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RAF raid on Stavanger airfield, 1940

RAF raid on Stavanger airfield, 1940


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RAF raid on Stavanger airfield, 1940


This aerial photo was taken during an RAF raid on Stavanger airfield after it fell to the Germans in 1940. Note the bomb explosion close to the aircraft towards the top and craters from an earlier raid on the edge of the runway.


Traces of World War 2 RAF - No. 115 Squadron 10/05/1940 - 30/06/1940

At the end of March 1939 the squadron began to re-equip with Vickers Wellingtons, with which it trained at great intensity because war was imminent. By the outbreak of World War 2 on 3 September the squadron was again operational.

Its first operation was flown on 8 October to attack the German fleet off Norway, but no ships were sighted. No. 115's first successful raid was flown on 3 December, when German shipping at Heligoland was bombed. The bombing force was attacked by enemy fighters but the squadron lost no aircraft. This was the end of daylight raids apart from North Sea sweeps which were carried out on an occasional basis. At night the squadron went on 'Nickel' raids (dropping pamphlets) until March 1940, when it flew north to attack German shipping taking part in the Norwegian invasion.

In April 1940, while on temporary loan to Coastal Command, it gained the distinction of making the RAF's first bombing raid of the war on a mainland target-the enemy-held Norwegian airfield of Stavanger/Sola.

Bergen and Stavanger being the main targets during these raids the squadron lost its first aircraft to enemy fire.

With the German invasion of Belgium and the Netherlands, the squadron began its long association with the Ruhr, bombing by night, principally attacking oil refineries and rail installations. As the position in France grew worse, No. 115 switched to tactical bombing to support the armies in France. When this campaign was over No. 115 returned to the attack on Germany and its industry, striking deeper and deeper into the Reich and reaching Berlin on 28 August 1940. In September the unit was diverted to bombing invasion barges in the Channel ports. The squadron was slowly learning the do's and don'ts of night bombing, suffering casualties on the way and finding that the main problem over a blacked-out country was finding its way about. Bomber Command was now the only means of striking back at Germany, so the bomber offensive was top priority and No.115 was carrying out raids night after night.

In WW2 the squadron's a/c were coded "KO", & in the case of "C" Flt's a/c "A4" & "IL".

Operations and losses 10/05/1940 - 30/06/1940
Not all operations listed those with losses are.

10-11/05/1940: Waalhaven, NL
15-16/05/1940
: Duisberg, D. 1 Plane lost, 5 KIA
20-21/05/1940: Dinant, B and Cambrai, F. 3 Planes lost, 12 KIA, 6 POW

Losses 01/01/1940-09/05/1940 (incomplete)

Flying Officer (Pilot) Basil V. Fanshawe, RAF 39311, 115 Sqdn., age 28, 19/03/1940, Winchester (Magdalen Hill) Cemetery, UK
Aircraftman 2nd Class George T. Rose, RAF 630965, 115 Sqdn., age unknown, 19/03/1940, Deal Cemetery, UK

Aircraftman 1st Class Desmond H. Lynch, RAF 644738, 115 Sqdn., age 20, 20/03/1940, Croydon (Mitcham Road) Cemetery, UK

07/04/1940: Reconnaissanc, North Sea

type: Wellington Mk IA
serial number: N2949, KO-H
operation: Reconnaissance
lost: 07/04/1940
Pilot Officer Roy A. Gayford, RAF 40295, 115 Sqdn., age unknown, 07/04/1940, missing
Sergeant William F. Nicol, RAFVR 740335, 115 Sqdn., age 21, 07/04/1940, missing
Sergeant Michael F. Murphy, RAF 580735, 115 Sqdn., age 20, 07/04/1940, missing
Sergeant Robert J. Moore, RAF 522730, 115 Sqdn., age 23, 07/04/1940, missing
Leading Aircraftman Daniel Armstrong, RAF 543847, 115 Sqdn., age 20, 07/04/1940, missing
Aircraftman 1st Class John Moss, RAF 629737, 115 Sqdn., age unknown, 07/04/1940, missing

Took off from Lossiemouth at 11.15 hrs, in company with aircraft from No. 9 Squadron to search for enemy shipping off Denmark. Both Squadrons were operating under the authority of HQ 18 Group, Coastal Command. Became separated from the main formation and was shot down by Me 110's. The crew are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

type: Wellington Mk IA
serial number: P2524, KO-F
operation: Reconnaissance
lost: 07/04/1940
Pilot Officer Estelles A. Wickenkamp, RAF 41088 (Canada), MBE, 115 Sqdn., age 27, 07/04/1940, missing
Pilot Officer David H. Wardlaw, RAF 40157, 115 Sqdn., age unknown, 07/04/1940, missing
Sergeant William L. Macdonald, RAF 580877, 115 Sqdn., age 19, 07/04/1940, missing
Aircraftman 2nd Class Henry G. Ablett, RAF 626935, 115 Sqdn., age 19, 07/04/1940, missing
Aircraftman 2nd Class Robert C. Peel, RAF 629076, 115 Sqdn., age 24, 07/04/1940, missing
Pilot Officer Julian P. Chester-Master, RAFVR 76006, 115 Sqdn., age unknown, 07/04/1940, missing


Took off from Lossiemouth at 11.15 hrs, in company with aircraft from No. 9 Squadron to search for enemy shipping off Denmark. Both Squadrons were operating under the authority of HQ 18 Group, Coastal Command. Became separated from the main formation and was shot down by Me 110's. The crew are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

Sources: CWGC and W.R. Chorley, Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War, Volume 1, 1939/40

back up

type: Wellington Mk IC
serial number: P9284, KO-J
operation: Stavanger, Norway
lost: 12/04/1940
Pilot Officer (Pilot) Frederick E. Barber, RAF 36223, 115 Sqdn., age 26, 12/04/1940, Stavanger (Eiganes) Churchyard, Norway
Pilot Officer (Pilot) David A. Rankin, RAF 36180 (NZ), 115 Sqdn., age 25, 12/04/1940, Stavanger (Eiganes) Churchyard, Norway
Sergeant (Obs.) Alan S. Pearce, RAF 580805, 115 Sqdn., age 20, 12/04/1940, Stavanger (Eiganes) Churchyard, Norway
Sergeant Geoffrey W.J. Juby, RAF 514904, 115 Sqdn., age 28, 12/04/1940, Stavanger (Eiganes) Churchyard, Norway
Leading Aircraftman Lionel A. Westcott, RAF 545537, 115 Sqdn., age 21, 12/04/1940, Stavanger (Eiganes) Churchyard, Norway
Pilot Officer (Air Gnr.) Peter E.T. Bull, RAFVR 76004, 115 Sqdn., age 26, 12/04/1940, Stavanger (Eiganes) Churchyard, Norway

