No. 81 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

Aircraft - Locations - Group and Duty - Books

After a short existence as a communications squadron in early 1940 No.81 Squadron spent most of the Second World War operating as a fighter squadron, serving in Russia, Britain, North Africa, Malta, Sicily, Italy and India.

No.81 Squadron went through two incarnations during the Second World War. It formed for the first time on 1 December 1939 at Mountjoie, near Amiens, as a communications squadron equipped with the Tiger Moth. After the German invasion in May 1940 the squadron was forced back to the UK, and on 15 June 1940 it disbanded.

Just over a year later, on 29 July 1941, No.81 Squadron reformed as a Hurricane equipped fighter squadron. Its first task was to provide aid to the Soviet Union, and in September it traveled to Northern Russia on the aircraft carrier 'Argus'. After operating against the Germans for a few weeks from a Russian base the squadron handed its aircraft over to the Soviets and returned to Britain.

The squadron became operational on 1 February 1942, this time as a Spitfire squadron based at Turnhouse (Edinburgh), flying defensive patrols over Scotland for four months, before moving to southern England during May. The summer and early autumn of 1942 were spent flying offensive sweeps over occupied Europe, before in October the squadron moved again, this time to Gibraltar, in preparation for Operation Torch.

Soon after the Allied landings in North Africa nineteen of the squadron's aircraft moved to Maison Blanche (Algiers). It provided fighter cover for the 1st Army during the Tunisia campaign, before moving on to Malta to perform the same role over Sicily, then in September onto the Italian mainland.

In November 1943 the squadron prepared for yet another move, this time to India. This was a quick move - the aircraft reached Alipore on 4-8 December and the squadron resumed operations in January 1944, flying a mix of ground attack missions and defensive fighter patrols until August. After that the squadron was moved to Ceylon, to guard against any repeat of the earlier Japanese raid on the island. No such raid occurred, but the squadron remained on Ceylon until 20 June 1945 when it was disbanded and its aircraft used to equip the Indian Air Force.

On the same day No.123 Squadron, with its Thunderbolt ground attack aircraft were redesignated as No.81, but didn't return to operations over Burma before the end of the war. This version of the squadron was disbanded on 30 June 1946.

Aircraft
December 1939-June 1940: Tiger Moth
December 1939-February 1940: Avro Rota II
July-November 1941: Hawker Hurricane IIB
January-April 1942: Supermarine Spitfire VA
April-October 1942: Supermarine Spitfire VB
November 1942-November 1943: Supermarine Spitfire VC
May 1942-June 1942: Supermarine Spitfire IX
November 1943-June 1945: Supermarine Spitfire VIII
June 1945-June 1946: Republic Thunderbolt II

Location
December 1939-May 1940: Amiens/ Montjois
May-June 1940: Andover

July-September 1941: Leconfield
September-November 1941: Vaenga

December 1941-January 1942: Turnhouse
January-February 1942: Ouston
February-April 1942: Turnhouse
April-May 1942: Ouston
May-July 1942: Hornchurch
July-September 1942: Fairlop
September-October 1942: Wellingore
30 October 1942: To Gibraltar

November 1942: Maison Blanche
November 1942-March 1943: Bone/ Tingley
March-May 1943: Souk-el-Khemis
May-June 1943: Utique
June-July 1943: Takali
July-September 1943: Lentini East
September 1943: Milazzo East
September-October 1943: Serretelle
October-November 1943: Gioia del Colle

December 1943-January 1944: Alipore
January 1944: Imphal
January-February 1944: Tulihal
February 1944: Ramu
February 1944: Tulihal
February-March 1944: Kangla
March-April 1944: Tulihal
April-August 1944: Kumbhirgram
August-December 1944: Minneriya
December 1944-April 1945: Ratmalana
April-June 1945: Amarda Road
June 1945: Ratmalana

Squadron Codes: FV (Hurricane), FL (Spitfire, Thunderbolt)

Duty
1939-1940: Communications Squadron
1940: Fighter Squadron, Russia
1941-42: Fighter Command, UK
1942-43: North Africa, Malta, Italy
1943-45: India

Books

Hurricane Aces 1941-45, Andrew Thomas. This book covers the later career of the Hurricane, starting with its final months as a front line fighter in Britain in 1941 before moving on to look at its career in North Africa, the Mediterranean and over the jungles of Burma [see more]
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Spitfire: Flying Legend - 60th Anniversary 1936-96, John M. Dibbs. A beautifully illustrated book focusing on surviving flyable Spitfires, with some very impressive modern colour photos backed up by a good selection of archival pictures and a good selection of relevant quotes from wartime Spitfire pilots [see more]
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Spitfire Mark V Aces, 1941-45, Dr Alfred Price. A well written and nicely balanced look at the combat career of the Spitfire Mk V and of the men who flew it. The Spitfire V fought in more theatres than the more famous Mk I/II, including over France in 1941, on Malta, in North Africa and even in northern Australia. [see more]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (30 July 2009), No. 81 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/81_wwII.html

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