History of the 602 Squadron
« City of Glasgow »
Squadron formation – 1925
The City of Glasgow has a special place in the history of aviation. Percy Pilcher, an assistant lecturer in Naval Architecture at the University of Glasgow, was flying hand gliders at Cardross on the banks of the Clyde from the Summer of 1895, the first series of repeated heavier-than-air flights in the UK, so it is hardly surprising that the first squadron of the newly established Auxiliary Air Force was that of the City of Glasgow, number 602.
In 1912, Captain ACH MacLean, landings officer of Number 2 Squadron Royal Flying Corps, chanced upon James G, ‘Jimmy’ Weir performing flying experiments at the Moorpark area in Renfrew before the First World War and decided to designate it as a suitable airfield. Renfrew later became an Acceptance Park for aircraft built on Clydeside during WW1.
Formation of the First Auxiliary Air Force Squadron
On the 12th of September 1925 Flt Lt Dan Martin arrived in Renfrew to form the City of Glasgow Squadron, which became the first of 21 Royal Air Force Auxiliary Squadrons. The Commanding Officer was the distinguished Sqn Ldr C N Lowe who gave way to auxilliary Captain J D Latta, a former RFC ‘Scout’ pilot, on 1 February 1926. The first accommodation for 602 Squadron was a wooden hut within 52nd (Lowland Division) Signals at Jardine Street before a new HQ was built by the local Territorial Association at 49 Coplaw Street. It was formally opened by King George V on 12 July 1927. Recruiting was slow but the first aircraft arrived from Henlow on 7 October 1925, a De Havilland 9A trainer, H144. Two others were delivered in early 1926 along with two Avro 504ks. The first auxiliary airmen were enrolled in early November but it was not until April 1926 that the first auxiliary pilots were accepted, messrs Davidson, Drew and Parker.
Flight over Everest
In April 1933, two 602 pilots: Commanding Officer Lord Clydesdale; and his number two, David Fowler MacIntyre; became the first men to fly over Mount Everest. The objective was to survey and map the mountain range, which has until then had remained largely uncharted. Rival French and German teams were also being prepared for a similar mission so the expedition was a source of national pride, especially for the two Scottish pilots from 602. The planes used for the expedition were the new Westland Wallace, with a 550 horse power engine and a flying time of 4 hours, and the Houston Westland. To save on fuel, the planes were stripped of brakes and the pilots flew without parachutes. After a first attempt during which the cameraman lost his air supply at 34,000 feet and was rendered unconscious, the second flight provided the pictures and film required to record the vital data which would expand human knowledge of this famous mountain range. On their return, both pilots were awarded the Air Force Cross and the freedom of Renfrew. David F MacIntyre went on to command 602 Squadron in 1936 having been seconded in 1932 to the RAF’s regular 12 Squadron.
David F MacIntyre’s son, Dougal, has written a book on his father’s achievements titled ‘Prestwick’s Pioneer – The Life of D F MacIntyre’.
Change from Bomber Group to Army Co-operation Group
In a somewhat unpopular transfer, 602 Squadron was transferred from No. 2 Bomber Group to No. 22 (Army Co-operation) Group on the 1st November 1938. The Squadron was re-equipped with Hawker Hectors. In little more than two months, an escalation in tensions saw 602 Squadron transfer again, this time a more popular transfer to No.13 ( Fighter) Group.
World War Two
First Auxiliary Squadron to be equipped with Spitfires
In May 1939, 602 Squadron became the first of the Auxiliaries to be equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire. Although challenging at first, Spitfire quickly won the affections of the 602 pilots and the roar of the Merlin engine became a familiar noise over the Clyde.
On the 23rd of August 1939 orders were received that would embody 602 Squadron into the regular RAF. In all, 22 officers and 174 airmen under the command of Sqn. Ldr. Douglas Farquhar were equipped with new Supermarine Spirfire Ias.
First shots fired in aerial war by George Pinkerton
War was declared on the 3rd of September 1939 and both 602 and 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadrons had little time to wait for action. On the 16th of October, 602 pilot George Pinkerton intercepted and inconclusively attacked an enemy Heinkel 111 in doing so he fired the first shots of the war over the skies of Great Britain. Much has been written about this historic first encounter with the Luftwaffe. Later the same day George Pinkerton (602) and Archie McKellar (602) attacked Helmut Pohle’s Ju88 and brought it down off Crail. Credit for this kill was given to George Pinkerton. Pat Gifford (603) was on the other side of the Forth where he attacked another Ju88 and brought it down into Aberlady Bay. The next engagement with the Luftwaffe was a mere 12 days later when Archie McKellar shot down a Heinkel 111 which was able to land substantially complete near Humbie (East Lothian). Some parts of this aircraft can now be seen in the 602 Squadron Museum collection.