Leading Aircraftman George W.D. Carter, RAF 568628, 115 Sqdn., age 20, 14/04/1940, Marham (Holy Trinity) Cemetery, UK

Flying Officer (Pilot) Edward J.T. Clarke, RAF 39375, 115 Sqdn., age 22, 01/05/1940, Stamford Cemetery, UK
Pilot Officer (Air Gnr.) John Marshman, RAFVR 77039, 115 Sqdn., age 26, 01/05/1940, Marham (Holy Trinity) Churchyard, UK

10-11/05/1940: Waalhaven, NL

- 6 Wellingtons No.9 Sq. Afb. Honington [S/L Peacock]
- 3 Wellingtons No.37 Sq. Afb. Marham [jointly with 75 Sq., S/L Glencross]
- 6 Wellingtons No.38 Sq. Afb. Marham [F/L MacFadden]
- 3 Wellingtons No.75 [NZ] Sq. Afb. Feltwell [jointly with 37 Sq., S/L Glencross]
- 6 Wellingtons No.99 Sq. Afb Newmarket [S/L Bertram]
- 6 Wellingtons No.115 Sq. Afb. Marham [unknown]
- 6 Wellingtons No.149 Sq. Afb. Mildenhall [S/L Harrie]

15-16/05/1940 : Duisberg

In the first large-scale Bomber Command attack on German industrial targets, 99 aircraft bomb 16 targets in the Ruhr area. This raid effectively marks the start of the Strategic Air Offensive against Germany. No aircraft are lost to enemy action, however, a Vickers Wellington of No.115 Squadron is blown off course and crashes into high ground near Rouen in France and the five aircrew aboard are killed.

Other Squadrons on this operation: 49 Sqd, .

type: Wellington Mk.1A
serial number: P9229, KO-S
operation: Duisberg
lost: 16/05/1940
Flying Officer (Pilot) Herbert P. Evans, RAF 40377, 115 Sqdn., age unknown, 16/05/1940, Bernay (Ste. Croix) Communal Cemetery, F
Corporal (Air Gnr.) Reginald F. Fallows, RAF 518379, 115 Sqdn., age unknown, 16/05/1940, Bernay (Ste. Croix) Communal Cemetery, F
Sergeant (Nav.) Thomas R. Kirkham, RAF 580599, 115 Sqdn., age 21, 16/05/1940 (Bernay (Ste. Croix) Communal Cemetery, F)
Corporal (W.Op. Air) Roger C.J. Pilgrim, RAF 531692, 115 Sqdn., age 26, 16/05/1940 (Bernay (Ste. Croix) Communal Cemetery, F)
Flight Lieutenant (Pilot) Alec E. Pringle, RAF 37299, 115 Sqdn., age unknown, DFC, 16/05/1940 (Bernay (Ste. Croix) Communal Cemetery, F)
Airborne 2335 15May40 from Marham. Cause of loss not established. Crashed between Bernay and Rouen (Eure), France.
back up

20-21/05/1940: Troop concentrations near Cambrai, F and Dinant, B

75, 99 and 115 Squadron attack Meuse Crossings at Dinant and troop concentrations near Cambrai


British Air Attacks 1939-40

Post by subskipper » 14 Apr 2004, 16:01

I'm trying to piece together a list of all the bomber raids flown by RAF Bomber Command between the outbreak of war and the end of December 1940, including leaflet drops. Any and all information as well as tips on reading regarding any particular raid within the above time frame is of interest to me. The following - very incomplete - list is drafted from Denis Richards RAF Bomber Command in the Second World War:

3/4: First night of leaflet-dropping over Germany [Number/Types of A/C]

4: First attacks on the German fleet

3: Attack on seaplane base at Hornum and Sylt.

18: Attack on warships at Wilhelmshaven: 12 Wellingtons lost.

17: Attack on seaplane bases on Sylt by 50 Whitleys and Hampdens.

11: Attack on Stavanger airfield

13/14: First minelaying by BC: Hampdens off Denmark

10/11: First BC bombs on mainland Germany

15/16: Raids on oil and railway targets in the Ruhr [failed]

17/18: 78 bombers against Hamburg and Bremen.

11/13: First attack on Italian targets [Whitleys]

1/2: Scharnhorst bombed in Kiel. [2 000ib used for the first time]

12/13: Dortmund-Ems aqueduct breached by Hampdens.

25/26: First Bomber Command raids on Berlin.

23/24 Berlin raid by 119 A/C

16/17: 131 A/C against Hamburg.

16/17: First area attack. 134 A/C against Mannheim.


Just fill in any details you can about any of the raids mentioned above or feel free to add to the list if something is missing.

Post by Andreas » 14 Apr 2004, 16:35

Post by subskipper » 14 Apr 2004, 16:42

Thanks Andreas! Will look through it.

Post by daveh » 14 Apr 2004, 16:52

I would suggest you try and get access to

The Bomber Command War Diaries
M MIddlebrook and C Everitt

The period 3/9/39 to 31/12/40 is covered on p. 21 to p 114. It includes further details on the attacks you mentioned as well as details on eg shipping strikes that failed to find targets, minelaying, leaflet raids and so forth.

The information usually consists of aircraft number and type, purpose of sortie, successes or otherwise, losses

6 Hampdens dispatched to search for shipping off Kristiansund but abandoned task because weather was too clear.
6 Wellingtons dispatched to bomb Sola airfield near Stavanger. 3 aircraft bombed the airfield 1 of the remaining 3 was shot down by German fighters.
2 Blenheims on recconaissance patrols. No incidents.
The raid by Wellingtons - from 115 squadron - on Stavanger airfield was the first intentional raid by Bomber Command on a European mainland target in the Second World War.


No. 2 Group RAF - History

No. 2 Group was originally formed as No. 2 (Training) Group on 1 April 1918 at Oxford. The unit was disbanded at RAF Uxbridge on 31 March 1920 as the need for training had lessened following the armistice.

