No. 609 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

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No.609 (West Riding) Squadron began the Second World War as a fighter squadron, taking part in the Battle of Britain, before moving onto intruder operations, eventually joining Second Tactical Air Force.

The squadron was formed in 1936, rather later than most Auxiliary Air Force squadrons, but like its predecessors was initially a day bomber squadron. In December 1938 it became a fighter squadron but it didn't actually receive any fighters until August 1939, when it began to convert to the Spitfire.

The squadron spent the first months of the war in the north, before moving to the south-east in May 1940. The squadron helped cover the evacuation from Dunkirk. It was based at Middle Wallop (No.10 Group) for the entire Battle of Britain, and remained in the south over the winter of 1940-41.

Offensive sweeps began in February 1941, using the Spitfire for the first year. In April 1942 No.609 became the third squadron to get the new Hawker Typhoon, joining Nos.56 and 266 Squadrons in the Duxford Wing. The new wing's first operation was an uneventful fighter sweep on 20 June 1942, carried out in support of 'Circus 193', but for the first few months the squadron's main role was defensive.

The Duxford Wing took part in Operation Jubilee, the Dieppe landings of 19 August 1942. It flew three sweeps on the fringes of the main fighting. The second sortie saw No.609 become involved in an inconclusive skirmish with a number of Fw 190s, with no losses on either side.

In the aftermath of the Dieppe operation, in which the Typhoons were sometimes mistaken for Fw 190s, the squadron's aircraft were given yellow wing bands. These were replaced late in 1942 by a white nose and black under-wing stripes, and then by the black and white under-wing stripes familiar later on as D-Day invasion stripes.

In September 1942 it was decided to use the Typhoon against the low level Fw 190s that had been raiding the south coast with virtual impunity. No.609 moved to Biggin Hill, then in December to Manston to bring it closer to the coast. In the rest of December the squadron claimed seven victories. In the same period the squadron began to fly day and night intruder missions as well.

On 20 January 1943 the Germans tried a new tactic, when fighter bombers from JG 26, supported by others from JG 2 and some from the fighter school near Paris, made an attack on London that involved 90 Bf 109s and Fw 190s in three waves, a much larger formation that for some time. No.609 Squadron intercepted the second wave, and claimed four Bf 109Gs from 6./JG 26. Amongst these successes were the first victories for Flg. Off. Johnny Baldwin, the leading Typhoon ace of the war. No.609 was the most successful Typhoon squadron in February, and on 14 February was involved in a patrol to protect a crippled MTB from German attack in the channel.

The pace of German operations slackened off during the spring after several of the units posted on the Channel coast were moved to Sicily. The first major fighter bomber attack for some time came on 1 June, and saw Flg. Off. I J Davies claim three victories. In the period from mid October 1942 to 1 June 1943 the squadron claimed 27 of the 47 Typhoon victories, making it the most successful Typhoon squadron. 

During the same period the squadron began to fly night intruder missions. This was inspired by Roland 'Bee' Beamont, the squadron's commander late in 1942. He decided to see if the Typhoon was suited for the role, and carried out a test flight in which he attacked and destroyed a train near Abbeville. After some training the squadron began to fly regular intruder raids, and had attacked 25 trains by the end of December 1942.

During part of 1943 the squadron's intruder work was restricted by a limit of 300 hours flying per month caused by a lack of serviceable engines, but even so new roles were still adopted. The squadron was used for short range bomber escort, such as the 30 July 1943 raid on Schipol airfield. In the summer of 1943 the squadron received 400 gallon drop tanks. One could be carried under each wing and they extended the aircraft's range by 400 miles. On 8 August this allowed Flt Lt. L. E Smith to make the first Typhoon flight to reach German airspace. This allowed the squadron to reach German night fighter and training bases on their intruder missions.