Continuing their firsts, 602 Squadron’s Sandy Johnstone made the first Spitfire ‘kill’ at night during night ops at RAF Drem. Andy McDowell’s last ‘kill’ by 602 at RAF Drem was also made at night.
Battle of Britain
George Pinkerton was posted to Ops Room RAF Turnhouse and Archie McKellar to 605 Squadron. Sandy Johnstone was promoted to take over the Squadron by AVM ‘Birdie’ Saul and led 602 into the Battle of Britain. On the 12th of August 1940, 602 Squadron were sent to Westhampnett on the South Coast. This was right in the front line of action in the Battle of Britain. They were thrown into the thick of it almost instantly and went on to have a truly remarkable record during the war. 602 Squadron served longer in the front line than any other Squadron during the Battle of Britain and scored the second highest toll of enemy aircraft. A message from HQ11 Group aptly sums up their performance –“Group Commander sends warmest congratulations to 602 Squadron on their magnificent combat at midday when they destroyed eight fighters and shot down two others without loss of pilots or aircraft creating a record for months past.” After the Battle of Britain 602 Squadron continued to excel carrying out Spitfire night operations and the first Spitfire dive bombing attacks on ground targets. This led to pinpoint raids on V1 and V2 sites. They were brought back from the Allied lines in Europe to Norfolk to deal with the V2 sites mainly in Holland.
602 Spitfire Strafes Erwin Rommel’s Staff Car
On 17 July 1944, Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel, the ‘Desert Fox’ and commander of all German forces in Normandy, was driving back to the front line after an urgent meeting at his Panzer tank headquarters. Heading back to the battlefront, he was about to co-ordinate the German counter attack against the Allied forces in Normandy. Spitfires from 602 Squadron, based behind the front lines at B11 Longues-sur-mer, were patrolling the skies above when a German staff car was seen below. Ken Charney was first to spot the German break out in the Falaise Gap and alerted the Allied Forces. Led by Squadron Leader Chris Le Roux, 602 Squadron Spitfires attacked the car as it sped down the Livarot-Vimoutiers road. 20mm shells raked the car, severely wounding the driver who lost control, struck a tree and spun off the road. Rommel was injured as his head struck the windscreen and was thrown out of the car, fracturing his skull. In doing so, 602’s Spitfires removed Germany’s commanding general from the Normandy battlefield. The RAF credit 602 with taking Rommel out but there are a number of other claimants.
Post War Activity
With the reactivation of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, No. 602 was reformed as a day fighter squadron on the 10th of May 1946 at RNAS Abbotsinch. The Royal Navy took control of Abbotsinch in 1943 and renamed it HMS Sanderling. It never reverted to the Royal Air Force. The Spitfire gave way to De Havilland Vampire jets in January 1951. The same year also saw all the Auxiliaries mobilised for the Korean War.
Disbandment – 1957
It was expected that the new Hawker Hunter would replace the ageing Vampire but the switch was never made as all of the Auxiliaries were disbanded in March 1957. In addition, 602′s compatriots at Abbotsinch, Nos. 1830 and 1843 Squadrons, the Scottish Air Division , RNVR and 1967 Flight of No. 666 Air Observation Post Squadron, would also be disbanded.
Squadron Reformation – 2006
1st July 2006
602 Squadron was reformed on the 1st of July 2006. The Squadron’s role is to provide operational support to the RAF’s intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) units at RAF Kinloss and RAF Waddington, as well as other deployed locations as needed (individual deployments to date have included Kinloss, Cyprus and Iraq). It does this by specialising in the operational support roles, which encompass Flight Operations Officers (Commissioned Officers), Flight Operations Managers (Non-Commissioned Officers), Flight Operations Assistants (Junior Ranks), Intelligence Officers (Commissioned Officers) and Intelligence Analysts (both Non-Commissioned Officers and Junior Ranks).
602 Squadron Museum
518 Sauchiehall Street