History of the 602 Squadron
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 Liverot-Vermoutiers 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.