No. 33 Squadron RAF

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No. 33 Squadron RAF
Active 12 January 1916
Role Support helicopters
Garrison/HQ RAF Benson
Motto(s) "Loyalty"
Equipment Puma HC.2
Battle honours Home Defence 1916–1918, Palestine 1936–1939, Egypt and Libya 1940–1943, Greece 1941, El Alamein, France and Germany 1944–1945, Normandy 1944, Walcheren, Rhine, Gulf 1991, Iraq 2003-2011
Hector McGregor, September 1938 – January 1940
Marmaduke Pattle, March – April 1941
Squadron Badge A hart's head affrontée, couped at the neck
Squadron Roundel RAF 33 Sqn.svg

No. 33 Squadron of the Royal Air Force operates the Puma HC.2 from RAF Benson, Oxfordshire.


First World War[edit]

No. 33 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps was formed from part of 12 Sqn at Filton on 12 January 1916. For the remainder of the First World War the squadron was employed for Home Defence in Lincolnshire, guarding against German airship raids against northern England, being first equipped with Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2s, these being supplemented with Royal Aircraft Factory FE.2s. Its headquarters were at Gainsborough, with its flights based on three stations: RAF Scampton (A Flight), RAF Kirton in Lindsey (B Flight) and RAF Elsham Wolds (C Flight). The FE.2s were replaced by Bristol Fighters in June 1918, which were in turn replaced by night fighter Avro 504s in August. The squadron did not destroy any enemy airships, despite a number of interceptions and was disbanded in June 1919.[1]

Between the wars[edit]

The Squadron was reformed at RAF Netheravon on 1 March 1929 as a bomber unit, equipped first with the Hawker Horsley and in February 1930, it became the first squadron to receive the new Hawker Hart, an aircraft faster than the RAF's fighter aircraft. In 1935, as part of Britain's response to the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, the unit moved to Egypt, taking part in air policing in Palestine.[1] In February 1938, the squadron re-equipped with Gloster Gladiators, changing role to a fighter squadron, although at first it continued in support of British ground forces in Palestine.[1][2]

Second World War[edit]

A 33 Sqn Puma HC1 at Farnborough in September 1982.

With the exception of a time in Greece and Crete in 1941 (for part of this time the squadron was commanded by Marmaduke Pattle with a Hurricane, one of the RAF's top aces), 33 Sqn remained in the Middle East for most of World War II. Equipped initially with the Gloster Gladiators they had used in Palestine, the Squadron claimed its first victories of the Second World War on 14 June 1940, while supporting the British capture of Fort Capuzzo, when the squadron shot down an Italian Caproni Ca 310 and a Fiat CR.32.[3] It suffered its first losses of the war five days later in a combat with Fiat CR.42s, with one Gladiator being shot down in exchange for two Fiats. The squadron re-equipped with Hurricanes in October 1940, allowing it to intercept the Italian SM.79 bombers, which were faster than the Gladiator.[4]

It was withdrawn from the desert fighting in January 1941, in order to help resist the Italian invasion of Greece. The squadron was involved in heavy fighting following the German intervention, with Pattle, the Squadron's commanding officer and by now the leading Commonwealth air ace, being killed on 20 April and the Squadron being withdrawn to Crete on 27 April, with the remnants retiring to Egypt by the end of May after the Battle of Crete.[4] The Squadron returned to support the Army in the Western Desert, including at the Battle of El Alamein, trading its Hurricanes for Supermarine Spitfires in December 1943.[5]

Returning to the UK in 1944 the squadron flew the Spitfire IX as part of 2 TAF, carrying out a mix of escort and fighter-bombing missions. It flew fighter support for the Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944, moving to France in October 1944, when it concentrated on ground-attack operations. It re-equipped with the Hawker Tempest in December, returning to action from Gilze-Rijen in February 1945, flying fighter sweeps in North West Europe. The squadron remained in Germany until 1949.[6] Over 200 air kills were claimed 1940–45.[citation needed]

Post War operations[edit]

From 1949 to 1970, 33 Squadron spent much of its time in the Far East, based at Kai Tak, Hong Kong, until sent to Kuala Lumpur in Malaya, flying their Tempests in ground attack missions against Communist guerrillas during the Malayan Emergency. It re-equipped with twin-engined de Havilland Hornets in 1951, disbanding in March 1955, having flown 6,150 sorties during its stay in Malaya.[6]

In October 1955 it reformed as a night fighter squadron flying de Havilland Venom NF.2s from RAF Driffield, being disbanded in June 1957 and reformed on 1 October, by renumbering 264 Squadron, another night fighter squadron operating Gloster Meteor NF.14s from RAF Leeming. It re-equipped with Gloster Javelins in April 1958, at RAF Middleton St George, being disbanded again on 18 November 1962. A number of types were operated during several disbandments and reformations throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. In April 1965, 33 Squadron became a Bloodhound surface-to-air missile unit based at Butterworth in Malaya, being disbanded in February 1969.[7]

Puma HC.1 of No. 33 Squadron in 1972

Formed in 1971 at RAF Odiham as the RAF's first Puma squadron, the squadron has flown in a large number of operations. These include the Gulf War of 1991 and Operation Agricola, the NATO Kosovo Force, Operation Barwood in Mozambique, NATO operations in Bosnia and in Iraq during Operation Telic. The squadron is part of the RAF Support Helicopter force, which reports into the Joint Helicopter Command.

