RAF No 18 Squadron emblem

RAF No 53 Squadron

Motto: United in effort

Formed at Catterick on 15 May 1916, it was planned to use it in the training role but in December it was sent to France in the Corps reconnaissance role. It operated BE2Es until April 1917, when these were replaced by RE8s, which it continued to use for the remainder of the war. It returned to Old Sarum in March 1919, where it disbanded on 25 October 1919.

The squadron reformed on 28 June 1937 at Farnborough in the Army Co-operation role. Equipped with Hectors, it specialised in night reconnaissance, although for four months in 1938 it operated a single Valentia on troop carrying exercises, during which time it carried over 5,000 troops. Blenheims arrived in January 193 and these were taken to France in September for strategic reconnaissance duties. Following the German attack of May 1940, the squadron returned to the UK from it continued its operations as well as undertaking bombing missions.

A change of role came in February 1941, when the squadron moved St Eval, from where it began anti-submarine and anti-shipping operations, its Blenheims being replaced by Hudsons in July. In July 1942 the squadron was transferred to the USA to assist the Americans in the defence of the Eastern Seaboard of the USA and then in August it moved again to Trinidad, where it remained until November. The squadron was now at Davidstowe Moor and in February 1943, it received Whitleys but these were replaced in May by Liberators at Thorney Island.

The squadron operated over the Bay of Biscay bases in the South and South-West of England until September 1944, when it was transferred to Iceland. This remained its base until June 1945, when it returned to St David's, where it joined Transport Command, beginning trooping flights to India in August. Moving to Gransden Lodge in December 1945, the squadron disbanded there on 15 June 1946.

All 53's subsequent service would be in the transport role, beginning on 1 November 1946, when it reformed with Dakotas at Netheravon. These were used throughout the Berlin Airlift but in 31 July 1949, the squadron disbanded. The following day it reformed at Topcliffe, equipped with Hastings aircraft and these continued in use until replaced by Beverleys in February 1957 at Abingdon, where it was still based when it disbanded on 28 June 1963. It's final incarnation, so far, began on 1 November 1965 at Fairford, where it reformed as the RAF's first and only Belfast squadron. It moved to Brize Norton in May 1967, disbanding there on 14 September 1976.

Battle Honours

Western Front, 1916-18: Messines, 1917: Ypres, 1917: France & Low Countries, 1939-40: Dunkirk: Invasion Ports, 1940: Channel & North Sea, 1940-44: Fortress Europe, 1940- 41: Biscay Ports, 1941-42: Biscay 1941-44:Atlantic 1941-45: Normandy 1944:

Squadron Codes used: -

TE Jan 1939 - Sep 1939
PZ Sep 1939 - Feb 1943
FH Jun 1944 - Feb 1946
PU Dec 1946 -Jul 1949 (Codes taken over from No 187 Sqn)


53 SQUADRON was with us for just twenty-one days during 1940, arriving from Eastchurch on 12th June, and departing again for Detling on 3rd July. Despite the brevity of this visit twelve recce sorties over France were flown during this period using Blenheim IVs. These comprised a single sortie on the 13th June, another on the 14th, two more on the 16th and eight trips on the 18th. Of these last eight, three were flown together as a formation. Although this record is hand-written, Blenheims used on these missions can be deciphered as;

L9460 L9474 L9475 R3662 R3677 R3679 R3909 R3911

The ORB does note that on departure on the 3rd July the squadron took 20 Blenheims with it. Inspection of the record while the squadron was at Detling and at Eastchurch shows the following Blenheims were on squadron strength over the period and the Gatwick allocation MAY have included some of these;

L4841 L4842 L4843 L4847 L4848 L4849 L4850 L4852 L4860 L4861 L8853 L8863 L8735 L9329 L9330 L9331 L9332 L9339 L9459 L9466 L9616 L9735 N3551 R3596 R3605 R3634 R3691 R3700 R3703 R3715 R3733

One novelty item in the paperwork is the distribution of squadron personnel around the base and elsewhere, and the men were allocated as follows;

Squadron HQ offices, Ops office and Flight offices - In the terminal building.
Duty Pilot Office - Wooden building near north hangar
Personnel of A, B and C Flights - In the racecourse grandstand.
Officers - Messing at the Chequers Hotel, and living in tents and various houses around the aerodrome.
Personnel of HQ Flight - In tented camp in a field on the SW side of aerodrome

Thanks to some sterling further work on our behalf by Jock Manson at the 53 squadron association, it is now thought that the twenty Blenheims which left Gatwick for Detling at the end of the unit's stay comprised these;

L4849 L8789 L8794 L9238 L9460 L9474 L9475 N3551 R3605 R3660 R3661 R3677 R3678 R3679 R3699 R3779 R3819 R3849 R3909 R3911 It is just possible that L4847 and R3596 may have been on strength.

You will note that R3662, which flew an operation for 53 while at Gatwick does not appear on the list, this is because it has emerged that it was an 18 Sqdn aircraft presumably loaned for the occasion.

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This webpage was updated 30th June 2023