Monday, September 28, 2009

Manston Airport and the Hurricane and Spitfire Memorial

A few weeks ago we were heading for a family day on the beach at Broadstairs....

The old control tower

On the way I decided to make a small diversion to see what was happening at Manston Airport (or Kent International Airport as it is now known).

I had not been there for many years, and as junior (being a typical little boy), is mad on planes and all things mechanical no further excuses were needed!

Manston has a very long history and can trace it's roots back to 1915/16. During World War Two it played a part in many famous operations including the Battle of Britain, the Channel Dash Operation and testing of the bouncing bombs used in the Dambuster Raid.

During the 1950's, Manston was used by the Americans as both a strategic bomber and fighter base before being returned to the RAF in 1960.

Due to the length of it's runway, Manston was used as an emergency landing strip for aircraft in difficulty. A metre thick blanket of foam could be laid over the runway to enable aircraft to crash land with a reduced risk of fire.

The RAF base closed in the late 1990's but they still maintain a specialist fire training school where they practice their techniques on scrap aircraft.

Boeing 747 TF-AMC pictured above currently minus engines will no doubt end her days on the fire dump. That will wipe the smile off her face!

She entered service in 1979 with French airline UTA. In 1992 she was operated by Air France, then Air Atlanta Icelandic in 2004, Saudi Arabian Airlines in 2006 and back to Air Atlanta Icelandic earlier this year.

The airport is now used mainly for cargo flights, holiday charters and aircraft maintainence.

For more detailed information on the history of the airport please follow this link.

Just around the corner from the terminal building is a very busy and popular cafe with views over the airfield.

Adjacent to the cafe is the Spitfire & Hurricane Memorial dedicated to the memory of Allied air crews who served during the Second World War. Admission to the memorial is free of charge but donations are welcomed as it run by volunteers.

On display are many exhibits relating to wartime activities at the base but pride of place goes to a preserved Hurricane and Spitfire that, although not stationed at Manston, saw active service during the war.

Hurricane IIc LF751 was built at the Hawker aircraft factory at Langley in early 1944 and issued to No. 22 Maintenance Unit (MU) at Silloth.

In April 1944, LF751 joined No. 1681 Bomber Defence Training Flight. Later in the year she moved to No. 27 Operational Training Unit based at Waterbeach and remained there for the rest of her operational life.

In July 1945 LF751 was relegated to instructional purposes. Parts were removed from the aircraft for use on another Hurricane LF363 which later formed part of the famous Battle of Britain Memorial Museum Flight.

LF751 spent nearly 30 years as the gate-guardian at RAF Bentley Priory.

In 1985, it was decided that LF751 should be sent for restoration and she was delivered to the , Medway Aircraft Preservation Society (MAPS) based at Rochester Airport.

In 1988, after an expenditure of £ 18000 and 22000 man hours, LF751 was delivered to Manston but finished as BN230 of the 'Fighting Cocks' - No. 43 Squadron. BN230 was flown by Squadron Leader D.A.R.G. 'Danny' Le Roy Du Vivier DFC, the first Belgian to command a RAF Squadron.

Spitfire Mk XVI TB752 was built at Castle Bromwich in the early 1944 and entered service with No. 66 Squadron at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in March 1945.

She was armed with 2 x 20mm cannons and 4 x 0.5 machine guns plus a 500 lb bomb and 2 x 250 lb bombs. She was put into action carrying out ground attack missions against road and rail targets in Northern Holland and Germany.

On the 25th March 1945, TB752 was badly damaged after the port undercarriage leg failed to lower for landing, the main damage being to the wing and propeller blades.

Close up of the 403 Squadron Wolf insignia

She was removed to No. 409 Repair and Salvage Unit and re-issued to No. 403 "Wolf" Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force in April 1945, operating from Diepholz in Germany and bearing the Squadron code KH-Z (as she is now displayed).

On the 21st April, the Squadron 'C.O.', Squadron Leader 'Hank' Zary DFC RCAF destroyed a Me109. Four days later Flying Officer David Leslie destroyed an unidentified German aircraft (probably a Fw189).

On the 1st May Flying Officer ‘Bob’ Young destroyed a Fw190 and two days later Flying Officer ‘Fred’ Town shot down a Heinkel 111 which was to be TB752’s final "kill".

TB752 was moved to Manston in 1955 and stood for many years as station gate-guardian.

In 1978 the Medway Branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society took her to Rochester Airport for restoration which was completed just over a year later after 15,000 man hours of TLC.

