No. 261 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

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No.261 Squadron was the fighter squadron responsible for the defence of Malta in 1940-41. It was later reformed in Iraq, and served in Palestine, Cyprus and Burma, ending the war as a fighter-bomber squadron.

The squadron was formed on 2 August 1940 by the re-designation of the Malta Fighter Flight. It was equipped with a mix of Gladiators and Hurricanes, some flown onto the island at great risk from the carrier Argus, while many of the personnel reached the island on submarines. The squadron was disbanded on 21 May 1941, after fighting under great strain for a lengthy period.

It was reformed on 12 July 1941, again by the re-designation of an existing unit, in this case No.127 Squadron at Habbaniya, Iraq. The squadron took part in the Allied occupation of Iran in August 1941, before moving west to provide part of the air defence of Palestine and Cyprus.

Early in 1942 the squadron was allocated to Singapore, but the city fell before it arrived. Instead it was flow off HMS Indomitable onto Ceylon, arriving just before the Japanese raids in April 1942. The squadron lost eight of the seventeen aircraft it got into the air during the Japanese raid on Trincomalee on 9 April. Another six Fulmars of No.873 Squadron were also lost, but fifteen Japanese aircraft were shot down. The squadron spent the rest of the year on Ceylon guarding against a possible second raid, but this never took place.

In January 1943 the squadron was moved to the Burma front, where it flew a mix of bomber escort and ground attack missions. At the start of 1944 the squadron was withdrawn to India. Thunderbolts arrived in June, and the new aircraft went into combat for the first time on 14 September. Once again the squadron flew a mix of bomber escort and ground attack missions.

The squadron was withdrawn on 18 June 1945 in preparation for the planned invasion of Malaya, but the Japanese surrender came before this campaign was launched. The squadron was disbanded on 25 September 1945.

Aircraft
August 1940-January 1941: Gloster Sea Gladiator I
August 1940-May 1941: Hawker Hurricane I
July-September 1941: Gloster Sea Gladiator I
July 1941-April 1942: Hawker Hurricane I
March 1942-November 1943: Hawker Hurricane IIB
October 1943-June 1944: Hawker Hurricane IIC
June 1944-September 1945: Republic Thunderbolt I and II

Location
August-November 1940: Luqa and Hal Far
November 1940-May 1941: Takali

July-August 1941: Habbaniya
August-September 1941: Shaibah
September 1941-January 1942: Mosul
January 1942: Haifa
January-February 1942: St. Jean
February-March 1942: Dum Dum
March 1942-January 1943: China Bay
January-February 1943: Dum Dum
February-June 1943: Baigachi
June-October 1943: Chittagong
October 1943-February 1944: Chiringa (Chakeri, SE Bangladesh)
February-March 1944: Baigachi
March-April 1944: Alipore
April-August 1944: Yelahanka
August-September 1944: Arkonam
September-November 1944: Kumbhirgram
November 1944-May 1945: Wangjing
May-July 1945: Myingyang
July-September 1945: Tanjore

Squadron Codes: R (Sea Gladiator), FJ (Hurricane IIC and Thunderbolt)

Duty
1940-1941: Fighter Squadron, Malta
1941-1942: Fighter Squadron, Iraq, Palestine and Cyprus
1942-1943: Fighter Squadron, Burma
1943-1945: Fighter-bomber squadron, Burma

Part of
11 November 1941: AHQ Iraq; RAF Middle East

Books

Gloster Gladiator Aces, Andrew Thomas. A look at the wartime career of the only biplane fighter still in RAF service during the Second World War. Covers the Gladiator's service in Finland, Malta, North Africa, Greece, Aden, East Africa and Iraq, where despite being outdated it performed surprisingly well.
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 July 2011), No. 261 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/261_wwII.html

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