502 (Ulster)

  1. The Facts

More about this squadron

Eighty-eight years after its original formation, 502 (Ulster) Squadron reformed at Aldergrove Flying Station in 2013 as part of the RAF Reserves’ growth to meet the requirements of Future Reserves 2020. As a multi-role squadron its mission is to provide a wide diversity of fully trained personnel to support current and future worldwide commitments.

Roles and specialist skills

With its wide variety of roles (see table above), 502 Squadron has opportunities for applicants from many backgrounds – whether direct entrants with no previous military experience, ex-Regular personnel (from any Service), and those with skills directly transferable from civilian life. The squadron recruits throughout Northern Ireland.

History

Like many RAF Reserves’ units, 502 Squadron was a flying unit between its formation in 1925 and stand-down in 1957, and Aldergrove was its peacetime home throughout this time. It was formed as a heavy bomber unit in the RAF’s Special Reserve – a mixed Regular and Reserve unit – and began to receive Vickers Vimys in June 1925, but replaced these with Handley Page Hyderabads in 1928. In 1931 the squadron received Vickers Virginias, which it gave up in 1935 on being re-designated a day bomber squadron, re-equipping with Westland Wallaces. These were replaced by Hinds in 1937, the squadron being transferred to the Auxiliary Air Force in July.

In November 1938, 502 was transferred to Coastal Command, converting to Avro Ansons in 1939. On the outbreak of war, it began patrols off the Irish coast, first with Ansons and then, from late 1940, with Whitleys. In January 1942 the squadron moved to East Anglia, where a maintenance base was set up at Bircham Newton, though from February all operations were flown from St Eval in Cornwall. 502 pioneered the use of Air-to-Surface Vessel (ASV) radar and on 30 November 1941 made the first successful attack on a U-boat by a Coastal Command aircraft using ASV, when U-206 was sunk in the Bay of Biscay. Conversion to Halifaxes began in January 1943, and in late 1944 the squadron moved to Scotland for attacks on enemy shipping off Norway.

By the time of its temporary disbandment on 25 May 1945 the squadron had earned five Battle Honours: Atlantic 1939–44; Biscay 1941–44; Channel & North Sea 1942–45; Dieppe 1942 and The Baltic 1944–45. The Squadron’s wartime Roll of Honour is a poignant record of bravery and sacrifice. Members were awarded three DSOs, 50 DFCs, and two DFC Bars (double awards). In all, 174 members were officially listed as killed or missing as a direct consequence of war operations.

The squadron’s first renaissance came on 10 May 1946, when 502 reformed as a Mosquito unit of the Auxiliary Air Force. In 1948 it became a day fighter squadron operating Spitfire F22s, converting to Vampire FB5 jets in 1951 and flying this type until disbanded on 10 March 1957. Its second renaissance came in 2013, when the RAF Reserves returned to Ulster for the first time in fifty-six years.

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