Text: Marc Arys - Pictures: Serge Van Heertum & Marc Arys    sbap 201
 

Tangmere in 1932

1916 - 1919
Royal Air Force Station Tangmere, located near Chichester - Sussex, first became a reality after a forced landing by Royal Flying Corps (RFC) pilot Lt Geoffrey Dorman, on 19 November 1916. Following his report on the suitability of the site, the War Office began construction in 1917 and in March 1918, 91, 92 and 93 Squadrons of the RFC moved in. The intention was the United States Army Air Force would use the aerodrome, but after the Armistice in November 1918, the station became redundant and was returned to the RAF and closed down in 1919.

1925 - 1945
On 01 June 1925 the station reopened to serve the RAF's Fleet Air Arm, and went operational in December 1926 with N 43 Squadron equipped with biplane Gloster Gamecocks.
As war threatened in the late thirties, the fighters became faster, with Hawker Furies, Gloster Gladiators and the Hawker Hurricanes.
In 1939 the airfield was enlarged to defend the south coast against attacks 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.

 

Early in the Second World War it was decided that Tangmere alone could not accomodate the fighter aircraft required and two new satellite airfields were constructed at Westhampnett (now Goodwood) and Merston.
The first and worst enemy raid on the station came on 16 August 1940 when hundreds of Stuka dive bombers and fighters crossed the English coast and attacked Tangmere. There was extensive damage to buildings and aircraft on the ground and some 10 ground staff and 3 civilians were killed, but the station was kept in service and brought back into full operation. Thye story of Tangmere for the remainder of 1940 can be summed up in four words 'The Battle of Britain'.
Throughout the war, the station was also a secret base for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) who, during full moon periods, flew black painted Westland Lysanders of N 161 Squadron to deliver and recover men and women of the SOE and other clandestine agencies in and out of occupied France. To land and take-off by the light of the moon required the highest standards of flying skills and enormous courage and determination.


Tangmere in March 1942
 

Tangmere today (Google Earth)

March 1941, saw the arrival of the legendary Group Captain Douglas Bader, the legless fighter ace, to command the Tangmere wing of Fighter Command. 616 Squadron which included Johnnie Johnson and Hugh Dundas arrived at Tangmere in late February 1941. Johnson went on to become the highest scoring Western Allied fighter ace against the Luftwaffe.
Fighter Command had turned from defence to taking the fight to the enemy, with its fighters operating over northern France. Bader was downed on August 9, 1941 over St Omer, northern France and remained a prisoner-of-war for the remainder of the war.
During 1942, Tangmere and its satellite airfields Westhampnett (now Goodwood airfield) and Merston supported the Dieppe Raid and N 1 Squadron, equipped with the Hawker Hurricane, returned to carry out night intruder missions. That summer, one of its pilots, Karel 'Kut' Kuttelwascher - the "Night Reaper", a Czech pilot, shot down 15 enemy aircraft on these dangerous lone missions.
Tangmere played also an important part in the D-Day landings. Fighter cover for the troops going across the Channel was vital and ther airfield played its part to the full. Fighters based here (including the Typhoon) were evenso used to attack V1 and V2 installations in Europe. By the summer of 1944, four temporary airfields, known as Advanced Landing Grounds, had been built close to Chichester at Funtington, Apuldram, Selsey and Bognor to support the D-Day landings.

The air activities to support the landings were controlled from the Tangmere Operations Room at Bishop Otter College, now part of Chichester University.
Many of those killed at the base, from both sides during the conflict, are buried in the cemetery at St Andrews Church, Tangmere, tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. American RAF pilot Billy Fiske who died at Tangmere in 1941, crash-landing his burning Hawker Hurricane, was one of the first American aviators to die during the Second World War.

