WW1 and WW2 Airfields Duxford
Duxford airfield dates to 1918 when many of the buildings were constructed by German prisoner-of-war labour. The airfield housed 8 Squadron in 1919–1920 which was equipped with Bristol Fighters. The airfield was then used by No. 2 Flying Training School RAF until April 1923, when 19 Squadron was formed at Duxford with Sopwith Snipes.
By 1925 Duxford’s three fighter squadrons had expanded to include the Gloster Grebes and Armstrong Whitworth Siskins. No.19 Squadron was re-equipped with Bristol Bulldogs in 1931, and in 1935, was the first squadron to fly the RAF’s fastest new fighter, the Gloster Gauntlet, capable of 230 mph (375 km/h). The station was enlarged between 1928 and 1932. In 1935, Duxford was the venue for the Silver Jubilee Review before King George V and Queen Mary, the resident squadron still being No. 19. This squadron gave a special demonstration over Duxford for the King.
In 1936 Flight Lieutenant Frank Whittle, who was studying at Cambridge University, flew regularly from Duxford as a member of the Cambridge University Air Squadron. Whittle went on to develop the jet turbine as a means of powering an aircraft; this enabled Britain to produce the Allies’ first operational jet fighter in 1943 – the Gloster Meteor.
In 1938 No. 19 Squadron was the first RAF squadron to receive the new Supermarine Spitfire. The third production Spitfire (K9789) was presented to the squadron at Duxford on 4 August 1938 by Jeffrey Quill, Supermarine’s chief test pilot.
Second World War
On 3 September 1939 Britain declared war on Germany and Duxford was ready to play a vital role. By June 1940 Belgium, the Netherlands and France were under German control and the invasion of Britain was their next objective (Operation Sea Lion). Duxford was placed in a high state of readiness, and to create space for additional units at Duxford, 19 Squadron moved to nearby Fowlmere. The dominance of the skies over Britain would be totally crucial to keeping German forces out of the country, this became known as The Battle of Britain. Hurricanes first arrived at Duxford in July with the formation of 310 Squadron, which consisted of Czechoslovakian pilots who had escaped from France. At the end of August Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, the commander of No. 12 Group, ordered the Hurricanes of 242 Squadron commanded by Douglas Bader to come down from RAF Coltishall to join 19 and 310 Squadrons which were on daily standby at Duxford. These units, led by Bader, became known as the “Duxford Wing”, the first of 12 Group’s “Big Wing” formations.
On 9 September the Duxford squadrons successfully intercepted and turned back a large force of German bombers before they reached their target. This proved Duxford’s importance, (but see the article on the Big Wing), so two more squadrons were added, No. 302 (Polish) Squadron RAF with Hurricanes, and the Spitfires of No. 611 Auxiliary Squadron which had mobilised at Duxford a year before.
On average sixty Spitfires and Hurricanes were dispersed around Duxford and RAF Fowlmere every day. On 15 September 1940 they twice took to the air to repulse Luftwaffe aircraft intent on bombing London. RAF Fighter Command was victorious, the threat of invasion passed and Duxford’s squadrons had played a critical role. This became known as ‘Battle of Britain Day’.
In recognition of the efforts, achievements and sacrifices made by the squadrons and airmen during the Battle of Britain, the “gate guard” aircraft on display at the entrance gate to IWM Duxford is a Hawker Hurricane II, squadron code WX-E of No.302 (Polish) Squadron, Serial No. P2954, flown by Flight Lieutenant Tadeusz Pawel Chlopik, RAF (Polish Air Force).
Duxford became the home of several specialist units, including the Air Fighting Development Unit (AFDU), which moved to the station at the end of 1940. The AFDU’s equipment included captured German aircraft, which were restored to flying condition for evaluation. Duxford was important in developing the Hawker Typhoon into a formidable low-level and ground attack fighter, and also the suggestion of re-engining the Mk1 North American P-51 Mustang with the Merlin. In 1942 the first Typhoon Wing was formed. Its first operation took place on 20 June 1942.
Other RAF Fighter Command units which operated from Duxford were : 19, 56, 66, 133, 181, 195, 222, 242, 264, 266, 310, 312, 601, 609, 611 Squadrons and the AFDU.
Join us on this special 2 hour trial flight to Duxford.