The squadron was formed at
Otranto in Italy on 27. September 1918 from flights of the Royal Naval
Air Service after that service's amalgamation
with the Royal Flying Corps to form the RAF. It flew Sopwith Babys and
Felixstowe F3s from Otranto reconnoitring for submarines escaping from
the Adriatic Sea into the Mediterranean Sea. The squadron was disbanded
on 16. May 1919.
No.263 Squadron was reformed on 2. October 1939 as a fighter squadron.
Remarkably it was equipped with Gloster Gladiator biplanes, and took
these aging aircraft with it to
Norway in April 1940. After three days operating from a frozen lake
(Lake Lesjaskog) all of its aircraft were unfit for service and the
squadron was forced to retreat to the UK to collect new aircraft. The
squadron returned to Norway in May 1940, this time operating from bases
further north. It remained there until the Allied evacuation of Narvik,
and then loaded its aircraft onto the carrier HMS Glorious for the
return trip. All of these aircraft were lost with the carrier when she
ran into the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.
The squadron began to reform at RAF Dren on 12. June 1940, and was to be
the first squadron to operation the Westland Whirlwind. In November 1940
the squadron took its Whirlwinds to the south-west to fly convoy
protection patrols. Offensive sweeps across France began in June 1941,
but the aircraft were not equipped to act as fighter-bombers until June
1942. The fighter-bomber Whirlwinds were used to attack German airfields
and shipping, before being replaced with Hawker Typhoons in December
Offensive sweeps over France
began on 1. February 1944, at first with bombs, but using rockets from
July. In July 1944 the squadron became part of No.136 Wing, 84 Group,
2nd Tactical Air Force. This wing had not yet moved to France, and in
early July it was joined at Hurn by the Typhoon squadrons of No.146 Wing.
In late June No.136 Wing was dissolved, and the squadron joined its new
neighbours, accompanying them on their return to France. Apart from a
short break early in 1945 the squadron remained with the group until the
end of the war.
There was always a danger of
attacking friendly units by mistake. On 27. August 1944 the squadron and
No. 266 Squadron RAF Typhoons with Spitfire escort was mistakenly
ordered to attack the Royal Navy 1st Minesweeping Flotilla off Cap
d'Antifer, Le Havre, with the result that HMS Britomart and HMS Hussar
were sunk and HMS Salamander was irreparably damaged, killing 117
sailors and wounding 153 more.
During the German retreat
from Normandy Typhoons of No.146 Wing destroyed the last permanent
bridge remaining over the Seine, trapping many of the survivors.
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 1944. 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
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, of which one came from No.266 Squadron.
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.
After disbandment on 28
August 1945, No. 616 Squadron RAF with the Gloster Meteor jet fighters
was renumbered as 263 squadron at RAF Acklington. After Meteors, 263
Squadron moved onto Hawker Hunters in 1955. The unit arrived at RAF
Wattisham in October 1950, and transferred to RAF Stradishall in August
1957. It was disbanded there on 1. July 1958 and renumbered to become
No. 1 Squadron RAF. It was reformed for the last time on 1. June 1959 to
operate the Bristol Bloodhound surface-to-air missile at RAF Watton
until disbanding on 30. June 1963.