Thursday, 15 September 2011

602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron - On this day in Scottish Military History - 1925 and 1940

A slightly different On-this-day because it covers two events on the same date, fifteen years apart.

In the mid-1920s it was decided to form an air reserve equivalent to the Territorial Army and Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. It would be called the Auxiliary Air Force and several squadrons would be formed around the UK. The first auxiliary squadron to be raised was No 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron. It was formed at RAF Renfrew on this day in 1925. It was initially equipped with Airco DH9As. The DH9A was an aircraft which had served during the last months of the First World War and was effectively obsolete before it was even sent to 602 squadron.

Another Scottish squadron was raised shortly afterwards; No 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron was formed at RAF Turnhouse on 14th October 1925. Both squadrons went through various aircraft over the next fourteen years; Avro 504Ks, Fairey Fawns, Westland Wapitis, Hawker Harts, Hawker Hinds, Hawker Hectors, Gloster Gauntlets and Gloster Gladiators. Over that time they changed role from light bomber to army co-operation to fighter squadrons.

By late 1939 both squadrons were equipped with Spitfires and were on defensive duties in Scotland. In October 1939 603 squadron intercepted the first German raid against the UK when Luftwaffe JU88s attempted to attack the naval base at Rosyth. 603 were still at their base at RAF Turnhouse and brought down the first German aircraft to fall on British soil. 602 were based at RAF Drem in East Lothian and were also in the air on that day. Shortly after 603 shot down their bomber, 602 claimed their first kill. The Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding sent a message to the squadrons that night. "Well done. First blood to the Auxiliaries!".

By August 1940 the Battle of Britain was reaching a critical point. The Luftwaffe had switched to bombing London after a raid on Berlin by the RAF. Air Marshall Dowding replaced his tired squadrons in 11 Group in the South of England with squadrons from the Northern Fighter Groups. 602 Sqdn went to RAF Westhampnett in Sussex on 12th August 1940, and 603 Sqdn went to RAF Hornchurch in Essex on 27th August 1940. They were soon in the thick of the fighting and would be for the rest of the battle.

This day seventy one years ago was the turning point of the Battle of Britain. Both squadrons were in action on this day. 602 squadron shot down 10 German aircraft, and 603 Squadron intercepted two Luftwaffe raids, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Germany had launched 1,500 aircraft against London over the day but Luftwaffe losses were so great on 15th September 1940 that two days later Hitler postponed his invasion plan, Operation Sealion, until 1941. Luftwaffe tactics also now changed from day attacks to night bombing.

The Battle of Britain had reached its climax but there was still a lot of hard fighting to be done by both Scottish fighter squadrons over the next five years.

We should also not forget No 612 (County of Aberdeen) Squadron. It was formed at RAF Dyce on 1st June 1937 during a pre-war expansion of the Auxiliary Air Force and soon took on a reconnaissance role. It served throughout the war in the vital but not very glamorous maritime reconnaissance role as part of Coastal Command.

In 1957 all three Scottish reserve squadrons along with all other Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons were disbanded.

In 1999 it was decided to reuse the old RAuxAF squadron numbers for non-flying RAF part-time reserve units. No 2 (City of Edinburgh) Maritime Headquarters Unit became 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron. In 2006 the mission support element of the Edinburgh Squadron was split away to form another squadron in Glasgow and No 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron was back on the RAF books after a hiatus of nearly fifty years.

Eighty five years after it was first formed, Glasgow's own is still going strong. It now has an ISTAR (Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) mission support role. In recent years Its members have served at RAF Kinloss and on attachment to RAF units in Iraq, Cyprus and Afghanistan.

Cave Leonem Cruciatum

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