Whilst we were admiring the Spitfire from outside the rope cordon, one of the volunteers on duty asked if my little boy would like to have look inside the aircraft.... (he does have his uses sometimes!).

Of course, we did not need to be asked twice! The volunteer went off and reappeared shortly with a set of steps and we were able to have a look inside the cockpit.

It looks very spartan compared to today's fighter aircraft. The volunteer told us that the Hurricane and Spitfire are each insured for £ 2 million. Quite mind blowing when you consider in 1940 it cost just under £ 10000 to build a Spitfire.

If you find yourself in Thanet, I would highly recommend a visit to the memorial.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Walk around Grenham Bay

Grenham Bay, Birchington on Sea
After spending an enjoyable time at the Whitstable Harbour Day, as it was a beautiful day, with hardly a cloud in the sky, we decided to take a drive further along the North Kent coast towards Margate.

We had no fixed plans as to where exactly we were going and eventually ended up in Birchington on Sea about four miles outside Margate.

Birchington on Sea is said to be the largest village in Kent with a population of about 9800. The village lies on top of chalk cliffs looking out over the sea and boasts four sandy beaches - Minnis Bay, Grenham Bay, Beresford Gap and Epple Bay.

We parked the car at the top of the cliffs, loaded up the bucket and spade and followed a footpath down to Grenham Bay.

At the base of the cliffs there is a wide concrete pathway which was constructed in the 1950's as a sea defence to prevent further erosion of the cliffs. If you follow the pathway to the left it leads into Minnis Bay, a very popular family beach.

However, not really knowing where we were going, we decided to go in the opposite direction and followed the pathway along the coastline.

Despite the glorious weather that afternoon we hardly encountered a sole and it was a very pleasant walk. Looking out to sea we could see the Kentish Flats wind farm off Herne Bay and the ships anchored in Margate roads waiting to take a pilot for the River Thames or Medway.

A bit closer to shore we encountered a turnstone making the most of the weather.

The pathway follows the curve of Grenham Bay into another small bay called Beresford Gap. As the name suggests, there is a gap in the cliffs here and another path (quite steep) leads back up to Birchington on Sea.

We continued following the pathway past Beresford Gap into the next and final bay of our walk, Epple Bay. The most remarkable thing we noted about this bay was the vast quantity of seaweed in the water.

By this time, the tide had started to go out further and junior had finished his afternoon nap so we headed back to Grenham Bay for a spot of beachcombing!

Contrary to popular belief you don't have to spend a fortune keeping kids entertained. He would have been quite content to carry on looking through the rock pools for hours.

Whilst looking through the internet for background information for this post, I came across a good web site by the Birchington Heritage Trust which has old pictures of the bays taken as far back as the late 1890's.

Please have a look at the links below if you are interested to see how they used to look.

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Whitstable Harbour Day 2009

The historic fishing town of Whitstable on the North Kent coast is well worth a visit at any time of year but particularly when it holds it's annual Harbour Day.

Whitstable's harbour dates back to 1832 when it was opened by the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway Company.

Having attended and enjoyed the Harbour Day very much last year, we decided to go again this year when it took place on 22nd August.

Perhaps due to the current economic downturn, the level of attendence seemed to be lower than last year, despite the fact that the event is free.

The weather was glorious and the organisers had again put on another good show.

Various trade and charity stands were set up around the harbour, the lifeboat station was opened to the public and visitors were able to tour the Isle of Man registered coastal ship Union Pluto to get an idea of what on-board life is like for her multi-national crew.

In the course of my day job I have been on-board many similar vessels (at all times of the day and night!) but it was nice to have the opportunity to show my wife and son around.

The Union Pluto had discharged a cargo of stone chippings which are used in the manufacture of tarmacadam.

Here are a few more pictures taken on-board the ship.

The ship's bridge was a bit cosy to say the least!

The funnel. UT stands for the owners of the ship - Union Transport.

The ship has it's own excavator on deck to allow it to "self discharge"

View from tbe bridge looking over the ship's stern towards the harbour entrance.

Apart from the Union Pluto there were two historic vessels visiting the harbour.

The tug Kent which has been carefully restored by volunteers from the South Eastern Tug Society was built in Lowestoft in 1948 and spent most of her long working life on the River Medway with J P Knight & Sons.

The paddle steamer Kingswear Castle was built in Dartmouth, Devon in 1924 and worked on the River Dart for many years before arriving in the River Medway for preservation. She now provides excursions mainly around the Rivers Medway and Thames.

Apart from the ships, other entertainments included the Whitsable giant, miniature steam train rides aboard the "Springbok"and a display of vintage diving equipment.

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