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A Guide to the history of British Flying Sites within the United Kingdom
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The Counties of the United Kingdom


A small part of Highlands and Islands
A small part of Highlands and Islands

AN EXAMPLE
This is a scan from a small section of my battered copy of the the map produced and published by Quadhurst Maps - THE TRUE, HISTORIC COUNTIES OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND. It graphically illustrates the sheer complexity of the original counties in just one part of the area now known as the Highlands and Islands, which itself is sub-divided in various regions. Notice for example the incredibly dispersed nature of CROMARTYSHIIRE. Quadhurst Maps make this very important point; "Our historic counties have never been affected nor their boundaries changed by the endless shifting of local government boundaries over the past 100 years but have remained constant and are today as they have been for centuries."


WARNING!  Trying to list flying sites to counties throughout the UK is an absolute nightmare. Over the last hundred years at least and certainly since WW2 the degree of manipulation of county boundaries and the creation of new administrative entities, is quite astonishing. New counties appear and abound and it must be asked - why? For the purposes of this Guide it soon became obvious that the only solution was to try and place sites within the original counties, which still exist. Apparently only an Act of Parliament can change these county boundaries, and, that has never happened. The confusion over county boundaries appears to be a matter of how local government works in the UK. For some odd reason these authorities have the ability to endlessly rearrange administrative boundaries.

Needless to say, and being a tad cynical, given these wonderful opportunities for hiding a wide variety of major failings and, (let's not beat about the bush here), almost carte blanche for anybody inclined to 'milk the system' finacially to their own ends, it all seems to be very deliberately designed in at the highest levels in government. Thankfully, a few years ago I discovered that a company called Quadhurst publishes a map which shows all the original counties in the UK and it has been a godsend.

THE POSTAL ADDRESS SYSTEM
It is often not appreciated that the system of defining a postal address used by the Post Office bears no relationship to county boundaries whether recent or historic, and this again had in many cases made my task of placing a location in a specific and correct county often wearisome, until I realised that a postal address is most certainly not a method I can use. Here are just two examples to help prove my point. First example: Many years ago I regularly flew out of TOP FARM which is in CAMBRIDGESHIRE - but the postal address was HERTFORDSHIRE.

Roughly forty years ago I was trying to make a delivery to a sweet manufacturing company whose delivery address was - xxxxxxx,New Mills, Stockport, Cheshire - and I was getting absolutely nowhere. In those days there were many mills on the A to Z maps but I could not find one named New Mills. The local people I had asked were equally perplexed. On the point of giving up I called in to refuel in Stockport and asked the petrol station attendant if he could help me. I was utterly flabberghasted when he told me, something like, "Aye lad, New Mills is a town in Derbyshire, some eight miles down the A6 from here." It was a lesson I have never forgotten.

THE EVOLUTION
Much of the shape and nature of the UK has changed quite dramatically over even the last two thousand years. Most of this has been for natural reasons such as coastal erosion, but much has been managed, especially the Fenland region of East Anglia. For example, much of the northern part of Cambridgeshire and the eastern part of Lincolnshire was mostly considered unusable until the Dutch were invited to come across and use their expertise in reclaiming this low level area comprising mostly of salt marsh or similar and not in fact part of the 'land'.

It might seem incredible today but what was England in this region ended not far east of the A.1. Much of the creation of what we now consider 'countryside' in this region was forged under very adverse conditions but the Dutch succeeded. But it still remained a very wet region, subject to mist and fog. So this was where the RAF High Command decided to base most of their bomber bases. West Yorkshire wasn't much better either. The far better locations in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex had been reserved, (long before the USA entered the European War), for use by the USAAF.

But, it is not quite that simple, many of the elite RAF squadrons in Bomber Command, such as the 'Pathfinders' were based in more favourable flying locations, albiet most having to fly a bit further than the Americans, and Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire featured prominently.


A FEW RANDOM STORIES AND COMMENTS

CHESHIRE
Here is one aspect of WW1 training. In those days pilots and/or gunners used local duck ponds and similar as target practise because the water spouts indicated the accuracy of their firing. Totally unannounced of course. Bung this practise at your local Health and Safety inspector today!

It is reckoned that despite this utterly delinquent approach farmers were generally sympathetic to forced landings but were, in todays parlence, severely ‘pissed off’ when locals suddenly appeared crashing through hedges, breaking down fences and trampling crops in their eagerness to see an aeroplane at close quarters including those that had very badly crashed of course. The majority of forced landings, invariably caused by engine failure and often with very inexperienced student pilots at the controls, rarely resulted in any form of injury to the airmen and often, after repairs, were flown out. Even when quite badly damaged they were recovered because, due to the methods of construction in those days, quite a lot could be salvaged for re-use.

My sincere thanks to Barry Abraham for recommending Derrick Pratt and Mike Grant for their most valuable insight to aviation history in this area, in their excellent ‘Wings Across the Border’ books. I would now nigh on insist that anybody even slightly interested in aviation history should read these two books. To give just a taster and to quote, when W/Cdr A D Annand, a former C.O. of RAF POULTON put 24 Mustangs into the air before 09.00 hrs he likened it to “Driving at 70mph in the rush hour along a fog-enshrouded motorway populated only by L-drivers”. Yet another example in today’s terms of RAF top brass ‘fools’ attempting buffoon status? But, they saw life entirely differently in those days, and lived their lives according to a totally different set of aspirations and standards. It seems to me we’d be very foolish to imagine our standards today regarding living our lives are in any way superior. We’ve certainly “moved on” I suppose, but isn’t this yet another transient phase in the hopefully progressive way humanity evolves? The overall picture is certainly still getting better for most of us. Regarding aviation, went I went flying, I was believing that by and large I had got most of the issues sorted. I expect the pilots in 1930 felt exactly the same way!
 

CORNWALL
The creation of myth and legend is not confined to ancient times, far from it, and aviation history has its fair share too. If you like ghost stories see MONTROSE (ANGUS). For another example in about 1909, according to C C Turner in his book Old Flying Days published in around 1927, “At that time Mr Jack Humphreys was the hero of strange rumours. It was said he had carried out secret gliding experiments at a lonely part of the Cornish coast, and that he had scared the local fishermen out of their wits. It was said they told tales of a strange aerial monster soaring over their fleets on moonlit nights, silent as a bat or owl.” Another fine example is from EXMOUTH (DEVON).