1945 - 1970
After the war, the RAF High Speed Flight was based at Tangmere as part of the Central Fighter Establishment. On 07 September 1946, a world air speed record of 616 mph (991 km/h) was set by Group Captain Edward "Teddy" Mortlock Donaldson flying a Gloster Meteor F4 (EE549).
Squadron Leader Neville Duke, chief test pilot of the Hawker Aircraft Company, became holder of the world air speed record on 07 September 1953, when he flew a Hawker Hunter F.M.KI (WB188) equiped with a Rolls Royce 7A7R Avon afterburning engine, at 727 mph (1,170 km/h). Both aircraft are on display in the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum. Neville Duke was president of the museum for 24 years until his death in 2007.
In 1960, the RAF's No 623 Gliding School closed down at White Waltham aerodrome. Early in 1963 HQ Air Cadets decided to re-open the school at RAF Tangmere where it was to remain for the next twelve years. The task of the school was to offer air experience flying to Air Training Corps (ATC) cadets aged between 14 and 16 and to train selected cadets over 16 years old to fly gliders. Three solo flights were required before a cadet was awarded cadet gliding proficiency wings. The last flight of a No 623 Gliding School glider at RAF Tangmere took place at the end of 1975.
June 1958, saw Fighter Command leaving Tangmere, but the airfield remained. In 1963/1964 the last flying units left and the station finally closed on 16 October 1970. A single Spitfire flew over the airfield as the RAF ensign was hauled down.

Some of the last flying units to be based at the station included :

" No. 245 Squadron RAF (25 August 1958 - 19 April 1963) (Canberra B.2, disbanded by renumbering to No. 98 Squadron, 19 April 1963).
" No. 98 Squadron RAF (19 April - 1 October 1963) (moved to RAF Watton)
" No. 115 Squadron RAF (25 August 1958 - 1 October 1963)
" 'B' Flt, No. 22 Squadron RAF (June 1961 - May 1964)

Noteworthy regarding the numerous squadrons having been based at RAF Station Tangmere and its satellite airfields :

N 43 Squadron :

who's Commanding Officer, at the time of the Dieppe Raid, was Belgian - the first Belgian to command a RAF Squadron, Squadron Leader Daniel 'Danny' Le Roy Du Vivier, DFC, flying a.o. Hawker Hurricane BN230.

N 349 Squadron :

Belgian Squadron flying the Spitfire Mk IX, coded GE, in 'Ramrod' operations - day bomber raids escorted by fighters, and 'Circus' operations - a small number of bombers as bait escorted by several squadrons of Spitfires.

N 349 Squadron was formed as a Royal Air Force squadron by Belgian personal at RAF Ikeja (near Lagos), Nigeria on 10 November 1942. The squadron was equipped with Curtiss Tomahawk aircraft for local defence duties but the squadron did not become operational as such. The pilots were used for ferrying aircraft to the Middle East instead. The squadron was disbanded in May 1943 and the personnel transferred to the United Kingdom. On 5 June 1943 the Squadron was reformed at RAF Station Wittering with the Supermarine Spitfire V and became operational at RAF Station Digby in August 1943. The Squadron moved to southern England to operate over France on bomber escorts and low-level sweeps. In early 1944 it began to train as a fighter-bomber unit and then operated in this role in occupied Europe. During the invasion of Normandy it carried out beachhead patrols and then were used as bomber escorts. In August 1944 the squadron moved to France in the fighter-bomber role, it carried out armed reconnaissance behind enemy positions and attacked targets of opportunity. In February 1945 the Squadron returned to England to convert to the Hawker Tempest, although, conversion was stopped in April, and the Squadron re-gained Spitfire IX's operating from the Netherlands. It moved to Belgium and was disbanded as an RAF Squadron on 24 October 1946 on transfer to the Belgian Air Force.

N 350 Squadron :

Belgian Squadron flying ther Spitfire Mk IX, coded MN, in 'Circus' operations - a small number of bombers as bait escorted by several squadrons of Spitfires, 'Rodeos' - fighter sweeps aimed at drawing German fighters into combat, 'Roadsteads' - attacks on ennemy ships and beachhead cover.

N 350 Squadron, the first Royal Air Force squadron to be formed by Belgian personnel, was brought into existence in the United Kingdom at RAF Valley in November 1941. The squadron operated the Supermarine Spitfire at first on convoy protection duties over the Irish sea, relocating to RAF Atcham in early 1942. In April 1942 the squadron moved to RAF Debden and carried out offensive operations over France. The squadron moved several times around southern England, in 1944 it provided beach-head patrols during the invasion. In August 1944 the Squadron operated against the V-1 rockets attacking England using the Spitfire Mk XIV. The squadron moved to Belgium in December 1944 to provide offensive patrols over the battlefield including patrols in the Berlin area and was disbanded on 15 October 1946 on transfer to the Belgian air force.

