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 on the HMS Ark Royal in April 1938 as an RAF squadron but was transferred to Admiralty control on 24 May 1939.
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.
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.
803 Squadron was transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy in January 1946 when HMS Warrior was commisissoned, in which she was re-numbered 870 Squadron (RCN) in May 1951 (with the 803 designation returning to the Royal Navy).
803 NAS became the first FAA squadron to operate a 'nuclear capable' aircraft in 1958 when it received the Supermarine Scimitar F.1. The squadron deployed aboard the newly rebuilt carrier HMS Victorious and remained attached to her air group for the next two years, after which the squadron transferred to HMS Hermes for another two years then finally to HMS Ark Royal. From first commissioning until it joined the Ark Royal, the squadron had a normal complement of eight aircraft, but when assigned to the Ark Royal´s air group the ships larger size and hangar capacity meant the squadron strength could be doubled to 16 aircraft. This was achieved by merging 800 NAS into 803 Squadron, as the former was due to re-equip with Blackburn Buccaneer S.1 aircraft. 803 NAS had the distinction of being both the first and last Scimitar frontline squadron in the Royal Navy, and disbanded on 1 October 1966 after eight years and five months in commission. The Scimitars went to RNAS Brawdy, Pembrokeshire. There, they were overhauled before flying to Airworks at Hurn. Subsequently, many appeared around the UK on display at large establishments. 803 NAS reformed as the Buccaneer S.2 trials and headquarters squadron on 3 July 1967, based at RNAS Lossiemouth, and in August 1968 demonstrated the FAA's ability to reinforce forward deployed carriers when a flight of four Buccaneer S.2s flew from Britain to HMS Hermes in the Indian Ocean. With the rundown of the British carrier force, 803 NAS was disbanded on 18 December 1969 and the aircraft were transferred to the RAF.North Sea 1939
Hawker Osprey 1932–1944
Hawker Nimrod 1933–?
Blackburn Skua II Dec 1938 – Oct 1940
Blackburn Roc I April 1939 – April 1940
Fairey Fulmar I Oct 1940 – June 1941
Hawker Hurricane I June 1941 – March 1942
Hawker Sea Hurricane June 1942 – Aug 1942
Fairey Fulmar II March 1942 – Aug 1943
Supermarine Seafire III June 1945-end of WW2
Supermarine Seafire F.XV Aug 1945-end of WW2
Hawker Sea Hawk 1953–57
Supermarine Scimitar 1958–1966
Blackburn Buccaneer 1967–1969