The lost and abandoned RAF bases of Sussex

DESPITE not having any active RAF airbases in Sussex any longer, at one point in history the county had numerous stations to be proud of. 

We no longer have any military air bases in use in Sussex but once upon a time the county had a hub of Royal Air Force stations. 

Over the years the county’s RAF bases have closed and become abandoned or forgotten for numerous reasons, from being no longer needed after the war to simply changing location – some are currently in use as civil airstrips. 

Here are some of Sussex’s forgotten RAF stations:

READ MORE: The lost and abandoned railway stations of Sussex

READ MORE: Sussex’s ghost villages where residents never returned

 

RAF Tangmere

The Argus:

Aerial photograph of Tangmere airfield, 10 February 1944.

Famous for its role in the Battle of Britain, RAF Tangmere holds an important place in British history.

The famous Second World War aces Wing Commander Douglas Bader, and the then inexperienced Johnnie Johnson were stationed at Tangmere in 1941.

It was founded in 1917 and was used as an aerodrome before being passed on to the American Air Force as a training ground in 1918. 

By 1925 the station re-opened to serve the RAF’s Fleet Air Arm, and went operational in 1926 with No. 43 Squadron equipped with biplane Gloster Gamecocks.

As war threatened in the late 1930s, the fighter aircraft based at Tangmere became much faster, with Hawker Furies, Gloster Gladiators, and Hawker Hurricanes all being used.

In 1939 the airfield was enlarged to defend the south coast and the only hotel as well as some houses were 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.

The village did not resume its status as a civilian community until 1966.

In August 1940 the first squadron (No. 602 Squadron RAF) of Supermarine Spitfires was based at the satellite airfield at nearby Westhampnett, as the Battle of Britain began.

The Argus:

A line of Supermarine Spitfire Mark VBs of No. 131 Squadron RAF, being prepared for a sweep at Merston, a satellite airfield of Tangmere

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 14 ground staff and six civilians were killed.

However the station was kept in service and brought back into full operation.

After the war the station continued to be used for several years and, in 1968, Prince Charles took his first flying lesson at Tangmere.

The station finally closed on 16 October 1970; a single Spitfire flew over the airfield as the RAF ensign was taken down.

RAF Shoreham 

The Argus:

Terminal building at Shoreham Airport – By Terry Joyce, CC

Currently known as Brighton City Airport or Shoreham Airport, this landing ground is steeped in history. 

The first aviator to fly at Shoreham Airport was Harold H. Piffard in 1910 and there is a memorial garden still which celebrates his flight.

The aerodrome was officially opened on 20 June 1911 and the first flying school opened in 1913.

In 1936 the landing strip was reopened as Brighton Hove and Worthing Joint Municipal Airport, the new terminal building which is still in use was designed by Stavers Tiltman in the Art Deco style during the same year.

In 1937 one of the local flying schools received a contract to train pilots for the Royal Air Force and was known as No. 16 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School, initially using the de Havilland Tiger Moth.

The Argus:

Pictured are two aircraft from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF).By Photo: Cpl Phil Major ABIPP/MOD, OGL v1.0, 

The airfield started the Second World War in civilian hands until a detachment of Westland Lysanders of 225 Squadron arrived in July 1940 to undertake coastal patrols.

With the nearby RAF Tangmere damaged by air raids, the Fighter Interception Unit with the Bristol Beaufighter moved to Shoreham although they had problems with the grass runway.

The airfield was regularly attacked during July and August 1941 and the next unit to arrive was No 11 Group Target Towing Flight in October 1941.

By April 1944 No. 345 (Free French) Squadron arrived with Spitfires to support the preparations for the Normandy invasion; the squadron was active on D-Day over the beaches and escorting glider formations.

A B-17 Flying Fortress crash-landed at the airfield after being damaged during a raid on Germany. The consequent damage to the old guard house on the north side of the airfield can still be seen.

After the war the airport was handed back to civilians and a tarmac runway was installed in 1981. 

On 2 May 2014, Brighton City Airport Ltd (BCAL) took ownership of the airport and its operations, which at the time was named Shoreham Airport.

RAF Newhaven

The Argus:

Site of RNAS Newhaven – By Simon Carey, CC

This experimental seaplane base had been long-forgotten until it was excavated in 2006.

Operating from Newhaven and the nearby airfield at Telscombe Cliffs, No 242 Squadon RAF was equipped with Short Type 184 seaplanes and carried out anti-submarine patrols over the English Channel until the end of the First World War.

Surveys carried out in 2006 have exposed part of the slipway, concrete aprons to both hangars with door tracks and several other slabs presumed to be workshops. 

Sussex Archaeological Society started a dig in April 2006 to catalogue the entire East Beach site.

RAF Hammerwood

The Argus:

Hammerwood Park​ By Zadradr Own work, CC BY 3.0

The hamlet of Hammerwood near Forest Row, East Grinstead was in a period of decline after the First World War and much of the great estate was sold off.

During the Second World War, on 2 March 1944 a German fighter jet (Heinkel He 177 of the Luftwaffe’s Kampfgeschwader 100) on a bombing mission was shot down over Hammerwood by a Mosquito Mk XIII of No. 151 Squadron RAF at 3:15 am.

Six people were onboard the German aircraft, four of whom survived and the wreckage was scattered widely in nearby woodland.

Hammerwood Park was requisitioned for use by the armed forces during WWII, becoming home to 200 soldiers.

The Argus:

Westland Lylander.

From November 1943, No. 660 Squadron RAF operated from an unpaved airstrip (RAF Hammerwood) to the east of the village, from which the SOE flew Westland Lysanders for a time.

Flying ceased by July 1944 and on 29 August 1944, a V-1 flying bomb which had been shot down by an aircraft came down in the village. 

After the war, Hammerwood Park was divided into flats and the remnants of the estate were purchased by Led Zeppelin.

It subsequently became derelict, before being purchased by the current owner in 1982. 

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