Mind this though, I’ve struggled with more than enough ‘myth and legend’ working through reports purported to be factual accounts! Thank heavens I decided to create only a Guide to flying sites.

 

CROMARTYSHIRE
This ‘County’ must surely be proof that the system established for defining British Counties was, in this case, devised by people certifiable as barking mad? It isn’t what is normally thought of as being a County, but rather some twenty isolated areas varying considerably in size, located from the east to west coast across the northern parts of Scotland and spreading across through the County of ROSS-SHIRE. How on earth did this situation develop? Trying to be a tad sensible I suppose this kind of situation arises when trying to accommodate traditional ‘Clan’ affiliations, or divisions? I have to admit I had no idea about ‘detached areas’ in the County system until starting this project and indeed didn’t discover the subject until many years into it.

Although CROMARTYSHIRE is an extreme and bizarre example ‘detached’ County areas exist across much of the UK. With a system such as the County method, which I believe was originally devised to help simplify government and administration (?) and largely if not soley an English system (?), at least in this case, (and many others of course), why didn’t they revert to drawing a straight line across a map as was common practise in so many areas we governed abroad? Mind you, just look at how well that has worked out in recent years.


DEVON
I suppose when it comes to the history of flying in Devon it has to be taken into account the flying ambitions of King Bladud, the mythical Founder of Bath and father of King Lear mentioned by the playwright Mr William Shakespear some centuries later . It appears King Bladud was killed trying to fly with home made wings. Obviously (?) today we have no idea what was fact or fiction but the theme of trying to fly goes back many centuries, usually on the flapping theme with wings attached to arms, which as we now know probably the worst way to go about it. Today builders of “home made” wings do very much better of course.

The information about King Bladud was provided by my very good friend Maurice J Wickstead. Indeed, Maurice has provided me with much is not most of my knowledge regarding the aviation history of DEVON and much more besides. He has also sent me an account provided by Henri Salmet of his flight from LISKEARD in CORNWALL to TAUNTON in SOMERSET on the 28th June 1912. Most of which was flown over DEVON of course. I think this account is well worth recording. “It was splendid fun that flight, I never saw so many people in my life. As soon as I got up fairly high, I saw that the weather was better in the higher levels and that I could safely make a really big flight. I rose to 3,000 feet and kept at that all the way. As far as possible, I made a water flight of it, that is, I followed the rivers and whenever the sea came in sight I flew over it. I traced the course of the Tamar from Saltash to Devonport, round the point and over to Plymouth, where I circled over the battleships.”

 

DUNBARTONSHIRE
This County is one of the smallest in the UK and probably not so well known? It extends roughly W initially then NW from Glasgow mostly from the north bank of the Clyde and Firth of Clyde. When starting out on this project, if asked, I would probably have guessed this County had no aviation history. Simply because having taken some interest in the subject, nothing of interest had crossed my path. Certainly nothing of any note. Today of course the amount of aviation history contained here is so worthy of note.

There is something else to note as well, this small County has a detached part roughly NE of Glasgow, which incorporates the flying sites of CUMBERNAULD and KIRKINTILLOCH. In fact detached parts of Counties are a regular feature in Scotland. Surely only somebody utterly ‘off their trolley’ and certifiable could have devised the most bizarre system of areas which constitute the “County” known as CROMARTYSHIRE? Just an opinion of course.

 

ESSEX (see also LONDON when within the M25)
This county is not readily associated with being a major influence in our aviation history today. But anybody assuming this to be the case is badly mistaken, as I was when starting out on this project. This County, especially including the parts I have included in LONDON, (now known as ‘Greater London’ and more or less bounded by the M.25 motorway), has played a very significant role in our aviation history.

 

HAMPSHIRE
Hampshire has a most astonishing aviation history dating back to the dawn of powered flight and before. The Supermarine company was based in this County, producing some of the best flying boats and of course the seaplane S.6B which secured the Schneider Trophy for the UK in perpetuity. Those races were also held from Calshott in this County. It was of course the Supermarine company who employed Reginald J Mitchell to design the Spitfire, powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine which itself was a direct descendent of the engines powering the Supermarine racers.

But, this said, perhaps this County should certainly be remembered because the classic Imperial Airways flying boats departed to destinations around the British Empire from bases in the Solent and Southampton.       

 

HIGHLANDS & ISLANDS (Comprising CAITHNESS, CROMARTYSHIRE, INVERNESS-SHIRE, NAIRNSHIRE, ROSS-SHIRE, SUTHERLAND and WESTERN ISLES)
I now think it is probably an impossibility to list many of the flying sites used in this region. They are mostly lost in the mists of time even though widespread aviation activity arrived, generally speaking, some twenty years later to this region compared with England. One useful source, for example, was to explore the air ambulance routes and history and I am much indebted to Iain Hutchison and his most informative book ‘Air Ambulance’.

Another aspect is that the Highlands and Islands have enjoyed for many years a small but dedicated band of floatplane flyers. One of whom is a dear friend, James Roland, a senior British Airways captain who once had a share in G-DRAM, a Reims-Rocket Cessna 172 then based at LOCH EARN (PERTHSHIRE). To celebrate the sheer freedom and diversity of this amazing kind of flying a plan was concocted to fly the A-Z of Scottish Lochs in one day. And, this is exactly what we did, just for the fun of it. It probably set a World Record but we weren’t interested in that sort of flying, but I did produce an article for Flyer magazine for posterity.

