DOVER KENT ARCHIVES

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From the Folkestone Herald Published 8 June 2000

VI fighters.

V1 fighters

MEMBER of the Brenzett Aeronautical Museum Trust, Anthony John Moor, has produced an Interesting and well Illustrated softback book about the Important role of the RAF Brenzett Advanced Landing Ground In the Second World War from 1942-1944.

It tells the story of the Mustang Wing — the title of the book — made up of three squadrons of pilots, many of them Poles, who heroically took on the menace of the Germans' VI flying bombs and went on to provide air cover for invasion forces after D-Day.

The book is published at 8.99 by HPC Publishing, of Drury Lane, St Leonard’s-on-Sea, East Sussex and is available at the Brenzett museum and bookshops. For more details contact Tony Moor on Ashford 627911.

The author says his aim is to give readers a “peep through the hedge” at an almost forgotten airfield and highlight the part played in the war by a series of RAF advanced landing grounds.

One of the first things visitors notice when they visit the Romney Marsh war museum close to the villages of Brenzett and Ivychurch is a relic of a VI or ‘doodlebug’ like the one pictured below.

Doodlebug

Known locally as the Ivychurch Airstrip, the wartime RAF station was officially Brenzett Advanced Landing Ground. Here the RAF pilots, flew North American-built Mustang fighters with a version of the British Rolls-Royce Merlin engine developed for Britain by Packard in America.

Earlier versions of the Mustang, which first arrived In the UK in November 1941, had American-built Allison engines which proved Inadequate for the altitudes at which fighters went into combat in Europe and could barely catch up with a VI capable of 400+ mph.

Later higher-powered Mustangs were a different matter and by October 1942 some of them had become the first single-engined fighter bombers to penetrate into Germany to attack the Dortmund-Ems canal, which involved a return flight of 600-700 miles.

The wide-tracked undercarriage of the Mustang was better suited than that of the Spitfire to some of the Romney Marsh airstrips, of which Brenzett was only one. There were others at New Romney, Lydd, Newchurch, Great Chart, Kingsnorth, Woodchurch, High Halden, Headcorn (Egerton and Lashenden) Swingfield and Staplehurst. All provided a valuable backup for the more famous airfields of the Battle of Britain - Manston, Biggin Hill, Hawkinge and Lympne.

The dykes of the Marsh were obviously a hazard and some had to be filled in after laying drainage pipes. The new airfields were created by the Royal Engineers Construction Group in cooperation with RAF Airfield Construction Units and American Engineer Aviation Battalions, each with two mesh metal track runways.

They ultimately proved very welcome for use by Fighter Groups of the US 9th Air Force, and also by the Fleet Air Arm who used Swingfield.

In 1943 Brenzett - now Spring Farm - was used by 65 and 122 Squadron and in 1944 by 129 (Mysore) Squadron RAF, and 306 and 315 Squadrons RAF (Polish.)

Many of the V1s crossed the coast between St Margaret's Bay and Cuckmere and even from the advanced landing airstrips pilots of 133 Wing had little time to reach their targets.

Even when they did they were in great danger if the 2,000lb warhead exploded - but one day a Spitfire pilot hit on the trick of tipping up a wing of the flying bomb so that, hopefully, it crashed harmlessly in open country.

Another hazard for fighters was the barrage put up by the AA gun sites, using proximity fuses, not to mention rivalry between squadrons leading occasionally to pilots getting in each others way and a VI target evading the fighters altogether.

Worse, some fighters were sadly brought down by accident, by our own anti-aircraft guns.

First V1 kill to be claimed by the Brenzett Wing was destroyed by Polish pilot Fit Sgt Jankowski of 315 Squadron, on July 11 1944. The following day another Pole accounted for three ‘Witches,’ as the Poles called them.

Spitfires and Tempest fighters, using other Marsh airfields, and even an American Thunderbolt fighter joined the Mustangs in the battle against the V1s.

The Germans' V1 offensive came to an abrupt halt with the capture of the launch sites by the advancing invasion forces of the Allied Armies and the Mustangs’ role switched to supporting the Allied Invasion of France and fighter bomber raids into Germany.

But before the V1 menace was over the Mustang Wing took an important part in the operation ‘Market Garden’ at Arnhem.

 

MUSTANG aircrew at Brenzett in July 1944

MUSTANG aircrew at Brenzett in July 1944. Three of these pilots were killed in action in later operations, including Jankowski, the first pilot to bring down one of the dreaded ‘doodlebugs’ In the top picture Mustangs, without Polish emblems reveal these are of 129 Squadron.

 

1900

Earl Radnor death shock while son ill in Boer War.