N 609 Squadron :

A handful of expercienced Belgian pilots joined the squadron in 1941, flying Spitfires until April 1942 when the squadron converted to the Hawker Typhoon.
N 609 Squadron saw three Belgian commanders :

S/Ldr Lodewijk Geerts, DFC (June/August 1944)
S/Ldr Raymond Lallemant, DFC & bar (August/September 1944)
S/Ldr Charles Demolin, DFC (November/December 1944)

  
 Tangmere today: The control tower
(
Marc Arys)
Old taxiway
( Serge Van Heertum)
 The apron
(
Marc Arys)
Air raid shelter and Pickett Hamilton fort
( Marc Arys)
 Pickett Hamilton fort 
( Serge Van Heertum)
Air raid shelter entry
( Serge Van Heertum)
The wonderful book about Tangemere available in the Museum shop...
don't miss it!
  
The museum
   

The Tangmere Military Aviation Museum Trust Ltd

Tangmere Military Aviation Museum was born when a group of like-minded enthusiasts met to discuss ways of keeping the memory of RAF Tangmere alive. Staffed entirely by volunteers, the mission statement can be described as :
The Museum exists to promote awareness of the United Kingdom's military aviation heritage and to educate present and future generations in military aviation by:
" Exhibiting the history of aircraft and personnel involved in military aviation with particular reference to RAF Tangmere and its unique place in that history.
" Serving as a memorial to those allied airmen and airwomen who gave their lives in the service of this country.
The exhibits of the museum are divided per various display halls :

- The Battle of Britain hall
where the focus lies on the air battles fought in the skies over Southern Britain in 1940. Here you will also find exhibitions on James Nicolson, the only Fighter Command pilot to be awarded the VC during the Second World War, Tangmere and 16 August 1940 and Douglas Bader, the legless fighter ace.

- The Middle hall
RAF Regiment armaments on display and a model of the Mhne Dam, the first dam breached during 617 Squadron's famous raid on 16/17 May 1943 and a moving model of the mechanism used to spin up the bomb before dropping

- The Tangmere hall
Exhibits illustrating the history of Tangmere from 1917 to 1970. Also an exhibition devoted to the equipment and activities of the special SOE agents and the Lysander pilots who flew them to and from occupied Europe.
A section on the radio equipment used in the Second World War and displays of medals and uniforms from all periods of Tangmere's history.
Bomber Command is also present with a touch-screen describing a Lancaster raid on Berlin in 1944. Tributes are also paid to the Womens' Auxiliary Air Force (the WAAF) and Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).

- The Merston hall
With the two world airspeed record holding aircraft - Donaldson's Meteor and Duke's Hunter - on loan from the RAF Museum, as is the Supermarine Swift which is displayed next to the Hunter.
A Canberra cockpit is also on display together with full size replicas of the Spitfire prototype K5054 and a Hurricane, cutaway jet engines, an exhibition of aircraft propellers, three of the museum's flight simulators, an exhibition of flying helmets, several ejector seats and many other unique exhibits.

- The Meryl Hansed Memorial hall
Houses the Hunter Mk 5 and the English Electric Lightning F53 - both aircraft generously donated to the museum by Raymond and the late Meryl Hansed.
Also a Link Trainer under restoration and a presentation on Operation Musketeer - the Suez Emergency of 1956.

- The Museum grounds
Here you will find a Phantom FGR2, a Sea Vixen FAW2, a Sea Harrier FRS2, a Lockheed T-33, a Vampire T11, a Meteor F8, a Wessex HU5 and a Harrier GR3.
You can also experience an 'air raid on Tangmere', have a look at Picket Hamilton Fort, reflect quietly in the Memorial Garden or relax a little in the picnic area.

Apart from these exhibiton halls and grounds you will find the museum shop, the NAAFI tea-room, the Neville Duke hall and a library housing more than 4.000 books.

