Neville Duke DSO, OBE, DFC & Two Bars AFC, FRAeS (1922-2007)
Duke had a “remarkable record” as a World War II fighter pilot, flying Spitfires over France and later, North Africa and Italy. He became a test pilot for the Hawker Aircraft Corporation in 1948. He held the world air speed record in 1953 flying a Hunter but had to retire as a test pilot in 1956 following a serious accident. Nevertheless he continued flying to the day he died, aged 85 – and not as a result of an air accident. He wrote several books including Sound Barrier, Test Pilot, The Crowded Sky and The War Diaries of Neville Duke; and even endorsed a card game named after him in 1955! Continue reading “Neville Duke DSO, OBE, DFC & Two Bars AFC”
In 1943, Tom Gold, Hermann Bondi and Fred Hoyle were living in a cottage on the edge of Dunsfold Aerodrome. Later, Tom Gold wrote:
“As the preparations for the invasion of France were proceeding, the French Channel coast was of course under almost constant bombardment by our airplanes. One such striking force was a Canadian contingent who flew these bombing missions early every morning, mostly with chemically timed bombs that could not be disarmed in any way. An acid inside was just going to eat its way through a diaphragm and when it did, the bomb would explode. Nothing you could do from the outside would stop it; the most sophisticated bomb disposal squad could do nothing with it, even if it knew all the details of its design.
The trouble for us was that this Canadian contingent was operating from an airfield adjacent to the house in which Bondi and I, and Hoyle some of the time, were living. In fact, it was our house that was the first object the heavily laden planes had to clear on take off. When we had rented the house, we did not know of this particular drawback, but now we were stuck with it. After a while of being awakened by twenty planes in succession just clearing the rooftop at 4:30 a.m., we got quite used to this, and could sleep through it.
But then one morning I woke up in a state of shock – there had evidently been a very nearby and very violent explosion. I must have been sleeping with my mouth wide open, for a large chunk of the plaster from the ceiling had fallen into it. As I was spitting it out, my bedroom door opened, and Fred Hoyle, who was staying there at the time, stuck his head in and said ‘Did you hear that!’ I said, ‘what do you mean, did I hear that? The house nearly collapsed!’ He said, ‘I know, but I heard, about twenty minutes ago, all the planes taking off except for one, where I heard the take off noise just suddenly stop, and then nothing more. So,’ he said, ‘I went back to sleep, and then came this noise, which of course, woke me up.’ I said to him, ‘How can you be so stupid, to go back to sleep, when clearly what must have happened was that the plane failed to take off, caught fire, and its bombs exploded?’ He said, ‘Well, of course, I know that now, but I couldn’t have done anything about it anyway’.
We later learned, of course, that this is exactly what happened. The crew had been able to save themselves, but the burning wreck eventually exploded its bomb load. It was only a hundred yards from our house.”
Burbidge (2003: pp218-219)
Records of aircraft crashing at Dunsfold in 1943- 45
Below is a list of aircraft crashes on the Aerodrome. More planes crashed in the vicinity.
18 January 1943: A Curtiss Tomahawk Iib of 430 Squadron RCAF blew a tyre on take-off and crashed. 109
21 January 1943: A Curtiss Tomahawk Iia of 430 Squadron RCAF crashed after forced landing due to mid-air engine failure.110
14 February 1943: A North American Mustang 1 of 430 Squadron RCAF aircraft flew too low and hit trees, crashing 111
28 February 1943: A Curtiss Tomahawk Iia of 430 Squadron RCAF aircraft force landed after engine failure and crashed. 112
19th March 1943 – damaged aircraft
23rd December 1943 – aircraft crash near Dunsfold
21 February 1944: A Handley Page Halifax III of 78 Squadron RAF crashed on landing at Dunsfold. 113
24th March 1944 – Lancaster crash landed
5th May 1944 aircraft crashed at Old Rickhurst
21 May 1944: an Avro Lancaster III of 156 Squadron RAF crash landed and caught fire after damage over Duisberg.114
12 July 1944: a North American Mitchell II of 98 Squadron RAF crashed on take off. 115 13 July 1944: An aircraft of 613 Squadron RAF crashed.116
13th July 1944 – aircraft crashed 613 Squadron
8 September 1944: A North American Mitchell II of 98 Squadron RAF carrying bombs and exploded on touchdown, killing all the crew and badly damaging the runway. 117
14th September 1944 – Mitchell 180 Squadron crashed
9th February 1945 – Hawker Typhoon crashed pilot killed
17th April 1945 – Hawker Typhoon broke in half
19th April 1945 – Hawker Tempest crashed
14th June 1945 – Hawker Typhoon dived vertically into the ground on the bank of the Wey & Arun Canal
Source: Surrey County Council Monument Full Report ref, SHER 350/16 Dunsfold HER Monuments (5 December 2016).
