Prime Minister, Winston Churchill visits in 1940 and 56 emergency landings in one night in 1942 see the approval for the new runway to be built.
On this day, 28th August 1940
Manston’s importance was recognised when the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, paid it a personal visit, dressed in an RAF uniform and displaying his honorary rank of Air Commodore. He saw an airfield barely serviceable, still with craters everywhere and markers denoting unexploded bombs still to be dealt with. The next day, he wrote to the Air Ministry to express his concern at the time being taken to repair damaged airfields and suggesting that an organised system of mobile airfield companies should be formed and properly equipped for the task.
Churchill had his photo taken with members of 615 Squadron, based at Kenley during his visit, standing by the wooden intelligence hut at what is now often referred to as “the Spitfire Junction”, which still remains today. The photo shows a later visit by Churchill on 25 September 1941, shaking hands with a sergeant pilot of 615 Fighter Squadron. His wife, Clementine, can be seen behind him
During the day, 54 Sqn picked their way through bomb craters to give the appearance of continued operations. Among their aircraft was Spitfire R6832, flown by Flt Lt Al Deere, one of the RAF’s leading aces during World War II. He previously escaped from a forced landing on 28th May and another on the 9th July near Manston after colliding with a Bf 109. On this day, he escaped unhurt from bailing out over Detling after being shot down in error by another Spitfire. 54 Sqn lost another two aircraft on this day, including Sqn Ldr D.O. Finlay’s X4053 over Ramsgate, with Finlay wounded.
264 Sqn lost three more Defiants, including two shot down over Thanet where both aircraft were destroyed and their crews killed. The Defiant was withdrawn from frontline service because of the high losses incurred by it, and was later adapted for a night-fighting role.
On this day, 28th August 1942
56 emergency landings on the night of 28th August 1942 left devastation that would lead to the approval for the new runway to be built. The Station Commander had already seen the increasing numbers of emergency landings increasing, with damaged aircraft of Bomber Command trying to make it to Manston in every kind on imaginable trouble. At the time, the airfield was comparatively limited for such landings, with many aircraft overshooting, adding to the damage to them, increasing casualties and also damaging the airfield and buildings. The undulating surface made matters worse, although Wing Commander Gleave had already pleaded for the construction of a really large runway with “lead in” lights, so far he had not been successful. The scene of carnage eventually led to the approval of the new runway.
At 20:15 the Northolt Polish Spitfire Wing, consisting of 302, 306, 308 and 317 Sqns started landing in the gathering darkness, 45 aircraft in all.
At 11:59 a Wellington of 305 (Polish) Sqn crash landed on the beginning of the flare path. This aircraft had been attacked on its way to Saarbrucken by three night fighters in succession. Catching fire, the bombs were jettisoned. The rear gunner was killed in one of the attacks. The Navigator, Wireless Operator and Front Gunner baled out over enemy territory, but the Captain and Second Pilot brought the aircraft back to Manston.
Before 01:00 another three Wellingtons and three Stirlings had landed.
At 04:00 a Sterling of 218 Sqn from Munich. After being told to avoid the obstruction of the first Wellington, he landed too far to the right, sweeping through a line of the Polish Wing Spitfires. It destroyed one Spitfire which burst into flames and swept on into a dispersal bay already occupied by an Albacore, ending in a tangle of metal.
Shortly after, a Stirling of 7 Sqn, short of fuel, landed with his engines cutting. Again, trying to avoid the flare-path Wellington, he too landed too far to the right. He swept through a gap in the line of Spitfires, with Medical Officers, the Fire Party and others scattering out of his way. The aircraft hit a long wooden hut and cannoned into a Bellman hanger, damaging both considerably. Two men who would normally be asleep in the hut were fortunately out working.
Another Wellington followed, then another Stirling of 218 Sqn, so short of fuel it was unable to taxi completely after landing, due to the engines cutting out.
By the next morning, Wing Commander Gleave had the scene of carnage photographed in every detail and sent to Air Vice-Marshall Leigh-Mallory who immediately sent them on to the Air Ministry. Finally approval was given in principle for the construction of the new runway, although it wouldn’t be until 1944 that it was completed.
The Prime Minister Winston Churchill shakes hands with a sergeant pilot of 615 Fighter Squadron during a visit to RAF Manston, Kent, UK, on 25 September 1941. His wife, Clementine, can be seen behind him. http://www.iwm.org.uk/corporate/privacy-copyright © IWM (H 14200)
The History of RAF Manston, FO W. Fraser RAF.