No. 266 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

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No.266 'Rhodesia' Squadron was a fighter squadron that operated the Spitfire during 1940 and 1941 before converting to the Hawker Typhoon at the start of 1942, using that aircraft with Second Tactical Air Force during the liberation of Western Europe.

The squadron was reformed on 30 October 1939 as a Blenheim squadron, but it never received that aircraft. Instead it trained with the Fairey Battle before receiving Spitfires in January 1940. The squadron saw action for the first time on 2 June 1940 over Dunkirk.

The squadron was based in the south east of England during 1940, taking part in the early stages of the Battle of Britain. On the morning of 13 August the German plan for a dramatic start to their main offensive ('Adlertag' or 'Eagle Day') turned into something of a farce. Poor weather forced the morning attacks to be postponed, but one Dornier squadron failed to get the message and went on to bomb Eastchurch, destroying one of No.266 Squadron's aircraft on the ground for the loss of five bombers. Early in September the squadron moved to Wittering, where it remained until the start of 1942.

In January 1942 the squadron became the second to convert to the new Hawker Typhoon, forming the Duxford Wing with Nos.56 and 609 Squadrons. On 28 May the squadron flew the Typhoon's first operational sortie when it scrambled to intercept a 'Bogey' which turned out to be a Spitfire. The Wing's first operation came on 20 June 1942 and was an uneventful sweep in support of 'Circus 193'. The squadron also scored the Typhoon's first combat victory, on 9 August 1942, when two of its aircraft shot down a Junkers Ju 88 off the Norfolk coast.

The wing took part in Operation Jubilee, the Dieppe landings of 19 August 1942, flying three sweeps on the fringe of the main action. No.266 was the only squadron in the wing to achieve any successes on the day, claiming one Do.217 destroyed and one probably. At this stage in its career the Typhoon was plagued by identification problems, and the pilot who scored the victory, Plt Lt Dawson, was killed when his aircraft was shot down by a Spitfire on the way back to England. In the aftermath of this incident the Typhoons were given yellow wing bands. Late in 1942 these were replaced by a white nose and black under-wing stripes, then finally by black and white under-wing stripes, which were used across 1943.

During 1942 there was a real chance that the Typhoon would be withdrawn from service. The Rhodesian pilots of No.266 Squadron felt so strongly about their new aircraft that they threatened to resign their commissions if that happened! Happily for them a new role was quickly found for the big Hawker fighter. For some time low-level high speed Focke Wulf Fw 190 fighter-bombers (Jabo) had been raiding the south coast. Normal radar interception was unable to cope and the Germans had been able to operate in comparative safety. In September 1942 it was decided to use the Typhoon against this threat, taking advantage of its high low level speed and cruising speed. No.266 Squadron moved to Warmwell in Dorset, one of the quieter areas on the coast, but it did achieve some successes. One aircraft from 10(Jabo)/JG 2 was shot down on 10 January 1943, another on 26 January, and two Fw 190s were shot down on both of 27 February and 13 March. The last large scale Jabo raid came on 1 June 1943, and then a large number of Fw 190s were moved to Sicily. No.266 Squadron scored the last victory for the coastal defence Typhoons on 15 October 1943 when it shot down two aircraft from NAGr 13, a reconnaissance unit. During the period from mid October 1942 to 1 June 1943 the squadron claimed six of the fourth-seven victories achieved by the coastal squadrons.

During 1943 the squadron was also used to provide escorts for bombers, especially after the arrival of drop tanks that extended its range by 400 miles. This extra range allowed the squadron to reach as far as the coast of southern Brittany, where it claimed three victories on 1 December.

The squadron became part of Second Tactical Air Force, joining No.146 Wing in March 1944. Apart from a period of smoke laying exercises in April-May 1944 and a brief transfer to the short-lived No.136 Wing in mid-July 1944 the squadron remained with No.146 Wing until late April 1944.

The squadron split its time in the spring of 1944 between training and raids on targets in northern France, but this pattern was interrupted by a rare encounter with a Ju 188 over the South Coast on 18 April which ended with the German bomber shot down.

The wing was used to attack enemy transport and troop concentrations in the period before D-Day, with No.197 Squadron using 500lb bombs. After the D-Day landings the wing was used to provide close support for the army, using the 'cab rank' system, with aircraft circling over the battlefield waiting for instructions from controllers travelling with the troops.

On 27 June the wing attacked the HQ of Leutnant General Dohlman's infantry division around St Lo, killing the general and destroying much of his HQ.

Encounters with the Luftwaffe were rare in this period, but the squadron did clash with fighters from JG 1 and JG 1, suffering three losses in return for one victory.

