No. 33 Squadron RAF

No. 33 Squadron RAF
No. 33 Squadron RAF
Active 12 January 1916
Role Support helicopters
Garrison/HQ RAF Benson
Motto "Loyalty"
Equipment Puma HC.1
Battle honours Home Defence 1916-1918, Palestine 1936-1939, Egypt and Libya 1940-1943, Greece 1941, El Alamein, France and Germany 1944-1945, Normandy 1944, Walcheren, Rhine, Gulf 1991
Hector McGregor, September 1938 - January 1940
Marmaduke Pattle, March – April 1941
A hart's head affrontée, couped at the neck

No. 33 Squadron of the Royal Air Force operates the Puma HC.1 from RAF Benson, Oxfordshire.


Current role

The squadron is part of the RAF Support Helicopter force, which reports into the Joint Helicopter Command.

Formed in 1971 at RAF Odiham as the RAF's first Puma squadron, the squadron has flown in a large number of operations. These include the Gulf War of 1991, and Operation Agricola, the NATO Kosovo Force, Operation Barwood in Mozambique, NATO operations in Bosnia and in Iraq during Operation Telic.


First World War

No. 33 Squadron was formed from part of 12 Sqn at Filton on 12 January 1916. For the remainder of the First World War the squadron was employed in the Home Defence role in Lincolnshire, guarding against German airship raids against northern England, being first equipped with Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2s, these being supplemented with Royal Aircraft Factory FE.2s. Its headquarters were at Gainsborough, with its flights spread over three separate stations: RAF Scampton (A Flight), RAF Kirton in Lindsey (B Flight) and RAF Elsham Wolds (C Flight). The FE.2s were replaced by Bristol Fighters in June 1918, which were in turn replaced by dedicated night fighter Avro 504 in August. The squadron did not destroy any enemy airships, despite a number of interceptions; it was disbanded in June 1919.[1]

Between the wars

The Squadron was reformed at RAF Netheravon on 1 March 1929 as a bomber unit equipped first with the Hawker Horsley and, in February 1930, became the first squadron to receive the brand-new Hawker Hart, an aircraft faster than the RAFs current fighter aircraft. In 1935, as part of Britain's response to the Italian invasion of Abyssinia the unit moved to Egypt, taking part in air policing in Palestine.[1] In February 1938, the squadron re-equipped with Gloster Gladiators, changing role to a fighter squadron, although at first it continued in support of British ground forces in Palestine.[1]

Second World War

A 33 Sqn Puma HC1 at Farnborough in September 1982.

With the exception of a time in Greece and Crete in 1941 (for part of this time the squadron was commanded by Marmaduke Pattle, one of the RAF's top aces), 33 Sqn remained in the Middle East for most of World War II. Equipped initially with the Gloster Gladiators they had used in Palestine, the Squadron claimed its first victories of the Second World War on 14 June 1940, when the squadron shot down an Italian Caproni Ca 310 and a Fiat CR.32. It suffered its first losses of the war five days later in a combat with Fiat CR.42s,with one Gladiator being shot down in exchange for two Fiats. The squadron re-equipped with Hurricanes in October 1940, allowing it to intercept the Italian SM.79 bombers, which were faster than the Squadron's Gladitors.[2]

It was withdrawn from the desert fighting in January 1941, in order to help resist the Italian invasion of Greece. The squadron was involved in heavy fighting following the German intervention, with Pattle, the Squadrons commanding officer and by now the leading Commonwealth air ace, being killed on 20 April and the Squadron being withdrawn to Crete on 27 April, with the remnants retiring to Egypt by the end of May after the Battle of Crete.[2]

The Squadron returned to flying support of the Army in the Western Desert, including at the Battle of El Alamein, trading its Hurricanes for Supermarine Spitfires in December 1943.[3]

Returning to the UK in 1944 the squadron flew the Spitfire IX as part of 2 TAF, carrying out a mix of escort and fighter-bombing missions. It flew fighter support for the Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944, moving to France in October 1944, when it concentrated on ground-attack operations. It re-equipped with the Hawker Tempest in December, returning to action from Gilze-Rijen in February 1945, flying fighter sweeps in North West Europe. They remained in Germany until 1949.[4] Over 200 air kills were claimed 1940-45.[citation needed]

Post War operations

From 1949 to 1970, 33 Squadron spent much of its time in the Far East. It was initially based at Kai Tak, Hong Kong, but was quickly deployed to Kuala Lumpur in Malaya, flying their Tempests in ground attack missions against Communist guerrillas during the Malayan Emergency. It re-equipped with twin-engined de Havilland Hornets in 1951, disbanding in March 1955, having flown 6,150 sorties during its stay in Malaya.[4]

In October 1955 it reformed as a night fighter squadron flying de Havilland Venom NF.2s from RAF Driffield,being disbanded in June 1957, but was reformed on 1 October 1957 by renumbering 264 Squadron, another night fighter squadron that operated Gloster Meteors. It re-equipped with Gloster Javelins in April 1958, being disbanded again on 18 November 1962. A number of different types were operated during several disbandments and reformations throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. In April 1965 33 Squadron became a Bloodhound surface-to-air missile unit based at Butterworth in Malaya, being disbanded in February 1969.[5]

Fatal crash investigation

In August, 2007, a crash of a 33 Squadron Puma left three personnel dead out of 12 on board in Catterick Garrison. The inquest coroner called 33 Squadron "a sloppy outfit", that allowed an unqualified crew to operate the helicopter. [6] A recording played at the inquest revealed pilot Dave Sale remarking, "let's scare the shit out of this taxi", before apparently flying 5 feet above a taxi, an incident that happened 2 hours prior to the crash during the same flight.[7]

Previous aircraft


Memorial to members of 30 and 33 Squadrons RAF killed in battle of Crete

There is an Royal Air Force (RAF) memorial in Crete to the airmen of 30 and 33 Squadrons who died during the battle of Crete. The memorial is located (35°31′31″N 23°49′43″E / 35.525363°N 23.828619°E / 35.525363; 23.828619) behind the roadside hedge between Maleme and Tavronitis overlooking the (35°31′36″N 23°49′32″E / 35.526625°N 23.825604°E / 35.526625; 23.825604[8]) Iron Bridge across the Tavronitis River and the end of Maleme Airport runway.


  1. ^ a b c Rawlings 1970, p.327.
  2. ^ a b Rawlings 1970, p.328.
  3. ^ Rawlings 1970, pp.328–329.
  4. ^ a b Rawlings 1970 p.329.
  5. ^ Rawlings 1970, pp. 329–330.
  6. ^ "Crash squadron a 'sloppy outfit'". BBC News. 6 October 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  7. ^ "BBC NEWS | UK | England | North Yorkshire | Crash pilot 'flew 5ft above taxi'". BBC News. 20 October 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-20. 
  8. ^



Official Squadron page on the RAF Website. Retrieved 2008-06-25

  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1980. ISBN 0-85130-083-9.
  • Moyes, Philip. Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and Their Aircraft. London, Macdonald and Jane's, 1964, Second revised edition 1976. ISBN 0-354-01027-1.
  • Rawlings J.D.R. "History of No. 33 Squadron". Air Pictorial, September 1970, Vol. 32 No. 9. pp. 327–330.
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and Their Aircraft. London, Macdonald and Jane's, 1969, Second revised edition 1976. ISBN 0-354-01028-X.

External links

See also

  • List of RAF squadrons

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