The Group was reformed as No. 2 (Bombing) Group on 20 March 1936, with it headquarters base at Abingdon. By the outbreak of war Group Headquarters were at Wyton and composed of the following squadrons and Wings Nos. 18 and 57 Squadrons (composing 70 Wing at Upper Heyford) Nos. 21 and 82 Squadrons (79 Wing, Watton) Nos. 90 and 101 Squadrons (81 Wing, West Raynham), Nos. 114 and 139 Squadrons (82 Wing, Wyton) and Nos. 107 and 110 Squadrons (83 Wing, Wattisham)

79, 81, 82 and 83 Wings formed part of the Advanced Air Striking Force, and 70 Wing was earmarked for service with the Field Force in France. The force consisted of Bristol Blenheim Mk. IVs and the Blenheim Mk. I.

On 3 September 1939, the day war broke out, a Blenheim from 2 Group made the first British operational sortie to cross the German frontier in the Second World War. The following day saw the Group's Blenheims make the first British bombing attack of the war.

In April 1940, Norway was invaded by the Germans. In response to a request for air support two Blenheim squadrons, Nos. 110 and 107, were placed on temporary detachment to RAF Lossiemouth, from where they could attack shipping and the German held airfield at Stavanger in southern Norway.

The Group carried out intensive operations against the advancing Germans following their breakthrough of 10 May 1940, suffering heavy losses.On 17 May, twelve crews of No. 82 Squadron left Watton to attack enemy columns near Gembloux. A severe flak barrage split the formation up, allowing Bf 109s to attack. Only one Blenheim, managed to return to Watton, the rest shot down. No.82 Squadron was again operational just three days later. During June, Blenheims began a new phase by bombing Luftwaffe airfields in France. In July the twelve Blenheim squadrons of 2 Group lost 31 aircraft, along with three Wing Commanders.

During the summer the light bomber force also supported defensive operations during the Battle of Britain, bombing German invasion barges concentrated in the Channel ports.

By mid 1941 the Group was engaged in daylight raids on coastal shipping and heavily defended objectives in Occupied Europe. At that stage stage of the war the Group’s Blenheims were near obsolete and sustaining heavy operational casualties. Nevertheless,operations continued unabated under Air Vice-Marshal D F Stevenson. No. 2 Group carried out a low-level attack on Bremen in 2 July 1941 in which the leader, Wing Commander Hughie Edwards of No. 105 Squadron, won the Victoria Cross.

In December 1942 Edwards led a combined force of Mosquitoes, Bostons and Venturas on ‘Operation Oyster’, a pin-point daylight raid on the Philips electrical works at Eindhoven in Holland. RAF losses were 14 aircraft brought down by flak and fighters. Substantial damage was inflicted on the factory, but with few casualties suffered by the Dutch workers and civilian population.

2 group supported the ill-fated Commando raid on Dieppe in August 1942. Mosquitoes Mk IV's also made the first daylight attack on Berlin.

At the end of May 1943 the Group left RAF Bomber Command to join the new Second Tactical Air Force, and came under Fighter Command control until the formation of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force five months later

2 Group Mosquitoes also made the famous wall-breaching operation against Amiens gaol in early 1944 which cost Group Captain Percy Pickard (of Target for Tonight film fame) his life. By the D-day landings, No. 2 Group consisted of four wings of Douglas Bostons, Mitchells, and Mosquito light and medium bombers.

During Operation Market Garden in September 1944 it the Group included 136, 138, & 140 Wings, flying Mosquitos. and 137 & 139 Wings, flying the B-25 Mitchell.

No. 2 Group flew just over 57,000 operational sorties at a cost of 2,671 men killed or missing and 396 wounded.

It was disbanded on 1 May 1947 and reformed on 1 December 1948 within the British Air Force of Occupation. It was transferred again to Second Tactical Air Force on 1 September 1951.

No. 2 Group was disbanded on 15 November 1958.

It was reformed 1 April 1993 by renaming RAF Germany and was then disbanded on 1 April 1996 with absorption into No. 1 Group RAF. It was reformed on 7 January 2000 to take control of air transport, air-to-air refuelling and airborne early warning within the RAF. The AOC's two principal subordinates were Air Commodore AT/AAR & C3I (directing air transport, AAR, and C3I) and Air Commodore Regiment & Survive to Operate. On 1 April 2006 it took over the responsibilities of No. 3 Group RAF, which was disbanded.

Read more about this topic: No. 2 Group RAF

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RAF Kenley 1939 - 1945

RAF Kenley was re-activated at the end of January 1940 when Hurricanes of No 3 Squadron took up residence, even before the two new concrete runways, the perimeter taxiway and other facilities had been completed.

A flight of Blenheim fighter-bombers from No 604 Squadron arrived at the end of March but it was only on 16 May 1940 that the airfield was considered suitable for Spitfire operations with the arrival of No 64 Squadron – six days after the German invasion of Holland and Belgium on 10 May.

By June 1940 the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and other Allied troops were on the retreat from the continent and fighter squadrons were returning to bases in England. No 615 Squadron, equipped with Hawker Hurricanes, had a particularly tough time in Belgium, and along with the withdrawal from France of No 3 Squadron, Kenley’s Station Commander was faced with a huge logistical problem of where to accommodate these returning squadrons prior to their dispersal to other airfields.

Kenley squadrons played a great part in providing cover for the evacuation of Dunkirk. It soon became clear following the withdrawal that Britain faced the danger of being attacked itself. As Churchill said in Parliament: “I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

What General Weygand called the “Battle of France” is over. I expect that the battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. ………. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Commonwealth and Empire lasts for a thousand years men will still say, “This was their finest hour.” (Hansard, Winston Churchill, 18 June 1940)

The Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain raged between 10 July and 31 October 1940 and Kenley’s pilots were very much in the firing line.

For a seaborne assault on the south coast of England, the German war machine needed complete mastery of the air which meant the RAF’s Fighter Command had to be taken on and beaten. So the Germans increasingly turned their attention to the airfields in the south-east, and particularly Kenley, whose importance had grown as it took on the role of a Sector HQ in 11 (Fighter) Group – Shoreham-by-Sea, Gatwick, Redhill and Croydon airfields were the earliest under its control.

The Hardest Day

Kenley would not have too long to wait before it became a target for Luftwaffe bombers. On 18th August 1940, the airfield sustained major damage following a heavy bombing raid by the Luftwaffe.

