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Royal Air Force Tangmere
RAF Tangmere Station Crest.jpg
Station Crest
Active 1917 - 1970
Country United Kingdom
Type Flying station
Role Defence of London & South East England
Part of No. 11 Group RAF
Garrison/HQ Tangmere, West Sussex, England
Royal Air Force Ensign Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
Engagements Battle of Britain,
Evacuation of Dunkirk,
Preparation for D-Day,
Normandy Campaign

RAF Tangmere was a Royal Air Force station famous for its role in the Battle of Britain, located at Tangmere village about 3 miles east of Chichester in West Sussex, England. American RAF pilot Billy Fiske died at Tangmere and was the first American aviator to die during World War II. Famous World War II ace Douglas Bader was a Wing Commander at Tangmere in 1941.

Contents

History

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World War 1

The aerodrome was founded in 1917 for use by the Royal Flying Corps as a training base. In 1918 it was turned over to the American Air Force as a training ground, and continued as such until the end of the Great War in November of that year, after which the airfield was mothballed.

In 1925 the station re-opened to serve the RAF's Fleet Air Arm, and went operational in 1926 with No. 43 Squadron equipped with bi-plane Gloster Gamecocks (there is still a row of houses near the museum entrance called Gamecock Terrace).

World War 2

As war threatened in the late thirties, the fighters became faster, with Hawker Furies, Gloster Gladiators, and the Hawker Hurricanes powered by the famous Merlin engines all being used at Tangmere. In 1939 the airfield was enlarged to defend the south coast against attack by the Luftwaffe, with Tangmere's only hotel and some houses being demolished in the process. The RAF commandeered the majority of houses in the centre of the village, with only six to eight families being allowed to stay. It was only in 1966 that the village resumed its status as a civilian community.

A line of Supermarine Spitfire Mark VBs of No. 131 Squadron RAF, being prepared for a sweep at Merston, a satellite airfield of Tangmere

In August 1940 the first squadron (602) of Supermarine Spitfires was based at the satellite airfield at nearby Westhampnett, as the Battle of Britain began. By now the villagers had mainly been evacuated, and extensive ranges of RAF buildings had sprung up.

The first and worst enemy raid on the station came on 16 August 1940 when 100 Junkers Stuka dive bombers and fighters crossed the coast and most headed for Tangmere. There was extensive damage to buildings and aircraft on the ground. 14 service people and six civilians were killed, but the station was kept in service and brought back into full operation.

Throughout the war, the station was also a secret base for the Special Operations Executive who flew agents in and out of occupied France to strengthen the Resistance. The SOE used Tangmere Cottage, opposite the main entrance to the base. Today the cottage sports a commemorative plaque to its former secret life.

Later in the war, as the RAF turned from defence to attack, the legendary Group Captain Douglas Bader – the legless fighter ace – commanded the Tangmere wing of Fighter Command. Today he is commemorated in the Bader Arms public house in the village.

Many of those killed at the base, from both sides in conflict, are buried in the cemetery at St Andrews Church, Tangmere, today tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Post war

RAF Tangmere Control Tower in 2009

After the war, the RAF High Speed Flight was based at Tangmere. In September 1946, a world air speed record of 616 mph (991 km/h) was set by Group Captain Edward "Teddy" Mortlock Donaldson in a Gloster Meteor; after his death in 1992, he was buried in St Andrews Church. In September 1953, Squadron Leader Neville Duke flew a Hawker Hunter at 727 mph (1,170 km/h) – the 50th anniversary of this event was commemorated in 2003.

The station finally closed on 16 October 1970; a single Spitfire flew over the airfield as the RAF ensign was hauled down.

Present use

Following the closure of the RAF station, some of the land around the runways was returned to farming. Tangmere Airfield Nurseries have built huge glasshouses for the cultivation of peppers and aubergines.

Until 1983 37 acres (150,000 m2) of barracks, admin blocks and repair workshops remained derelict until bought by Seawards Properties Ltd. Housing soon spread around the airfield, and much RAF building was demolished and officers' houses retained as homes. However, some original RAF buildings remain, including 3 large hangars, the Control Tower and one of the ‘H Block’ accommodation buildings.

Tangmere Military Aviation Museum

Tangmere Air Museum, February 1995

Tangmere Military Aviation Museum was founded by a group of enthusiastic veterans. It has a replica Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane as well as many original aircraft, including Neville Duke's speed record Hawker Hunter. Also on display is the 'Star' Meteor flown by Teddy Donaldson when he set the World Air Speed Record in September 1946, also breaking the 1,000 km/h barrier.[1]

Bus number 55 runs from Chichester bus station to the museum throughout the day, including Sundays.

See also

References

  1. ^ Thomas, Nick. RAF Top Gun: Teddy Donaldson CB, DSO, AFC and Bar Battle of Britain Ace and World Air Speed Record Holder, Pen & Sword, 2008. ISBN 1844156850

External links

Coordinates: 50°50′48.4″N 0°42′53.3″W / 50.846778°N 0.714806°W / 50.846778; -0.714806


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