In August, 2007, a crash of a 33 Squadron Puma left three personnel dead out of twelve on board in Catterick Garrison. The inquest coroner called 33 Squadron "a sloppy outfit", that allowed an unqualified crew to operate the helicopter.[8] A recording played at the inquest revealed pilot Dave Sale remarking, "let's scare the shit out of this taxi", before apparently flying 5 feet (1.5 m) above a taxi, an incident that happened two hours prior to the crash, during the same flight.[9] A court-martial of the co-pilot stated that "the officers on this board are shocked at the lack of professional standards displayed by those responsible for the aircraft."[10]

The Puma HC1 was withdrawn from service in December 2012 and is being replaced with the HC2 under a Life Extension Programme.[citation needed]. The first Puma HC.2s have been delivered to the Puma Force and operational flying has begun by 33 Squadron and 230 Squadron. Puma HC2 is now operational.

On 11 October 2015, one personnel member of the squadron was killed in an accident in Kabul, Afghanistan, whilst landing at the NATO Training and Support Mission HQ. A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the crash was "an accident and not the result of insurgent activity".[11] The pilot was named a day later, and was repatriated back to the UK on the 20th. The Flight Lieutenant's CO commented saying "He died tragically doing a job he loved and flying an aircraft he had personally invested so much time developing. A loving husband, his loyalty and devotion to his friends, work colleagues and the job was unequalled and his memory and contribution will live on."[12] A post mortem found he died of multiple injuries at an inquest. The inquest was adjourned indefinitely until the conclusion of separate inquiries being undertaken by the Ministry of Defence were completed.[13]

Previous aircraft[edit]

Aircraft operated
From To Aircraft Version
Jan 1916 Nov 1916 Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2
Nov 1916 Jun 1918 Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2
Jun 1918 Aug 1918 Bristol F.2 Fighter
Aug 1918 Jun 1919 Avro 504
Mar 1929 Feb 1930 Hawker Horsley
Feb 1930 Feb 1938 Hawker Hart
Feb 1938 Oct 1940 Gloster Gladiator
Sep 1940 Dec 1943 Hawker Hurricane
Feb 1943 Dec 1944 Supermarine Spitfire
Dec 1944 Nov 1945 Hawker Tempest Tempest V
Nov 1945 1946 Supermarine Spitfire
1946 1951 Hawker Tempest Tempest F.2
1951 Mar 1955 de Havilland Hornet
Oct 1955 Jun 1957 de Havilland Venom NF.2
Oct 1955 Jan 1957 Gloster Meteor
Jul 1958 Nov 1962 Gloster Javelin
Bristol Bloodhound (Missile)
1971 Date Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma


Memorial to members of 30 and 33 Squadrons RAF killed in battle of Crete

There is a Royal Air Force (RAF) memorial in Crete to the airmen of 30 and 33 Squadrons who died during the battle of Crete. The memorial is located (35°31′31″N 23°49′43″E / 35.525363°N 23.828619°E / 35.525363; 23.828619) behind the roadside hedge between Maleme and Tavronitis overlooking the (35°31′36″N 23°49′32″E / 35.526625°N 23.825604°E / 35.526625; 23.825604[14]) Iron Bridge across the Tavronitis River and the end of Maleme Airport runway.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Rawlings 1970, p. 327.
  2. ^ Gustavsson, Håkan. "Gloster Gladiator in 33 RAF Squadron service". Biplane Fighter Aces from the Second World War. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  3. ^ Playfair, 1954, p. 113.
  4. ^ a b Rawlings 1970, p.328.
  5. ^ Rawlings 1970, pp.328–329.
  6. ^ a b Rawlings 1970 p.329.
  7. ^ Rawlings, 1970, pp. 329–330.
  8. ^ "Crash squadron a 'sloppy outfit'". BBC News. 6 October 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  9. ^ "Crash pilot 'flew 5ft above taxi'". BBC News. 20 October 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-20. 
  10. ^ "RAF helicopter crash co-pilot spared jail". BBC News. 16 December 2011. Retrieved 17 December 2011. 
  11. ^ "RAF helicopter crash: Five Nato staff die in Afghanistan". BBC News. Retrieved 2016-08-29. 
  12. ^ "Flight Lieutenants Alan Scott and Geraint Roberts have died - Fatality notice - GOV.UK". Retrieved 2016-08-29. 
  13. ^ "UPDATE: Inquest into deaths of two RAF Benson airmen opens". Herald Series. Retrieved 2016-08-29. 
  14. ^


Official Squadron page on the RAF Website. Retrieved 2008-06-25

  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1980. ISBN 0-85130-083-9.
  • Moyes, Philip. Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and Their Aircraft. London, Macdonald and Jane's, 1964, Second revised edition 1976. ISBN 0-354-01027-1.
  • Playfair, Major-General I.S.O.; Molony, Brigadier C.J.C.; with Flynn, Captain F.C. (R.N.) & Gleave, Group Captain T.P. (2009) [1st. pub. HMSO:1954]. Butler, Sir James, ed. The Mediterranean and Middle East, Volume I: The Early Successes Against Italy, to May 1941. History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series. Uckfield, UK: Naval & Military Press. ISBN 1-84574-065-3. 
  • Rawlings J.D.R. "History of No. 33 Squadron". Air Pictorial, September 1970, Vol. 32 No. 9. pp. 327–330.
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and Their Aircraft. London, Macdonald and Jane's, 1969, Second revised edition 1976. ISBN 0-354-01028-X.

External links[edit]