My log book records: Taking off from Loch Earn at 10.15, then landing on Loch Tay, Loch Lyon, Loch Daimth, Loch Rannock, Loch Pattack, Loch Airkaig, Loch Oich, Loch Mhor, Loch Ness, Loch Cluanie, Loch Garry, Loch Quoich, Loch Hourn, Loch Morar, Loch Beoraid and Loch Sheil. We ‘diverted’ to Loch Leven landing at 14.02 to refuel. Because nearly all Scottish Lochs have Gaelic names, a language which doen’t have an ‘X,Y,Z’ the obvious answer to overcome this problem was to cheat. X, Y and Z being the longest, deepest and largest Lochs. (Loch Awe, Ness and Lomond). A bit more ‘jiggery-pokery’ was involved getting a ‘J’, the Sound of Jura and a ‘W’, West Loch Tarbet but the spirit of the enterprise was the reason for doing this.

Taking off from Loch Leven we then landed on Loch Frisa, Loch na Keal, Loch Uisg, Loch Awe, Sound of Jura, West Loch Tarbet, Loch Lomond, Loch Iubnair and Loch Voil before returning to Loch Earn. On landing and shaking hands, without a word being spoken and it still being light, Jim applied the power and we took-off again to land on Loch Lubnig. Again, just for the fun of it.
 

HUNTINGDONSHIRE
This County is surely another classic example of a very important historical County for our aviation heritage being utterly ripped apart by the devastation wrought throughout the UK after WW2 ended by the greed and self-interest of senior local government officials intent on creating their own power-base? Can there be any other rational explanation? To be fair these trends were certainly supported by a succession of just two differing political parties both intent on establishing a centralised government structure. The ramifications of which the UK is still struggling to recover from decades later.

There is absolutely no doubt that there are those within the County Councils of Cambridge and Suffolk who have, (presumably with political aims?), a heavily held conviction to wipe out all traces of general aviation. Why?

 

INVERNESS-SHIRE
For years whilst engaged in this research I was bedevilled by trying to determine where most of the flying sites in the ‘Highlands and Islands’ and ‘Western Isles’ should be listed. In 2010 I discovered a map of the UK which shows all the original Counties, which it appears still exist. All these so-called ‘modern Counties’ being purely artificial to suit the often doubtful administrative machinations of various local government agencies.

I’ll admit starting from a point of almost total ignorance, (a state I’ve proudly managed to maintain throughout most of my research), but I really was astonished to discover the sheer extent of Inverness-shire. Starting from Inverness the County extends south-east to a point about 13 miles east of Aviemore, the famous ski resort. To the south it mostly runs along a line drawn east-west below Fort William. What I certainly hadn’t expected was that the County then extends westwards, right out to the Outer Hebrides, and, (with the exception of Lewis which is in ROSS-SHIRE), includes, for example; Barra, Benbecula, Eigg, Harris, North Uist, Rum, Skye and South Uist.

 

ISLE of MAN
You might easily think, as I once did, that recording the aviation history of such a small island would be a very simple matter. But no, separating myth and legend from what I assume are ‘accurate’ accounts has been a major exercise. Over many years research I do hope to have developed an ability to sift fact from fiction, but many questions remain.

 

ISLE of WIGHT
This island , despite its small size, has a most astonishing aviation history. Indeed, the history of aviation on the Isle of Wight is a very good example of how quickly history changes in the general memory of most people? When our family went on holiday there in the late 1950s there was nothing at all mentioned or seen about this aspect of the islands aviation history. This said, having both parents serving in Bomber Command during WW2 I suspect they felt no sense of being appreciated and indeed it was all something best forgotten. Certainly not something to take any pride in.

It took about half a century before I discovered anything about it and by then I’d flown to the Island several times! Taking passengers for a low level tour of the island is one of the most delightful things you can do as a pilot, (amongst many others of course along the South Coast of England), with a light aircraft. Landing at both SANDOWN and BEMBRIDGE I saw nothing on display to illustrate a quite remarkable aviation history. Little did I know that in the 1930s the Isle of Wight boasted at least five ‘airports’ until I started this project. By ‘airports’ I mean aerodromes having scheduled services operating, albeit mostly seasonal. If you include joy-ride operators the number rises to six - and - if you then include RYDE BEACH it becomes seven!

These were SOMERTON (COWES-WEST), RYDE, BEMBRIDGE, LEA, LANDGUARD MANOR and APSE FARM – the latter three sites all within a two mile radius of Shanklin. Trying to determine the exact dates over which these airfields were operational has been a major headache and quite probably still needs to be resolved. Thank heavens this is only a Guide!

I had absolutely no idea about the foundation of Saunders-Roe until I read The Triple Alliance by Neville Doyle and most certainly hadn’t made the connection between the aviation pioneer, A V Roe who had established AVRO and the Saunders company. To quote: “Towards the end of 1928, the famous pioneer Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe OBE, FRAeS, MIAE, (soon to be Sir Alliott), had sold his interest in A V Roe & Co Ltd to John Davenport Siddeley. He then bought a controlling interest in Sam Saunders’ S E Saunders Ltd of Cowes because he wanted to build flying-boats. With him he took two other Avro stalwarts, John Lord FRAeS, and Harry E Broadsmith AFRAeS, MIAE.”

It would seem pretty obvious that A V Roe had identified Sam Saunders company as being the ‘way forward’ and certainly well worth investing in. Roe was absolutely correct as it turned out, the talent in the company was quite extraordinary. Culminating in the Princess flying-boat design which certainly deserved to be a world-class leader as there was nothing wrong in the design or the commercial application it was intended for. However, the American manufacturers had other ideas, (cheaply obtained from military projects), and they by then had the clout to impose their ideas on how commercial aviation was going to progress.

It was quite a difficult task to unravel this history, a task made much easier when I discovered the book Wings Over The Island by David L Williams. And, what a story he had to tell. I think probably the best example is his explanation of the history behind the Saunders-Roe SR.45 Princess flying boat  saga. I do believe I saw the cacooned examples at Cowes when our ferry came in but it made only a small impression at the time. Later, when I got “really interested” in aircraft the Princess was portrayed as a typical if not an archetypal example of the muddle-headed incompetence which was sweeping through and destroying our aviation industry. A huge ‘white’ if not ‘pink’ elephant. A massive waste of money and resources – or was it? Needless to say I was unknowingly swamped with propaganda and totally unaware of the global politics, mostly dominated by American influence of course, that was sweeping all before it in those days.