NEWS of the death of the Earl of Radnor, William Pleydell Bouverle, born in 1841, came as quite a shock to many local people. He had recently given evidence against the local Tramway Company’s Bill In the House of Lords and was known to have since been ‘Indisposed’ but the illness suddenly took a turn (or the worst and he died. Memorial services and tributes were paid to the earl at several local services, but the funeral was at Salisbury. The Folkestone Express said his genial presence would be greatly missed everywhere. And there was widespread concern for Is heir, Viscount Folkestone, 31, then serving in the Boer War, who was reported to be dangerously III in Bloemfontein. Meanwhile Lord Roberts' army entered Johannesburg and five days later Pretoria, and Boer president Kruger fled. Sadly, however, that wasn’t the end of the story for bitter guerilla warfare was to drag on... and on - until the spring of 1902. The Photography magazine published a picture of HMS Viper, said to be the fastest in the world at 35.5 knots, equivalent to 41 mph. Motoring had still to make a big impact and in local papers car news often appeared under Cycling.

 

1925

Talks go on about a more reliable bus time table.

THE HERALD carried an advertisement for Baptist Pastor Dr J.C. Carllle’s book about the First World War, Folkestone During the War, published by the Herald at Its former Bayle works and said to be almost sold out. Talks were still going or. between the council and local bus companies about a better run timetable of services and regulations. A Hythe councillor was negotiating a common timetable and agreement of the majority of operators was expected to cover the 1,202 daily runs between Folkestone and Hythe. We Brits are a strange breed. We celebrate a number of ‘bank’ holidays but few give St George's Day a thought. In the past it was a different matter with peace ‘treat’ street tea parties after world wars, Empire Day and the like. And, 75 years ago the Herald celebrated a bit too, but producing the unexpected splash of no few than 11 photographs showing how the district celebrated Empire Day. whereas normally there was only the odd picture, perhaps an actor/actress appearing In a local show, or a portrait of some worthy who had died. Competing against 18 Kent fire brigades at Deal at Whitsun Folkestone entered five contests and notched three firsts and a second, their wins being for motor pump drill, squad drill and ambulance competition.

 

1950

Boer War veterans still in thoughts of readers.

MENTION was made recently about the return of wounded soldiers from the Boer War, who were driven to Beach Rocks Convalescent Home, Sandgate, after their return from South Africa a century ago this year. Shortly afterwards I came across a picture In the Herald’s former midweek Gazette of Percy Pay, 19 at the time, who drove one of the coaches used by the Folkestone, Cheriton & Shorncliffe Omnibus Co to take heroes of the relieved Ladysmith garrison to that home, later called the Bevan. It was a golden wedding picture of the veteran driver and his wife Elizabeth (nee Hills, from Capel.) Percy went to Horn Street School and was connected with local motoring for 40 years, 22 as a driver with the East Kent Road Car Co. But his connection with buses went back even further, having been a conductor on horse-buses from the age of 131 As a driver he recalled having to warn passengers to duck their heads while passing under Risborough Lane bridge! There was also a picture of the Ladysmith veterans travelling in a horse-drawn bus Percy drove from the old Sandgate Station. H.B. Green, of Risborough Lane, Cheriton, later revealed he took that photo, using a bulky camera on a tripod, after waiting hours to get the picture as the train was late!

 

1975

Gunner tells how battery lost out on Zeppelin cash'.

EX-GUNNER Fred Dunn, 84, of Folkestone told how Naval planes roared out over the sea 60 years before, in the First World War, to finish off a giant Zeppelin airship over the UK on a bombing raid. It was floundering in the sea off the coast. This was after his Dover gun battery on the cliffs had brought it down in the Channel. And he was understandably a bit miffed about the fact the local battery missed out on a 1,000 reward offered by the Dally Mail - just because the gas bag landed in the sea and not on the land! “We’d have been quids in if it had come down on the beach," Fred lamented sadly. Still, the tale probably earned him a pint or two In later years! Singing triplets in wedding harmony - read the headline over a front page picture story of long-legged lovelies Yvonne, Valerie and Cynthia Hiles, of Folkestone, who named the day, the day, the day ... in other words they planned a triple wedding, walking up the aisle of Folkestone's United Reformed Church in October 1975. The 26-year-old triplets were born in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Folkestone. There was a sad find for Folkestone salvage workers clearing the wreck of a 4,000 German freighter off the port In May, 1975 to make it safer for supertankers sailing through the Channel. The divers found wrecks of a minesweeper and also the German U-boat No. 55, sunk in 1918, which was thought to have the remains of Its crew still on board.

 

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