Tangmere under attack in 1940
Tangmere had been a training base for pilots in the RAF before the war. It had been a popular posting for pilots because of its pleasant site in Sussex.
The first few months of the war did not see a settled squadron at Tangmere. Different squadrons came and went but between September 1939 and May 1940, the base had new runways and bomb-blast pens built.
For all this, Tangmere did not see any “action” during this time and it remained a “slumberous backwater”.
May 1940 saw a dramatic change. The Germans smashed through western Europe.
Tangmere, because of its position, suddenly became an air base of major importance. Hurricanes were sent there and battled against the Germans up to the evacuation from Dunkirk. The Tangmere fighters did well and up to May 1940, they shot down more enemy bombers than any other home based fighters. The Free French Air Force also used Tangmere – landing there to stop the Germans taking the ‘planes.
On July 23rd 1940, something of great importance took place at Tangmere. A Blenheim fighter/bomber shot down a German ‘plane. There was nothing unusual about this except it was done at night using the new night time radar – the first time this had ever been done.
From August to September 1940, the Tangmere fighters played their part in the Battle of Britain. On average, 36 Hurricanes were based at Tangmere.
On August 16th 1940, a Stuka raid on Tangmere did a lot of damage. Much of the base was wrecked and 7 vital Hurricanes were destroyed. Thirteen people were killed and many badly wounded. But the base carried on and did not shut down – not even for one hour. Just 2 days later the Hurricanes from Tangmere destroyed an attack by Stukas on another air base. The Stuka losses were so bad that they were never used over Britain again.
In August 1940 the Hurricanes of Tangmere claimed 187 German planes destroyed, 87 German planes probably lost and 107 German planes damaged.
In September 1940, the Hurricanes of Tangmere claimed 88 German planes destroyed, 29 German planes probably lost and 39 German planes damaged.
These figures may or may not be accurate but they do show how effective Tangmere was as a fighter base and that it lived up to its station motto “Attack to Defend”.
Tangmere’s other claim to fame was that it was the secret base for the Lysander planes of the Special Operations and Intelligence agencies who used the advanced base to send agents to France to help theResistance there. Bombers also used Tangmere as an emergency landing base when returning from a raid.
In 1941 the planes of Tangmere shot down 139 German planes, in 1942, they shot down 71 German planes and in 1943 they shot down 35 German planes.
Tangmere played an important part in the D-Day landings. Fighter cover for the troops going across the Channel was vital and Tangmere played its part to the full. Also fighters based at Tangmere (including the Typhoon) were used to attack V1 and V2 installations in Europe.
A Typhoon based at Tangmere