109 SMR No 17145 – MSE17145; McCue, 1991: p39 (Includes photo). 110 SMR No 17148 – MSE17148; McCue, 1991: p39.
111 SMR No 17151 – MSE17151; McCue, 1991: p44
112 SMR No 17153 – MSE17153; McCue, 1991: p45
113 SMR No 17191 – MSE17191.
114 SMR No 17202 – MSE17202.
115 SMR No 17208 – MSE17208.
116 SMR No 17209 – MSE17209.
117 SMR No 17215 – MSE17215, Ashworth, 1985: p83; McCue, 1991: p161-163.
In August 1946, the Dunsfold Aerodrome was leased to air charter company Skyways Ltd, who used it as their main operating base. By 1947, Skyways was reported to be the largest air charter company in Europe. It employed “1,300 staff at Dunsfold”, mostly involved in maintaining the aircraft. “A large proportion” were accommodated on the aerodrome which operated 24 hours a day. In addition, there were about 350 aircrew. Its principal contract work was to transport oil company staff to and from Basra. A trip to Basra and back then took about 35 flying hours over our days.Continue reading “Skyways”
ADEN (named for the Armament Development Establishment and Enfield where it was originally designed and built) was a direct development of the WWII German Mauser MG 213. The ADEN entered Service in 1954 and was fitted to the Hawker Hunter. Continue reading “Aden Cannon Range”
The Bomb Stores Site has two access roads with seven concrete hard standings in between and earth banks separating each hard standings or bays. These bays were used to store the bombs which were placed on wooden frames. The earth banks that separated each bay gave a degree of isolation should there be an accident and these are still visible.Continue reading “Bomb Stores Site”
16ft span Nissen Hut located within the WWII Bomb Stores Site. A concrete roadway splits and enters the structure to allow the bomb ladened trolleys to be fused ready for deployment before being taken to the aircraft.
Please note: The aerodrome is private land and an active airfield. Access is not permitted to some of the buildings and features and we strongly discourage access without permission.
The land to build Dunsfold Aerodrome was requisitioned in 1942 and work started almost immediately, mostly undertaken by the Royal Canadian Engineers. It was one of the very few airfields they built in England (4). Set a target by their commanding General, the Canadian sappers completed construction of the aerodrome in 18 weeks, against a quote of 18 months by civilian contractors on behalf of the British War Office. The Canadians did, however, have the advantage of large American earth-moving equipment (5).
The 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Engineers, 2nd Road Construction Company & the Canadian Forestry Corps used explosives and some of the heavy machinery supplied from the USA under the lease lend arrangements. Tree stumps were blasted and from May 27th concrete was being poured in two shifts 18 hours a day. Concrete was trucked in from Shoreham Cement Works.
One of the obstacles encountered in the construction of the 45ft wide 3 mile perimeter road was Broadmeads Cottage. It straddled the route to be taken and a swift demolition was required to keep construction within the tight timeframe. Sergeant Fred Kreugar realised special skills were required to deal with the building so ordered Sergeant Whidden to deal with the issue.
Original location of Broadmead Cottage in 1937
Ministry plans 1941
... to make way for the new runways, perimeter roads and dispersal points
Distance over which Broadmead was moved in 1942
Fred Kreugar’s words on the solution:
“We had lots of beech logs that had been removed so we undermined the structure one log at a time , the major problem proving to be a fireplace in the middle which appeared to tie the building together. While the cottage was resting on the logs, we then rigged a cable , pulley and eveners. The idea was to work with 3 large D8 Caterpillar tractors pulling side by side and in preparation for the move we graded, or flattened , the terrain for probably half a mile or more.
First of all the three tractor operators practiced responding to signals so that they would move their machines in unison. At the first attempt however, the three tractors would not move it, so we then used five, again with cables and pulleys. Shortly after we started, the weight of the fireplace on on the logs created so much friction that fires started squirting out on all sides of the logs. So, we then took up some of the floor and put men in the house with Carbon Tetrachloride and told them to watch the fire so it did not catch the floorboards. Fortunately the freshly felled beech logs were very green and wouldn’t support a flame. A BBC news crew did film some of the move and interviewed myself and Sergeant Whidden. I remember that only Whidden came out on the news later. I was told my name was too Germanic for the BBC’s liking.”
As well as moving earth and buildings, the main Guildford-Horsham road had to be diverted. The job was complete in 20 weeks. (6)
More Aerodromes for RAF (1941) showing similar heavy equipment as used by the Canadian Engineers and contractors at Dunsfold
By the control tower, there is a plinth inscribed:
“This aerodrome was built by the Royal Canadian Engineers assisted by Canadian Forestry Corps, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps and Ordnance Corps, 1942. It was handed over for the use of the RCAF in October 1942.”
