By Alex Jones
INCREDIBLE rare photos show just what the brave pilots of ‘The Few’ would see whilst fighting in the Battle of Britain or in the skies above Dunkirk.
Remarkable images, some of them never seen before, capture the life and times of Squadron 610’s fighter pilots, a unit which witnessed some of the most intensive aerial combat in the Second World War. When Winston Churchill famously proclaimed, “never was so much owed by so many to so few”, the pilots of 610 were amongst the select band of men he was referring to.
Striking shots show exhausted aces sprawled on the floor between sorties, Spitfires flying in inch-perfect formation, and the heart-stopping perspective of a trio of RAF fighter pilots bearing down on you
The stunning photos are included in David Bailey’s new book 610 (County of Chester): Auxiliary Air Force Squadron 1936–1940, a fascinating insight into the squadron’s history from its formation in 1936 to its courageous actions at Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain.
“The Squadron had come a long way from when Squadron Leader I. R. Parker started to form it in early 1936, as a bomber squadron, flying obsolete Hawker Harts and Hinds,” said military historian Bailey.
“He could never have imagined how it would have evolved in little more than four years, to be one of the most successful Spitfire squadrons in the RAF.
“It really is hard to believe just how much the Squadrons identity had changed between 1936 and the end of 1940.”
The 610 (County of Chester) Squadron was first established in 1936 at Hooton Park, Wirral.
With personnel recruited locally for the expanding Auxiliary Air Force, these ‘weekend flyers’ were moulded into a cohesive fighting unit as the threat of war and the German Luftwaffe grew increasingly more concerning.
As war loomed, 610 Squadron transferred to Fighter Command, ultimately operating the Spitfire.
In 1940, flying from Gravesend, 610 Squadron protected the Dunkirk evacuation, suffering seven pilots killed and one wounded.
On 26 May 1940, Churchill ordered the start of Operation Dynamo – the evacuation of more than 330,000 Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk during WWII.
RAF Fighter Command began to operate patrols from Boulogne to Dunkirk and the operations were to continue for the next nine days during the evacuation. They suffered heavy losses, but over 800 small boats volunteered to help bring 330,000 troops home, the RAF stoically performed their duty of protecting the shores and providing shelter over the evacuation.
The 610 Squadron then played a key role in the Battle of Britain, claiming a heavy toll on the Luftwaffe while operating from Biggin Hill and Hawkinge. Against dire odds, the British RAF managed to contain and fight off the Luftwaffe during months of gruelling aerial warfare.
Due to the hard work of The Few – supported by the many on the ground – Britain was able to stand firm in 1940 and eventually launch the counter attack four years later which would see the Allied Forces defeat the Third Reich.
But success did not come easily.
“In terms of facts and figures in 1940, 610 Squadron had lost twenty-two pilots killed or ‘missing, fourteen or fifteen wounded and five ground crew killed and at least two wounded, in the eight months since Germany unleashed its Blitzkrieg on 10 May 1940,”said Bailey.
“They were terrible casualties indeed.
“The Squadron had made claims for sixty-eight aircraft destroyed, seventeen unconfirmed, nineteen probably destroyed, and twenty-four damaged Luftwaffe aircraft, 128 claims in total. These statistics are evidence of the heroic effort made by the Squadron in defence of the Army and Navy at Dunkirk, and then the nation as a whole during the Battle of Britain.
“However, there is so much more to the history of 610 Squadron than such stark figures, and hopefully this book has given a greater insight into the lives, and all too frequent deaths, of the people who made up ‘The Chesters’.
“In Britain’s greatest hour of need, the pilots and ground crew were willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice in order to maintain our freedom against the tyranny of Nazi Germany.
“The valiant and courageous actions of 610 (County of Chester) Auxiliary Air Force Squadron’s personnel, should never be forgotten.”
David Bailey’s 610 (County of Chester): Auxiliary Air Force Squadron 1936–1940, published by Fonthill Media, is available here.