18th August 1940. A German Luftwaffe photograph shows the machine-gunning of one of RAF Kenley’s fighter blast pens located on the northern edge of the airfield: Hayes Lane can be seen in the background. (Stabler Heritage, RAF Museum, Hendon). Amazingly, the photographer’s account of the raid can be read here. ***

*** Personal account of the raid on Kenley by Ralf von Pebal, a Luftwaffe photographer

The ‘early warning’ radar had picked up a lot of enemy activity across the Channel that sunny Sunday lunchtime. At around 12.45pm, the perceived threat resulted in No 64 and 615 Squadrons being scrambled, although the Germans’ targets were still unclear. At 1pm, some sixty Luftwaffe aircraft, comprising a high-level and a very low-level raiding force, crossed the Sussex coast at Cuckmere Haven near Beachy Head. Air raid sirens sounded around Kenley and Caterham. Fifteen minutes later, the onslaught began from the south with nine Dornier Do17 bombers of the low-level raiding force flying across the aerodrome at about 100 feet, followed several moments later by a raid from the high-level bombers.

A pilot of No.64 Squadron RAF runs towards his Supermarine Spitfire Mark 1A as the Squadron is scrambled at Kenley, 10.45am on 15 August 1940. © IWM (HU 54420)

Damage to the airfield and its facilities is well documented: three of the hangers were well alight, the equipment stores were a write-off, as were four Hurricanes and a Bristol Blenheim bomber destroyed on the ground. Damage was sustained to another four parked aircraft and the station’s medical facilities. Seriously, no communications now existed with the outside world.

Nine airmen were killed including the station’s much loved medical officer and local GP, Flight Lieutenant Robert Cromie a further seven men and a WAAF were wounded. One soldier died of his wounds the next day and two more suffered minor wounds. Houses surrounding the airfield suffered major damage as airfield targets were missed: Valley Road in Kenley was particularly badly hit.

A Hurricane of No 615 Squadron, badly damaged by bomb blast at RAF Kenley (Unknown photographer)

Nevertheless, No 64 and No 615 Squadrons’ pilots did not allow the enemy to escape unpunished, claiming several enemy fighters and bombers as they headed for the safety of France. Of the nine low-level Do17s, only two made it back to their base north of Paris – four were shot down over England and two crash-landed in France.

While the German raiders appeared to have inflicted substantial material damage, the practical reality was somewhat different. The hangars destroyed were mainly surplus to requirements. The equipment stores were dispersed to the squadrons and the sick bay was relocated. Runway craters were filled in from mounds of rubble located around the airfield, and most importantly of all, the Operations Room remained intact. Kenley, despite the best efforts of the Luftwaffe, was ready for action within hours of the raid ending – except for one glaring problem.

Ops Room, RAF Kenley 1943, Lilian Ruth Antrobus Buchanan

The raid had identified how vulnerable RAF Kenley was to having its communication system destroyed – and the same was true for other Fighter Command bases. Lacking contact with Bentley Priory in North London – the headquarters for Fighter Command – Kenley was effectively blind to what was going on across south-east England.

To rectify this, and ensure that there was never a re-occurrence, a new communications centre was established off the airfield in an empty butcher’s shop at 11 Godstone Road in nearby Caterham Village where it was assumed it would be safe from attack. The site is now the premises of a funeral director’s office, W. A. Truelove & Son Ltd. On 1 November 1940 the communications centre moved again, about three-quarters of a mile west of the airfield to an old house called ‘The Grange’, still standing at the rear of St. John’s Church in Old Coulsdon, which offered more space and up-to-date equipment.

The Battle continues

Squadrons operating from Kenley during the Battle claimed successes as an increasing number of Luftwaffe aircraft were now operating over the south-east. There were bad days as well as good – in one day No 616 (County of Yorkshire) Squadron lost seven Spitfires and No 615 Squadron lost four Hurricanes where three pilots were killed. Yet Kenley’s pilots inflicted significant damage on the attacking bombers and fighters, many of them gaining “ace” status as a result.

A Hawker Hurricane and members of No 253 (Hyderabad) Squadron RAF in 1940. (Unknown photographer)

Once again Winston Churchill’s Parliamentary oratory matched the moment.

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day, but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate, careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power. (Hansard, Winston Churchill, 20 August 1940)

By the end of the epic battle, on 31 October, there was no doubt that Kenley had played a highly significant role. Across the six squadrons based on the airfield at various times during the course of the Battle, 33 young pilots flying out of Kenley had paid with their lives many more suffered life-impairing injuries. On the aerodrome, RAF ground crew and soldiers had been killed and wounded also.

Cross-Channel ops

In 1941 Kenley was on the offensive again, operating against enemy targets across the English Channel and escorting Bristol Blenheim bombers to their targets. An influx of Allied and Commonwealth airmen started that year with two Polish squadrons, a Czech, an Australian, and a New Zealand squadron being based at Kenley. After a Belgian Squadron arrived in 1942, six Canadian Squadrons, on rotation through to 1944, swiftly followed.

Supermarine Spitfire Mark Vs and pilots of No 350 (Belgian) Squadron RAF lined up at Kenley. Photograph by Flying Officer F W Crouch, RAF. © IWM (CH 6345)

Some of the leaders

RAF Kenley’s best known Commanding Officer (CO) was Group Captain Victor Beamish DSO & Bar, DFC, AFC, whose demeanour earned him the respect of everyone. As CO he also commanded the Sector, and despite being almost 40 – considered very old for a fighter pilot – still sometimes flew operationally, leading the Kenley Wing which comprised of three fighter squadrons. On 28 March 1942, he was leading the Wing and flying with No 485 (New Zealand) Squadron when they sighted a formation of German Messerschmitt Bf109s and Focke Wulf Fw190s just south of Calais. He was shot down and killed in the ensuing engagement, his aircraft crashing into the English Channel. He has no known grave and is commemorated on a panel at the Runnymede Memorial near Windsor.

Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson CB, DSO & two bars, DFC & Bar (Unknown)

In 1943 Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson, who ended up with a CB, DSO & two Bars, DFC & Bar, one of the RAF’s best-known aces, was stationed at Kenley commanding No 144 (Canadian) Wing during the course of the war he was credited with shooting down 34 enemy aircraft as well as seven shared victories, three shared probable, 10 damaged, three shared damaged and one destroyed on the ground. This score made him the highest scoring Western Allied fighter ace against the German Luftwaffe.

Other famous RAF pilots flew from Kenley. As a young flying officer posted to No 23 Squadron at Kenley, Douglas Bader’s Bristol Bulldog aircraft crashed on 14 December 1931 while on a visit to the Reading Aero Club badly injured Bader survived the crash but lost both legs. He rejoined the RAF in November 1939 having regained full flying status and was shot down over France on 9 August 1941, becoming a prisoner of war (POW). Wing Commander Brendan ‘Paddy’ Finucane DSO, DFC & two Bars, who flew on No 452 Squadron from Kenley in 1941, was killed whilst leading the Hornchurch Wing on a ground attack operation against a German Army camp at Etaples on the Pas de Calais on 15 July 1941. Aged 21, he was the RAF’s youngest wing commander. He also has no known grave and is commemorated on a panel at the Runnymede Memorial.