Although David Williams doesn’t make this point as such, (he alludes to it), the concept of the SR.45 was almost certainly defeated by the interests of the major American manufacturers and, quite probably the US Government?

It is a complicated history to say the least but I would like to get back to the basics. Prior to WW2 the flying boat was the principal global long-range passenger aircraft and had a proven successful pedigree. All the major British, French, German and US companies were building flying-boats, and thought this was the way forward. Indeed, after WW2 had ended BOAC was getting back to using them with converted Short Sunderlands, Short S.25 Sandringhams and Short S.45 Solents.

Using flying boats made a lot of commercial sense. (It still does actually!) The minimal infrastructure needed was more or less there and operational capability could be quickly and cheaply re-activated. Plus of course the sort of people using such services would mainly be either rich by their own means or travelling on government business. For the design team at Saunders-Roe it was seen as an opportunity to ‘blow the socks off’ traditional concepts and derive a really quite extraordinary design. And this is exactly what they did.

As so often throughout aviation history the designers were let down by the engine providers. In this case Bristol, when the ‘Proteous’ turbo-prop’ failed miserably to deliver the power promised. But, let’s go back to the specification Saunders-Roe had drawn up. Starting at 116 tons AUW it was expected to reach 140 tons, able to carry 105 passengers, (all with sleeping cabins), cruising at 30,000ft at 385mph. One layout, very similar to what we recognise today, was for 220 seated passengers carried on a non-stop Southampton to New York route. Work on this design was progressed to a large extent well before May 1946 when the Ministry of Supply and Civil Aviation ordered three SR.45s for BOAC. On paper it was a winner, no doubt about it.

Let us compare the specs for the British Princess and the Boeing Stratocruiser. The latter of which shares a couple of uncanny design attributes unique at that time. The ‘double-bubble’ fuselage and fronting it the huge glazed fight-deck.The latter learnt from German designers?

Saunders-Roe SR.45 Princess                            Boeing 377 Stratocruiser
Design phase start: 1944?                                  1944?
First flight:     August 1952                                  July 1949
MTOW: 156,500kg                                              67,153kg
Cruise altitude: 30,000ft                                      25,000ft
Max Speed : 385mph                                         310mph
Cruise speed: 360mph @ 32,500ft                    Cruise speed: 301mph
Range: 5,720 mls                                               4,200 mls
Dimensions:

Span: 219ft 6in      Length: 148 ft                       Span: 141ft 3in Length: 110ft 4in

Powerplants: 10 x 3,200shp turboprops             4 x 3500hp, 28 cyl. radial piston engines

Don't you agree? All this makes for a very interesting comparison? With the very low price of fuel and ample supplies it is very obvious that with relatively cheap infrastructure costs the Princess design was a winner. So much so that even today equipped with modern jet engines giving extended range, I’d reckon it to be a serious contender on many long-haul routes? Except that economy class passengers today will put up with many hours of affordable discomfort.

And of course the enormous political and commercial influence on Lockheed and Douglas to progress their land-plane designs dealt the end of the flying boat era. I wonder how Boeing felt about this? A company with a history of producing possibly the best and largest successful flying boats up to WW2. Obviously after WW2 when successive UK governments “decided” this country would mostly be, (and still is), the subservient ‘lap-dog’ to US foreign policy, the fate of the Princess was sealed anyway. Even if Bristol had overcome their engine problems.

The way forward was jets operating from airports. In the west dominated by US companies, Boeing, Douglas and Convair. The British advantage with the Comet squandered, many believe, by the unforgivable arrogance of the de Havilland design team who elected to deliberately ignore the most basic of engineering rules determined by the designers of steam engines for Cornish tin mines about two centuries before regarding pressure vessels. In simple terms you cannot have square aperture in a pressurised vessel.

You might care to note that all the passenger windows on the Princess were circular, not square like the Comet. Obviously the Saunders-Roe team knew their subject. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow seeing such a grand design sacrificed on the grounds of political expediency?


GLIDING
I have information that a gliding site on the Isle of Wight was registered with the BGA as the Isle of Wight Gliding Club in October 1930. Is anything known as to the whereabouts of this Club? Incredibly, some time later the LakesGliding Club based at WALNEY (Barrow-in-Furness) published an archive on the web with scanned copies of The Sailplane & Glider magazine and in the first edition dated 6th September 1930 they give an account of the formation of the Isle of Wight Gliding Club being officially opened on the 3rd July that year. It was quite a high-powered event attended by the Mayor of Newport and the elected President was no less than Sir A. Verdon Roe, (of AVRO fame of course). I think this is highly significant in many ways. That such an illustrious and world famous man would even consider lending his ‘name’ to a Gliding Club obviously illustrates (?) just how much importance he attached to the value of gliding within the aviation sphere of endeavour and influence?

The report goes on to mention that Mr F W Merriam, (formerly an instructor with the Bristol Company and RNAS), had placed his gliding site, shed and a glider, “….at the service of the Club and offered himself as instructor. This glider is to be used for preliminary ground instruction.” So presumably not airworthy? It was also reported that Sir A Vernon Roe had generously offered the necessary materials for making a glider. My question is of course, does anybody now know where the gliding site used by Mr Merriam was? And, what site or sites did the Club use when they got up and running?

 

KENT
If any County in England deserves to be regarded as having ‘born the brunt’ of the Battle of Britain it surely must be KENT. Not for nothing was the south eastern corner referred to at the time as “Hell’s Corner.” Just 2917 airmen fought this battle. Needless to say the official history is an utter disgrace and we should, as a nation, feel thoroughly ashamed by the ‘official’ accounts - which are just worthless propaganda at best. I can’t pretend to really understand the entire subject but a few elemental features seem to emerge? Perhaps the first being that without the very direct – Churchill, Dowding and Park chain of command, especially without the New Zealander Sir Keith Park, we wouldn’t have stood a chance? The second being that of those 2917 airmen, 583 were foreigners and their contribution was far greater than their numerical value. Indeed, without the Polish pilots alone it can now be very well argued the ‘Battle’ would have been lost.

