TANGMERE - A BRIEF HISTORY

It has changed roles many times and has operated all types of aircraft from the earliest biplanes of WW1, the propeller driven fighters of WW2 and the jets of the Cold War. Some of the nation's most famous fighter pilots have also served there, it's history is rich with heritage and character...

Royal Air Force Gloster Gamecock

THE BEGINNING

Tangmere was first formed as an official RAF base in 1917. It’s initial role was training RFC personnel and then was intended to train American air force crews. The Americans did not arrive until September 1918 and the war ended in November. 25 men from Tangmere served in armed services – 7 killed on active service.

In 1925 the station re-opened to serve the Fleet Air Arm, and went operational in 1926 with No. 43 Squadron equipped with bi-plane Gloster Gamecocks.

crown Hawker Fury

WAR CLOUDS

As war threatened in the thirties, the fighters became faster - Hawker Furies, Gloster Gladiators, and the Hawker Hurricanes powered by the famous Merlin engines took to the skies over Tangmere.

The RAF also commandeered the majority of houses in the village centre – only 6 to 8 families were allowed to stay. Tangmere's only hotel and some homes were demolished to enlarge the airfield as preparations were made for a war that many felt was inevitable.

crown Hurricane Pilots Tangmere 1940

WAR SERVICE: DEFENCE

In August 1940 the first squadron of Spitfires (602) was based at the satellite airfield at Westhampnett, as the Battle of Britain began. Tangmere would become one of the most vital airfields during the Battle and was used extensively by the Fighter Squadrons who tried to prevent the German bombers reaching their targets.

Many outstanding pilots from all nations excelled and made names for themselves in what is often referred to as Britain's darkest hour, and many believe, also her finest.

crown Douglas Bader

WAR SERVICE: UNDER ATTACK

The first and worst raid on the airfield came on 16th August 1940 when 100 Junkers Stuka dive bombers and fighters crossed the coast and most of them headed for Tangmere. There was extensive damage to aircraft on the ground and buildings. 14 service people and 6 civilians were killed. The station was kept in service and quickly brought back into full operation.

As the RAF turned from defence to attack, the legendary Group Captain commanded the now famous Tangmere wing. He was later shot down and taken prisoner.

crown Tangmere Cottage

CLOAK AND DAGGER

Throughout the war, Tangmere was a base used by the Special Operations Executive. They flew agents in and out of occupied France, mostly using the Westland Lysander aircraft.

They used Tangmere Cottage, which today has a commemorative plate to their memory.

crown Refuelling a Hurricane

D-DAY AND AFTERWARDS

The station was used extensively throughout the war, its importance not diminishing with the end of the Battle Of Britain. Tangmere became a base from which attacks against the enemy in Occupied Europe were launched.

The station which had been key in the defence of Britain remained just as key to the attack of the enemy and the resurgence of the Allies in Europe.

crown Hawker Hunter

PEACETIME SERVICE

After the War, the RAF High Speed Flight was based at Tangmere. In September 1946, a world air speed record of 616 mph was set up by Group Captain Donaldson in a Gloster Meteor.

In September 1953, Squadron Leader Neville Duke flew a Hawker Hunter at 727 mph – an event commemorated in 2003.

crown Control Tower

CLOSURE

The station was closed On 16 October 1970. A single Spitfire flew over the field, as the RAF ensign was hauled down. Some of the land was returned to farming, but three large hangers and acres of concrete remain. Blocks and repair workshops remained derelict until bought by Seawards Properties Ltd in 1983.

Civilian houses spread around the airfield, and many RAF buildings were demolished and Officers' houses retained as homes.

crown St Andrews cemetary

NEVER FORGOTTEN

A group of enthusiastic veterans formed the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, now a major visitor attraction and base for annual celebrations.

In St. Andrews cemetery, the bodies of service people – British and German – lie at rest, commemorated annually with special services.

Our Tribute to the Few