Friday, 19 September 2008

North Weald Airfield Museum

North Weald Airfield Museum is based at Ad Astra House, the former station office of RAF North Weald. The Flight Station was opened in 1916, two years before the designation of the Royal Air Force, and closed in 1964.

The Museum has five rooms. Room 1 covers the period 1916 to 1939; Room 2, the Battle of Britain; Room 3, the civilians at war; Room 4 is dedicated to the allies who were based at North Weald and Room 5, events post World War II including the Cold War.

The Flight Station opened in August 1916 and was manned by a wing of the 39 Squadron, part of the operation at Suttons Farm and Hainault. The Commanding Officer was Major T C R Higgins. Their objective was to prevent Zeppelin attacks on London by means of two hour patrols with small 80hp biplanes called BE2c’s. With no radio signal and rudimentary cockpit instruments this was dangerous work. (Remember that manned flight began only in 1903). It was in this craft that W Leefe Robinson, F Sowtrey and W J Tempest shot down three Zeppelins in flames (see entry, ‘Zeppelins Over Essex’, 29.8.08). Room 1 tells us that Tempest crash landed his plane at North Weald after shooting down the Zeppelin over Potters Bar.

Having lost air supremacy, the Germans responded the following summer with a more formidable force: the Gotha bi-planes attacked London in June and July 1917 (see entry, ‘First Blitz’, 12.9.08). The Gothas were able to fly at a much greater altitude which meant that the ‘planes North Weald had could not engage with the enemy. In September 1917 the airfield was equipped with Bristol Fighters but saw no action until the attack by Gothas on the night of 19 May 1918. Lieutenant Arkell flying a Bristol Fighter, and a Sopwith Camel flown by the 78 Squadron, engaged with a Gotha which was brought down at East Ham. That Whitsunday was the last air raid of the war over London. The Squadron moved to France that summer and was disbanded on 16 November 1918 following the Armistice.

The North Weald Airfield Memorial, is a Debt of Honour to the 250 people who died while stationed on the airfield. Visitors to the Museum are given a folded A3 card containing their names. Eight personnel died during the First World War.

The Museum is run by volunteers and is open at weekends during the summer. Follow this link for more information.

F W G Hitchcock. The History of the RAF at North Weald.

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