Monday, 4 January 2010

The Kipper Patrol

Louise Wilkinson, author of the book ‘The Kipper Patrol,' explained how 608 Squadron Auxiliary Air Force became known by this name to a Books and Banter audience at Stockton on 5th August 2009.

Julie's book came into being following research she had undertaken for a higher degree. 608 Squadron were based at Thornaby aerodrome in North East England.

The squadrons making up the Auxiliary Air Force before WWII were essentially gentlemen's flying clubs. Membership was by discrete invitation only. 600 and 601 based in the London area were almost aristocratic with 601 being known as the ‘Millionaires Mob.'

At Thornaby membership of 608 was drawn from important families and the sons of prominent business men. Louise's book deals with the history of 608 Squadron, the stories of the pilots and airmen as well as the history of Thornaby aerodrome. Their role as part of Coastal Command was to protect shipping convoys and to look for submarines. They referred to their unglamorous role as "the kipper patrol."

Louise's research brought her into contact with survivors of the veterans and their families. The book includes many photographs from their personal collections. 608 was formed in 1930 and was active once or twice a week and at weekends. If they did not like an instruction then they just went home. This was to change with the start of the war when the members became full time members of the RAF. In 1942 the squadron moved to Scotland and later to North Africa.

Other RAF squadrons based at Thornaby during the war included Polish and Canadian pilots. The Hudson aircraft became the workhorse for Coastal Command work. It was 220 Squadron from Thornaby that found the German ship, the Altmark, off the Norwegian coast near Egersund; this find led to the rescue of the British prisoners aboard in what has become known as "The Altmark Incident"

After the war 608 Squadron was reformed in 1946 but was eventually to be disbanded in 1957. Thornaby aerodrome has been swallowed up by the ‘new' town of Thornaby. Some of its buildings remain in use. A bronze statue of an airman has been erected and a controversial replica spitfire stands on a roundabout at Thornaby ‘gateway.' Although spitfires flew from the base, many still argue that the replica should have been of Thornaby's iconic Hudson.

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