601 squadron

SQUADRON HISTORY

No. 601 (County of London) Squadron was a squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, based in London. It was composed of a unique group of strong personalities, famed for their wealth and high living...

Royal Air Force Westland Wapiti

THE EARLY YEARS

In 1925 in a Gentlemen's club in London's West End, a group of wealthy aristocratic young men, all amateur aviators, decided to form themselves into a Reserve Squadron of the Royal Air Force. The idea was that of Lord Edward Grosvenor, who provided inspired, if not eccentric leadership of the embryo unit. The Squadron was 'officially' formed at Northolt on the 14th October 1925 as a light bomber unit of the Auxiliary Air Force, and was given its Squadron designation No.601 (County of London). A nucleus of permanent staff was posted to the Squadron, and on the 4th December the first Auxiliary personnel were enlisted.

Flying did not begin until May 1926 and it was the following year before the Avro 504Ks were supplemented by De Havilland 9A light bombers. Known as the 'Weekend Warriors' the pilots trained in their spare time and gained a reputation for filling their ranks with the very 'well heeled'. They all shared a passion for flying, as well as a habit of disturbing the peace of a British Sunday. In January 1927 the squadron moved to Hendon, and in November 1929 Westland Wapitis began to arrive, and a year later had replaced all the DH9As. These were in turn replaced by Hawker Harts by June 1933 and on the 1st July 1934 the squadron was redesignated a fighter unit. The Harts were replaced by Hawker Demons in August 1937. In November 1938, No.601 converted to Gloster Guantlet single-seat fighters, but in January 1939 began to receive the Bristol Blenheim.

crown 601 Squadron at RAF Hendon 1938

THE 'MILLIONAIRES MOB'

When No.601 flew in to Biggin Hill, the affluent pilots had little regard for the rigid discipline of the regular service. They were immediately regarded as rivals by No.32 Squadron who challenged them to a game of polo on their old motor cycles. The boys of 601, using a stable of brand new Brough Superiors, easily won their first battle at "The Bump". The 'Millionaires' Mob' as they have come to be known, wear blue ties rather than black, and line their service tunics with bright red silk. Almost every pilot owns his own private aircraft, among the best is an Aeronca G-ADZZ high wing monoplane belonging to John William Maxwell Aitkin. Max is the son of the 'Beaver' , Lord Beaverbrook, the dynamic owner of the Daily Express and the minister in charge of Aircraft Production.

crown 601 squadron in formation

WORLD WAR TWO

Equipped with the Blenheim 1F converted fighters, No.601 Squadron was in action on the day war was declared, when 12 pilots were alerted to intercept an 'intruder' over Knole Park. Fortunately the 'intruder' turned out to be the distant sound of a refrigerator motor! Unfortunately, on their return to base the squadron's Blenheims were mistakenly identified as German bombers and fired upon by the station's anti-aircraft guns but luckily no one was injured. In March 1940 the squadron exchanged their Blenheims for the Hurricane Mk 1.

Our Tribute to the Few