No. 603 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

Aircraft - Locations - Group and Duty - Books

No.603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron was a fighter squadron responsible for the first German aircraft to be shot down over Britain during the Second World War. It then went on to fight in the Battle of Britain and the offensive sweeps over France before moving to the Middle East where flew a mix of convoy protection, escort missions and anti-shipping strikes. Finally it returned to the UK to serve as a fighter-bomber squadron for the last months of the war in Europe.

Like most Auxiliary Air Force squadrons, No.603 was formed as a day bomber squadron, in the belief that its amateur pilots would struggle with high performance fighters. It retained this role until 24 October 1938, when as part of a wider shift in priorities within the RAF it became a fighter squadron. At first it was equipped with the Hawker Hind, but these were soon replaced with Gladiators. The squadron still had these at the start of the Second World War, but within two weeks began to convert to the Spitfire. The squadron's initial duty was to defend the naval base at Rosyth, working alongside No.602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron.

On 16 October 1939 the Germans made their first raid on the naval base at Rosyth. Nos.602 and 603 Squadrons were scrambled to intercept, but a radar failure (caused by a faulty generator) meant that the Germans were able to reach their targets. The British fighters did shoot down two He 111s, the first German aircraft to be shot down over the UK during the Second World War.

On 27 August No.603 moved to Hornchurch, where it remained until 3 December. It thus took part in most of the third phase of the Battle of Britain (the assault on Fighter Command), losing 12 pilots and 16 aircraft between 27 August and 5 September. The squadron also took part in the fourth phase, the daylight attack on London, and the fifth phase, fighter-bomber attacks on the south coast.

At the end of December 1940 the squadron returned to Scotland, where it spent the winter of 1940-41. In May 1941 it moved back south, and took part in the campaign of offensive sweeps over France. The squadron returned to Scotland over the winter of 1941-42, before in April 1942 making the move to the Middle East.

The squadron moved in two parts. The aircraft were transferred to Malta on the USS Wasp, arriving on 20 April. They then spent four months on Malta, before merging into No.229 Squadron on 3 August 1942.

The ground echelon reached the Middle East in June 1942. In the same month they moved to Cyprus, where they spent six months providing ground services for other squadrons. They then returned to Egypt, where in February 1943 new aircraft and crews finally began to arrive. This time the squadron operated the Beaufighter, flying a mix of convoy patrols and long range escort missions, mainly along the North African coast.

On 12 October 1943 the squadron was transferred to the Aegean in an attempt to support the Allied landings in the Dodecanese Islands, an over-ambitious attempt to take advantage of the Italian surrender that ended in defeat. After this episode the squadron continued to carry out anti-shipping strikes, until Axis shipped had been almost eliminated. In December 1944 the squadron returned to the UK, reassembling on 10 January 1945.

On its return to the UK the squadron took over the Spitfires of No.229 Squadron, and in February it began fighter-bomber operations over the German occupied areas of the Netherlands. During this period the squadron operated from bases in the UK. On 28 April the squadron was withdrawn and moved back to its original home base at Turnhouse for the first time since May 1941. It was disbanded in August 1945, but reformed as part of the Auxiliary Air Force in May 1946.

Aircraft
March-October 1939: Gloster Gladiator I
September 1939-November 1940: Supermarine Spitfire I
October 1940-May 1941: Supermarine Spitfire IIA
May 1941-April 1942: Supermarine Spitfire VA and VB
April-August 1942: Supermarine Spitfire VC
February-October 1943: Bristol Beaufighter I and VI
August 1943-December 1944: Bristol Beaufighter X and XI
January-August 1945: Supermarine Spitfire XVI

Location
October 1925-December 1939: Turnhouse
December 1939-April 1940: Prestwick
    January-April 1940: Detachments to Dyce and Montrose
April-May 1940: Drem
May-August 1940: Turnhouse
August-December 1940: Hornchurch
December 1940: Rochford
December 1940-February 1941: Drem
February-May 1941: Turnhouse
May-June 1941: Hornchurch
June-July 1941: Rochford
July-November 1941: Hornchurch
November-December 1941: Fairlop
December 1941-March 1942: Dyce
March-April 1942: Peterhead
April-August 1942: Takali

June 1942: Kasfareet (ground echelon)
June-December 1942: Nicosia (ground echelon)
December 1942-January 1943: Kasfareet (ground echelon)
January-March 1943: Edku
March-September 1943: Misurata West
September-October 1943: Borizzo
October 1943: LG.91
October 1943-December 1944: Gambut 3

January-February 1945: Coltishall
February-April 1945: Ludham
April 1945: Coltishall
April-May 1945: Turnhouse
May-June 1945: Drem
June-July 1945: Skeabrae
July-August 1945: Turnhouse

Squadron Codes: XT

Duty
1939-April 1942: Fighter Command
April 1942-3 August 1943: Fighter Squadron, Malta
February 1943-December 1944: Beaufighter Squadron, North Africa and Aegean
February-April 1945: Fighter-Bomber squadron, NW Europe

Part of
8 August 1940: No.13 Group, Fighter Command
September 1939: No.13 Group, Fighter Command
10 July 1943: No.238 Wing; No.201 Group; RAF Middle East; Mediterranean Air Command

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 (30 March 2012), No. 603 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/603_wwII.html

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