There was always a danger of attacking friendly units by mistake, although the worst example to befall No.146 Wing came on 27 August when aircraft from Nos.263 and 266 squadrons attacked six ships southwest of Erretat, after first having checked with their controllers to make sure that they weren't friendly. Sadly the small fleet was made up of four Allied minesweepers and two trawlers, and two of the minesweepers were sunk. The fault for the incident was later traced to a failure on notify the RAF of a change in the course of the flotilla. 

Over the winter of 1944-45 the wing was used to attack the remaining isolated German garrisons on the Scheldt estuary and Walcheren Island, left behind by the retreat of the main German armies. At the start of October the squadron moved to Deurne airfield at Antwerp, where it found itself under fire from V2 rockets - five airmen were killed by one rocket on 25 October.

As the advance came to a halt in the winter of 1944-45 the Typhoon squadrons flew fewer sorties in direct support of the armies and instead began to operate further behind German lines. Attacks on Geman headquarters continued, with No.146 Wing making an attack on the believed location of the German 15th Army in a park in the centre of Dordrecht on 24 October. This attack killed two German generals, seventeen staff officers and 236 others, a massive blow to the efficiency of the 15th Army.

The wing's next targets were isolated garrisons around Arnhem and Nijmegen. The squadron also took part in an attack on a 'human torpedo' factory at Utrecht, and an attempted attack on the Gestapo HQ at Amsterdam on 19 November, but this second attack was stopped by the weather. Nos.193, 257, 263 and 266 Squadrons returned to the same target on 26 November, this time with more success, with some bombs going through the front door of the building!

The wing was largely unaffected by Operation Bodenplatte, the Luftwaffe's attempt to destroy the Allied air forces on the ground on 1 January 1945. Only three of the wing's aircraft were damaged.

Another headquarters target was attacked on 18 March in the build-up to the crossing of the Rhine. This time General Blaskowitz's Army Group H was the target and 62 members of his staff were killed. In April the wing used Mk 1 supply containers to drop supplies to SAS troops operating behind German lines.

The squadron wasn't retained for long after the war, disbanding on 31 July 1945.

Aircraft
December 1939-April 1940: Fairey Battle I
January-September 1940: Supermarine Spitfire I
September-October 1940: Supermarine Spitfire IIA
October 1940-April 1941: Supermarine Spitfire I
March-September 1941: Supermarine Spitfire IIA
September 1941-May 1942: Supermarine Spitfire VB
January 1942-July 1945: Hawker Typhoon IA and IB

Location
October 1939-March 1940: Sutton Bridge
March-May 1940: Martlesham Heath
    April-May 1940: Detachment to Wittering
May-August 1940: Wittering
August 1940: Tangmere
August 1940: Eastchurch
August 1940: Hornchurch
August 1940-September 1941: Wittering
September-October 1941: Martlesham Heath
October 1941: Collyweston
October 1941-January 1942: Kings Cliffe
January-September 1942: Duxford
September 1942-January 1943: Warmwell
January-September 1943: Exeter
September 1943: Gravesend
September 1943: Exeter
September 1943-March 1944: Harrowbeer
March 1944: Bolt Head
March 1944: Harrowbeer
March 1944: Ackington
March-April 1944: Tangmere
April 1944: Need's Oar Point
April-May 1944: Snaith
May-June 1944: Need's Oar Point
June-July 1944: Eastchurch
July 1944: Hurn
July 1944: B.3 St. Croix
July-September 1944: B.8 Sommervieu
September 1944: B.23 Morainville
September 1944: Manston
September 1944: Tangmere
September 1944: Manston
September-October 1944: B.51 Lille/ Vendeville
October 1944-February 1945: B.70 Deurne
February-April 1945: B.89 Mill
April 1945: B.105 Drope
April-June 1945: Fairwood Common
June 1945: B.111 Ahlhorn
June-July 1945: R.16 Hildesheim

Squadron Codes: UO, ZH,

Duty
8 August 1940: No.12 Group, Fighter Command
22 March-27 April 1944: No.146 Wing; No.84 Group; 2nd Tactical Air Force
27 April-6 May 1944: Somke laying exercise, Snaith
6 May-29 June 1944: No.146 Wing; No.84 Group; 2nd Tactical Air Force
13-20 July 1944: No.136 Wing; No.84 Group; 2nd Tactical Air Force
20 July 1944-25 April 1944: No.146 Wing; No.84 Group; 2nd Tactical Air Force
25 April 1944-: APC Fairwood Common

Books

 

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (4 August 2011), No. 266 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/266_wwII.html

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