The beginning of the end

As D-Day on 6 June 1944 approached, the war was about to move further away from Kenley. Command and control were restructured and No 421 Squadron left for RAF Tangmere in April 1944 leaving the airfield’s role diminished, while Sector Control was taken over by nearby RAF Biggin Hill.


Gloucestershire's lost WW2 airfields and what is there now

From the Gloster Meteor to Concorde, the Red Arrows to those top secret B2 Stealth Bombers, Gloucestershire has a rich history when it comes to aviation. Indeed, even before aeroplanes, one of the first balloon flights recorded happened over Cheltenham.

We’ve traced the history of Gloucestershire’s aerodromes and airfields which have been lost over the years.

Did you know that part of the M5 past junction 12 follows the line of an old runway? That the Red Arrows were formed in the Cotswolds or the brave glider pilots that landed in Normandy in the early hours of D-Day were towed across the Channel from tiny Cotswold villages.

Today Gloucestershire has just a handful of airfields, the three biggest being Gloucestershire Airport at Staverton, Cotswold Airport at Kemble and of course RAF Fairford, run by the USAF.

Yet during WW2 there were more than 30 active airfields across the county. Join us for a trip back in time to find lost aerodromes, runways which have disappeared into fields and the hidden history of Gloucestershire’s aviators.

RAF Aston Down

Perched on the hills above Chalford, not far from Minchinhampton, Aston Down is still an active airfield today with those graceful gliders which you see circling the Stroud Valleys based there. The airfield, originally RAF Minchinhampton, was reopened in 1938 and during WW2 was home to maintenance, ferry and training units. It stayed in the hands of the RAF until the late 1970s - even welcoming the odd visit from the Red Arrows - before becoming a private airfield afterwards.

RAF Babdown Farm

Most recently seen on episodes of Top Gear and now home to a furniture unit visited by David Beckham, this little airfield sits on the road between Tetbury and Calcot. Another training base this airfield was small but busy, with more than 570 RAF staff and a further 223 Women’s Auxilary Air Force staff based there during the peak of operations. It closed after the war and has since been partly returned to fields with the rest of the site now industrial estate.

RAF Barnsley Park

A small relief landing site, used during the final years of WW2 as a satellite base for storing aircraft.

This tiny airfield, no more than a couple of grass landing strips and a few buildings at one point played its own role in the Battle of Britain. It was a detachment base for the Hawker Hurricanes of 87 Squadron and later the Supermarine Spitfires of the 92 Squadron protecting the south west. Flying ended in 1944 and the site closed shortly afterwards. Today not much remains.

RAF Boddington

The odd one out, this was an RAF base with no airstrip. Opened in the 1940s as an army telephone exchange it was later an RAF signals unit. It stopped being an MOD site in 2007 and is now known as ISS Boddington, a Joint Forces Command operation.

Bowldown Farm

Just outside Tetbury, on the way to Westonbirt, this little aerodrome was a relief landing ground for nearby RAF Hullavington and RAF Kemble where new pilots would practice circuit flying.

Another odd one out because it wasn’t an RAF site, instead this was the home of the Gloster Aircraft Company. Today the Dowty factory on Hurricane Road has a section of the original runway, which used to run across the land between Cooper’s Edge and Tesco.

The Gloster Aircraft Aerodrome, where Britain’s first jet-powered aircraft performed trials, and the Gloster Meteor was built and flown.

RAF Chedworth

Inactive since the 1980s, this airfield was mostly used for training purposes in its heyday. It opened in 1942 as a satellite station serving RAF Aston Down, and was controlled by numerous RAF units throughout the early 1940s.

From June to July 1944, RAF Chedworth was home to the headquarters squadron of the Ninth Air Force of the United States Army Air Forces units.

Today, the skeleton of the site includes most of the two runways, one of the two original blister hangars, the armoury and the battle HQ building. Although, the site is largely agricultural.

RAF Down Ampney

This airfield, just a few miles outside of Fairford played a remarkable role in WW2. Home to 48 and 271 Squadrons, as well as the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion and the 3rd Parachute Brigade HQ, the Dakotas which took off from the field in Gloucestershire dropped troops into France via the Horsa gliders they towed behind them. On D Day 570 paratroopers left Down Ampney for Normandy. The airfield also played a pivotal role in Operation Market Garden (Arnhem). Today the remains of the airfield are clearly visible from above, although much of the site is now farmland. And the village remains rightly proud of its history with tributes to the squadrons who were based at Down Ampney in the form of memorial windows and a garden at the church which was a welcome sight to so many troops returning home.

The most famous pilot to fly from Down Ampney was David Lord, awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his bravery in the Battle of Arnhem. As the pilot of a Dakota which left Down Ampney to drop supplies to troops he found himself under attack from anti-aircraft guns on the ground. Instead of abandoning his mission, despite the starboard engine being set on fire, Flight Lieutenant Lord continued to the dropping zone and ensuring the supplies were dropped. With the plane now on fire he ordered his crew to leave the plane but a few seconds later the wing collapsed and plane plummeted, only one member of the crew survived.

His VC citation read: "By continuing his mission in a damaged and burning aircraft, descending to drop the supplies accurately, returning to the dropping zone a second time and, finally, remaining at the controls to give his crew a chance of escape, Flight Lieutenant Lord displayed supreme valour and self-sacrifice."

Where were all these airfields - we&aposve mapped them out below but if you really zoom in on some of them you can see the path of the runway or old buildings, pay close attention to Moreton Valance, Bibury and Long Newnton (note: map may not show on mobiles)

RAF Fairford

Today it is the longest runway in the county, long enough for the B2 Stealth Bomber and before that the Space Shuttle and Concorde, but RAF Fairford is one of the newer airfields in Gloucestershire, not built until 1944. Originally aimed as a base for British and American troop carriers and gliders, much like neighbouring Down Ampney, it was not until after WW2 that it expanded and became such a key strategic base. The Americans arrived in 1948 and in the 1960s Fairford briefly became home to the Red Arrows. Now a USAF forward operating base, Fairford sees regular visit from the B2s, the B52 bombers and the U2 spy planes. It also hosts RIAT, although not this year.

