No. 653 Squadron RAF

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No. 653 Squadron RAF
Active20 Jun 1942 – 15 Sep 1945
CountryUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
BranchAir Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Air Force
RoleAir Observation Post Squadron
Motto(s)Latin: Ubique Speculabundus
(Translation: "The eyes of the guns are everywhere")[1]
Squadron badge heraldryIn front of two gun barrels in saltire, an eagle's head affrontée erased[1]
Aircraft flown
ReconnaissanceTaylorcraft Auster
Trainerde Havilland Tiger Moth

No. 653 Squadron RAF was a unit of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. Squadron Numbers 651 to 663 were Air Observation Post units working closely with British Army units in artillery spotting and liaison. A further three of these squadrons, 664–666, were manned with Canadian personnel. Most of its pilots and observers came from the British Army, while maintenance was carried out by RAF personnel.

Their duties and squadron numbers were transferred to the Army with the formation of the Army Air Corps on 1 September 1957.[2][3]

The squadron is now No. 653 Squadron AAC


No. 653 Squadron was formed at RAF Old Sarum, Wiltshire, the home of Army co-operation, on 20 June 1942 and moved to Farnborough the following month.[4] Originally equipped with "Tiger Moths", the Squadron later re-armed with Austers Mk I. Training was commenced with Eastern command formations and exercises were carried out with 12 Corps and with 45, 46 and 53 Divisions. On 7 September 1942 the Squadron transferred to RAF Penshurst in Kent.[5]

During March 1943 the unit took part, with other AOP Squadrons, in Exercise Spartan, and on 1 June 1943 was transferred from Army Co-operation Command to No. 11 Group of Fighter Command. From the middle of August a month was spent in Sissinghurst area in co-operation with 12 Corps on Exercise Peacock, on completion of which the Squadron returned to its station at Penhurst.

Training continued through the first half of 1944 under the control of No. 83 Group of 2nd TAF, until on 26 June 1944, the Squadron left England for France. The Squadron landed in Normandy at 0730 hours on 27 June 1944 and proceeded direct to its landing ground at Rucqueville. The first sorties carried out were against suspected mortar positions which were registered for attention by the artillery. One aircraft of "C" Flight succeeded in directing fire on to a vehicle column and inflicting damage which blocked the road. The flight areas were shelled by the enemy on a number of occasions during the period but little damage was suffered, except on one night when all "B" Flight aircraft were lost as the result of a low-level bombing and machine gun attack.

During August the Squadron flew information sorties over the enemy withdrawal from Noyers and Epenay and provided standing patrols of the 53 and 59 Division fronts. Sorties were flown over Falise in the latter half of the month and messages were dropped to British armour informing them of the positions of German Tiger tanks which were holding up the advance. The area Falaise-Trun-Chambois was thoroughly searched for targets and the accuracy of the AOP Squadrons direction later became apparent as the advance covered the ground over which the Austers had been operating.

The Squadron's moves were frequent in order to keep up with the forward troops and on more than one occasion the Squadron found itself sharing a new location with scattered units of German forces. At Frevest, in September "A" Flight was shelled by enemy artillery: on the same day men of "C" Flight engaged with a party of the enemy whom they attempted to ambush in a deserted house.

The Squadron moved into Belgium in September 1944, Squadron headquarters being established at Wintham, with a forward landing ground at Devberg. Later in the month a further move was made over the Dutch boarder to Eindhoven.

Landing grounds at Nimegen and Uden were occupied in October 1944, although bad weather hampered visibility and restricted flying. During November patrols were maintained to report on the state of bridges over the River Maas and Wessem Canal and support was provided for the 51st Highland Division attack across the Afwaterings Canal. On the 14 November 1944 operation "Mallard" commenced with the object of driving the enemy across the River Maas and the Squadron flew a number of reconnaissances to discover the extent of the rivers flooding. Tac/R and photographic missions were also flown in the Rermond-Panningen area and over the defences of Venlo.

There was less activity during December 1944, but the Squadron continued to move up behind their ground forces. On 1 January 1945 two pilots of "C" Flight inaugurated the new year by making their first sortie over Germany itself in the area if Aachen. Operations by the Army commenced on 16 January 1945 to clear the enemy up to the line of the rivers Roer and Wuom and in support of these the Squadron engaged guns and infantry in the area of the advance. For its part in the operation the Squadron received congratulations from the commander of 12 Corps Artillery.

The Squadron was withdrawn from operations February 1945 for a period of rest and training which was pent at Diest. It recommenced operation in March 1954 in time to support the crossing of the Rhine and moved over the river at the end of the month. A landing ground at Ahaus was occupied on 1 April 1945 and sorties carried out over the Gronau area in expectation of a counter-attack which did not develop. Reconnaissances were maintained over the Emms-Weser Canal to report on the state of the bridges there and a large number of targets were found in the surrounding area including gun positions, troops and transport.

"B" Flight operated with the 7th Armoured Division in their break through from the river Aller bridgehead and provided cover to prevent the enemy from shelling the bridge under construction across the river.

The Squadron moved across the river Elbe at the beginning of May 1945 and on 7 May was concentrated on Altona aerodrom in Hamburg. A number of sorties were flown during the remainder of the month to provide information for 12 Corps on the movements of surrendered German forces and to report of shipping at Brunsbuttel and in the Kiel Canal.

Communication flights for the Corps were carried out until that formation returned to England, when the Squadron passed to the command of 8 Corps and was later to 30 Corps, moving to a landing ground at Hoya. There the Squadron was occupied with ferry and communication flights for 30 Corps with the exception of "B" Flight which fulfilled similar duties for the 7th Armoured Division from Itsehoe.

On 23 August 1945 the Squadron were transferred to 84 Group and on 15 September 1945 were finally disbanded after the German surrender.[4]


No. 653 Squadron came into being again in Cyprus on 11 May 1958, but now as a squadron of the Army Air Corps and served in Aden from 9 March 1961 till 1967,[6] and today it is represented as No. 653 Squadron AAC of 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, flying the Apache attack helicopter.

Aircraft operated[edit]

An Army Air Corps Auster AOP.5 Air Observation Post aircraft. One example is maintained by the Army Historic Aircraft Flight
Aircraft operated by no. 653 Squadron RAF, data from[1][4]
From To Aircraft Variant
June 1942 September 1942 de Havilland Tiger Moth
Aug 1942 March 1943 Auster Mk.I
March 1943 April 1944 Auster Mk.III
February 1944 September 1945 Auster Mk.IV
July 1944 September 1945 Auster Mk.V

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Halley 1988, p. 446.
  2. ^ Halley 1988, p. 444.
  3. ^ Jefford 2001, pp. 102–105.
  4. ^ a b c Jefford 2001, p. 103.
  5. ^ "Leigh in the War, 1939–45" (PDF). Leigh and District Historical Society. September 1993. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  6. ^ Farrar-Hockley 1994, p. 237.
  • Farrar-Hockley, General Sir Anthony (1994), The Army in the Air: The History of the Army AIr Corps, Stroud, Gloustershire, UK: Allan Sutton Publishing Ltd., ISBN 0-7509-0617-0
  • Halley, James J. (1988), The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth, 1918–1988, Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., ISBN 0-85130-164-9
  • Jefford, Wing Commander C.G., MBE, BA, RAF(Retd). (2001), RAF Squadrons: A Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing Ltd., ISBN 1-84037-141-2

External links[edit]