The airfields that are displayed below are all those airfields within Fighter Commands' 11 Group including satelite airfields. The time span of each chart is from July 10, 1940 untill September 31, 1940 and all those squadrons that officially based the airfields shown are shown to the left of each chart. The type of aircraft of that squadron is also colour coded and shown in the squares for the period of time that the squadron was based there. Thuis it is easy to see on the Hornchurch chart that no Hurricane squadrons were officially based there during the Battle of Britain period. It should also be understood that those squadrons or flights that were posted to satelite airfields as a temporary/precuationary measure are not shown.
|BIGGIN HILL (SectorStation for Sector C) |
The aerodrome was originallyopened in February 1917 as a signals unit for the RFC. Later that year,squadrons of the RFC started to occupy the airfield. Situated in the northernpart of Kent and only 20 road miles south east ofCentral London, it was one of the favouredairfields chosen to protect London. Hangars, workshops, mess halls andmarried quarters were constructed during the late thirties and by 1938,with the increase in hostilities in Europe its buildings were camouflagedand air raid shelters constructed. Later that year, the first HurricaneI's arrived for 32 and 79 Squadrons and by Sept 3rd 1939 all civilian personnelwere ordered from Biggin Hill. The airfield was one of the most importantstations during the Battle of Britain and it suffered badly on Aug 30thand 31st 1940 when it became the target for German bombers. Despite beingnearly completely put out of action on the 30th, and the Station Commanderhimself was ready to burn the remaining hangars and buildings, but somehow,the station survived, not only throughout the war years, but until 1980when the government decided to close down the station, and lay to restis colourful history.
|CROYDON (Satellitestation in Sector B for Kenley) |
This aerodrome, just fifteenmiles south of the heart of London was close to the outskirts to the hugemetropolis and although it served as a fighter station for the RFC from1915 it was to become known in its more familiar role as a civil airportfrom its inception in 1919, and becoming London's major airport in 1920.In 1924, Imperial Airways was founded at Croydon, and many aviators startedor completed their flights here and it was estimated that 100,000 peoplesaw Charles Lindburgh land his Spirit of St Louis here in May 1927.But the location did suffer from fog and low cloud, and with bad radioreception the airport was closed as a civil airport on August 29th 1939and was taken over by the Royal Air Force.
Croydon became part of 11Group RAF and was placed in the Kenley Sector. Conversion to a fighterstation from a civil aerodrome was done by the use of existing land and buildings. There werefour runways, and the existing terminal building was converted for useas an administration block, and pilot accommodation was at the adjoining"Aerodrome Hotel", fuel and oil was housed in the existing tanks and hadenough capacity for 46.000 gallons of aviation fuel. Ammunition storeswere built that would hold 1,500,000 rounds of ammunition. Early squadronsthat used the aerodrome were: 3 Squadron and 615 Squadron, 145 Squadron reformed here, 92 Squadron that had previously reformed at Tangmere was posted to Croydon.
Croydon was an important base during the evacuation of Dunkirk, and a number of tired and exhausted squadron flew back into Croydon briefly at the beginning of July 1940 before being posted north. One of these squadrons was 111 Squadron who, before Dunkirk was based at North Weald, but after "Dynamo" was re-posted to Croydon where it stayed until mid August. The first attack on Croydon was on August 15th 1940 when the Bf110's of Erprobungs Gruppe 210 the crack precision attack squadron led by Rubensdorffer attempted a surprise attack. But radar had picked them up and the Hurricanes of 111 Squadron were airborne and waiting. Many bombs were dropped, but because of the harassment by 111 Squadron most of these fell wide of the aerodrome and amongst residential areas causing many civilian deaths. But damage had been done to Croydon itself. The armoury had taken a direct hit, the control tower had taken damage as well as one of the hangars. Six airmen were killed in the attack, while fifty six deaths civilian deaths were recorded. Croydon was to receive further attacks on August 18th, August 26th and September 23rd.
