501 Squadron

Pilots of 501 Squadron RAF

 

501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron; Royal Air Force

Squadron Motto: Nil Time

501 squadron was formed in 1929 as a Special Reserve unit with day bomber duties. In 1936 the squadron was transferred to the Auxiliary Air Force and was converted to a fighter unit two years later. The squadron was equipped with Hurricanes in March 1939 and in May 1940 flew fighter cover for the Advanced Air Striking Force in France. The squadron was based in the South of England throughout the Battle of Britain, flying from Croydon, Middle Wallop, Gravesend and Kenley airfields.

The squadron was disbanded in the 1950s. Some fifty years later it was reformed, in 2001, at RAF Brize Norton, as a Force Protection unit and part of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.

The squadron was originally formed as a day-bomber unit named 501 (City of Bristol) Squadron, part of the Special Reserve Squadrons, on 14th June, 1929, made up of volunteers and regulars, flying D.H.9a’s. These were later replaced by Westland Wapitis and later still by Westland Wallaces. In 1936 the it became ‘501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron’ to reflect an increase in recruitment catchment area. On 1st May it was transferred to the Auxiliary Air Force and by July of that year was equipped with Hawker Harts.

In March, 1938 the Harts were exchanged for Hind light bombes but a significant change took place in late 1938 when 501 was transferred to Fighter Command. Gradually re-equipping from March, 1939 the bi-plane Hinds gave way to the new monoplane eight-gun fighter, the Hawker Hurricane.

Fighter pilots of 501 Squadron RAF - Hurricane

At the start of WW11 in September, 1939, 501 were based at RAF Filton in Bristol but on 10th May, 1940 were assigned to the Advanced Air Striking Force and operated out of various airfields in France following the German invasion.

With the capitulation of France, the now experienced and battle hardened 501 returned to England, via Jersey and were initially based for a short time at RAF Croydon. Re-locating to Gravesend and finally, in September, 1940, to Kenley, South London. 501 Squadron ended the Battle of Britain with 140 confirmed enemy aircraft destroyed. Notable members of the squadron included Sgt. James H ‘Ginger’ Lacey (ended the war with 28 confirmed victories), P/O K.W. McKenzie and P/O K.N.T. ‘Hawkeye’ Lee.

501 SQUADRON – Fighter, Hawker Hurricane Mk I

On the outbreak of World War Two, the squadron flew defensive patrols until the German attack on France in May 1940, when it moved across the Channel to provide fighter cover for the Advanced Air Strike Force (AASF).

CO of 501 Squadron RAFThe Commanding Officer of No. 501 Squadron RAF at Betheniville.  1940 Battle of France

The Commanding Officer of No. 501 Squadron RAF, surrounded by some of his pilots at Betheniville. Left to right; Pilot Officer K N T Lee, Flying Officer M F C Smith (killed in action the following day), Squadron Leader A V Clube (CO), Sergeant D A S McKay, Sergeant P C P Farnes and Sergeant J H “Ginger” Lacey. © IWM (C 1685)

Betheniville airfield was a series of grass fields just outside the main village, with limited working resources

The Squadron had been billeted in Betheniville village itself. On the 16th May 1940, the German army had advanced to a point only twelve miles from Betheniville, therefore the Squadron was ordered to withdraw fifty miles west to support the evacuation at Dunkirk. 501 Squadron was also believed to be the last RAF Squadron to leave France, staging through Jersey on-route to the UK before playing their part in the Battle of Britain (1 Squadron operated until 17 june in France).

Most squadron documents were lost during the withdrawal from France and a some of the information from that period is drawn from the B Flight flying log for the period, March 1939 – June 1940 This unique and most precious, hand-written log was compiled by the SNCO B Flight and records Date, Aircraft, Times, etc.

In May 1940 J.H. ‘Ginger’ Lacey of 501 Squadron shot down three enemy aircraft in a single day to win the Croix de Guerre. He returned to England with five victories.

No 501 was based in southern England throughout the Battle of Britain.

Stations

14 June 1929 – 28 November 1939, RAF Filton, Gloucestershire

28 November 1939 – 10 May 1940, RAF Tangmere, West Sussex

10 May 1940 – 16 May 1940, Bétheniville, France (with 103 Squadron)

16 May 1940 – 2 June 1940, Anglure, France

2 June 1940 – 11 June 1940, Le Mans, France

11 June 1940 – 17 June 1940, Dinard, France

17 June 1940 – 21 June 1940, RAF Saint Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands

21 June 1940 – 4 July 1940, RAF Croydon, Surrey

4 July 1940 – 25 July 1940, RAF Middle Wallop, Hampshire

25 July 1940 – 10 September 1940, RAF Gravesend, Kent

10 September 1940 – 17 December 1940, RAF Kenley, Surrey

Commanding Officer: June 1940 – November 1940 Squadron Leader H.A.V. Hogan

Current

In June 2001 No. 501 squadron was reformed in the Force Protection role as 501 (Operational Support) Squadron at RAF Brize Norton. 501 Squadrons Gunners provide a reserve of trained manpower for 1 Squadron RAF Regiment, No 4 Force Protection Wing. In 2003, its personnel deployed as part of Operation Telic, the liberation of Iraq. The squadron continues to deploy personnel on Force Protection duties in this region. In 2006 the first 501 Squadron Gunners deployed with 2 Squadron RAF Regiment to Afghanistan, carrying out force protection duties of Kandahar airfield and surrounding areas. Between November 2006 and April 2007 501 Squadron Gunners also deployed with the Queens Colour Squadron, 63 Squadron RAF Regiment to Basra Iraq. Based at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, 501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron has been newly re-formed to expand the RAF Reserves Logistics capability, recruiting Logistics Officers, Drivers and Suppliers to support the RAF Air Transport fleet. Until early in 2013 the squadron operated in a Force Protection role; its recent change of function supports the RAF Reserves requirements under the Future Reserves 2020 programme.