No. 501 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

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No.501 ‘County of Gloucester’ Squadron was a fighter squadron that was originally formed as part of the Special Reserve in 1929, and that took part in the Battle of Britain, the period of offensive sweeps over occupied Europe and the anti V-1 campaign.

The squadron was formed on 14 June 1929 as No.501 ‘City of Bristol’ Squadron, and was equipped with D.H.9A day bombers. The squadron remained a day bomber unit for most of the 1930s, converted to the Wapiti, Wallace, Hart and Hind in turn. In May 1936 the squadron became part of the Auxiliary Air Force, and its name was changed to ‘County of Gloucester’ Squadron to more accurately reflect the origins of its part time personnel.

At the end of 1938 the squadron was converted into a single seat fighter squadron, receiving its Hawker Hurricanes in March 1939. After the outbreak of the Second World War the squadron remained in Britain, flying defensive patrols. After the start of the German offensive in the west in May 1940 the squadron joined the AASF in France, and took part in the retreat across France to Brittany, ending up at Dinard from 11-18 June, before retreating to Jersey and then back to the south of England.

No.501 Squadron was based in the south of England throughout the Battle of Britain. It was at Middle Wallop (No.10 Group) for most of the initial period of convoy battles, but moved to Gravesend, a satellite station of Biggin Hill on 25 July. The squadron remained at Gravesend throughout the hardest fighting of the battle. On 15 August, one of the hardest days of the battle, the squadron was one of four that disrupted the first German attack of the battle. It remained at Gravesend during the assault on Fighter Command. On 10 September, just after the start of the daylight attack on London, the squadron finally moved, but only to the Sector Station at Kenley, where it remained until mid-December. 

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.

Aircraft
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

Location
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

Duty
1939-1945: Fighter Command

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (5 January 2011), No. 501 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/501_wwII.html

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