Debden aerodrome was constructed during between 1935-36 and was the only airfield that was originally constructed as a fighter aerodrome during the RAF's reconstruction period, although as years progressed it did have a varied existence. Although located in 11 Group near Bishops Stortford, it is not also very far from Duxford and the 12 Group boundary, although Debden did in fact come under the operations of 12 Group for a short time until it became firmly cemented under the juristriction of 11 Group. When opened in April 1937, the airfield was all grass covered, with three large "C" type hangars on the eastern side which at the time would accommodate the functions of three squadrons. Closeby was the administrative buildings and barracks.
The first squadrons to use Debden were 73, 80 and 87 Squadrons all were flying Gloster Gladiators. First use meant that these squadrons undertook normal flying training, but fighter combat tactics were not taken seriously until towards the end of 1938 when the possibility of a European war may become a reality. When war did break out on September 3rd 1939, the squadrons stationed there were 85 and 87 Squadrons who had now been equipped with Hurricanes. 29 squadron was formed and flying Blenheims for the purpose of night operations was also based at Debden. But the status of Debden's strength was depleted after eight days when both 85 and 87 Squadrons were posted to France, to be replaced by 17 and 504 squadrons but 504 squadron had barely time to settle in when they too were sent to France.
During the 'Phoney War' period, advantage was taken of the conditions, and two concrete intersecting runways were constructed. More buildings were constructed as well as the completion of many incomplete structures. Debden, at the time was one of the most advanced of the fighter stations with modern design and planning. With the aerodrome left practically devoid of squadrons during the 'Phoney' period as all squadrons were undertaking operations in France, it was not until the opening phase of the Battle of Britain that squadrons once again became permanent at Debden. These were 17 and 85 squadrons. 504 squadron did come back briefly but was posted to Wick and 29 Squadron to Digby. On July 10th 1940, Debden received its first raid. A single Do17 dropped 20 plus HE bombs which although fell within the aerodrome boundary did no serious damage.
Although Debden and its satellite Castle Camps, and close aerodromes of Martlesham and Wattisham were kept busy during July and the early part of August, most of their patrols were along the East Anglian coast with a number of excursions to the Thames Estuary and Channel ports to assist the more southern squadrons. Throughout this period, Debden maintained only 17 and 85 Squadrons. When the Luftwaffe commenced its attacks on RAF airfields in mid August, Debden was reinforced by 257 Squadron followed four days later by 111 and 601 Squadrons replacing 17 and 85 squadrons that had been posted further south. The first raid on Debden of any significance was on August 26th 1940 when Fighter Command were following the course of a German formation, only to lose contact between Chelmsford and Colchester. Then suddenly over 100 HE and incendiary bombs rained down on Debden aerodrome. The airmen's quarters, NAAFI and the sergeants mess all scored direct hits, the WAAF quarters, motor transport section and equipment buildings were all seriously damaged. Five personal were killed instantly when their trench received a direct hit and both power and water mains were fractured.
Another raid on August 31st was just as bad as the first, and again the sergeants mess and NAAFI were badly damaged. One of the hangars was hit as well as the sick bay and a number of smaller buildings. Three people were killed and twelve were injured in the raid. After this, temporary measures were taken in relocating the operations room at a clay pit until a grammar school at Saffron Walden was acquired. Other attacks were made on the aerodrome, but none causing much damage. From September most of these attacks were during night bombing operations.
Debden continued throughout the war as a fighter station, but played an important role in night fighter operations. It was also base for the all new 71 'Eagle' Squadron followed by 121 and 133 which was to form the 4th U.S. Fighter Group. After the war the aerodrome was retained by the RAF both as a signals division then a Technical College, but in 1975 saw the RAF hand the station over to the Army where it became Carver Barracks.
Even though the history of Eastchurch dates back to 1903, it was one of those airfields that did not attain the same heights as such airfields as Hornchurch or Biggin Hill. This was mainly due to the fact that Eastchurch was chiefly used as a naval air station rather than one used by Fighter Command.
