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Thorney Island (West Sussex): Wikis


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Thorney Island in 1835 (centre left) before being joined to the mainland with seawalls

Thorney Island is an island (effectively a peninsula) that juts into Chichester Harbour in West Sussex. It is separated from the mainland by a narrow channel called the Great Deep. The village of West Thorney lies on the east coast of the island and has been incorporated into the military base. A fortnightly game shoot is held on Thorney, shooting patridges, pheasants and snipe.

A public footpath, part of the Sussex Border Path encircles the island. The southern part of the island (south of Great Deep) is part of a military base and access to this area for the public is limited to the coastal footpath and the church of St Nicholas at West Thorney. Walkers using the footpath will be asked by intercom to provide contact details (name, address and mobile phone number) at the security gates to access the southern part of the island. Walkers must keep to the footpath marked with the yellow posts. At the south of the island is Pilsey Island, now joined to Thorney Island by a sandbank, which is an RSPB nature reserve.

The 2001 census showed the island to have a resident population of 1,079.

RAF Thorney Island

Consolidated Liberator

In 1938 the RAF airfield on Thorney Island was built[1], the runways being metalled in 1942.

As with many RAF Coastal Command airfields, a great variety of squadrons and aircraft were based at Thorney Island during the war; in particular:

No. 59 Squadron RAF moved in to Thorney island in July 1940, initially flying anti-submarine patrols and bombing raids against the German invasion ports with Bristol Blenheims. It later became a general reconnaissance squadron, carrying out anti-shipping strikes, first with the Blenheims and then with Lockheed Hudsons. In August 1942 the squadron converted to the Consolidated Liberator then for 2 months operated the Flying Fortress before reverting to the Liberator until it left Thorney in May 1943.[2]

No. 404 Coastal Fighter Sqn (RCAF) formed at Thorney Island on 15 April 1941. Tasked with coastal patrol and attack, the squadron flew the Bristol Beaufighter and de Havilland Mosquito until it was disbanded on 25 May 1945.[3]

No. 407 Coastal Strike Squadron (RCAF) was formed at Thorney Island on the 8 May 1941, first training on the Bristol Blenheim. From September 1941 to January 1943, the squadron operated as a "strike" squadron attacking enemy shipping with the Lockheed Hudson. On 29 January 1943 it was re-designated 407 General Reconnaissance Squadron, and for the remainder of the war it protected friendly shipping from the U-Boat threat operating the Vickers Wellington. The squadron was disbanded at the end of the Second World War on 4 June 1945.[4]



After the war the airfield was utilised for training navigators, until the 1960s when 242 OCU of Transport Command took over, flying the C-130 Hercules, as well as No. 46 Squadron RAF with Andover CMk1 transports.

Also, from June 1955, a Search and Rescue flight of 22 Sqn equipped with Whirlwinds was based at Thorney Island.[5] These remained at the base until the RAF left in the 1976.

Subsequently the Royal Navy expressed an interest in utilising the base, but in 1980 West Thorney became host to many hundreds of Vietnamese families, accepted by the United Kingdom for settlement in this country.[6]

In 1985, a series of experiments to investigate atmospheric dispersion of gases was carried out on the island.

1984 saw control handed to the Royal Artillery, who remain in control of the base to date. Baker Barracks on Thorney Island is currently home to 47 Regiment Royal Artillery, armed with the Starstreak HVM. In January 2008, 12 Regiment Royal Artillery moved to the island upon their return from Germany.

In 2009, the airfield was used as a test track for a British-built steam car hoping to smash the longest standing land speed record. The British Steam Car Challenge team included test driver Don Wales, nephew of the late Donald Campbell and grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell.[7]


Coordinates: 50°49′02″N 0°55′13″W / 50.81722°N 0.92028°W / 50.81722; -0.92028


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