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No. 208 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

No. 208 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

No. 208 Squadron (RAF) during the Second World War

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No.208 Squadron was an army co-operation and reconnaissance squadron that was based in the Middle East for most of the Second World War, before spending the period from March 1944 to the end of the war serving as a fighter-bomber squadron in Italy.

The squadron was formed on 1 February 1920 at Ismailia by the renumbering of No.113 Squadron. It spent the pre-war years based in the Middle East, using a series of army cooperation aircraft, converting to the Westland Lysander in January 1939.

After the Italian entry to the war in June 1940 the squadron began to fly reconnaissance mission in the Western Desert, watching the more advanced Italian troop positions. It soon became clear that the Lysanders were very vulnerable to enemy attack, and so they were provided with a fighter escort, initially Gladiators and later Hurricanes. In November the squadron was given a number of Hurricanes which took over most of the reconnaissance duties, leaving the Lysanders to carry out artillery support and reconnaissance close to the front line. The squadron fulfilled these roles during Operation Compass, the British offensive of December 1940 that pushed the Italians back from the Egyptian border.

In April 1941 the squadron moved to Greece, arriving just at the German invasion began. The squadron was posted to the western part of the front line, but had to pull back to Athens on 19 April, and the four remaining Lysanders were flown to Crete on 22-23 April. The Hurricanes remained in Greece a little longer in an attempt to provide some air defence, but they too had to evacuate on 24 April.

The squadron moved the Palestine, and in June took part in the Allied invasion of Vichy Syria, providing a flight of Hurricanes. The squadron returned to the Western Desert in October 1941, and took part in Operation Crusader (November 1941), flying reconnaissance missions on the Allied left flank and locating the vehicles of the Italian Ariete Division. The squadron continued to operate with the army until December 1942 when it moved to Iraq. In December 1943 the squadron, still in Iraq, converted to the Spitfire to provide local air defence.

In March 1944 the squadron moved to Italy, where it flew a mix of fighter and ground attack missions until the end of the war. In July 1945 the squadron returned to Palestine, and it continued to operate as a reconnaissance squadron based in the Middle East until 1959.

Aircraft
January 1939-May 1942: Westland Lysander I and II
November 1940-September 1942: Hawker Hurricane I
May 1942-December 1943: Hawker Hurricane IIA, IIB and IIC
May-September 1942: Curtiss Tomahawk IIb
December 1943-July 1944: Supermarine Spitfire VC
August-October 1944: Supermarine Spitfire VIII
March 1944-June 1947: Supermarine Spitfire IX

Location
September-November 1939: Qasaba
November 1939-June 1940: Heliopolis
June 1940-January 1941: Qasaba
January-February 1941: Gambut
February-March 1941: Barce
March-April 1941: Heliopolis
April 1941: Kazaklar
April 1941: Elevsis
April 1941: Argos
April-May 1941: Maleme
May-June 1941: Gaza
June-September 1941: Ramleh
September-October 1941: Aqir
October-December 1941: Gerawla
December 1941: El Gubbi
December 1941-February 1942: Tmimi
February 1942: Acroma
February-March 1942: Sidi Azeiz
March-May 1942: Moascar
May-June 1942: Sidi Azeiz
June 1942: LG.103
June-July 1942: LG.100
July 1942: Heliopolis
July-November 1942: LG.100
November 1942-January 1943: Burg el Arab
January-February 1943: Aqsu
February-July 1943: K.1
July-November 1943: Rayak
November 1943-January 1944: El Bassa
January-March 1944: Megiddo
March-May 1944: Trigno
May-June 1944: San Angelo
June 1944: Venafro
June 1944: Aquino
June 1944: Osa
June 1944: Falerium North
June-July 1944: Orvieto Main
July-August 1944: Castiglione
August-October 1944: Malignano
October 1944-April 1945: Peretola
April-June 1945: Bologna
June-July 1945: Bari

Squadron Codes: GA (Lysander)

Duty
September 1939: Egypt Group; RAF Middle East
11 November 1941: No. 253 Wing; AHQ Western Desert; Middle East Command
27 October 1942: No.285 Wing; AHQ Western Desert; Middle East Command
No.215 Group; AHQ Iraq and Persia; RAF Middle East; Mediterranean Air Command