Situated on the Isle of Sheppy on the northern coast of Kent it is close to the picturesque village of Leysdown, with the important naval town of Sheerness closeby. The original airfield was constructed in 1903 where it was used by both naval and civilian fliers but was relocated in 1908 and in that same year, Short Brothers built their first aircraft factory here. The Royal Navy continued to operate from here and Lord Brabazon of Tara learned to fly here and gained the first pilots licence from Eastchurch as did Sir Winston Churchill who also gained his pilots licence here.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Eastchurch maintained its status as a navy establishment being used by the Fleet Air Arm and occasionally by Coastal Command. At the beginning of the Battle of Britain, Fighter Command used Eastchurch only as an emergency landing base, and it was not until August 12th 1940 that 266 Squadron was moved there from Wittering and Collyweston, but stayed only two days before being moved again, this time to Hornchurch. When hostilities began to increase towards the end of August, 11 Group decided to send a flight from 19 Squadron to Eastchurch which they often switched between here and Fowlmere.
(Movements of 19 Squadron are yet to be confirmed as most records state that they operated from Fowlmere and not Eastchurch)
Eastchurch came under attack a number of times, and it has been stated that it was only bad intelligence on behalf of the Luftwaffe because Eastchurch was never regarded as a Fighter Command airfield. The bombing of Eastchurch was more of a concern for the naval department than it was for Fighter Command.
There is a monument that was erected in 1955 and stands on the corner opposite All Saints church at Eastchurch. The airfield, like many others was closed in 1958 and today forms part of Stanford Hill Open prison.
Never used substantially as a fighter airfield, Gatwick was another of those airfields that were used as a stop gap measure in that it was there to be used.....just in case. It was only during the latter part of the Battle of Britain that a squadron of Defiants were based there thought to be 141 Squadron who arrived about the last day of September and stayed there until mid November.
Just a mile or so south of the River Thames Gravesend Airport serving light and internal routes was established in 1932. It was the home of Gravesend Aviation and comprised just two smallish hangars and the control tower that also housed the clubhouse. Later, Gravesend was offered as an alternative to Croydon that was often closed because of fog. A number of international airlines did in fact make use of Gravesend. In 1937 when much of the civil traffic was transferred to Luton Airport, Gravesend was taken over by Essex Aero, and in 1937 the RAF occupied a portion of the land as a Flying Training School. At the outbreak of war in 1939, the RAF requisitioned Gravesend which was to play a major part in the Battle of Britain. The first squadrons to occupy Gravesend were 32 Squadron who were the lone residents for three months before they left and 610 Squadron arrived. During the early phase of the war in France, 604 squadron Blenheims took up residence for night fighter operations while 610 squadron moved back to Biggin Hill.
Gravesend remained an all grass aerodrome, and very few modifications were made to the amenities. The hangars and administration were confined to a small area to the east of the airfield. Accommodation for the pilots was in the control tower for some, while others shared the luxury of being accommodated at nearby historic Cobham Hall of four hundred years. The ground crews stationed at Gravesend were accommodated at the 'Laughing Waters' a cafe restaurant with accommodation on the main London to Dover road. Gun emplacements were built all around the airfield which were manned by men of the Army. Aircraft, when not in use were parked all around the perimeter of the flat grassed area of the airfield. In general, Gravesend, during the Battle of Britain period always looked like a well maintained field of pasture.
Probably this may have been one of the reasons that the airfield did not suffer any German attack of any great substance. It was not until September 2nd 1940 that two HE bombs fell doing no damage but killing two soldiers. Two days later a force of He111's attempted an attack but were turned back for some unknown reason, but later another force attempted another attack but all fell outside the aerodrome perimeter. Another attack on the last days of September also failed to drop within the confines of the aerodrome, and the only achievement of the Luftwaffe was the rearranging of the contours of the Kentish landscape.
