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Thread: Gosport airfield

  1. #1
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    Default Gosport airfield

    Am trying to determine if the wartime Gosport airfield could legitimately be called RAF Gosport. I gather it was more closely associated with the navy and Fleet Air Arm but the RAF used the airfield too so, in that context, perhaps there was an 'RAF Gosport'.

    Thanks in advance:

    Robert

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    Rob, Hi,
    Malcolm's RAFWEB has a big entry for 'RAF Gosport'. The UK Navy only took over in 1945!
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Robert,

    See also http://www.hampshireairfields.co.uk/airfields/gos.html - includes WW1 photos.

    Brian

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    Hi Rob
    Definitely RFC/RAF Gosport
    This is an excerpt from an article on the gosporthistory website....

    Perhaps it was seen as inevitable that World War 1 (not known as that until after WW2) was imminent, as in February 1914, work began to construct an airfield on the open area adjacent to Forts Grange and Rowner for use by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The first RFC aircraft to use Grange Airfield, as it became known, arrived on 6 July 1914. They only stayed for a few weeks, as ‘The Great War’ began on 28 July, so they no doubt were sent to France.

    No further use of the airfield occurred until the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) made an appearance in October 1914; their aircraft remained for around three months. The RFC returned on 6 January 1915, and the airfield remained under their control until 1 April 1918, at which time the newly formed Royal Air Force (RAF) took over, and Grange Airfield became RAF Gosport.

    The war finished on 11 November 1918. During the four years of the war, the airfield had a number of squadrons and flights, and the following aircraft could be seen at Grange, where they were based: Bristol Scout; Avro 504; and BE-2. Other RFC/RAF aircraft did call in, including a Handley Page HP2 bomber, which, at the time of building was Britain’s largest aircraft. The RFC & RAF staff & aircrews were billeted in the barrack rooms at Fort Rowner, and possibly Fort Grange, although I’m not sure of that.
    A significant event in 1917 was Robert Raymond Smith-Barry’s invention of a speaking tube, whereby the pilot could communicate with a trainee pilot, at the School of Special Flying, which was at Grange Airfield, being formed from 1 Squadron (reserve), of which Smith-Barry had been the commander since returning from action in France in December 1916. He’d been concerned about the lack of flying skills of the British pilots in France, and developed his own teaching methods.

    These were put to good use at the School of Special Flying, which was set up to teach pilots to become flying instructors, A number of Avro 504 biplanes had been donated by the Avro company for the purpose, but Sopwith Pups were also used, possibly others. The speaking tube soon became universally known as ‘The Gosport Tube’. He’d performed experiments with the equipment at his home, Alverbank House (1917/18), where he lived with his wife, and which he used as an officers’ mess for officers from Grange. The School of Special Flying was later incorporated into the Central School of Flying, and the RAF Gosport school continued for some years, Barry-Smith’s teaching methods were acclaimed, and were utilised by air forces throughout the world. A very important figure in Gosport’s history, and a blue plaque was attached to the Alverbank Hotel (his home in 1917/18) in 2014 to commemorate his achievements.
    Even though never being a major airfield, Grange (aka RAF Gosport), still maintained & flew a fair number of aircraft, mostly as part of the School of Special Flying/Central School of Flying; in an aerial photograph taken in July 1929, around 35 biplanes of at least three distinct types can be seen on the airfield. At some stage, the tarmac of the airfield was removed, and it was left as grass; I haven’t found a date for that.

    In 1940, the Air Torpedo Development Unit was formed here, and remained until 1956. Some of this torpedo work involved Fairey Swordfish biplanes dropping experimental torpedoes into Stokes Bay, wherefrom the torpedoes would be retrieved by launches based at Stokes Bay Pier, which the Admiralty had purchased (or leased) from the LSWR after the closure of the railway line on 30th October 1915.
    World War 2 saw a number of squadrons using the airfield, and some of the aircraft involved included Spitfire, Hurricane, Defiant, Swordfish, Blenheim, Hudson, Barracuda, and Beaufighter. After the end of the war, there were changes; on 1 August 1945, control of the airfield was passed to the Royal Navy, resulting in RAF Gosport becoming HMS Woodpecker – for just three days – it appears that a Royal Navy sloop had recieved that name in 1946, so it became HMS Siskin on 4 August 1945, with a small assortment of Fleet Air Arm aircraft, plus some Westland Whirlwind helicopters later on. This continued until the closure of the airfield in May 1956. Aircraft from the nearby HMS Daedalus continued to use the airfield occasionely for a few months after closure.
    HMS Sultan came into existence on 1 June 1956 as a Mechanical Training and Repair Establishment.