Ministry drawings 1941
Aerial photograph 2013
Aerial photograph 1942
Dunsfold 1944 (private archive) and 2013
Dunsfold was one of only two airfields in Britain to be granted to the Royal Canadian Air Force and, as such, was titled RCAF Dunsfold. This was in exchange for the many training airfields that the Royal Air Force was permitted to establish in Canada.
In December 1944, Dunsfold Aerodrome comprised:
Three runways, all 50 yards (46m) wide: one 2,000 yards (over a mile or 1,830m) and two, each 1,400 yards (1,280m), in the typical “A” shape
12 Blister hangars, 2 T-2 hangars: on the north of the site
Dispersals: 38 100 feet (30m) “frying pans”: on the south and east of the site. “Dispersals” were parking areas for aircraft and distributed to minimise damage in the event of an attack. They could accommodate 50 aircraft.
Towards May 1942the sappers’ lines began to agitate with rumours of a new job, a large job, an airport, no less. As the rumours originated with the sappers, credence was promptly given to them by the officers and sergeants, and we prepared for the move. Dunsfold!!
When we arrived there, it consisted of acres of beautiful crop and pasture land, broken at intervals by groves of staunch blue and red oak trees. It was one of the grandest pastoral scenes in the whole of England. With the Forestry Corps, R.CA.S.C, 2nd Road.Construction Cby details who were attached to us, the Battalion descended on the areas natural loveliness like a swarm of locusts. Regiments of trees disappeared in a dav at the behest of the Foresters, carry-alls moved mountains of earth, mechanical ditchers dug deep to provide drainage. Fleets of trucks hauled “hogging” from Ewhurst and gravel from Hungry Hill. Fourteen ton capacity trailers towed bulk cement from Shoreham. For eighteen hours a day there was a pandemonium of sound and movement, and during the other six hours the camp’s rest was uneasy, as, during the night, vague groups of men wandered about ensuring that the machinery would be in order to resume its labour the following day. Gradually the runways were levelled off and finegraded to the point where concrete could be poured. A huge double barrelled cement mixer was put to work, and competition between shifts which had previously been very keen, now reached fever point. For some days the mixer was allowed to work as it’s manufacturers intended it should, squatting at the side of the strip to be poured, and depositing the wet cement in any place desired by means of a boom and a bucket, which were soon found to be the weakest part of the machine’s construction and subject to frequent break- downs. Within a week the boom and bucket had been abolished, the mixer placed squarely in the centre of the strip to be poured, and the concrete allowed to fall out of it into heaps from whence it was industriously shovelled into its required position by a group of sappers whose enthusiasm was beyond praise.
Of the central mixing plant, the saw mill, the drainage crews, the work of transport and Q.M. etc., there is not room here for more than passing notice, but, when in September, the first ‘plane landed, and in October, when the Airport was officially opened and handed over to the Air Force by General McNaughton, the Battalion was rightly proud. A difficult job had been com-pleted in record time. It had thereby justified itself, and felt confident of being able to give a creditable account of itself in any work the future might hold.
Dunsfold too holds memories of a lighter type, as when a certain red-headed A.T.S., decided she was going to make her residence in the camp. The R.S.M. decided not and the whole camp held its breath whilst she defied him and passed four nights quite pleasantly in certain tents the morning after the fourth night however, she was caught and hauled off to “pokey”, much to the indignation of several individuals.
It was here too that the famous and notorious chicken incident occured.Close to the camp resided a widow with two daughters, whose livelihood, to a great extent, depended upon the well being, happiness and egg producing capacity of some half a dozen hens. One dread night all six of them disappeared. The local constabulary was hot on the trail next morning, and, noses close to earth, sniffed their way along a morbid trail of blood and feathers into the middle of our camp. Here the trail ended. The incriminating facts were reported to the Colonel, and he, in his wisdom, ruled that unless the birds were returned to their rightful owner that very night, the whole camp would be C.B’d for one month. The next morning the widow found herself to be the somewhat perplexed owner of 186 chickens.
Then there was the night of the fire in the ammunition tent, when a certain C.S.M. awakened to the sound of exploding bullets and decided that Hitler himself was leading a personal invasion of Dunsfold. He leaped from his tent clothed in underwear and a bandoleer, his rifle at the “on guard” and shouting,
“Invasion”, as only a C.S.M. could. Then there were the dances in the Auxiliary Services blister hut and what dances. Dances at which, after they were over, lovelorn sappers endeavoured to smuggle themselves aboard the trucks taking the girls back to Guildford.