Later in the war, extensions were made to the airfield, mainly to accommodate three additional squadrons of the USAF Fighter Units. There were no bomber squadrons at Gravesend, but the aerodrome was often used for bomber aircraft returning from European operations that were low on fuel. After the war, Gravesend was used mainly for the storage of supplies and Essex Aero again returned, the war just an interruption in progress. The company wanted to rebuild the old airfield, but the Gravesend Council in their wisdom would not approve of the company's building plans and the company folded in 1957. In 1956 the RAF moved out and Gravesend Council approved plans for a housing estate to be built on the land once occupied by squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes. All that remains is a plaque in a local sports centre that list the names of the fifteen pilots killed in action who were based at the old Gravesend aerodrome.
A year after the great war was declared, the British War Office was looking for suitable locations in the County of Kent that could be used as aerodromes. Then it was decided that it was of the utmost urgency that sites close to the Channel be found for the purpose of ferrying aircraft across the Channel to France. One of the sites chosen was close to the village of Hawkinge on land owned by Lord Radnor, and a portion of this land known locally as Megone's Field because of an eccentric Dutchman of that name tried to build an aircraft there, was chosen. It was the decision of the War Office that the land would be suitable and by Autumn ground crews of the RFC where busy erecting hangars and tents. The first aircraft to land on the small section known as Megone's Field but officially named Folkestone Field were a delivery of about a dozen BE12's. The buildings appeared to be only of a temporary construction and the aerodrome was only to be used for the purpose of the ferrying of aircraft across to France.
Throughout the great war, the aerodrome continued its task as a ferrying station but in 1917, the more permanent Belfast hangars replaced the old temporary hangars and a number of administrative building blocks appeared. But because the RFC had decided to name all aerodromes according to their locality, Folkestone Field became known as Hawkinge Aeroplane Dispatch Station often ferrying supplies to the troops in France and Belgium. When the great war ended, and the Royal Air Force came into being, Hawkinge was used mainly for the disbanding of many of the squadrons that had fought in France over the last four years. After the great war Hawkinge became an important station delivering mail to British troops stationed in Germany using converted DH9 aircraft and flown by Royal Air Force pilots.
With the reconstruction of the Royal Air Force in 1923, Hawkinge became part of the large expansion program. Shrubs and trees were cleared to make way for new hangars, operational buildings, water supply and telephone systems. The aerodrome was now known as RAF Hawkinge. The airfield was to be used extensively for peacetime fighter training, and some of the first squadrons to use Hawkinge were, 25 Squadron, 504 Squadron and 2 Army Cooperation Squadron. The airfield had been slightly enlarged from its original Megone's Field but the date is unknown, but it was possibly about 1920 when the many modifications took place.
When the Second World War broke out on September 3rd 1939, RAF Hawkinge was instigated as a training station with the official title of No.3 Recruit Training Pool. For the next three months hundreds of would be fighter pilots done their training, both elementary and practical at Hawkinge which no one could understand as to why, when the aerodrome was so close to the Channel and the French coast that is was not designated as a fighter station. The first Hurricanes to arrive at RAF Hawkinge was on December 19th 1939 when No.3 Squadron flew in. The following month No.500 (Blenheim) Squadron flew in to a snow covered Hawkinge. By February 1940, it was realised that with the hostilities increasing in Northern Europe, the location was not the best in which the train raw recruits and to conduct flying training and RAF Hawkinge was handed over to Fighter Command on February 16th 1940.
One of the first "Listening Posts" was to be set up in a corner of Hawkinge. Here, under the guidance of a Flying Officer Scott-Farnie they operated long range receivers listening to German transmissions. This "Listening Post" known officially as part of the "Y" Service was later moved to a safer location inland. Meanwhile, preparations were made to construct six dispersal pens. Three which were located near to Killing Wood and the other three alongside Gibraltar Lane on the other side of the aerodrome. A wooden hut, that had been there since the early days was used a control building for the purpose of communications between the two dispersal pens, while a brick building known as the 'watch office' was used to communicate with its Sector Station at Biggin Hill. RAF Hawkinge was to be used as a satellite station for the Biggin Hill sector and squadrons would be rotated around as required. It was not known then, but Hawkinge was to become one of the "famous" of RAF airfields during WWII, and especially during the Battle of Britain.
