6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Surrey Life today click here

The RAF at 100: Exploring Surrey’s airfields

PUBLISHED: 10:56 24 April 2018 | UPDATED: 10:56 24 April 2018

Hurricanes of 3 Squadron, Kenley May 1938 (Photo: Aviation History Research Centre)

Hurricanes of 3 Squadron, Kenley May 1938 (Photo: Aviation History Research Centre)

Archant

The RAF is 100 years old this month. Ken Delve, who served with the RAF for 20 years, explores Surrey’s airfields and the parts they have played in the history of aviation over the past century

On April 1 1918 the Royal Flying Corps – the aviation element of the British Army – became the Royal Air Force (RAF). Surrey did not have many airfields, but it had some highly important ones, in both wars, from the great fighter airfield at Kenley to the aircraft production of Brooklands.

Brooklands was one of Britain’s earliest airfields; A V Roe made a successful flight in 1908, and in some respects, this was the origin of British aviation. Other early pioneers established themselves here, boosted by the demands of the First World War, and by the end of which had produced more than 4,600 aircraft. The airfield also housed a flying training school that turned out numerous pilots. Brooklands continued to produce aircraft, mainly by Vickers.

One of Bomber Command’s stalwarts, the Wellington, first flew here on June 15, 1936. Brooklands attracted the attention of the Luftwaffe; one attack on September 4, 1939 caused 89 fatalities. Vickers stayed on site but Hawkers, producing Hurricanes, moved out. Vickers was so busy it took on a satellite airfield at Wisley, which opened in 1943 and was developed as the main Vickers flying field. Like its parent, it continued in the same role post-war, but despite having a 7,500ft runway laid in 1952, its location made it unsuitable as Gatwick and Heathrow expanded.

By 1937 Gatwick, which until 1974 was in Surrey, was training pilots for the RAF; training ended on the outbreak of war and Gatwick became home to 26 Squadron, one of the development units for the new Army Cooperation role. Waterlogging continued to plague Gatwick and by autumn 1941 two Army Track runways had been laid to ease the problem, although much of the airfield remained a quagmire after heavy rain. Having been used by Lysanders and Tomahawks, the based units soon equipped with the Mustang. By spring 1944 it was usual for Gatwick to have three squadrons in residence and during the D-Day period the airfield played a major role in photographic reconnaissance.

Gatwick was also used by several fighter squadrons, for short detachments, but by late summer 1944 operational flying had stopped, and Gatwick’s last war months were spent with support duties. The war over, it was handed to the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

In terms of fighter operations, Kenley, in Caterham, was a key location in the Battle of Britain. However, it too had a First World War origin, opening in mid-1917 as an Aircraft Acceptance Park to take on new aircraft from local manufacturers and prepare them for issue to operational units. In the latter war months, it also housed operational squadrons on pre-deployment work-up. By the 1920s it was host to various units, including the Snipe fighters of 32 Squadron. Biplane fighters gave way to Hurricanes – just in time, as Kenley was about to become heavily involved in the defence of London, as a Sector Station of No.11 Group.

As the pattern of the war changed, Fighter Command increased its offensive operations and by 1943, Kenley was home to a Canadian Fighter Wing. Defensive ops returned to counter the V-weapon threat. Flying continued until 1959 when Kenley closed, but before that it had starred in two films - Angels One Five and Reach for the Sky.

Dunsfold was another Army Cooperation airfield, constructed by Canadian engineers and opened in late 1942, with the two Canadian Mustang squadrons arriving in December. The site was used to test rapid construction of landing strips, as part of the planning for the invasion of Europe. It was in connection with the invasion that Dunsfold joined the new Tactical Air Force, becoming home to two Mitchell squadrons. Post-war the RAF had no further use for Dunsfold, but it had a future with aircraft production for another 50 years.

Redhill spent the first part of the war as a fighter base, Spitfires being the commonest type, but then became involved in Army Cooperation, although by 1944 its role was primarily operational training and support.

Horne was an Advanced Landing Ground built to house a Fighter Wing, the only such in Surrey. The site was selected in 1942; minor roads were closed, and the usual hedge removal and culverting of ditches produced a reasonably efficient temporary airfield. The grazing animals were removed in spring 1944 and a three-squadron Spitfire Wing operated from here for six weeks, between May and June 1944, after which the cows returned.

By 1941 Fairoaks was an A-Class flying training airfield, training large numbers of pilots, and using Wisley as one of its satellites.

Ken Delve served in the RAF as aircrew from 1975 to 1994; he is an aviation researcher and author and is a trustee of the RAF Heraldry Trust, a registered charity which aims to create a permanent artwork record of all RAF unit badges. For more information, visit rafht.co.uk. Ken can be contacted at historian@rafht.co.uk.


What to see?

One of the highlights for anyone wanting to view Surrey’s aviation past is the excellent Brooklands Museum, while the Wings and Wheels show at Dunsfold each August is an opportunity to see historic aircraft in flight. The most impressive of the airfield memorials is that at Kenley.


The Region’s airfields

The list of airfields is taken from Military Airfields of Britain series of books by Ken Delve and only shows flying locations:

• Brooklands

• Dunsfold

• Fairoaks

• Gatwick

• Horne

• Kenley

• Redhill

• Wisley

More from Surrey Life

Yesterday, 16:17

As the Runnymede Rivers Celebration got under way, Rebecca Younger visited a hotel right at the heart of the action

Read more
Yesterday, 11:38

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend: art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Friday, July 13, 2018

We’ve teamed up with Naturalmat to offer one lucky reader the chance to win a duvet and pillow collection worth £225

Read more
Friday, July 13, 2018

Surrey is England’s most wooded county and the Surrey Hills boasts almost 40 per cent woodland cover. These woodlands hide a wealth of archaeological features. We pick some of the best woodland walks to explore

Read more
Friday, July 13, 2018

We round up 10 of the most beautiful photos of Surrey shared on Instagram this week…

Read more
Thursday, July 12, 2018

If your skin is loose, developing deep lines, sagging or creating the appearance of jowls you may be a good candidate for the Concept™ Facelift. This type of facelift surgery is unique as the procedure is performed under local anaesthetic, and is far less invasive than traditional methods, meaning the procedure requires minimal down time.

Read more
Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Surrey villages are some of the most beautiful in Britain – think red-bricked cottages, cosy pubs, village greens and picture-worthy streets. We picked 14 of the prettiest Surrey villages to live.

Read more
Monday, July 9, 2018

President of the Reigate-based English Arts Chorale and former King’s Singer Brian Kay conducted Britten’s War Requiem at Winchester Cathedral

Read more
Monday, July 9, 2018

Enjoy a 4 mile (6.5km) walk around this little known area of Surrey

Read more
Monday, July 9, 2018

With beautiful countryside, stunning villages and plenty of bluebells during spring, Surrey is an amazing place for a stroll

Read more
Thursday, July 5, 2018

As the weather hots up give your look a modern boho twist

Read more
Tuesday, July 3, 2018

We take a look at some of the best places to visit in Chertsey

Read more
Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Mike Read dabbled in estate agency before finding on-air fame. The former BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show presenter chats about how his call to the airwaves came at a Surrey cricket match and how he’s now commemorating Surrey greats with prestigious blue plaques

Read more
Tuesday, July 3, 2018

One of the biggest foodie events in the Surrey calendar is back for 2018! Voting is open and this year’s event will take place at G Live, Guildford on Thursday 13 September 2018

Read more
 
Great British Holidays advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Surrey's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Property Search