Having gathered an excellent oversight of the Battle of Britain from Bungay, I decided to unpick particular threads from the story and look at them from different angles, including:
- Biographies (of pilots, commanders-in chief etc)
- Locations and individual squadrons (particular airfields)
I settled on an investigation of 11 Group.
11 Group’s most famous period was during the Battle of Britain when, due to its position along the south coast, it bore the brunt of the German aerial assault. Their sectors stretched from Debden (North East of London) to just beyond Portsmouth in the West.
During the ‘Phoney War’ (the months following Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in September 1939 and preceding the Battle of France in May 1940) it was figured that 12 Group (whose territory covered England’s East coast) would face the most difficult fight. Once France had fallen and the Luftwaffe had established themselves in the North of the country, the route to London and many other important targets, instead took the battle directly to 11 Group. Pilots posted to these squadrons knew that they would be sent into certain action.
In contemplating this fragment of history, I started with a particular airfield.
Westhampnett in West Sussex began as an emergency landing field for the sector station at Tangmere. It became an important airfield in its own right and was a base for 41 permanent squadrons between 1940 and 1946.
Although not the most famous airfield, it has a very unique attribute, which couldn’t help but catch my attention: it still exists. So many former airfields are now boarded up, sold off or converted into museums- but Westhampnett is populated with a buzzing, active aerodrome. Part of the lovely Goodwood Estate, the sky is full of planes and pilots. New aviators gain their wings through the Flying School and hangarage and maintenance are provided for many aircraft.
Of course they are there under very different auspices from 1940, but it’s marvelous to contemplate the neatly kept grass runways , to listen to the rattle of props firing up, to watch a succession of planes departing out across the Channel. I’m trying to figure it out definitively, but by my reckoning, it is the only active Battle of Britain airfield that remains on the south coast.
A bit of imagination brings the past to life and that makes Goodwood such a fascinating stop on this journey.