When Fighter Command took over Hawkinge, it was decided to retain 25 Squadron who were flying Blenheims and also to reinforce them with 604 Squadron because Blenheims were needed to engage in ground attacks on any advancing German lines often flying at low levels. Hawkinge was not the best of airfields for Blenheim squadrons because for one thing it was an all grass airfield, and for the other Hawkinge was dish shaped and quite often weather conditions made landing difficult and the centre was prone to dampness. During the time of the Dunkirk operations, Hawkinge was one of the busiest of Fighter Command aerodromes being used by Hurricanes and Spitfires that came in to refuel and rearm while on operations over the French coast. Also during the Dunkirk operation, the Lysander's of No.2 Army Cooperation Squadron flew constant sorties to France dropping urgently need supplies to the B.E.F that were being pushed back towards Calais and Dunkirk.
Throughout the Battle of Britain, Hawkinge was worked non stop. During July 1940, only two squadrons, 79 and 245 were based there permanently. From May 1940 right through until the end of the Battle of Britain, almost a third of the squadrons fighting in 11 Group had spent at least a couple of days there, being moved from their sector stations into the height of the battle that was being fought at "Hells Corner" near Dover. Pilots on many occasions were forced to 'drop' in because of critical fuel situation or out of ammunition. Others were forced to land at Hawkinge because of battle damage. Some, just stopped off to refuel because they did not have enough to get back to their own airfield. Although not officially based there, 32 Squadron spent many days at Hawkinge, being sent forward from Biggin Hill. 32 spent possibly more time at Hawkinge than any other squadron. Pilots would come in to refuel during operations and lay in the sun while the ground crews attended their aircraft, and they watched the vapour trails high above as their comrades fought the aerial battle with the enemy.
August 12th 1940 saw the first air raid on Hawkinge. This was a period when the Luftwaffe commenced its series of attacks on Fighter Command airfields. Many of the buildings, including the No3 hangar, the equipment storeroom and many vehicles left in the open were destroyed. The telephone system was put out of action, and the huge pall of dense black smoke rising from fiery red flames licking from inside the many buildings indicated that damage was substantial. Luckily, the operations block and the many aircraft that were at Hawkinge remained undamaged, and although the raiders returned a couple of hours later no further serious damage was recorded. Right through the night, and the following day personnel assisted by the army managed to make the aerodrome operational and declared that there were no unexploded bombs in the vicinity.
Hawkinge was subject to further raids during the battle, but it was never declared unoperational. It was continued to be used by squadrons on a shift and rotating basis. For the rest of the war it was continually in use and was to become one of the aerodromes that was in the front line of battle, and is still remembered today as one of the greatest airfields of the Battle of Britain. After the war, Hawkinge reverted back to its original role of a training station with No.1 and 122 Squadrons being the first of the training squadrons to operate there. In 1946 most of the RAF personnel had vanished and the aerodrome was left in the hands of civilians until 1947-1948 when WAAF Technical Training Unit arrived. Later, it was used by members of the Air Training Corps for the purpose of glider training. Sadly, it was conceived that there was no further use for Hawkinge as an RAF station and on December 8th 1958, it closed its doors for the last time. It would have been a nostalgic moment for those that attended, the closing ceremony taking place in front of the only surviving hangar that saw the ravages of war.
The last straw really came in 1964 when the land that had still been owned by the Ministry of Defence decided that it should be sold off and went under the auctioneers hammer during July. Many of the old buildings still stood and scattered around there was always an odd memory to be found. But the past came to life in 1968 during the making of the film "Battle of Britain" and the airfield once again looked almost as it had done twenty-eight years earlier. But the memories lasted but a few weeks and Hawkinge again reverted back to green fields and grazing pastures. Today, most of the area occupied by Hawkinge is now in the hands of industrial and agricultural companies, but most of them preferred to use the existing old historic buildings rather than build new ones. But like many other aerodromes of the past, a portion was used for development as a housing estate. But one small portion does remain, thanks to a few enthusiasts of the Battle of Britain. They have managed to use some of the old airfield as a museum with many relics of aircraft, British and German and artefacts that will help us to continue to remember those that served and gave in those tormentous years of 1940.