At the time of WW2, still part of Gloucestershire, Filton was home to the Filton Sector Operations Room which was part of No. 10 Group, RAF Fighter Command. It was bombed in September 1940, with the Luftwaffe concentrating their attack at the Bristol Aeroplane Company&aposs works on the south side of the airfield. Six air raid shelters were hit and 200 people were killed.

The site now houses BAE/ Airbus and Aerospace Bristol.

RAF Innsworth

Another site with no airstrip, this was a technical training base for airframe fitters and mechanics. It opened in 1940, with more than 2,000 officers based there at one time. By 1941 this had risen to 4,000 including members of the Womens Air Auxilary Force. Post war there were more than 5,000 people living at Innsworth, which later became home to the RAF Record Office and various admin offices including RAF Base accounts. In March / April 2005 the MOD Medals Office and Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) were established at Innsworth.

Now known as Imjin Barracks it is the home of the NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.

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RAF Little Rissington

RAF Little Rissington was built in the 1930s and quickly became a key site for training pilots. The Central Flying School was based there along with being the main administration base for the Red Arrows. Originally an RAF site, the USAF took over in 1981 until 1993. During WW2 it started off as a training, maintenance and storage site, with local satellite sites being used later on due to the number of planes being stored there. RAF Kemble became a satellite base for Little Rissington as it became too busy to accommodate the new jets that came along in the 1950s after war.

The site still belongs to the RAF, and has been used as a film set in recent years. It was used in the James Bond film Die Another Day.

RAF Long Newnton

Long Newnton aerodrome began WW2 as a decoy site for nearby Kemble. It would be lit up to mirror Kemble in a bid to foil enemy planes. But as the war wore on it came into use in its own right as a storage and maintenance unit. Its grass runways were used for training pilots in blind flying techniques.

Straddling the Wiltshire/ Gloucestershire border, Kemble was opened in 1936 as an aircraft storage and maintenance unit. No.4 Service Ferry Pilot Pool arrived in 1940 and the following year Kemble became the headquarters for all the RAF Ferry units in the country. No.5 maintenance unit was at Kemble from 1938 until 1983 serving the RAF and latterly the USAF. It was most famously home to the Red Arrows from 1966 until 1983.

In private hands since 2001, it is now known as Cotswold Airport, and houses a number of businesses including an air salvage business, the airfield has also hosted filming for Top Gear and even a couple of Formula One tests. It is currently storing a number of large Boeing 747s.

RAF Moreton Valence

A test site for the Gloster Aircraft Company and an important airfield in its own right. If you drive down the M5 from J12 towards J13 (or the other way) then you will cover part of the old runways. Most famous for the Gloster Meteors and Javelins that flew from there.

RAF Moreton-in-Marsh

Built relatively late on in 1940, Moreton was a relief runway and training base, home of No.21 Operational Training Unit flying Vickers Wellington bombers. It is now the site of the Fire Service Training College.

RAF Northleach

Technically nearer Hampnett than Northleach this little airstrip was an emergency landing ground for the Glider Training School from nearby Stoke Orchard.

RAF Pucklechurch

The home of the barrage balloons flown over Bristol, RAF Pucklechurch sat on the site now occupied by Ashfield Young Offenders Institution. It opened in 1939 and was operational until 1959.

Park Corner (near Daglingworth)

No more than a grass landing strip, this little airfield was a storage field for planes which could land quickly and be hidden by the surrounding trees from enemy eyes. Several large Short Stirling bombers were dispersed here and delivered by civilian ATA pilots.

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RAF Quedgeley

No runway but this RAF base was one of the last to close in the county, still operational up until a few years ago. During WW1 it employed more than 6,000 people in its munition factories but by WW2 it served as a maintenance site up until the 1990s.

RAF South Cerney

Perhaps the best example of what an early WW2 aerodrome looked like can be found at South Cerney. Look on Google Earth and you&aposll see a large, almost circular, landing ground (field) with no concrete runway.

Today it is run by the Army but during WW2 South Cerney was a very important training base and an RAF Service Flying Training School was based there flying Airspeed Oxfords and Hawker Harts. This training role continued through to the 1960s with Piston Provosts and North American Harvards.

It was later designated the Head Quarters for 23 Group, RAF, and remained in RAF control until 1971 when it was handed over to the army and renamed the Duke of Gloucester Barracks.

RAF Southrop

Blink and you&aposd miss the site of this former airfield on the edge of Southrop, it is on your left if you head into the village from Fairford, not far from Macaroni Woods. A relief landing ground for training flights from RAF South Cerney it boasted three grass runways. It was used from 1942 by No.2 Flying Training School and other training units through to November 1947.

RAF Staverton

Once situated at the site that is now Gloucestershire Airport, RAF Staverton was used for training operations from 1936 through to the 1950s. Famously, it was used by Sir Alan Cobham and later Flight Refuelling Ltd who pioneered the use of Air-Air refuelling techniques for aeroplanes.

Several flights and units were based at Staverton throughout WW2 and it went on to become a popular flying club and business aerodrome.

In 1946, the RAF Police Dog Training School moved from Woodford to Staverton. It is now known as Gloucestershire Airport.

RAF Stoke Orchard

RAF Stoke Orchard, near Bishop&aposs Cleeve, was developed in the early 1940s, initially to be used as a Relief Landing Ground. Between July 1942 and January 1945, the airfield was predominantly used for the training of glider pilots and instructors. Its first occupants were the Tiger Moths of No.10 Elementary Flying Training School that moved in from Weston Super Mare (RAF Locking).

In the present day, the airfield is now an agriculture/waste plant. What was once the Coal Board is now a Bloor Homes housing estate, the streets of which are namesakes of people, firms and aircraft related to the airfield - including Armstrong Road and Hurricane Drive.

RAF Windrush

RAF Windrush in the Cotswolds was only in use between 1940-45, and is now partly in ownership of the National Trust. It came into use during the summer of 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain but it was essentially a satellite and relief landing for the busy Little Rissington.

Between 1992 and 1997, The Midland Parachuting Club was granted a lease to use a strip of grass at RAF Windrush as a runway, using the Watch Tower as their base for parachuting - which was restored and is home to a very small museum dedicated to Sgt Bruce Hancock who collided with a marauding German bomber during the evening of Sunday 18th August 1940, losing his life in the process.

This story was first published in June 2020 and updated in April 2021.

These are just a few of the lost airfields and airstrips in Gloucestershire and we are always keen to hear more stories about the amazing pilots, crew and volunteers who served our country during WW2 in Gloucestershire. If you have a story to share please comment below or get in touch via email or social media.


