501 squadron – 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 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.
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.
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).
France – 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.
The squadron began flying offensive sweeps over France early in 1941, still using its Hurricanes. Spitfires arrived in April 1941, and were used for offensive sweeps for the rest of 1941 and most of 1942. The squadron moved to Northern Ireland for a rest from October 1942 until April 1943, before returning to the south of England, where it spent the rest of the war.
In July 1944 the squadron converted to the Hawker Tempest. In August 1944 pilots from the Fighter Interception Unit joined the squadron. This unit had been involved in developing methods for catching V-1 flying bombs at night, and the squadron took part in the anti V-1 campaign until September, when the Allied armies captured the last V-1 launching areas.
The Germans responded by launching V-1s from bombers operating over the North Sea. No.501 Squadron moved to East Anglia, where it flew a mix of defensive patrols aimed at these bombers and escort missions for Bomber Command’s daylight bombers. By March 1945 the squadron had shot down at least 88 V-1s.
The squadron was disbanded on 20 April 1945, but was reformed as part of the post-war Auxiliary Air Force in May 1946, still as a fighter squadron.
March 1939-May 1941: Hawker Hurricane I
April-June 1941: Supermarine Spitfire I
May-September 1941: Supermarine Spitfire IIA
September 1941-July 1944: Supermarine Spitfire VB and VC
November 1943-July 1944: Supermarine Spitfire IX
July 1944-April 1945: Hawker Tempest V
June 1929-November 1939: Filton
November 1939-May 1940: Tangmere
May 1940: Betheniville
May-June 1940: Anglure
June 1940: Le Mans
June 1940: Dinard
June 1940: Jersey
June-July 1940: Croydon
July 1940: Middle Wallop
July-September 1940: Gravesend
September-December 1940: Kenley
December 1940-April 1941: Filton
April-June 1941: Colerne
June-August 1941: Chilbolton
August 1941-July 1942: Ibsley
July-August 1942: Tangmere
August-October 1942: Middle Wallop
October 1942: Hawkinge
October 1942: Middle Wallop
October 1942-April 1943: Ballyhalbert
April-May 1943: Westhampnett
May-June 1943: Martlesham Heath
June 1943: Woodvale
June 1943: Westhampnett
June 1943-January 1944: Hawkinge
January-February 1944: Southend
February-April 1944: Hawkinge
April-July 1944: Friston
July-August 1944: Westhampnett
August-September 1944: Manston
September 1944-March 1945: Bradwell Bay
March-April 1945: Hunsdon
Squadron Codes: SD
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.