Like Croydon, Heathrow, then known as London Airport was a commercial venture and remained that way throughout the war, although very few services operated. Heathrow was one of those stations that although large and could accomodate the aircraft of Fighter Command, but was used more to the advantage of the larger transports. The airfield therefore did not play any great important part during the Battle of Britain. Fighter Command preferred to use Northolt and Kenley which were nearby.
Since the war the area was developed around its outskirts for industrial purposes, while the bulk of the area was developed as London's major airport and today is one of the worlds biggest and undoubtedly the worlds busiest international airport known as London Heathrow.
Hendon has always been associated with the Royal Air Force, but never used to any great extremes as a fighter aerodrome. Back on June 27th 1936, the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane had made their first public appearance at the annual Royal Air Force Air Display. During the early part of 1940 Hendon was not used until September 5th 1940 that 501 Squadron flying Hurricanes was brought down from Catterick and was posted to Hendon. The 504 Squadron ground crews were brought down by RAF transport aircraft and set up base there. Occasionally No.1 Squadron and 303 Squadron used Hendon instead of their usual base at Northolt.
After the war, Hendon reverted back to administrative offices and annual air pageants and became very well known to the British and tourists alike. But slowly Hendon became swallowed up as the concrete jungle of the greater London sprawl moved outwards. Today, the aerodrome has disappeared, but a few acres of land are devoted to the Royal Air Force Museum which is one of the largest air museums in Britain.
Hornchurch came into being in 1915 during the Great War in an effort that attacks could be made on the numerous German airships that targeted London and various parts of Britain. The government aquired a large parcel of land known as Suttons Farm that appeared suitable for the purpose. Being a farm, the land was extremely level although it did slope away on the southern and part of the eastern side. The surface was also quite soft and a little boggy in places but the authorities thought that this would not interfere with take offs and landings.
The farmhouse was close to a road and this was used as an administration building and two RE5 canvas hangars were erected not far from the farmhouse on the western side while a 460 square metre landing area was also constructed. In those days a flame from a petrol soaked rag in fuel cans lining each side of the landing strip allowed aircraft to take off and land at night.
No.13 Squadron RFC flying BE 2c biplanes was the first squadron to use Suttons Farm, and the first aircraft to touch down was a BE 2c flown by a 2nd Lieutenant O'Malley on October 3rd 1915. This was the ninth aerodrome to that was located around the perimeter of London. Most of the aerodromes, although in reality were mere landing strips, were allocated just two aircraft each but so was the importance of Sutton's Farm that it became the base for No.39 Home Defence Unit so plans were made to accomodate larger aircraft flights, larger more robust timber hangars, some maintainence workshops and accomodation for the permanent staff attached to the aerodrome.
Suttons's Farm was to record its first claim in shooting down a German SL.11 airship on September 2, 1916. A Lieutenant W. Leefe Robinson engaged a German army Schütte-Lanz airship over the Welwyn area just north of London at about 12.15am. Much to the delight of hundreds of onlookers, they watched as the biplane twisted, turned and dived in an attempt to bring down the gas filled giant. Eventually the gas bag was punctured and the airship came down much to the delight of the cheering crowd. Lieutenant W. Leefe Robinson was awarded the Victoria Cross for this encounter. But Sutton's Farm claim to fame did not begin and end there. Just three weeks later on the night of September 23rd and 24th. Captain Alois Böcker who captained the L-33 was the first of fourteen Schütte-Lanz and Zeppelin class airships to arrive over London. He dropped most of his bomb-load on the industrial East End, between Bow and Stratford, and while damage was not widespread, many of the industrial complexes exploded into flame. An army unit at nearby Bromley fired a series of shell at the monster that carried a hydrogen capaciy of 1,590,000 cubic feet, one of which exploded inside the airship cabin, causing tremendous physical damage but no fires. Now losing height it tried to escape to the east but was engaged by a BE-2c aircraft that had taken off from Sutton's Farm. Although the British fighter did not destroy the Zeppelin it forced it down into a field in southern Essex about twenty miles from Sutton's Farm.
