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633 Squadron is a British film which depicts the exploits of a fictional Second World War British fighter-bomber squadron. It was directed by Walter Grauman and produced by Cecil F. Ford for United Artists. The film stars Cliff Robertson, George Chakiris, and Harry Andrews. The script was adapted by author James Clavell and Howard Koch from the novel of the same name by Frederick E. Smith, which itself was based on several real Royal Air Force missions.


When Norwegian resistance leader Lieutenant Erik Bergman reports the location of a German V-2 rocket fuel plant, the Royal Air Force's 633 Squadron is assigned the mission to destroy it. 633 Squadron is under the command of Wing Commander Roy Grant, an American serving in the RAF. Grant is an ex-Eagle Squadron pilot (Americans serving in the RAF before America entered the war) who elected to remain in the RAF.

The plant is in a seemingly-impregnable location beneath an overhanging cliff at the end of a long, narrow fjord lined with anti-aircraft guns. The only way to destroy the plant is by collapsing the cliff on top of it, a job that only 633 Squadron's fast and manoeuvrable de Havilland Mosquitos are deemed capable of. The squadron trains for its mission in Scotlandmarker, where there are narrow valleys similar to the fjord.

The Norwegian resistance is supposed to destroy the anti-aircraft defences guarding the facility, but the attackers are all killed or captured, and the squadron is forced to attack with the defences still intact. The factory is destroyed, partly due to Grant's Mosquito fighter-bomber circling to draw anti-aircraft fire away from the other aircraft making bombing runs. Most of the aircraft are destroyed, including Grant's aircraft which crash-lands in the Norwegian countryside. A local man nearby helps Grant's navigator pull the wounded wing commander from the burning wreckage.

The mission is a success, but the entire squadron is lost, except for Grant and his navigator. Back in England, Air Vice Marshal Davis tells a fellow officer, "You can't kill a squadron."



The film emphasises the multinational nature of the Allied war effort especially in Royal Air Force squadrons; in addition to the Norwegian resistance, 633 Squadron features an American, a Sikh, a New Zealandermarker and an Australian. However, in reality, Royal Air Force squadrons, even those of Commonwealth airmen, were often arranged on lines of nationality such as the case of the Belgianmarker, Canadianmarker and Polish units.

The film was shot on location at the now defunct RAF Bovingdonmarker, which substituted for the fictional RAF Sutton Craddock base and in Glencoe, Scotlandmarker which was used for the training flight sequences and scenes with the Norwegian resistance. The riverbank where Robertson's character romances Maria Perschy's was also used in a similar early scene in the Bond film From Russia with Love.

Robertson's role was essential as not only was he a pilot but he was "invested" in telling the story and pushed for an authentic production, However, in the book the Grant character is British. With his signing, the producers were assured of outside finance as well as international appeal for the film. Although refused permission to fly in the film, Robertson was a knowledgeable pilot and his scenes stand out as a realistic depiction of operational flying. When Robertson expressed reservations about the script, Walter Mirisch engaged American scriptwriter Howard Koch resident in London to rewrite the film to placate him.

633 Squadron was the first film shot in colour in Panavision widescreen format. The choice ruled out archival footage and led to using flying aircraft instead of models or special effects to recreate the aerial sequences. Walter Grauman, the director, collected flying examples of period aircraft, creating the "Mirisch Air Force" as it was dubbed. Grauman's wartime experience as a B-25 Mitchell bomber pilot helped create an authentic aviation epic.

Although the plot revolves around an attack on a Norwegian strongpoint, the scenes were shot in the Scottish Highlands and while the spectacular aerial scenes used real aircraft, more dangerous sequences were created with models.

The aircraft

The film features real De Havilland Mosquitos, an aircraft nicknamed the "Wooden Wonder" because of its primary construction material. As the Royal Air Force had recently retired the type, civilian operators leased mostly former converted bomber examples (TT Mk 35) to the RAF for target-towing. Scouring RAF bases at Exetermarker, South Devonmarker, Henlowmarker, Shawburymarker and the Central Flying School at Little Rissingtonmarker provided not only authentic aircraft, but also vehicles and equipment of the war.

Eight Mosquitos were primarily used, five airworthy and others that could not fly but could be taxied on runways or used as set dressing. The airworthy TT 35 Mosquitos were converted to resemble a fighter-bomber variant (FB Mk VI). The TT 35 models had their clear nosecones and side windows painted over and dummy machine gun barrels fitted. The fourth airworthy Mosquito was a T3 with a solid nose which only required the fitting of dummy gun barrels. It lacked the two-stage Merlins, V-shaped windscreen and bulged bomb bay of the TT 35s. At least one surplus Mosquito was destroyed in a simulated crash scene.

The Mosquitos used in the film were:
  • RS709 - flown in the film
  • RS712 - flown
  • RS715 - cockpit section only
  • TA639 - flown
  • TA719 - flown
  • TJ118 - cockpit section only
  • TV959 - at Bovington Airfield, but was not flown
  • TW117 - flown

No original German aircraft were available so Messerschmitt Bf 108 aircraft were used to represent the Messerschmitt Bf 109.

The camera aircraft, a North American B-25 Mitchell, appears in the film, dropping Bergman back into Norway. His original escape from Norway is in a Miles Messenger.

Technical advisor former RAF Group Captain Thomas Gilbert "Hamish" Mahaddie told Walter Mirisch that looking at the amount of aircraft used in the film and looking at the strength of various air forces around the world, Mirisch commanded the 14th largest air force in the world at that time.


While critics derided the wooden acting and hackneyed plot, especially the miscast Mirisch Pictures contract star George Chakiris, the aerial scenes were spectacular and with Ron Goodwin's music remained the main attraction. 633 Squadron appears on the list of "The 100 Greatest War Films" voted by the public of the UK and is featured in the 2005 documentary of the same name.


The film's climax shows the squadron's aircraft flying down a deep fjord while being fired at by anti-aircraft guns. George Lucas stated that this sequence inspired the "trench run" sequence in Star Wars.

633 Squadron is well known in the UK for its regular appearances on television, and became almost a part of the Christmas schedule. Although erroneously considered a sequel, the film Mosquito Squadron is similar to 633 Squadron and influenced by it, even using footage from the original.


  1. RAF Squadrons
  2. Schnepf 1964, p. 43.
  3. Mirisch 2008, p. 201.
  4. Schnepf 1964, p. 44.
  5. 633 Squadron (1964)
  6. Schnepf 1964, p. 50.
  7. Schnepf 1964, p. 45.
  8. Hardwick and Schnepf 1983, p. 68.
  9. Mahaddie
  10. p. 202 Mirisch

  • Dolan, Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
  • Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Buff's Guide to Aviation Movies". Air Progress Aviation Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 1983.
  • Mirisch, Walter. I Thought We Were Making Movies, not History. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0299226404.
  • Schnepf, Ed, ed. "633 Squadron." Air Classics Summer Issue #2, 1964.

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