Although now a revered figure, and probably quite rightly, Winston Churchill got many things wrong in his estimation of what was needed to be done in the early stages of the war.  As did ‘Stuffy’ Dowding who stood his ground against Churchill, and, he didn’t shy from putting young totally inadequately trained British pilots as ‘cannon fodder’ into the ‘Battle’. He had no other option than to do this many claim but many now question what exactly he thought he was achieving as, in so many cases, these 'rookies' didn't survive their first sortie. It was an apalling waste of life and arcraft and, obviously, didn't contribute anything to the outcome. Indeed, I now wonder if they may well have hindered the much more competent pilots charged with shepherding them into battle? Another aspect was the largely foolish strategy of keeping fighter aircraft based in KENT where they were often far too close to the invading force and therefore at a severe disadvantage. Another crucial issue was; we didn’t lack aircraft, we lacked pilots! The ‘Battle of Britain’ was fought over just four months, from the 10th July to the 31st October 1940. Some argue about the exact dates of course. Plus, most of the RAF were not involved in the conflict, or at least some were partly, as most of the action took place in the south-east of England.

ASHAMED?
We British have so much to be ashamed about in our invariably inglorious history, (fortunately most if not all other nations do too?), but one example stinks regarding the Battle of Britain. As Alex Kershaw cites in his book The Few; “As an official RAF historian would write: ‘When the details of the fighting grow dim, and the names of its heroes are forgotten, men will remember that civilisation was saved by a thousand British boys.’ And a few Americans.” Mr Kershaw was detailing the history of the few Americans who took part in the Battle of Britain so his highly biased remark can be excused. Please excuse my language but, surely, ‘the ignorant fool’, allegedly “an official RAF historian”, should now be named and shamed? I suppose to be fair he was just a lacky ‘towing the line’ of British propaganda at the time? Perhaps he didn’t know any better? But of course, if he really didn’t know any better - why was he given the job?

I WILL TRY TO SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT
According to information sent to me by the RAF museum at Hendon, 2917 men were awarded the ‘Battle of Britain’ clasp. Of these 2334 British pilots or aircrew took part, but: to help try to set the record straight about the huge debt we owe to ‘foreign’ pilots fighting in the Battle of Britain here are two lists  .

The first list (on the left) was sent to me by the RAF museum (HENDON), and the second list (on the right) is from Patrick Bishops book Battle of Britain.

Australia: 33                                     Australia: 21

Belgium: 29                                     Belgium: 29

Canada: 98                                     Canada: 86

Czechoslovakia: 88                         Czechoslovakia: 84

France: 13                                       France: 13

Republic of Ireland: 10                   Republic of Ireland: 10

Jamaica: 1                                     Jamaica: 2

Newfoundland: 1                           Newfoundland: Not listed
(I thought Newfoundland part of Canada?)

New Zealand: 126                         New Zealand: 98

Poland: 145                                   Poland: 139

Rhodesia: 3                                  Rhodesia: 1

South Africa: 25                           South Africa: 20

United States: 11                         United States: 7

In addition Patrick Bishop maintains there were pilots from; Austria  1, Egypt  1, Iceland  1 and Palestine Mandate  1

Plus four pilots whose nationally has not been established. Quite possibly Americans? I venture this because some of the Americans involved had to smuggle themselves out of the USA where they faced severe penalties if discovered trying to enlist with a foreign military power. So, even seventy years on there is still considerable disagreement about the exact numbers and nationalities. As pointed out elsewhere I have discovered that official records certainly cannot be relied upon, in fact I have spoken to one person who served in the RAF in WW2 who was ordered to make them up at a Station he’d just been posted to!

Whether 583 or 518 depending on which version you accept, which ever way you decide to ‘cut the cake’ roughly 20% of RAF pilots/aircrew in the 'Battle of Britain' were foreign pilots. I wonder how many other major British military campaigns can claim such a large proportion in their front line? Subsequent reading from various sources reveals this was often the case in the Army, often with far greater proportions of Dominion/Empire soldiers involved compared to those from the UK.

WHERE WERE THE FRONT LINE  'BATTLE OF BRITAIN' RAF STATIONS?
To address this singular issue of the ‘Battle of Britain’ airfields within the 'Guide' I have marked the airfield name with a preceeding asterik. Regarding the various squadrons who were based at these airfields during the ‘Battle' it should be borne in mind that they were often moved around to other Stations even on any given day, and quite often only a 'Flight' was moved. So once again, an incredibly complex situation and thank heavens I had decided to only produce a ‘Guide’.

THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN STRATEGIES
Getting back to the ‘Battle of Britain’ this strategy of moving aircraft around to various airfields at short notice does appear to have, (without much doubt?), along with radar, and a fully integrated system for deploying the available resources hour by hour, (despite often badly damaged in bombing raids), helped saved the day? This is NOT to say it always worked very well by and large, it obviously didn’t as a long term strategy. But, fortunately the German High Command had even less of an idea about what was required and made strategic blunders galore. As somebody has said the Germans had a huge bear to command over the land, the British a whale in the oceans. Neither of which could fight effectively in that slim stretch of water we call the ‘English Channel’.

Consequently the Germans were faced with a new problem. Relying on their air force, the Luftwaffe, to do the job alone for once. Again we were fortunate because the often drugged up head of the Luftwaffe, Herman Göering, had no ideas worth talking about for this campaign. He blustered and boasted to Hitler but nothing seemed to work. Oddly perhaps it also appears even Hitler hadn’t properly addressed the problem of invading England. It seems he had little enthusiasm for the prospect by and large. Note the emphasis on ‘England’ and not the United Kingdom. The famous ‘Operation Sealion plan, for the invasion of England was it seems cobbled together at the very last minute. Without any doubt the woeful lack of competence from the Luftwaffe people charged with interpreting aerial reconnaissance photographs played a significant part too as did the estimation of our resources regarding aircraft available for operations and aircraft production numbers both of which were significantly underestimated.

