornwall was redesignated 203(R) Squadron as a reserve unit. In 2008, 203(R) Squadron relocated to RAF Valley in Anglesey, maintaining its role as the Sea King OCU and operating the Sea King HAR.3 until it was disbanded on 14 September 2014 following the withdrawal of the Sea King from RAF service.[12][13]



  1. ^ Pine, L G (1983). A Dictionary of mottoes. London: Routledge & K. Paul. p. 160. ISBN 0-7100-9339-X.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "No 201 - 205 Squadron Histories". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 24 October 2023.
  3. ^ a b "203(R) Squadron". Royal Air Force. 2015. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  4. ^ Gilbert, Greg (2013). "Air War over the Dardanelles". Wartime (61): 42–47. ISSN 1328-2727.
  5. ^ a b Sturtivant, Page & Cronin (1992), p. 433.
  6. ^ a b Shores, Franks & Guest (1990), p. 41.
  7. ^ McNeill, Ross (July 1999). "No.203 Squadron RAF". RAF Commands. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  8. ^ "Stations-S". Rafweb.org. Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  9. ^ Rawlings (1984), p. 219.
  10. ^ Halley (1988), p. 263.
  11. ^ Rawlings (1984), pp. 206–207.
  12. ^ Cotter 2008, p. 34.
  13. ^ "Sqn Histories 201-205_P". Rafweb.org. Retrieved 10 April 2022.


  • Cotter, J. (2008). Royal Air Force celebrating 90 years. Stamford, UK: Key Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-0-946219-11-7.
  • Halley, J. J. (1988). The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth 1918-1988. Tonbridge, UK: Air-Britain (Historians). ISBN 978-0-85130-164-8.
  • Rawlings, J. D. R. (1984). History of the Royal Air Force. New York: Crescent Books. ISBN 978-0-517-46249-2.
  • Shores, C.; Franks, N.; Guest, R. (1990). Above The Trenches: A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915–1920. London, UK: Grub Street. ISBN 0-948817-19-4.
  • "Short Rangoon". Aeromilitaria. No. 2. Air-Britain. 1994. pp. 31–36.
  • Sturtivant, R.; Page, G.; Cronin, D. (1992). Royal Navy Aircraft Serials and Units 1911 to 1919. Tonbridge, UK: Air-Britain (Historians). ISBN 978-0-85130-191-4.

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