When visiting the museum in August 2016 we were welcomed by David Coxon, who did not spare any effort to give us a detailed guided tour of the museum and the various exhibits. During our walkaround it was really heartwarming to see how well all the artifacts are preserved and presented. Wandering through the different periods of the history of Tangmere is a real delight and very comprehensive.
As not to only stay on the static side, the members of the museum put up 3 computer-controlled simulators and a D-4 Link trainer, where visitors can have their hands on : a red flight simulator, a Lightning simulator and a combat simulator. This latter one only for children. You even can take a seat in a SE 5a cockpit.
The Tangmere Museum engineers were also into the building of a Spitfire MK IX cockpit, rebuilding all the bits and pieces as per original plans. An incredible work of art as you will see in the pictures !

And as pictures say more than words, enjoy your tour of the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum Trust Ltd.
If you happen to stroll along Southern England, you definitely have to pay a visit to this museum. More details to be found on : http://www.tangmere-museum.org.uk

SBAP wishes to thank heartily David Coxon and the Tangmere Museum Team for their time and comments during our stay at the museum and congratulate all the volunteers for their dedicated and never ending effort to promote public awareness of the United Kingdom's military aviation heritage, to educate present and future generations in military aviation and to serve as a memorial to airmen and airwomen who gave their lives in the service of their country.

 
 The museum gate
( Marc Arys)
Ready to enter into history 
( Serge Van Heertum)
 In memory...
(
Marc Arys)
Flags of some countries whose pilots flew and fought from 
RAF Tangmere during WWII 
( Marc Arys)
 Commemorative plate  ( Marc Arys)
 Oldies ;-)
(
Marc Arys)
Entering the museum
(
Marc Arys)
 Poem: Tangmere In Silent Tribute  ( Marc Arys)
 Follow the map...here we go
 
Battle of Britain hall
 
 James Nicolson, the only Fighter Command pilot to be awarded the VC.
( Serge Van Heertum)
Squadron dispersal
(
Marc Arys)
 Douglas Bader...and his new legs
(
Marc Arys)
Original searchlight
( Marc Arys)
 The Luftwaffe
( Serge Van Heertum)
Battle of Britain memories
( Serge Van Heertum)
 Rolls Royce engine
( Serge Van Heertum)
Home front
( Serge Van Heertum)
 BoB fighter pilot, Photographic reconnaissance and the Sergeant Dennis Nobles Hurricane wrecks  ( Serge Van Heertum)
 the excavated and poignant remains of Sergeant Dennis Nobles Hurricane
(
Marc Arys)
Poppies for Dennis and all the others
(
Marc Arys)
( Serge Van Heertum) ( Serge Van Heertum)
  
Middle hall
 
 Home front
( Serge Van Heertum)
The Dam Busters
(
Marc Arys)
 Dorothy Colles
( Serge Van Heertum)
RAF apprentices
( Serge Van Heertum)


Lightning cockpit simulator  ( Marc Arys & Serge Van Heertum)
 
Tangmere hall
 

 Tangmere based squadron's and the Belgian ones highlighted...  ( Marc Arys)
 Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.)
( Serge Van Heertum)
N 43 Squadron with the center piece sporting a Belgian flag and referring to S/Ldr Daniel 'Danny' Le Roy Du Vivier, CO of this Sqadron at the time of the Dieppe Raid
( Serge Van Heertum)
 Tangmere and the D-Day
( Serge Van Heertum)
N1 and N43 Squadrons
( Serge Van Heertum)
 First World War
( Serge Van Heertum)
Wilfrid N. Jackson from the RFC
( Serge Van Heertum)
 Some amazing relics and clothes
(
Marc Arys)
As it was 100 years ago
( Serge Van Heertum)
 The beginning of the RAF
( Serge Van Heertum)
The painting corner
( Serge Van Heertum)
 Beautiful artwork...Tempest...
( Serge Van Heertum)
...and Hurricane
( Serge Van Heertum)
 