RAF Bomber Squadron disaster over Denmark

At 8.30am on the 13th August 1940 twelve Bristol Blenheim aircraft from No. 82 Squadron took off from Watton in Norfolk to make a daylight raid on Aaalborg airfield in Denmark. They had considerable experience of airfield attacks, including that on Amiens airfield on 30th July 1940. There was no fighter escort and the target was at the limit of range. One aircraft turned back with technical problems.

Bombing attacks on German airfields were considered as important to the defence of Britain as the efforts of Fighter Command, there were 24 such raids during the course of this week alone.

It was believed that cloud cover would offer some protection to the Blenheim bombers mounting the raid. But the clouds had disappeared when the Danish coast was reached and German air defences were alerted. Wing Commander Lart decided to press on with the attack. When they reached the target all eleven aircraft making the attack were shot down, either by waiting Me 109 fighters or by Anti-Aircraft fire. Only 13 of the 33 crewmen taking part in the raid survived to become prisoners of war.

German military funeral for some of men lost from No.82 Squadron, held on 16th August.


RAF raid on Stavanger airfield, 1940 - History

Pilot Officer (Pilot) Frederick Edward Barber, RAF 36223, 115 Sqn., age 26, 12/04/1940, Stavanger (Eiganes) Churchyard, Norway
Pilot Officer (Pilot) David Alexander Rankin, RAF 36180 (New Zealand), 115 Sqn., age 25, 12/04/1940, Stavanger (Eiganes) Churchyard, Norway
Sergeant (Observer) Alan Sydney Pearce, RAF 580805, 115 Sqn., age 20, 12/04/1940, Stavanger (Eiganes) Churchyard, Norway
Sergeant Geoffrey William James Juby, RAF 514904, 115 Sqdn., age 28, 12/04/1940, Stavanger (Eiganes) Churchyard, Norway
Leading Aircraftman Lionel Allen Westcott, RAF 545537, 115 Sqdn., age 21, 12/04/1940, Stavanger (Eiganes) Churchyard, Norway
Pilot Officer (Air Gunner) Peter Edward Tucker Bull, RAFVR 76004, 115 Sqdn., age 26, 12/04/1940, Stavanger (Eiganes) Churchyard, Norway

Wellington P9284 was the lead aircraft in the second wave of the raid, and crashed on top of a bakery in Stavanger. Other sources say that P9284 crashed on top of Storhaug School in Stavanger, killing two (or three) civilians in the building


Clifton

Clifton airfield (also known as RAF Clifton, RAF York, RAF Rawcliffe, York Municipal Aerodrome and Clifton Moor airfield) was an airfield 280 kilometers north of London.
The airfield opened on 4 July 1936 as a civilian airfield, serving the city of York. The field actually had a longer history with aviation, as three years prior it had been used by an air circus, demonstrating the fields suitability for a commercial airfield. The grounds were bought by the York Corporation in 1934 with just that purpose in mind.
Before the outbreak of World War II, the airfield was managed by Yorkshire Air Services and Country Club Ltd. They ran a flying club and an air taxi service, but there were no scheduled flights. The airfield was taken over by the RAF at the outbreak of war in September 1939 and used as a relief landing ground for RAF Linton-on-Ouse. In December 1939 the airfield came under Army Co-operation Command. Westland Lysanders were stationed with 4 Sqn in August 1940.
In 1941 a complete RAF Station was built at the southeast side, and further in this direction living sites were built with accommodation for 500 personnel. Three concrete runways were built also, to facilitate a Halifax heavy bomber repair unit (No.48 Maintenance Unit) at the airfield. A major air strike by the Luftwaffe badly damaged the airfield in April 1942. 169 Army Co-operation Sqn and 613 Sqn became new units at the base in December 1942. The Fleet Air Arm used the airfield for two months (March and April) of 1943. The airfield was then transferred to RAF Fighter command, although 48MU remained on the base.


Overview of the airfield, believed to have been shot after the April '42 Luftwaffe raid ( cliftonwithout-pc.org.uk ).


The World War II control tower in 1945 ( controltowers.co.uk ).

After the war ended in May 1945, over half the remaining Halifax bombers were flown in from all over the country. For the next two years, the main task of 48MU was to strip down these old war machines. At one time, a huge pile of metal -some 80 feet high- could be seen near Rawcliffe village. The RAF had already left the airfield (in 1946) when scrapping was done. The Air Ministry had not decommissioned the airfield however.
The airfield was again used by Yorkshire Aviation Services, but high rents to the Ministry closed the aeroclub in the early 1950's. After a period of disuse, the site was sold by York Corporation for housing development. By the late 1980s most of the airfield buildings had disappeared, but the runways still remained. The airfield is now covered by the Clifton Moor Retail Park and a housing estate.


The remains of RAF Clifton in the 1980s

The airfield is not completely gone however. Until at least 2007 at least 3 sections of the former airfield remained. To the north, two sections of runway and their connecting taxi tracks still existed near the roundabout to Clifton Moor Gate in the A1237. Another section of runway (with taxi track) existed south of the A1237 roundabout to Wigginton Road. The third section was a group of hangars standing on what was the south side of the former airfield. These had been in use to store grain, but were torn down in the spring of 2009.


Tearing down of the hangars in May 2009 ( forums.airshows.co.uk ).


Overview of Clifton in 2007 (Google Earth)


Myths of History: The Battle of Britain (July -October 1940)

After the defeat of France in June 1940, Britain alone and faced the might of the armed forces of Nazi Germany which plans for the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) to sweep the skies over Britain to make way for an invasion. Nothing stood between British defeat but the men of the ‘few’, the British Fighter Pilots of RAF Fighter Command. After intense air battles however, the RAF won by the narrowest of margins and Hitler is forced to turn his attention to Russia.

Makes for a great story doesn’t it? But no this isn’t quite what happened. Despite the above often being the popular narrative of the Battle of Britain, especially in the area of public history, it just simply isn’t the full story and elements are pure myth. So often with history the true story paints a much more interesting picture of events. As historians our job is to uncover the truth and often the more interesting true story shines greater light on the incredible events of history. So, let’s take a look at a few points about the Battle of Britain that seem to hang in the collective memory.

The RAF in 1940 compromised of numerous ‘Commands’. The three we will examine are Fighter Command (made of fighter aircraft), Bomber Command (Yup, bomber aircraft – see how this works) and Coastal Command (okay slightly different here but these were a mixture of aircraft types that were stationed near the…well coast and would mainly be used in…well coastal operations.) All these commands would play an invaluable role in the Battle of Britain.

