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502 (Ulster) Squadron

Royal Auxiliary Air Force 1925-1957

by  Ernie Cromie

Operating from airfields in Northern Ireland and Great Britain during the Second World War, 502 Squadron was engaged in convoy escort, anti-submarine operations and anti-shipping strikes, the destruction of five U-boats being but one aspect of its achievements.  The Squadron Standard, when officially presented in 1954, was emblazoned with five Battle Honours: Atlantic 1939-1944; Biscay 1941-1944; Channel & North Sea 1942-1945; Dieppe 1942 and Baltic 1944-1945.  The Squadron Roll of Honour is a poignant record of bravery and sacrifice: 174 men officially listed as killed or missing as a direct consequence of war operations,  their last resting places are unknown.


Three DSOs and 50 DFCs were awarded, two of the DFC recipients subsequently being awarded Bars to their decoration.  Numerous other decorations of various kinds were also earned.  It is to be borne in mind that 502 Squadron was not manned exclusively by Ulstermen – as the war progressed the proportion of other nationalities increased considerably.



Disbanded at Stornoway in May 1945, 502 Squadron reformed at Aldergrove in May 1946, equipped initially with Mosquitos, subsequently with Spitfires and finally with Vampires within Fighter Command.  In 1957, in company with other squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, 502 Squadron was disbanded.


Appropriately, the Squadron Standard was laid up at a religious service in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast where it hangs in commemoration of a unique aspect of Northern Ireland’s contribution to military aviation history.

502 flag 502 personel

The 502 Squadron Standard, currently laid up in St Anne's Cathedral.


Flight Lieutenant Frank Rush, DFC.


Born in Canada to immigrant parents from Belfast, Francis John (Frank) Rush was a member of the RCAF who flew with 502 Squadron in WW2.


A  BBC radio interview with Frank Rush was made during the war about operational experiences attacking coastal shipping off Norway and Denmark. To listen to the interview on youtube, and view images of his family and their visit to our collection, click on the left-hand link.

Vintage BBC Radio interview:

In 1918, the Royal Air Force was the world’s largest air force but by 1920 it had been reduced to one tenth of its former strength.  Concerns about its ability to fulfil prospective commitments eventually gave rise to the Auxiliary Air Force and Air Force Reserve Act of 1924.  This resulted, throughout the United Kingdom during the ‘twenties and ‘thirties, in the formation, respectively, of Special Reserve and Auxiliary Air Force flying squadrons, five in the former category and sixteen in the latter.


A squadron of the Special Reserve was commanded by a regular RAF officer and consisted of a nucleus, or cadre, of regulars.


The remainder of the squadron consisted of part-time volunteers drawn from its local catchment area.  Auxiliary squadrons were also ‘territorial’ in ethos but were almost wholly manned by part-time volunteers. During 1936/37, the five Special Reserve squadrons were incorporated into the Auxiliary Air Force, which received the ‘Royal’ prefix in 1947.


The first of these twenty-one squadrons to be formed, in May 1925, was 502 (Ulster) Squadron, at Aldergrove.  Originally, it was a Special Reserve unit, with a day-bombing role and was part of the Air Defence of Great Britain.  Initially equipped with Vickers Vimy aircraft, these were progressively replaced by Hyderabads, Virginias, Wallaces and Hinds.  In 1938, by which time it had been incorporated into the Auxiliary Air Force, the squadron was transferred to Coastal Command and began to re-equip with Ansons which in turn were progressively replaced by Whitleys and Halifaxes.

In this photo, taken in 1935, the following officers are assembled in front of one of the squadron's Vickers Virginias.



Marchbanks, Frazer, Magrath, Gardner, Rainsford, Holmes, Salmon, Pickersgill, Reid, Terence Corry, Badger.

MIDDLE ROW (L~R):  Mead, Sweet, Hallowell, Wing Commander Russell, Taylor, Richards, Lindsay.

FRONT ROW (L~R): Shannon, Brian Corry, Stanley, Houston.


Rainsford, who was educated at Campbell College, eventually became an Air Commodore.  Also educated at Campbell, brothers Terence and Brian Corry had quite eventful careers in the RAF, ending up as Wing Commander and Group Captain, respectively, and with an OBE each.  Brian also had a DFC.

A.W. Whitley VII belonging to 502 squadron. The squadron became the first Coastal Command unit to make a successful attack on a U-Boat with air-to-surface radar sinking U-206 in the Bay of Biscay on 30th November 1941.


BBC Radio Interview

Flight Lieutenant FRANK RUSH, DFC