233 Squadron was first formed in 1918, when the Flights of the Royal Naval Air Service, later known as Coastal Command, were being combined into Squadrons. Accordingly, numbers 407, 471, and 491 Flights were assigned to 233 Squadron. This arrangement was a little confusing as each Flight had different aircraft which were suitable for differing roles; until the end of the War, the seaplanes of 407 Flight hunted U-Boats and protected Allied shipping in the Straits of Dover, whilst the Sopwith Camels of 471 Flight protected 491's DH.9's as they searched for enemy vessels off the Flanders coast. The Armistice brought about an end to 233 Squadron's all-too-brief life when, following a gradual reduction in strength, it was disbanded on the 15th May 1919.


With the prospect of a renewed conflict with Germany, 233 Squadron re-emerged at Tangmere in 1937, commanded by Squadron Leader Wallis and equipped with Anson I aircraft, which were to be used in the general reconnaissance role. Shortly before the declaration of war, the Squadron, now based at Leuchers, began to acquire the superior Lockheed Hudson I aircraft. This conversion was not completed until October, so a number of Ansons were still in service during the first month of the War when the Squadron commenced its new role of patrolling the North Sea.


Their primary task was to locate enemy shipping attempting to enter the Atlantic via the waters between Scotland and Norway, but from time to time their aircraft also laid mines and flew anti-submarine sorties. In October, the Squadron formed "D" Flight, which was equipped with Blenheim long-range fighters whose purpose was to provide aerial cover for coastal convoys and fishing fleets, however after only two months this unit was transferred to 254 Squadron. 233 Squadron was kept busy until the end of 1939, flying an average of one hundred and thirty sorties per month. In December, their search capability was enhanced when their aircraft were equipped with ASV radar, and during that same month the Squadron had its first engagement with the Luftwaffe, when one of its Hudsons exchanged fire with an He-111 without a decisive result on either side.




Following the German occupation of Norway in April 1940, Coastal Command were forced to increase their patrols in that area, and as there were few British aircraft with sufficient range to reach the Norwegian coast, 233 Squadron's Hudsons were used as long-range fighters. Over the following months their aircraft were fitted with additional firearms to make them more potent in thie role, to which they were far from suited, yet one pilot at least felt confident enough in his equipment to take on a passing Bf-110.


Patrolling the waters around Denmark and Norway continued apace, and some of 233 Squadron's aircraft were armed with bombs to attack airfields and warships; a very dangerous occupation which led to some losses. Even so, in April 1940 the Squadron claimed what is believed to have been the first British anti-shipping success when "Rover" patrol damaged the 2,000 ton MV Theodor.


The Atlantic


In August 1940, the Squadron was relocated to Aldergrove so that they could escort convoys bound for Liverpool and the Clyde, however their stay in Northern Ireland proved brief, and only a month later they returned to Leuchers and their former duties over the North Sea and the Baltic. On the 25th October 1940, three of 233 Squadron's Hudsons were on an armed reconnaissance sortie when they sighted and attacked the German submarine, U-46, off the coast of Norway. The U-Boat survived the experience, but it was seriously damaged and returned to port.


On the 8th December, the Squadron returned to Aldergrove on a more long-term basis. Their patrols over the Atlantic proved to be much less eventful than those they had become accustomed to over the North Sea, and it was not until May 1941 when their aircraft next made contact with the enemy; Wing Commander E. C. Kidd's Hudson engaging and bringing down a He-111. During the following month, 233 Squadron attacked and inflicted damage on two U-Boats, and on th 23rd July, one of their aircraft shot down a Fw-200 Condor which was in the process of attacking a British convoy.




On the 8th August 1941, 233 Squadron moved to St. Eval to carry out patrols of the Bay of Biscay. Operations were considerably more lively here than they had been over the Atlantic; within the first few weeks of their arrival the Squadron had damaged an enemy ship and attacked four U-Boats, at the loss of a Hudson. In September, a part of the Squadron, under the command of Squadron Leader Davey, left for Gibraltar with orders to patrol the Portuguese coast and the Western Mediterranean. Over time, all of the remainder of the Squadron were gradually transferred here, leaving behind a detachment on Thorney Island.


In November, the Gibraltar garrison attacked six U-Boats and also the docks at St. Nazaire. Two Hudsons, piloted by Pilot Officer Camacho and Sergeant Brent, depth-charged U-573 on the 29th April 1942, inflicting serious damage and forcing it to head for Spain, where it was eventually interned. In July 1942, the detachment at Thorney Island was brought to Gibraltar and so ended the unwieldy situation of having the Squadron split between two locations. Patrols continued as usual, and towards the end of the year the Squadron provided cover for Operation Torch, which saw the arrival of the combined British and American 1st Army in Morocco and Algeria.