Role
1939-1943: Tactical Reconnaissance
1943-1944: Fighter Squadron, Middle East
1944-1945: Fighter and Ground Attack duties, Italy

Books

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History

World War I

The squadron was established as part of the Royal Naval Air Service on 25 October 1916 [10] [11] at Dunkirk as No. 8 (Naval) Squadron. In its earlier days, the unit flew Sopwith Pups, 1½ Strutters and Nieuport Scouts. Later in World War I it re-equipped with Sopwith Camels and was assigned to artillery spotting. The squadron returned to the UK briefly before being sent back to France to face the German offensive. While in France a significant number of Camels belonging to the squadron were destroyed by the RAF to prevent the Germans capturing them during their advance. When the Royal Air Force was formed on 1 April 1918, the unit was renumbered to No. 208 Squadron RAF. After the war ended 208 Squadron remained with the occupying forces until August 1919, when it again returned to the UK for disbandment on 7 November 1919 at Netheravon. [12]

Interbellum

The squadron reformed at RAF Ismailia in Egypt on 1 February 1920 by the renumbering of No. 113 Squadron RAF. [14] It was at first equipped with RE8s and from November 1920 till May 1930 with Bristol Fighters. The years between the wars were by no means quiet, in September 1922 the squadron was sent to Turkey for a year during the Chanak crisis, being stationed at San Stefano, a part of the Bakırköy district of Istanbul, Turkey. [14] After the conflict 208 Squadron went back to Egypt and in 1930 got Armstrong Whitworth Atlas aircraft to replace the old Bristol fighters. The Atlases in their turn were replaced five years later by Audaxes and for one flight by Demons. Just before the outbreak of World War II, in January 1939, these gave way for the Westland Lysander. [15]

World War II

No. 208 Squadron was still stationed in Egypt at the outbreak of World War II. It joined the war effort in mid-1940 flying Westland Lysander reconnaissance aircraft and Hawker Hurricane fighters on army co-operation duties in the North African Campaign [16] and the Greek Campaign of 1941. During the war it included a significant number of Royal Australian Air Force and South African Air Force personnel, along with other nationalities. Amongst the members of the squadron at this time was Robert Leith-Macgregor, shot down on more than one occasion, once ending up taxiing through a minefield, but managed not to trigger any mines. [17]

The unit was later stationed in Palestine, before returning to North Africa. It briefly converted to Curtiss Tomahawks, but received Supermarine Spitfires in late 1943 and flew them for the remainder of the war. From 1944, it took part in the Italian Campaign.

After World War II

Shortly after the war 208 Squadron moved back to Palestine where it was involved in operations against the Egyptian Air Force. In 1948, the squadron moved to the Egyptian Canal Zone. It saw action in the Israeli War of Independence, losing four Spitfires in combat with Israeli Air Force aircraft (which also included Spitfires).

The last officially recorded "Air to Air fighter pilot kill" (bullets only without guidance systems) occurred on 22 May 1948, at 09:30 two Egyptian Spitfire LF.9s decided to stage a third attack on Ramat David. This time Fg Off Tim McElhaw and Fg Off Hully of 208 Squadron had taken over the standing patrol. Fg Off McElhaw, flying Spitfire FR.18 TZ228, managed to intercept and shoot down both LF.9s. [18]


Announcements

  • The Wartime Memories Project has been running for 21 years. If you would like to support us, a donation, no matter how small, would be much appreciated, annually we need to raise enough funds to pay for our web hosting and admin or this site will vanish from the web.
  • Looking for help with Family History Research? Please read our Family History FAQ's
  • The Wartime Memories Project is run by volunteers and this website is funded by donations from our visitors. If the information here has been helpful or you have enjoyed reaching the stories please conside making a donation, no matter how small, would be much appreciated, annually we need to raise enough funds to pay for our web hosting or this site will vanish from the web.

If you enjoy this site

please consider making a donation.

16th June 2021 - Please note we currently have a large backlog of submitted material, our volunteers are working through this as quickly as possible and all names, stories and photos will be added to the site. If you have already submitted a story to the site and your UID reference number is higher than 255865 your information is still in the queue, please do not resubmit without contacting us first.

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