As this headline suggests, the Battle of Britain was just as much an offensive battle for the RAF as a defensive and the offensive operations would be critical to the RAF’s success. Image: https://c8.alamy.com/comp/e5ggfr/1940-the-sun-new-york-front-page-reporting-luftwaffe-bombing-raid-e5ggfr.jpg

As Fighter Command defended the skies over Britain, Bomber and Coastal Command launched numerous raids over Germany and the occupied territories which included a raid on Berlin that forced Hitler to order the Luftwaffe to focus on bombing British cities rather than the RAF airfields – an event made famous as the turning point in numerous books and in the 1969 film Battle of Britain. Again, these raids diverted resources away from the offensive. However, there is more to even this key event, and these raids were vital to the Battle, demanding and came at a huge loss of aircraft and aircrew.

A key and often forgotten fact is that Bomber and Coastal Commands raided Luftwaffe airfields over a longer period than the Luftwaffe ever did on RAF airfields during the battle. This campaign on Luftwaffe airfields began on 19 th June 1940 and would consist of 1097 sorties (a combat mission of an individual aircraft) over the whole course of the Battle, the raids by the Luftwaffe on RAF airfields lasted, sporadically, from the 12 th August until the 7 th September. The damage done by the RAF raids varied, but there were cases of airfields suffering severe damage and these raids occurred night and day proving a thorough nuisance to the Luftwaffe. Luftwaffe fighters were diverted to provide cover for these raids and away from the offensive on Britain. Numerous German sources from Luftwaffe personnel attest to the irritation and damage of these raids.

The RAF Bomber and Coastal Command aircrews’ part in the Battle of Britain is often completely forgotten’. Here a painting depicts German Messerschmitt 109’s engaging with Blenheim bombers in 1941. Similar scenes were frequent in 1940. © Robert Taylor https://www.artranked.com/topic/Robert+Taylor#&gid=1&pid=13

The RAF bombers would also attack the invasion barges along the coast. From July to September the RAF would destroy roughly a tenth of the invasion fleet assembled to invade Britain and two Victoria Crosses (the highest gallantry award in the British military) would be awarded to Flight Lieutenant Roderick Learoyd on 12 th August Sgt John Hannah on the 15 th September for raids against the invasion barges. These raids would disrupt invasion preparations, force German forces to the defensive and send a clear message that the skies not only over Britain were denied to the Luftwaffe but also that the RAF’s presence was clearly visible over mainland Europe. A key part of denying the option of invasion.

In May 1947 an official Roll of Honour for aircrew lost by the RAF in the Battle of Britain was published and stood at 1497, which included the Bomber and Coastal Command losses and copy of which lies in Westminster Abbey. Today though, the numbers given for losses stands at 537 with the members of Bomber and Coastal Command omitted. Why the change?

The Battle of Britain ‘Roll of Honour’ at Westminster abbey in London. Image: https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-news/battle-britain-sunday-2019

Well, Bomber crews don’t perhaps make for ‘natural heroes’. Later raids such as that on cities like Dresden would question the use and conduct of the bomber crews and play a part in the removal of their part in the battle. Attacking civil targets would eventually become a war crime under the UN. The bombers also often flew from airfields hidden away deep in the countryside, frequently at night and their actions took place over enemy territory. The air battles the fighter pilots took part in were clearly visible for the British public to see during the day and often over built up areas, including London and over the ‘Home Counties’ whilst bomber squadrons were stationed much more north. Additionally, if we compare Luftwaffe losses (1400) to RAF losses including the bombers crews in the Battle (1800), the RAF come off much worse than the usual figure of around 500 only including Fighter Command losses. Hardly the statistics for a British victory.

The RAF aircrew were not all officers, many were NCO’s (often Sergeants) and came from a variety of backgrounds. If we were to walk through a typical RAF airfield in 1940 the air would be filled with a variety of accents, we might hear a Yorkshire accent or an Irish one. You could perhaps hear American accents, or maybe French or Polish. The countries recognised for Fighter Command are (in no order): Canada, Poland, New Zealand, France, Jamaica, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, Australia, South Africa, South Rhodesia, Belgium, Barbados and the USA. (I want to add here that the cover image of this article includes, on the far left, Sgt Billy Strachan from Jamaica who flew in Wellington bombers during 1940)

‘The Men who saved the World’ by Frank Oswald Salisbury in 1946 located at the RAF Museum Hendon. Such heroic and superhuman imagery would rarely be depicted of the bomber crews. The white male dominated arena of the battle in title of the painting is a common popular conception of the Battle after the war © Photograph James Jefferies 2015

The effort was a multi-national and multi-cultural one. Later in the war the list of nations would grow and even include some Germans. A famous example being Ken Adams who was born in Germany in 1921 and emigrated to Britain in 1934 to escape the Nazi’s (Ken and his family were Jewish). He would later go on to fame as a set design and win numerous awards working on films that included James Bond and Dr Strangelove.

Women also played a critical role as members of the Woman’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). These would act as plotters for maps of raids over England, drive lorries and act as radio operatives guiding aircrew as well as take on many other crucial roles. There were also women in the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) who would deliver aircraft to RAF airfields. Additionally, Women would crew the anti-aircraft guns and barrage balloons. Women played many vital roles in the Battle.

Though the role of women supporting the RAF was made evident at the time, as seen by this Picture Post cover, the narrative changed post war and the public memory has only recently started including the important role that women played. https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/312648399123485083/?nic_v2=1a6mRDnYR

The battle is shrouded in many more myths, but just taking the above examples and looking at the true story, an ever more fascinating and inspiring story is revealed. The survival of Britain during the Battle of Britain meant that it’s Empire, Commonwealth and allies, with vast resources and access to these could carry on the fight to Nazi Germany, which, with ever demanding drains on resources, needed a quick victory that it failed to achieve. Once the USSR held off invasion from Nazi Germany and the USA entered the war in 1941 (interesting fact: RAF aircraft were armed with American Browning Machine Guns during the Battle of Britain) it merely quickened the inevitable defeat of an overstretched and out resourced Nazi Germany. There is a lesson here in unity, not solidarity, to be taken. The truth of history is so often more fascinating than the myths that nations, societies and cultures tend to build. As historians, I feel it is our duty to tell the more nuanced truths of history and confront the prevailing myths to tell fuller, richer and inspiring lessons from our past.


Watch the video: RAF conducts bombing raids on German industrial areas 1944 (November 2022).

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