During the following year the chief occupation of 233 Squadron was searching for enemy submarines, but as contact with them was rare at this time a major part of their work was now dedicated to meteorological flights. Even so March 1943 proved to be a busy month where submarines were concerned, with the Squadron attacking no fewer than six of them. On the 28th March, a Hudson from 48 Squadron attacked and damaged U-77 before calling for assistance from 233 Squadron. Flying Officer Castell's aircraft arrived on the scene and, in the face of accurate anti-aircraft fire from the submarine, put in a depth-charge attack upon it and destroyed it; the kill being accredited to both 48 and 233 Squadrons. On the 5th April, Flight Sergeant Dalton damaged U-167 off the Canary Islands, and it is assumed this this same vessel, for it was in a similar position, was sunk later in the day by Flight Lieutenant Willits. Two days later, U-447 also went down under the Squadron's fire.


Enemy air activity was still in evidence at this time and the Squadron shot down at least two Fw-200 Condors during the summer months. Over the summer, 233 Squadron's Hudsons were also fitted with underwing rockets, and this devastating new weapon was used to good effect on the 26th December when one of their aircraft attacked and damaged U-667, after it had been spotted by a Wellington bomber of 179 Squadron and highlighted with its Leigh Light.




In February 1944, 233 Squadron returned to England and, in preparation for the D-Day landings, they were transferred to Transport Command and their Hudsons were exchanged for Dakotas. As it was expected that the Invasion would be launched in May, the Squadron had very little time in which to become familiar with their new aircraft and the role of supporting Airborne troops. To help them with this task, in March they were given a Company of parachutists from the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion to train with, and during the following month they were introduced to the art of glider towing. By the time the Invasion was imminent, the Squadron was fully prepared and equipped with thirty Dakotas and also a small number of Ansons.


All thirty of the Dakotas flew to Normandy with the first lift on the 5th June 1944, six towing gliders, the remainder carrying men of the 3rd Parachute Brigade. Although it proved to be a scattered drop, owing to the pathfinders being dispersed and unable to set up their beacons to accurately guide the aircraft to the drop zone, it nevertheless went smoothly for 233 Squadron, although two of their aircraft were lost, and a a further two were brought down on the following day when the main glider lift of the 6th Airborne Division took place.


On the 13th June, two of 233 Squadron's Dakotas had the honour of being the first Allied aircraft to land in France since the invasion, arriving on the B2 airstrip with two tons of freight onboard. During the following months, the Squadron helped to support the Battle for Normandy in this way by operating a five times daily shuttle service, flying in supplies and equipment to France, and evacuating wounded on the return flight. In addition, their aircraft also participated in several resupply drops to the troops on the front line.




On the 17th September 1944, twenty-two Dakotas participated in the first lift of 1st Airborne Division to their landing zones around Arnhem, each aircraft bringing in a Horsa glider without loss. On the following day, sixteen of their aircraft brought in Horsas and emerged similarly unscathed, but the resupply flights of the following days cruelly exposed the slow-moving transport aircraft to enemy fire, and 233 Squadron lost three Dakotas on Wednesday 20th September, and another two days later.


The Rhine Crossing


Following their part in Operation Market Garden, 233 Squadron reverted to their former task of flying freight and wounded to and from France. Training with gliders resumed in earnest at the beginning of 1945 in preparation for Operation Varsity; the second attempt to secure an airborne bridgehead across the Rhine, this time using the British 6th and US 17th Airborne Divisions. Twenty-four of the Squadron's Dakotas towed Horsas to their landing zones on the first and only lift of this successful operation; no losses are believed to have been sustained amongst the aircrews.


Once victory in Europe had been secured, the attention of the Airborne Forces turned to Japan, and in August 1945, 233 Squadron were sent to Burma to support any such operations in the region. Although Japan surrendered before an airborne drop could be made, the Squadron's aircraft were nevertheless kept busy, flying food and supplies to forward units in remote parts of the inaccessible jungle of Burma.


233 Squadron's War came to an end on the 15th December 1945, when it was amalgamated with 215 Squadron. However it re-emerged in September 1960, again as a transport unit, operating from Aden, in Yemen. The Squadron was finally disbanded on 31st January 1964.


The information contain in this history has come from the article "No.233 Squadron Royal Air Force", by Andrew Thomas. Thanks to Alan Hartley for his help.


Commanders of 233 Squadron



Squadron Leader J. B. Wallis


Wing Commander Bulloch


Wing Commander H. A. Purvis DFC, AFC


Wing Commander M. E. Morrison


Wing Commander E. Banthorpe