How Leeds helped create one of the RAF’s most feared air squadrons in 1936

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The Royal Air Force has many glorious chapters in its history but Leeds can lay claim to one of its most prestigious.

Turn the clock back to the summer of 1940, as the Second World War raged on and Britain was on the back foot. Winston Churchill famously announced: “The Battle of France is over... the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

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Following a hasty, ramshackle retreat at Dunkirk, the German high command considered it only a matter of time before Britain fell. But our pilots had other ideas and one squadron which more than proved its mettle during the aerial skirmishes which followed was 609 Squadron.

Founded in Yeadon on February 10, 1936 on the site where Leeds-Bradford Airport stands today, its pilots flew Spitfires and were the first to shoot down more than 100 enemy aircraft.

It was originally a bomber squadron. In the 1950s, it’s commander was Squadron Leader Arthur Hudson, from Leeds. A newspaper clipping from time describes the kind of training pilots went through. Hudson took part in a daring competition, a race from York, during which he flew 72 miles “just above treetop level” for 14 minutes, coming in fifth place.

In 1938, 609 was designated a fighter command squadron and re-equipped with the new Spitfire Mk1a aircraft. The new officer commanding was Squadron Leader Geoffrey Ambler, who hailed from a well known Guiseley textile family.

Yeadon Airport, June 1957'Aerial'Yeadon Aerodrome'aka Leeds Bradford Airport

Yeadon Airport, June 1957'Aerial'Yeadon Aerodrome'aka Leeds Bradford Airport

In the spring of 1940, its pilots escorted Winston Churchill on his two visits to France and in May 1940 the squadron was moved to RAF Northolt, just outside London and later to RAF Middle Wallop, Hampshire. After the war, 609 squadron reformed at Church Fenton and later moved back to Yeadon and was finally stood down in 1957. It reformed in 2000 and is now based at RAF Leeming, North Yorkshire, providing personnel to augment and support the operations of the RAF.