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    Apologies for a little thread 'drift'.
    One of my interesting (to me at least) books is What were they like to Fly by Sqn Ldr D H Clarke DFC,AFC
    He was a pilot at 2 AACU in 1940 and based at Gosport,he was usually engaged in flying (unarmed) Air/Sea Rescue patrols and eventually managed to scrounge 4 brownings to fit to the turret of Blackburn Roc L3085 (The Saint).He had to fly cross controlled/sideslip to allow the gunner to get his fire onto the He 59.

    Plt Off D. H. Clarke, who had painted a red ‘Saint’ (the Leslie Charteris character) in a red-framed yellow diamond on each side of the rear fuselage of his ‘own’ Roc. On 26 September 1940 he was sent out to search for survivors in the water 15 miles (24 km) south-west of St Catherines Point. With Sergeant Hunt in the gun turret – which, unusually for 2 AACU Rocs, was fully armed – he took off in the late afternoon. As he instituted a square search in the area indicated, he noticed what he thought was a Swordfish also searching about 3 miles (5 km) away.

    After about 45 minutes of fruitless search in the gathering gloom, he suddenly noticed that the Swordfish, now only half a mile away, was in fact a twin engined floatplane. Out of curiosity, wondering what it was, he flew towards it: and then suddenly realised it was a Heinkel He 59, a German aircraft probably on the same air-sea rescue task as himself. Unsure as to whether he should open fire on an aircraft on such a humanitarian mission, he flew across its nose with Hunt training his turret at it.

    As he did so the German nose gunner opened fire with his 7.9mm machine gun, and Hunt returned fire, his tracer pouring into the Heinkel’s fuselage. After the pandemonium and shock of his first action, Clarke swung on to a parallel course, and re-established communication with Hunt , whose intercom lead had been pulled out. The Heinkel turned for France, skimming the waves. Happily the twin engined bi-plane was even slower than the Roc, with a top speed at sea level of only 137 mph (220 kph), and Clarke was able to gain on his adversary; although he was still faced with the prospect of having to drop a wing to enable Hunt to open fire, even though his propeller was skimming the wave tops.

    At 300 yards range he dropped a wing, and Hunt opened fire with another broadside. The Heinkel replied from all three gun positions, nose, dorsal and ventral, a single machine gun in each, but Clarke had to lift the wing after only a few seconds to avoid side-slipping into the sea, causing the last few rounds of Hunt’s burst to shoot harmlessly up into the air. The two aircraft continued these brief exchanges of fire for about 25 minutes, until the coast of France was looming up. Both aircraft were hit, and one of the Heinkel’s gunners stopped firing; but just as Clarke was about to turn away, the Roc was hit in the engine.

    It faltered, and Clarke switched to the reserve 17 gal (77 ltr) tank, pulling up and away. Just as he thought he might have to ditch, the Perseus picked up, and he nursed the damaged aircraft back to Gosport. But before he could taxi in the engine stopped, out of fuel. Clarke claimed the Heinkel as ‘Damaged’.

    On his return his groundcrew found two incendiary bullets in the main fuel tank, above which he sat. They had entered low down in the petrol, which had extinguished them; slightly higher, in the explosive fuel/air mixture above, and the Roc would have been ‘missing in action’. This action was almost certainly the nearest the Blackburn Roc ever came to destroying a German aircraft in combat.
    Last edited by bvs; 29th June 2017 at 08:47.

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    Thanks, everyone. Enjoyed the bonus article too.

    Robert

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