803 Naval Air Squadron


803 Naval Air Squadron
803 Naval Air Sqn emblem.jpg
803 Naval Air Squadron crest
Active3 April 1933 – 1 October 1937
21 November 1938 – August 1941
March 1942 – August 1943
June 1945 – January 1946 (RN) January 1946 – 1 May 1951 (RCN) 1953 – 1957 (RN)
1958 – 1 October 1966
3 July 1967 – 18 December 1969
CountryUnited Kingdom United Kingdom (1933–1946; 1951–1969)
 Canada (1946–1951)
Branch Royal Navy
 Royal Canadian Navy
RoleFighter squadron
Part ofFleet Air Arm
Motto(s)Cave Punctum
(Latin for "Beware of the sting")
Battle honoursNorth Sea 1939
Norway 1940
Libya 1940–41
Matapan 1941
Crete 1941
Mediterranean 1941–44

803 Naval Air Squadron was a Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm squadron.



803 NAS was formed on 3 April 1933 by promoting No 409 (Fleet Fighter) Flight to the status of a squadron, with nine Ospreys. In the same month it embarked on HMS Eagle for the Far East, where it remained (transferring to HMS Hermes in January 1935) until disbandment on 1 October 1937.

803 Squadron was re-formed on 21 November 1938 at RNAS Worthy Down out of 'B' Flight of No 800 Squadron. Equipped with six Ospreys and three Nimrods, then (from December 1938) six Skuas and three Nimrods, the squadron embarked in HMS Ark Royal in April 1938 as an RAF squadron but was transferred to Admiralty control on 24 May 1939.

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II, the Skuas and Rocs which formed 803 Squadron were embarked on HMS Ark Royal. Operating out of Scapa Flow, the squadron carried out anti-submarine patrols in the Northwestern Approaches (losing two Skuas in an attack on U-30 on 14 September 1939 and defending SS Fanad Head) and regular patrols off Norway (during which the squadron shot down the first German aircraft to be shot down by a British aircraft in the war, a Dornier 18, on 26 September 1939). The squadron's activities continued off Norway (though leaving her Rocs behind), operating there in April 1940 from HMS Glorious. 803 and 800 Squadrons successfully dive bombed and sank the German cruiser Königsberg at Bergen (with 800 providing five aircraft and seven crews in contrast to 803's eleven aircraft and nine crews), though an attack by 803 from Ark Royal on the German battleship Scharnhorst in June was less successful, with the loss of all but two aircraft.

An 803 Squadron Fulmar I during the Battle of Cape Matapan, 1941.

803 Squadron was re-formed (with Fairey Fulmar I) in October 1940, and after that served in the Eastern Mediterranean off HMS Formidable, fighting at the Battle of Cape Matapan (shooting down two aircraft and damaging two more) and providing fighter cover for the Malta convoys and the evacuation of Crete. After HMS Formidable was damaged at Crete, 803 Squadron moved to Dekheila, where it was re-equipped with RAF Hurricanes. Next it was based in Palestine for operations against Syria from June 1941, then in August 1941 was merged into the RN Fighter Squadron (a combined unit fighting in the Western Desert).

Re-equipped again with Fairey Fulmar II in March 1942, it next operated from Ceylon against the Japanese (such as against the Easter Sunday Raid), rejoining HMS Formidable in the Indian Ocean in April. 803 Squadron then saw operations in East Africa in 1943, before absorbing 806 Squadron for army co-operation exercises. The new combined squadron was disbanded at Tanga in August 1943, and only re-formed in June 1945 ready to join 19th Carrier Air Group in the Far Eastern theatre. At the re-formation it was based at Arbroath and equipped with 25 Seafire L.IIIs, but just as it was about to ship out to the Far East in August 1945, the war came to an end.


When HMS Warrior was transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy (as HMCS Warrior) in January 1946, 803 Squadron went with the ship. In May 1951, she was renamed 870 Squadron RCN, and the designation "803 Squadron" again became available to the Royal Navy.

An 803 NAS Sea Hawk on USS Antietam in 1953.
An 803 NAS Scimitar F.1 from HMS Hermes.

Re-formed in 1958, 803 NAS became the first FAA squadron to operate a nuclear-capable aircraft, when it received the Supermarine Scimitar F.1. (Eight years and five months later, she also became the last front-line FAA squadron to operate the Scimitar.) The squadron deployed aboard the newly rebuilt HMS Victorious, and remained attached to her air group for the next two years, after which the squadron transferred to HMS Hermes for two years; during this period, the squadron had a normal complement of eight aircraft. It then moved to HMS Ark Royal, where the greater hangar capacity meant that the squadron's standard strength could be doubled to 16 aircraft. This was achieved when 803 Squadron subsumed 800 NAS (which was due to re-equip with the Blackburn Buccaneer S.1). 803 Squadron was again disbanded on 1 October 1966. The squadron's Scimitars were transferred to RNAS Brawdy, Pembrokeshire. There, they were overhauled, before flying[vague] to Airwork, at Hurn. Subsequently, many appeared went on static display in various parts of the UK.

803 NAS was re-formed as the headquarters for the Buccaneer S.2 trials, on 3 July 1967, based at RNAS Lossiemouth. In August 1968, the squadron demonstrated the FAA's ability to reinforce forward-deployed carriers, when a flight of four Buccaneers flew from Britain to in the Indian Ocean, joining Hermes. Following a government decision to scale-down the British carrier force, 803 NAS was disbanded on 18 December 1969; her aircraft were transferred to the RAF.

Second World War battle honours

  • North Sea 1939
  • Norway 1940
  • Libya 1940–41
  • Matapan 1941
  • Crete 1941
  • Mediterranean 1941–44

Aircraft flown


  • Fleet Air Arm 803 Squadron
  • Squadron history
  • FAA Buccaneer Association

External links

  • Pilot with 803 NAS[permanent dead link]