No.53 Squadron

In front of a saltire, a thistle slipped and leaved
In front of a saltire, a thistle slipped and leaved
United in effort
15 May 1916
14 September 1976

No 53 Squadron was formed at Catterick on 15 May 1916 as a training unit. In December it was mobilised and moved to France. It undertook artillery observation and tactical reconnaissance duties for the rest of the war. In April 1919 the unit returned to the UK and disbanded on 25 October 1919.

On 28 June 1937, the squadron re-formed at Farnborough as an army co-operation unit specialising in night reconnaissance. During April 1938 it received a bomber transport for experimental troop-carrying duties. In September 1939 the unit moved to France for reconnaissance duties. Although the squadron began operations on 28 September 1939, its aircraft were not really up to the job, and losses continued to be suffered. The squadron was forced to evacuate back to the UK on 20 May 1940 after the advancing German forces threatened its position. After its return, it continued flying reconnaissance missions but also carried out night bombing. In February 1941 it moved to Cornwall and began anti-submarine patrols. It later added shipping strikes to its duties. In July 1942 the squadron moved to Quonset Point, Rhode Island, USA to help the Americans to counter the German submarine threat off the Eastern seaboard. The unit moved to the Caribbean in August. On 23 November 1942 it began to move back to the UK. Operational flying resumed on 10 April 1943. On 30 July 1944 the squadron shared in the first aerial sonobuoy sinking of a U-boat. In September 1944 it moved to Iceland, where it remained for the rest of the war.

In June 1945 the squadron returned to the UK and transferred to Transport Command. It began trooping flights to the Far East in August. On 28 February 1946 the unit disbanded but on the following day No 102 Squadron was renumbered No 53 Squadron. This unit lasted for only a short time, disbanding on 15 June 1946.

On 1 November No 187 Squadron was renumbered No 52 Squadron. It operated as a transport unit and was involved in the Berlin Airlift before disbanding on 31 July 1949. The following day it reformed as a Hastings squadron and continued its Berlin Airlift operations. In 1956, during the Suez Crisis the unit’s aircraft dropped British paratroops on Port Said, Egypt. On 28 June 1963 the unit merged with No 47 Squadron.

On 1 November 1965 the squadron re-formed at Fairford as the only operator of the Short Belfast transport. It disbanded on 14 September 1976.


Various 1916 - 1917
BE2e 1916 - 1917
RE8 1917 - 1919
Hector 1937 - 1939
Blenheim IV 1939 - 1941
Hudson V/III 1941 - 1943
Whitley VII 1943 - 1943
Liberator V/VI/VIII 1943 - 1946
Dakota 4 1946 - 1949
Hastings 1949 - 1956
Beverley 1957 - 1963
Belfast 1966 - 1976

Reference Sources

The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force
James J Halley Air Britain (Historians) Ltd 1988

RAF Squadrons
Wg Cdr C G Jefford Airlife 2001

Coastal Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and their aircraft
John D R Rawlings Jane’s Publishing 1982

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