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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  1. I find this very interestion because I was a USAF aircraft crew chief on F-84E at manston
    Air base from 1956 thru 1957. I loved this place and have been wanting to come back and visit again plus tour margate,ramsgate,Dover.
    My tour of duty in Kent and Margate was just
    great I meet so many nice people.
    Raymond K. Eller
    3314 Airport Rd
    Hays, NC 28635

  2. Hi Raymond - it's good to hear from you.

    I really appreciate your comment and I'm pleased to hear you enjoyed your time in Kent.

    Hope you make it back to Kent one day soon.

    Best wishes for the New year

  3. Hi Raymond i was at Manston Kent in 1954 t0 1956 as a Aerodrome Fireman with the RAF also worked on the Fido installation i have many good memories of the USAF Airman and the aircraft i hope you make it back sometime regards Brian ex SAC RAF

  4. So no mention os 22 Squadron's activities like saving idiots from drowning and rescuing injured seamen, lifting kids that had fallen off Ramsgate cliffs etc etc. Our two yellow helicipters have been forgotten quickly it seems! Thanks folks!