FRIENDLY FIRE
As seems to be the case in every war, the reality is often a very sorry case of general incompetence regarding any military endeavour? Certainly so in the ‘Battle of Britain’ when the aircrews not only had the Luftwaffe to fight, but were also being shot at by the British Army, the Royal Navy and even RAF anti-aircraft gun crews! In the heat of battle there were many instances of what we now call “friendly fire”. Indeed, RAF pilots who had bailed out were often shot at by overly enthusiastic Home Guard forces and similar, to the extent that the Air Ministry issued a notice to remind these forces that not everybody descending by parachute was a German. Perhaps they should have added: "And not every aeroplane is an enemy aeroplane!" I seem to recall that the first aeroplane to be shot down over south-east England after WW2 was declared, was an RAF fighter.

A FIELD IN KENT
Here’s a suggestion. Take a trip into the county of Kent, to anywhere in Kent. Travel by car, bus, train, bicycle or walk, it doesn’t matter. And then select a field, preferably for my purposes a large and flattish field. Having selected this field in Kent it is fairly certain it has an aviation connection. Without much doubt this field in Kent stands a much better chance than any field in any other County in the United Kingdom of having an aviation connection, however miniscule the evidence might be. Although the chances are slim of finding any material evidence it is quite possible during the last one hundred and fifty years that, for example: a balloon has landed in it, or within the last hundred years a glider, or an aeroplane seeking a forced landing for other various reasons. Perhaps a cavalier microlight pilot just dropped in for the hell of it? Or somebody has parachuted into it.

Much more likely is that all, most or part of a stricken aircraft in WW2 came down in this field? Or other material evidence, the machine gun or cannon shell that missed had to come down somewhere. On most if not all military aircraft the ammunition casings were ejected so they obviously landed somewhere. Looking over the gate or the hedge it might now occur to you that if this field was sifted, down to about a foot or so, there might well be substantial evidence, but failing that just a sliver of Perspex or a crumpled sliver of aluminium. Anybody finding such slim evidence might well feel very disappointed? It might just, for example be evidence of a collision made by local yokels careering around in the 1950s in bubble-cars trying to shoot rabbits at night, or some such equally unlikely endeavour? But, much, much more likely is the probability that it was from an aircraft. 

Fortunately there are many experts around today who can not only find a small piece of an aeroplane but invariably can tell exactly what part of the airframe or interior it came from! Let’s say it was certainly part of a WW2 aircraft, possibly the only evidence remaining? Does this then constitute a flying site? The short answer is obviously 'NO' but in the greater picture the connections obviously do exist. In so may cases these fragments bear witness to the greatest aerial conflict ever witnessed in our history and, without too much doubt, most certainly never to be repeated.

 

LANCASHIRE
This County is also very interesting regarding British aviation history, especially because some of the principal historic sites such as Barrow-in-Furness have now been largely forgotten or ignored. As admitted so many times elsewhere I had really no idea about the real history of British aviation until deciding to compile this ‘Guide’. Among so many surprises was the discovery of so much happening in Lancashire in the earliest days of powered aviation in the UK. In addition I was rather surprised to discover that in the 1930s Blackpool had two aerodromes – SQUIRES GATE and STANLEY PARK. Both of which can be regarded as regional airports.
 

LEICESTERSHIRE
Quite probably the biggest surprise after starting to compile this ‘Guide’ was the quick realisation that, despite being very interested in aviation since a very young age, I did not quite frankly have a clue about the history of British aviation. Even today I would not be offended if somebody told me; “You still haven’t mate.” One of the biggest surprises, among so many, is the incredibly rich aviation history associated with Leicestershire. I could not have even guessed, for example, that in the 1930s one the most ‘go-ahead’ regional airports in the UK was Leicester airport at BRAUNSTONE. Nor did I have the slightest idea, despite having driven up and down the M.1 motorway for over forty years, that EAST MIDLANDS AIRPORT was actually in Leicestershire.
 

LINCOLNSHIRE
If forced, (on pain of death), to nominate the spiritual or ancestral home of RAF Bomber Command I suppose it would have to be Lincolnshire (?), and surely two types would epitomise this - the Avro Lancaster and Avro Vulcan. Probably any statistical analysis would shoot this down but we’re not talking about statistics here, I’m talking about feelings, and very deep felt feelings at that. If forced to niminate on location, the RAF aerodrome at Scampton comes to the fore. Again Lancasters and Vulcans. But I’d like to think I’m not looking through rose-tinted glasses either. Looked at today I suspect most people would regard the risks taken by both Lancaster and Vulcan crews at Scampton as being totally unacceptable over a wide range of issues. But these crews did do it, and that’s a fact of history which cannot be denied. Whether we should celebrate these ‘missions’ flown out of Scampton is another issue, but I’m damned certain we must remember them. This is how history should be taught and learned, and it is far from being straightforward!

A FAILURE
For example, as a purely military exercise the Dam Busters raid was a failure. In terms of PR for the British public and convincing the Americans to eventually join in WW2 it was a huge success. For the mass bombing of German cities which squadrons based in Lincolnshire certainly played a large part I take a very hard-line approach. The Germans started it, and got nothing like they deserved - and, I will include Hamburg and Dresden in this. But you have to separate the people from the politicians, and always in modern warfare it’s the people that suffer most. Personally I find this difficult to say, having worked in Germany for some thirty years and having got to love the people, their countryside, their traditions and sense of community. But when you start bombing the civilian population, only the worst kind of warfare will do the job, and you must expect revenge.

UTTER STUDITY?
In the ‘Cold War’ so called ‘Atomic scientists’ ruled the roost. Can you now imagine a nest of more utterly stupid people? I do believe that the ‘Nuclear Deterrent’ did work in the end but, oh boy, at what a risk? Did 99.9% of the worlds population really need to put up with this anxiety for so many years? The real point is that these fundamental idiots, hidden behind a huge military and hugely expensive exercise for all involved eventually, contrived a programme of producing enough weapons that could destroy the entire world several times over. Being at heart and by education a pretty simple person I’d like to ask just two questions and seeing that most of these people are still alive, I’ll expect an answer of course.

A) Having produced enough atomic or similar weapons to destroy the entire world, and kill all its inhabitants of all kinds once, what exactly was the point of trying doing it all again?

B) Having entirely destroyed the world we live in, can they please explain exactly how the second attempt will be arranged in practical terms? And what benefits did they consider became of this?