Captain Werner Peterson in L-32 developed engine trouble at about 12.45am while over the Deptford-Woolwich area and circled whilst hasty repairs could be made. Coming out of cloud while over the River Thames, it was spotted by First Lieutenant Frederick Sowery also flying a BE.2c from Sutton's Farm. The Zeppelin was caught in a triangle of searchlights and the BE.2c went in with all guns blazing. On the third pass flames started to emerge from the giant airship and it crashed in flames on Snail's Hall Farm at Billericay in Essex killing all personnel on board.
At the end of the war, the Air Ministry decided that they had no further use for Sutton's Farm and in 1919 they had informed the farm's owner who had been acting as caretaker that all buildings would be demolished an the land would be restored back to its original condition and Sutton's farm would be handed back to him with a letter of thanks although the owner a Mr Tom Crawford request some buildings and sheds remain.
By November 1922, the Royal Air Force decided to increase its force by fifteen new squadrons which was to undertaken as soon as possible. Being as Sutton's farm was in an ideal position for the defence of London a task force was sent to reinspect the old airfield. They reported back to the Air Ministry that the level of the ground was as it was previously but the farm had now been divided into three distinct fields that had been used for cultivating potatoes, peas, turnips and parsnips. The rest was overgrown with clover. The soil, after being constantly deep cultivated was soft but would not possibly interfere with the use of aircraft, although on the far side it has been known to become consiserably waterlogged. Some building remained but being used for farm machinery the walls and roof's of most of them were in a run down condition.
Tom Crawford who allowed the use of his farm as a landing strip in 1916 would not allow the Air Ministry to take over his land again. Other locations were taken into consideration, fruitless negotiations were again m,ade with Tom Crawford, and again alternative sites were looked into. A couple of other sites were listed as 'possibles' but the Deputy Director of Organizations stated that the only way that any of them could be aquired would be by compulsory aquisition, and if this was to be so, then Sutton's Farm being the most ideally situated would have to be aquired by this means.
Evidently aquisition was not going to be an easy task as the title deeds of the property proved. Evidently Sutton's farm had a very long history, one that dated back to 1295 and large manors and elaborate houses had been built on the land, and portions of the land had been handed over to both Winchester and Oxford Colleges.
It was not until 1926 that after considerable negotiations working around bye laws etc that some of the land could not be aquired but left for the residency of Tom Crawford, and another parcel of land on the western side purchased before the Air Ministry had enough land to commence construction of an aerodrome. The way was now clear for hangars and buildings to be constructed.
Although most of the required buildings had been completed, some were still yet to be finished when on April 1, 1928 the new aerodrome was officially opened. The first squadron to occupy Sutton's farm was 111 Fighter Squadron commanded by none other than Squadron Leader Keith Park, who, in 1940 would be Group Commander of 11 Group during the Battle of Britain. Still known as Sutton's Farm, the name was officially changed in January 1929 to Royal Air Force Station Hornchurch.
111 Squadron continued to occupy RAF Hornchurch until 1930 when it was joined by 54 Fighter Squadron and a succession of moves followed in later years. 111 Squadron moved out in July 1934, 65 Squadron moved in. In 1936 No.74 squadron moved in at abouth the same time when AM Sir Hugh Dowding was reorganizing the RAF and Hornchurch became part of 11 Group. The Air Marshal made a visit to Hornchurch in mid 1936 to discuss the Operations Room layout and the suitability of Hornchurch as a Sector Station.
With the possiblity of war with Germany looming, orders were given in August 1939 for all building on the station to be camouflaged and the staion to manned at all times night and day. Group Captain Cyril Bouchier was appointed Station Commander and RAF Hornchurch was now in the early days of being a front line station in the Second World War.