Between October 1943 and February 1944 Nos.609 and 198 Squadrons operated together from Manston, and scored an impressive run of successes, mainly on 'Ranger' missions over occupied Europe. On 5 October the squadron recorded its 200th victory, celebrating with a massive party in the Hotel Majestic, Folkstone. On 4 December the squadron provided top cover for Ramrod 348 and with No.198 claimed eleven Do 217s from KG 2. These successes didn't come without a cost – on 21 December the squadron's commanding officer, Pat Thornton-Brown was lost. His aircraft was shot down by a USAAF Thunderbolt while the squadron was escorting USAAF Marauders. He bailed out but was killed by ground fire.

Early in 1944 the squadron's aircraft were given rocket rails, and the rockets became its main weapon. In March 1944 the squadron joined 2nd Tactical Air Force and took part in the campaign against road and rail links.

In the month before D-Day the squadron took part in the campaign against German radar stations, including a successful attack on the station at Caudecôte near Dieppe on 2 June.

In June the squadron moved into the Normandy Beachhead, to provide direct support for the Allied armies.

On 20 August the squadron played a part in the battle of the Falais gap when it took part in an attack on a strong German tank formation that was pressing the Polish Armoured Brigade near Vimoutiers. Four squadrons took part in the attack which devastated a force of 100 German tanks.

After the Allied breakout the squadron advanced into the Low Countries. From then until the end of the war it was used on armed reconnaissance sweeps over Germany. The squadron was disbanded on 15 September 1945, but reformed in May 1946 as part of the new Auxiliary Air Force.

Aircraft
December 1937-September 1939: Hawker Hind
August 1939-May 1941: Supermarine Spitfire I
February-May 1941: Supermarine Spitfire IIA
May 1941-May 1942: Supermarine Spitfire VB and VC
April 1942-September 1945: Hawker Typhoon IA and IB

Location
February 1936-August 1939: Yeadon
August-October 1939: Catterick
October 1939: Acklington
October 1939-May 1940: Drem
May-July 1940: Northolt
July-November 1940: Middle Wallop
November 1940-February 1941: Warmwell
February-July 1941: Biggin Hill
July-September 1941: Gravesend
September-November 1941: Biggin Hill
November 1941-March 1942: Digby
March-August 1942: Duxford
August 1942: Bourn
August-September 1942: Duxford
September-November 1942: Biggin Hill
November 1942-July 1943: Manston
July-August 1943: Matlask
August-December 1943: Lympne
December 1943-February 1944: Manston
February 1944: Fairwood Common
February-March 1944: Manston
March 1944: Tangmere
March-April 1944: Acklington
April-June 1944: Thorney ISland
June 1944: B.2 Bazenville
June-July 1944: Hurn
July 1944: B.10 Plumetot
July-September 1944: B.7 Martragny
September 1944: B.23 Morainville
September 1944: B.35 Baromesnil
September-October 1944: B.53 Merville
October-November 1944: B.67 Ursel
November-December 1944: B.77 Gilze-Rijen
December 1944-January 1945: A.84 Chievres
January-March 1945: B.77 Gilze-Rijen
March-April 1945: B.91 Kluis
April-May 1945: B.116 Wunstorf
May-June 1945: Lasham
June 1945: Fairwood Common
June-September 1945: Wunstorf

Squadron Codes: PR

Duty
1939-1942: Fighter Command
1942-1944: Intruder squadron
1944-1945: Second Tactical Air Force

Part of
September 1939: No.13 Group, Fighter Command
8 August 1940: No.10 Group, Fighter Command
4-16 March 1944: No.123 Wing; No.84 Group; Second Tactical Air Force
16 March-1 April 1944: No.146 Wing; No.84 Group; 2nd Tactical Air Force
1-22 April 1944: No.123 Wing; No.84 Group; Second Tactical Air Force
22-30 April 1944: APC Llanbedr, part of No.136 Wing
30 April 1944 to end of war: No.123 Wing; No.84 Group; Second Tactical Air Force

Books

Typhoon and Tempest Aces of World War War 2, Chris Thomas. This book tells the tale of the troubled Hawker Typhoon, concentrating on its use as a fighter rather than its more successful career as a ground attack aircraft, and its transformation into the excellent Tempest, one of the best fighters of the later years of the Second World War [see more]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (2 April 2012), No. 609 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/609_wwII.html

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