This was very much the nonsense world the ‘V’ bomber crews lived in. Easy to ridicule today of course but what was the alternative? If push came to shove they had no country to return to, and they could be certain their families would have been obliterated. On all sides of the ‘Cold War’ what kept these by ‘normal standards’ highly capable people going, and believing in the worth of the system they were defending?

 

LONDON (including parts of ESSEX, KENT, MIDDLESEX and SURREY. In effect the GREATER LONDON area defined by the M25)
I have read an account published in 1977 that in about 850 BC King Bladud, (the tenth king of Britain who apparently discovered the benefits of the spring waters in Bath), is recorded - no less - as attempting to impress the population by flying over London in a bird suit. After a couple of flapping motions it is said he fell and broke his neck. A spanking good yarn, but there was one detail the author overlooked, and this is that the building of London, (or should I say Londinium?), wasn’t even started until at least after AD.43 which is roughly when the Romans invaded. Also, I’m pretty certain that in 850BC the concept of a geo-politcal entity such as Britain did not exist? Hopefully my research will be a tad more thorough?

Perhaps even less certain is my decision to create LONDON as a separate entity? In effect the area generally known as GREATER LONDON is more or less defined as the area within the M.25. I do think this is justified on several grounds, not least it being our capital city and recognised throughout the world. Quite simply I have tried to include sites most probably being associated with ‘being’ in LONDON,  but the location should also appear if searching by County. Without much doubt the site which has caused me the greatest anguish is CROYDON, which is obviously in SURREY. But - it was the second and most famous purpose built LONDON AIR PORT so against this I rest my case. The first incidentally was CRICKLEWOOD.

As elsewhere in the UK my attempts to pin down the launching sites for many notable balloon flights have failed. One such was the flight from London to Paris in 1905 undertaken by Hubert Latham in the balloon ‘Aeroclub II’. Hubert Latham was of course the pilot who, if his engine hadn’t failed in mid-Channel, would have been the first to fly the Channel instead of Blériot. However, I trust you will find the ballooning sites I have pinned down in the London area of some interest.
 

 

NORFOLK
1959 was an amazing year to investigate. It was just before the ‘inclusive tour’ charter airlines really got into their stride, just before the two major British airlines, BEA and BOAC entered the jet age. Just before imported American light aircraft decimated the makers of British light aircraft, and when the Royal Air Force still had an astonishing number of aerodromes operational.

It would also appear that in NORFOLK in 1959 the County did not have a single airport! At least, not according to the Ian Allan British Airports guide published that year. From what I can discover Horsham St Faith did not become the airport for Norwich, (or indeed NORFOLK), until 1969. It would appear though that this lack of any air links was recognised much earlier on, hence the reason I suppose why BEA began their experimental helicopter ‘airline’ service to the region from June to September 1948?

I trust you’ll agree that it does seem rather ironic that NORFOLK with it’s rich history of aviation involvement seems to have turned it’s back on developing aviation links after WW2. Is there a reason? This said the same remarks could be addressed to LINCOLNSHIRE of course. Could one reason be that the RAF presence in both these Counties resisted the establishment of any airports?

 

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE
As with virtually every other County in the the UK, once your start exploring the aviation history the most astonishing richness and diversity emerges. But, I think it is fair to say that most people do not readily associate this County as being highly significant in the development of aviation in the UK. Hopefully this Guide will help to address this, revealing a quite surprising depth of history.

 

NORTHERN IRELAND (Including COUNTY ANTRIM. COUNTY ARMAGH, COUNTY FERMANAGH, COUNTY LONDONDERRY and COUNTY TYRONE)
Authors Note: Ireland has caused me many problems plus a bit of soul searching thought. It cannot be dismissed that during the first two decades of the twentieth century the whole of Ireland was under British rule as an integral part of the British Isles so those aerodromes situated in Eire really do deserve a legitimate place in this guide.

On a practical level I have yet to discover a map of Northern Ireland which has both the County boundaries shown, and of sufficient detail to enable individual flying sites to be accurately located. If anybody can offer advice it will be much appreciated.

 

PERTHSHIRE
Trying to locate fairly exact places for so many flying sites has often been a long, sometimes arduous, and frequently frustrating business. Sometimes resulting in failure because there is so little to go on. For example; In his book Old Flying Days published in 1927, (or thereabouts), C C Turner makes a mention that in early 1910 a Mr A Watson was conducting powered flight trials in Perthshire. From my point of view in the 21st century learning of this seems of some importance. Surely the site and at least some brief description of the circumstances would be of some value if recorded?

Echoed frequently throughout this 'Guide' is my plea: Is anything more known? This certainly applies to the activities of Mr A Watson. What, when and where he was operating in PERTHSHIRE?


 

SHROPSHIRE
The aviation history of SHROPSHIRE is also surprisingly long and diverse. This said I suppose SHROPSHIRE will mostly be remembered for the role it played in WW2 as mostly having aerodromes devoted to aircrew training. The attrition rate in WW2 for RAF aircrew in training was simply appalling, a fact that is largely ‘swept under the carpet’ today. The reason for this is both complex in detail but easy enough to explain. When the British government decided to expand the RAF in the 1930s as another war with   Germany looked increasingly likely, the RAF had been starved of resources since the end of the First World War, and the level of proficiency of aircrews, and suitable aircraft, was, by and large, utterly woeful.

When ‘push came to shove’ the system could NOT cope. There were few if any instructors with experience of modern air warfare and modern aircraft. Indeed, many if not most of the instructors were totally unfit for purpose and they hadn't been taught the very basics of teaching techniques. The morons (and there were a lot as the term moron is defined by IQ tests) in the higher ranks believed that if you can do it you can teach it.
 
As new aircraft came on line there was little if any time to consolidate front line combat experience into suitable training regimes. It was, quite frankly, mostly a fiasco. There it is small wonder that so many aircrew died in training and indeed in combat; the latter due to utterly absurb tectics being taught.

Perhaps not generally realised today is the fact that in 1942, for the ‘1000’ bomber raids on Germany for example, the numbers were made up by crews, including instructors, at OTUs. (Operational Training Units). And of course, they went mostly flying obsolete and/or ineffectual types with a minimal bomb load.