74 and 54 Squadron went out on the stations first offensive patrol on May 21, 1940, but the first 'kill' was made the next day by 65 Squadron near Flushing when a Junkers Ju88 was shot down. During the early part of 1940 leading up to the Dunkirk operation, eight squadrons had used Hornchurch although none of them were based permanently there. But RAF Hornchurch had got off to an impressive start. 128 victories had been claimed by June, distinguished visitors included; Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Trenchard, HM King George VI and now Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding. Already decorations were being handed out:
Squadron Leader James Leathart, 54 Squadron. DSO
At the commencement of the Battle of Britain, RAF Hornchurch was everything you would expect a high ranking Sector Station to be. Barbed wire and pill boxes were located around the perimeter fence, the army with personel and aroured vehicals guarded the aerodrome 24 hours a day. Records show that fuel storage was 72,000 gallons and oil storage was 4,000 gallons. Over one and a half million rounds of .303 ammunition for the aircraft could be made available. Accomodation and billetting was upgraded to a reasonably high standard, and concrete driveways and although playing no important part in the war effort a number of roads were lined with shrubs, rose trees and a variety of flowering bulbs an annuals.
Hornchurch remained a completely grassed aerodrome throughout its life. There was liitle use for concrete runways as Hornchurch was a very large airfield that had a quite flat grassed surface and being as the Spitfire required 150 yards before it became airborne, the 1,130 yeards from north-south and the 830 yards from east-west was more than ample.
Hornchurch was on the receiving end of bomb attacks over twenty times during the Battle of Britain with the most destructive being on August 31. Two attacks were made, one in the morning and the other about 5.30pm. Damage was widespread but not severe. One main power cable was cut and emergency power was switched on. 54 Squadron attempted to take off during the afternoon raid and three Spitfires were blown into the air and landed some distance away. Only one ground member was killed and a number sustained injuries.
Things were becoming dangerous at Hornchurch and although the main Operations Room had a few near misses it was decided to move it away from the aerodrome and locate it in Lambourne Hall Romford on October 15, 1940. The squadrons that occupied Hornchurch and their length of stay is shown in the chart below. During later years of the war RAF Hornchurch continued to be a front line Sector Station and it stands in high esteen with such aerodrome's as Kenly and Biggin Hill.
With the onset of June 1944 and plans in hand for D-Day, Horchurch had lost its identity as a fighter station and was used as a base for building repair units and as a transit station for British and American army personel to the battle fronts in France. As soon as the war had finished, the Air Ministry had no further use for Hornchurch as a fighter station and in June 1945 it became a Technical Training Command station. By 1946 the jet age was approching and Hornchurch could not offer the concrete runways required and it was now dying a slow and ungraceful death. It was the training centre for those whose future lay in the jet age, it was a selection post for young teenagers as a pre selection centre. With most of its personel and services Royal Air Force Hornchurch finally closed its gates on July 1, 1962 and the Air Ministry finally sold it through auction on February 27, 1963.
After that, a portion of the old Hornchurch aerodrome became a quarry, while a considerable area was set aside for development. Now, the gravel was exhausted and the area levelled off, most of the area is now a large housing estate although many of the major roads named after many of the well known fighter pilots that flew out of RAF Hornchurch, so all has not all been lost.
But one notable landmark still stands. All aerodromes used to have an unofficial mess, where matters of just about everything could be discussed, and a pint could be enjoyued at the same time. Hornchurch had "The Good Intent". Walk in and you could almost visualise that just about every pilot stationed at the aerodrome that was virtually next door, sat at one of these old well worn tables. The very uneven floor was probably were most jiotterbugged the nights away while, I wonder, just who was leaning on the shiny wooden bar. But unfortunately, ask the barmen or landlord about the pub's glorious past....and they know nothing. Ask about the signed pencil drawings and the many photographs of wartime flyers, and they believe that a local dentist or doctor resurected them when the landlord threw them out. Obviously he did not know the value of those priceless photographs today.
AIRFIELD DETAILS BELOW HAVE NOT YET BEEN COMPLETEDKENLEY