 Air Transport Auxiliary
( Serge Van Heertum)
Typical Bomber crew flying gear
( Marc Arys)
 Bomber command with the exhibit describing a Lancaster raid on Berlin in 1944
( Serge Van Heertum)
( Marc Arys)
 Radio and telecommunication
(
Marc Arys)
Medals corner
( Serge Van Heertum)
Merston hall
 
 Hawker Hurricane Mk I replica
(
Marc Arys)
( Serge Van Heertum)
 ( Serge Van Heertum) Supermarine Spitfire Prototype replica
( Serge Van Heertum)
 Reginald Joseph Mitchell...
( Serge Van Heertum)
...and his fabulous realisation
( Serge Van Heertum)
Group Captain Teddy  Donaldson Meteor F.4 special
( Serge Van Heertum)
World speed record aircraft in January 1946
(
Marc Arys)
 ( Serge Van Heertum) ( Serge Van Heertum)
 Supermarine Swift FR5
( Serge Van Heertum)
( Serge Van Heertum)
 Hawker Hunter Mk3  ( Marc Arys)
 Neville Duke speed record aircraft...
( Serge Van Heertum)
...record held september 7th, 1953 (727.63 Mph)
( Serge Van Heertum)
 Rolls Royce 7AR7 Avon afterburning engine
(
Marc Arys)
( Serge Van Heertum)
 Artwork representing Neville Duke at take off for the speed record
(
Serge Van Heertum)
The big day 
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
 Neville Duke visiting Tangmere some years ago
(Courtesy Tangmere Aviation Museum)
The 'FAI Diplome de Record' of the speed world record flown on
September 7th, 1953 by S/Ldr Neville Duke 
( Marc Arys)
 Another view of the WB188  ( Serge Van Heertum)
 SE5A cockpit mock up...
( Marc Arys)
...how it was in First World War machine'
(
Marc Arys)
 The combat simulator - children use only
(
Marc Arys)
A rocket propelled glider target
( Marc Arys)
 Building of a Spitfire Mk IX cockpit by the museum engineers...
( Serge Van Heertum)
...and a second one
(
Marc Arys)
 English Electric Canberra B2 nose section
( Serge Van Heertum)
and a view inside
(
Marc Arys)
Royal Observer Corps...
( Serge Van Heertum)
...and some of their observation instruments
( Serge Van Heertum)
 ( Marc Arys)
Ejection seats section and Air Sea Rescue section  ( Serge Van Heertum & Marc Arys)
 
Meryl Hansed Memorial hall
 
 English Electric Lightning F53
( Serge Van Heertum)
Firestreak Missile
( Serge Van Heertum)
 Aden 30m canon of the Lightning F53
(
Marc Arys)
Ferranti Airpass AI 23 attack radar
( Serge Van Heertum)
 Red Top Missile firing system pack
( Serge Van Heertum)
A view on the Rolls Royce Avon Mk 302-C of the Lightning
( Serge Van Heertum)
 RAF Cold War pilot
( Serge Van Heertum)
A great steps is needed to get into the cockpit...
( Serge Van Heertum)
 Hawker Hunter F.5
(
Marc Arys)
1st Squadron markings
( Serge Van Heertum)
 ( Marc Arys) ( Serge Van Heertum)
Suez channel crisis markings
( Serge Van Heertum)
Hunter Aden 30 mm gun pack
(
Marc Arys)
Functional D-4 link trainer
(
Marc Arys)
 
Outside exhibition
 
 Westland Wessex HU.5
( Serge Van Heertum)
Gloster Meteor F.8
( Serge Van Heertum)
 Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.3
(
Marc Arys)
British Aerospace Sea Harrier FRS.2
( Serge Van Heertum)
 De Havilland DH.110 Sea Vixen FAW.2
(
Marc Arys)
The Sea Vixen and some "dead" markings
( Serge Van Heertum)
 Mc Donnel Douglas Phantom FGR.2
(
Marc Arys)
Former  6 Squadron, the plane is going to be paint into 
56 Squadron commemorative blue scheme in 1992  (
Marc Arys)
 Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star
( Serge Van Heertum)
De Havilland DH.100 Vampire T.11 in restauration
(
Marc Arys)
 Hawker Hunter F.4 (WV332) nose section
( Serge Van Heertum)
( Serge Van Heertum)
 
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