It is my opinion that it is an utter disgrace that in the UK today we do not have a major memorial to those who gave their lives in training. Their sacrifice was every bit as pertinent to those who died in combat. I would suggest that a second memorial is now erected at the RAF Memorial at Runnymede, by individual name, to honour the memory of all those who died in training.

 

SOMERSET
If before starting research on this guide somebody had asked me how much flying had gone on or still goes on in Somerset I’ll certainly have answered, and feeling pretty confident too - very little. Let’s face it, I’ll bet Somerset still doesn’t spring to mind as a major aviation County for most people, even those who have an interest in the subject; but as the listings clearly show, (when complete), they’d be as wrong as I was. Somerset is not only notable for a great many flying sites, indeed at least a couple of famous sites, but also for a long history of notable aircraft manufacturing.

For me though the really startling discover was what went on in Chard, (see below for more details), in around the middle of the 19th century. There does now seem pretty compelling evidence that it was in Chard that the first practical powered aircraft, (in world history),  was demonstrated. This steam powered monoplane is invariably described as a model but I at least would argue against this description. It certainly couldn’t carry a person but in those days does this single proviso really count? With a wing span of twenty feet surely it compares quite favourably with, for example, the Evans VP-1 at 24 ft, or the Druine Turbulent at 21ft 7in. Let alone the Taylor Monoplane at exactly 21ft or the Tipsy Nipper at 20ft 6in! As a clincher the Cassutt Racer series has wing spans ranging from just 13ft 8in to 16ft!

I’d say, “That’s a bloody big model!”

I think we also need to remember that in those early days it was not generally recognised that a ‘pilot’ would be required to operate an aircraft. The idea being to construct a perfectly stable machine. Generally speaking, if a ‘pilot’ was deemed to be required, he would usually operate in much the same way as a ships captain, and not being on board to operate the tiller.

 

WESTMORLAND
Without any doubt when you research British aviation history one area in this County stands out – Lake Windermere, of which only the northern two-thirds of the east of the lake apply! All the rest of the lake is in LANCASHIRE. Now of course in the concoction known as CUMBRIA. Today when you casually research our early aviation history the same few sites keep cropping up:  BROOKLANDS, EASTCHURCH, FARNBOROUGH, HENDON, SALISBURY PLAIN and SHOREHAM are firm favourites. Rarely do the activities on Lake Windermere feature. In many ways this really is a disgraceful state of affairs simply because those early pioneers in flying off water had to overcome substantially more difficult problems, which in turn led to considerable advances.

It is of course very difficult to imagine what the circumstances were one hundred or so years ago but I would like to provide one example of why they persevered. In the earliest days an aerodrome was the site within which one flew and they were, by definition, pretty small areas. Whilst in flight a pilot might go just outside the aerodrome area of course, but not usually by much if he was reasonably cautious.

Having an ‘aerodrome’ the size of Lake Windermere had enormous advantages if you could take-off and land on water. Also, as an engine failure was generally expected as a matter of course, a safe landing was pretty much guaranteed. I really do believe we now need to bear these factors in mind and applaud the far-sighted approach to flying that the men who persevered here rightly deserve.

 

 

YORKSHIRE (Including: CLEVELAND, EAST RIDING, HULL,  NORTH HUMBERSIDE & REDCAR, NORTH RIDING and WEST RIDING)
How many British people today know the name of Sir George Cayley? Very few I expect and yet this man really should be hailed as a major national hero. He nigh on invented or ‘understood’ nearly all the principals and solved most of the problems regarding constructing an ‘engine’, (aircraft), capable of carrying a man into the air and did just that from his estate at BROMPTON HALL with a kite and then a short hop with a glider. In informed circles he is still quite rightly regarded as the Father of Aerial Navigation, a term first used to describe him in 1846. Yes, that is correct - 1846. But just listen to this when he wrote to Viscount Mahon regarding fixed wing flying around the turn of the 19th century! “There can be no doubt of the thing being accomplished, I could make several engines, (or aircraft as we’d call them), that would mount, with a person to work them, into the air, but the invention will be of no use till conveyance from place to place at great distances from each other can be accomplished with ease either by muscular strength or by the power of some moving engine”. In other words Sir George was nigh on ONE HUNDRED years ahead of the game. To me at least this really does seem quite extraordinary looking back from todays perspective when for example it was an era that saw huge advances in steam power and inventions like the railway were quickly seized upon when proven to be practical in the industrial. Instead they concentrated on balloons.

In fact Sir George was a prolific inventor in several disciplines but for the purposes of this guide it’s aeronautics that are of concern of course. In this area alone he is known for sixteen firsts! Here are a few examples:

1) He was the first to appreciate that for fixed wing flight the functions of lift and thrust had to be seperate.

2) He appears to be the first to use model gliders to investigate the flight characteristics of aircraft design.

3) It would appear he was the first person to appreciate the benefits of dihedral in aircraft design, plus, combined elevator and rudder control mounted on a ‘tail unit’.

4) Both the design and construction of man-carrying gliders

5) Although controversial, (he apparently borrowed from other peoples ideas about helicopter design), he also it seems made a practical model helicopter that rose to some 90ft or so.

I trust you’ll agree that his was a phenomenal achievement and, as said before, really does deserve at least national recognition. In effect he wrote the rule book by which every modern airliner plies the skies and, discovered it seems the absolutely primary aspect of fixed wing aircraft design -  the 'Angle of Attack' a wing or aerofoil needs to be set at in order to fly. I’ve often heard it said by highly experienced pilots that if you don’t fully understand 'angle of attack' you’ll never be a proper pilot. That puts me in my place then, …because although I think I understand the principles, I certainly could not write a thesis on the subject! This is not to say Sir George didn’t have many false preconceptions, he did. But for heavens sake, let’s set the record straight, working in the sort of vacuum of proven knowledge he was, nobody did anything much better for a long very time afterwards. And, perhaps just as important, he fully appreciated the neccessity for experimentation and research.
 

 

 

 

                                                

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