Summary of the History of 103 Squadron, Royal Air Force
The Squadron was formed during the First World War at Beaulieu in Hampshire under the command of Major T Maxwell-Scott and was equipped with the DH9 single engined biplane. In May 1918 103 was transferred to France and for the rest of the war flew reconnaissance and day bombing operations on the Western Front. The Squadron was disbanded after the war in March 1919.
With increasingly uncertain political climate in Europe in the mid thirties 103 Squadron was reformed in 1936 at Andover in Hampshire as part of the expansion of the RAF. Under the command of Squadron Leader D H Carey the Squadron was equipped with the Hawker Hind single engined biplane bomber. The Squadron moved to Usworth in the North of England and in 1937 were re-equipped with the more modern Fairey Battle single engined monoplane Bomber.
At the outbreak of Second World War 103 Squadron flew to France as part of the Advanced Air Strike Force.
The winter of 1939/40 was relatively quiet on this front but this was all to change on the 10th May 1940 when the German forces made an all out attack on France, Belgium and Holland. The Squadron flew into action immediately in a series of desperate attacks against a far stronger, more experienced and better equipped enemy and suffered very heavy losses. As the situation worsened and France was near to collapse what was left of the squadron was withdrawn back to Abingdon in England in June 1940.
The Squadron was transferred to Newton near Nottingham in July 1940 and returned to the control of 1 Group Bomber Command. In October 1940 103 was re-equipped with the Vickers Wellington, a twin engined bomber and quite a capable machine. Operations were started with the new aircraft in December 1940 and for the next 3 months many night raids were flown on Germany and targets in occupied Europe. In the spring and summer of 1941 much of the Squadron effort was concentrated on the U Boat bases along the coast of France and German capital ships in Brest. German targets were raided again in force throughout the winter of 1941/42 and in May 1942 the Squadron participated in the series of “Thousand Bomber Raids”. In July 1941 the Squadron moved to its new base at Elsham Wolds in Lincolnshire.
The Squadron was re-equipped with the new 4 engined Handley Page Halifax bomber in August 1942. Losses with this aircraft were heavy and the Squadron was again re-equipped , this time with the Avro Lancaster 4 engined heavy bomber.
Raids were resumed on targets mainly in Germany but some in Italy from the end of November 1942. At the beginning of March 1943 the Squadron flew the first of many raids in the Battle of The Ruhr. These were followed in August 1943 by the first of a series of raids referred to as the Battle of Berlin through the winter of 1943/44. As well as Berlin many major industrial cities in Germany were raided and losses throughout were high. In November 1943 the Squadron C Flight was transferred to a form the basis of the new 576 Squadron being formed at Elsham Wolds. In April 1944 the Squadron’s efforts were concentrated in bombing railway communications and military installations in preparation for the D Day landings on the. 6th June 1944.
Throughout the summer of 1944 most of the operations flown were in direct support of the land forces and also against the German V weapons facilities and oil and fuel production and storage facilities. Many of the operations were now flown in daylight. Throughout the winter of 1944/45 a series of very heavy attacks were mounted against targets all over Germany, again many of these being in direct support of the land forces but also against industrial targets and synthetic oil and fuel manufacturing centres. Towards the end of the war the Squadron became involved in the dropping of food supplies to the people of Holland and also flying back liberated prisoners of war to Britain.
Prominent amongst the WW2 raids undertaken by 103 Squadron was the attack in August 1943 in the German V weapon research establishment at Peenemunde.
Another notable attack in which 103 Sqn participated was on the 25th April 1945 against Hitler’s Mountain Retreat at Berchtesgaden. This was the last WW2 bomber operation undertaken by the Sqn
During World War 2 the Squadron had performed with great distinction and resolution in the face of very heavy losses of aircraft and crews throughout the campaign. From July 1940 to the end of the war whilst of No 1 Group Bomber Command 103 Squadron had taken part in 486 bombing operations and 33 minelaying operations. It had flown 5840 sorties and lost 207 aircraft on operations. These include aircraft that crashed on departure or return to England. 23 aircraft had been lost in none operational accidents including 3 from the Halifax Conversion Flight.
Whilst a Squadron in 1 Group Bomber Command 103 had participated 486 bombing operations and 33 mine laying operations. 5,840 sorties were flown for the loss of 179 aircraft. In addition 22 aircraft were destroyed in crashes in Britain. The details from the Squadron’s time with the Advanced Air Strike Force in France are not clear but probably in excess of 26 aircraft were lost.
The Squadron was disbanded on the 25th November 1945 but reformed on the 30th November 1954 as part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force equipped with Canberras and based in West Germany at Gutersloh. It was disbanded again on the 1st August 1956. The Squadron was reformed on the 1st August 1959 when No 284 Squadron was renumbered and was based at Nicosia in Cyprus flying Sycamore HR.14 helicopters operating in a search and rescue, casualty evacuation and internal security role. The Squadron disbanded yet again on the 31st July 1963 but was reformed in the Far East at Seletar on the 1st August 1963 with the Whirlwind Mk 10 helicopter. In 1969 it was redeployed to Changi and then moved to Tengah in 1971. The Whirlwind was replaced with the Wessex helicopter in 1972 and the 103 Squadron was disbanded for the last time on the 1st August 1975.
The WW2 Reckoning.
Allied Air Strike Force
3rd Sept 1939 to July 1940
Sorties detailed - Unknown. Probably in excess of 250.
Aircraft lost. 10 Failed to return. 13 Force landed or crash landed in allied held territory on return from ops. 1 Abandoned by crew returning from night op - lost. 1 Abandoned at airfield during retreat ( possibly more but no proper records exist to confirm this ). 3 Destroyed by bombing. (possibly more but no proper records exist to confirm this ). 2 crashed during night training flights.
Aircrew casualties. Killed 21. Missing Nil. POW 9. Died in captivity Nil. Evaders Nil. Escaper 1. (Hawkins). No interned
Bomber Command 1 Group
August 1940 to VE Day.
Sorties detailed - 6183 (Including Manna). 247 Early returns. 125 Did not take off. 84 Aborted on orders.
Aircraft lost. 178 Failed to return. 1 Crashed just after take off. 5 Ditched on return. 4 Abandoned on return. 12 Crashed, collided or crash landed on return.
In addition 12 aircraft were lost on training flights including 2 from 103 Sqdn Conversion Flight. 2 were lost on air tests. 1 was lost on a transit flight. 1 was lost in a ground explosion. 1 lost on Dodge trip to Italy in Oct 45.
Aircrew casualties. Killed 896. Missing 251. POW 182. Died in captivity 9. Evaders 25. Escapers 1 (Mills). Interned 6.
Those killed include F/L D W "Doc" Mahon RAFVR, 103 Sqn MO killed in a solo flight in the Station Magister, P/O W Bird RAFVR who was killed whilst undertaking an astro navigational course in Canada but is listed as 103 Sqn, 3 ATC Cadets from Buxton killed on an Air Experience Flight/Air Test with 103 Sqdn and finally the 19 nurses missing on a 103 Sqn flight to Italy in Oct 45. I have included the 6 aircrew casualties from this flight as well although this incident was after VE Day.
Item written by David Fell
A more comprehensive History of 103 Squadron is available by clicking on the Resources Section.