The first RAF unit to sink a German U-boat during the Second World War has returned to Northern Ireland.
The 502 (Ulster) Squadron Reserves won 10 distinguished flying medals during the campaign. It disbanded in 1957 but has been reinstated at Aldergrove on the shores of Lough Neagh following a shake-up of the airforce across the UK.
Dick Spencer, 88, was one of the last to fly as part of the original stand-by force and attended yesterday’s launch event at the airfield.
“I am so pleased to see it. We enjoyed our time with the squadron, there was such comradeship,” he said.
He served on exercises but did not see active combat.
“I hope members of the reserve will have the sort of enjoyment and pleasure that we had.”
The veteran from Coventry, who worked for an aircraft manufacturer in Belfast after he left the RAF, signed a piece of fuselage dating back to his time of service in the 1950s.
The squadron was formed in 1925 as a special reserve unit based at Aldergrove. As war broke out, it became part of RAF Coastal Command.
Despite the command being known as the Cinderella to Bomber Command’s Prince Charming, in November 1941 the squadron became the first unit to make a successful attack on a U-boat with air-surface radar, in the Bay of Biscay.
The Armed Forces have been expanding reserve forces as part of a major rethink in line with the winding down of deployment to Afghanistan.
Air Marshal Sir Timothy Anderson was heavily involved in the formation of the new squadron.
He said the unit could be deployed to any part of the RAF in support of operations.
“They bring competencies and skills but it is not a case of 502 squadron deploying en masse,” he explained.
“Sometimes it will be in support of a squadron or a base whose members have moved forward on operations. Sometimes they will be in support of operations where they are out conducting roles.”
Almost 2,000 reservists are supporting units across the force.
The Air Marshal added: “Reservists have shown tremendous support... and bravery across the last number of years and I am sure that RAF 502 will become one of those.
“There is a benefit to society as a whole when young men and women go out and get professional training and understand what camaraderie is and bring those experiences back into the host community.”
The RAF is recruiting for reservists and is holding a number of information meetings. For more information, www.raf.mod.uk/raf reserves.