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Monument details

HER Number:TQ 96 NE 41
Type of record:Monument
Name:Eastchurch Military Airfield, Isle of Sheppey, Kent


Eastchurch Military Airfield, requisitioned from the Royal Aero Club in 1914. Served in a variety of roles throughout the First and Second world wars. The site was reduced to inactive status in 1947 and in 1950, the Home Office converted some of the derelict buildings into a new prison.

Grid Reference:TQ 9825 6995
Map Sheet:TQ96NE

Monument Types

  • AIRCRAFT HANGAR (Modern - 1914 AD to 1950 AD (between))
  • MILITARY AIRFIELD (AIRFIELD, Modern - 1914 AD to 1950 AD (between))

Full description

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Now HM Prison Eastchurch. Said to be one of the first operational airfields in the world and at the forefront of early British aviation. Many airfield buildings remain and nearby accomodation for personnel (1).

For the early history of the airfield, from 1909-1914, see (TQ 96 NE 1000). See Leysdown Airfield as well (TR 06 NW 1078).

In August 1915 the airstrip was bombed by a German Airship L10, which thought it was bombing London! The attack only broke windows. In 1916 the airfield was enlarged and new sheds added to the east side. In September 1916 and June 1917 aircraft from Eastchurch were put up to counter raids on London. By 1917 Eastchurch was serving as an SHQ, a gunnery school and after the War Flight was disbanded (set up in 1914 to defend Sheerness and Chatham bases), a base for the flying training of pilots and observers and technical instruction for the growing number of mechanics. With the death of Horace Short in 1917, the Eastchurch Short works (TQ 96 NE 1000) were sold to the Government, after which the airfield was further developed and expanded in readiness for the amalgamation of the RNAS and RFC (Royal Flying Corps), as the RAF Royal Air Force). No. 58 Wing was formed at Eastchurch and the base continued to serve as a ground instruction school for Gunners and Observers, while the Aerial Flying and Gunnery school reformed at Leysdown (see TR 06 NW 1078). The Naval Flying School at Eastchurch was renamed No 204 TDS. By the end of World War One the site had expanded to cover 600 acres, 50 of which were buildings. There were 29 aeroplane sheds. After the war activity on the site slowed, as units were reorganised and some disbanded. The Armament School emerged from this period as the dominant force, becoming the Armament and Gunnery School in 1922, the airfield used by squadrons on courses or firing at the ranges off Leysdown (the Leysdown flying field continued to support Eastchurch during this period). The 1920's saw a number of squadrons stationed at the Airfield, including No. 207 and No. 33 squadrons, although by 1930, it was once again just a gunnery school. In the 1930's the school was renamed the Air Armament School and as it expanded it became a separate Armament Group, with its HQ at Eastchurch. Two flights were established to serve this group, both based at Eastchurch by 1938, titled No. 1 AAS and No. 2 AAS, with their own SHQ. As war approached No.1 AAS was posted away and No. 21 Squadron arrived. The Munich crisis saw the Station transferred to 16 Group, Coastal Command, with No. 21 Squadron and No. 2 AAS as lodgers.
By September 1939, all Flights at Eastchurch had been posted away and in December 1939 it became the Polish training Centre, for Polish groundcrew whom had reached England. As a result of the German advance, the Poles were moved to Blackpool and the airfield became home to No 59 and No 53 Squadrons, flying tactical recce over France, before they in turn were transferred to Coastal Command. Various squadrons and detachments including Nos. 12, 142, 53, 19 and 266 were then based at Eastchurch to mount attacks on shipping and barge concentrations in the German occupied ports of France and Belgium. On August 13 1940, Eastchurch was attacked by the Luftwaffe. Many of the hangars were hit, but the airfield quickly returned to operations. Further attacks by the Luftwaffe culminated in an attack on September 2, which effectively put the airfield out of operation and lead to the virtual evacuation of the base, with its squadrons were posted elsewhere. Further small raids were mounted on the evacuated airfield through to the summer of 1941. In June 1941, Eastchurch was taken over by the Technical Training Command and the base was used by the RAF Artillery Command and No 1 Parachute & Cable Establishment, which gave courses on the 'Heath Robinson' equipment until the unit was closed down in October 1942. In June 1942, flights from Eastchurch started again, with 124 Squadron using it as a forward operating base and they in turn were replaced by No 401 Squadron. Nos 65 and 165 Squadrons were also based at Eastchurch for Operation Jubilee, supporting operations over Dieppe. In October 1942, Eastchurch was transferred to No 72 Group, Army Co-op Command, with the RAF Artillery School as a lodger. March 1943 saw the large scale Army Co-operation exercise Spartan, involving No 184 Squadron flying from a tented camp at Eastchurch. As a result of this exercise, a re-organisation took place and on April 1 1943, Eastchurch became No 122 Airfield with the following squadrons based there, Nos 132, 174, 184, serviced by Nos 602, 3035 and 3082 Servicing Echelons (as an independent wing) and with No 1493 attached as a target towing Flight. On May 1 1943, Eastchurch was transferred again to No 54 Group and a combined Aircrew Re-selection Centre was formed, while No 122 Airfield was redeployed along with its squadrons and No 1493 Flight. Later in October, No 18 Armament Practice Camp (APC) was formed at Eastchurch, with No 291 and No 567 Squadron detachments providing drones for air to air firing. For this new task the airfield was put back into an operational state, Bellman hangars were erected to replace those sheds wrecked in the raids almost three years earlier and new hardstanding was laid. During 1943-1944, Eastchurch also found itself to be an unofficial emergency landing strip for several stricken American fighters and bombers (it was not on the official list of USAF emergency LGs). Most dramatic of all was the landing of the B-17 'Hang the Expense', which came in with no lower rudder or rear turret. From January 1944 onwards the APC provided rocket firing courses for Typhoon pilots, six squadrons underwent training and a further three refresher training before No 18 APC was moved away in August 1944. The Aircrew Reselection Centre remained in residence and the Airfield continued to maintain facilities for two single engined fighter squadrons, although they were never required). In the autumn of 1944 the RN Mobile Recording and Analysing Unit (No 765 Squadron) arrived on detachment, joined later by No 567 Squadron for Army and naval co-op work. No 765 squadron left in September 1945, but the Aircrew reselection Centre continued to operate from Eastchurch until the end of August 1946 when it moved away. Reduced to a care and maintenance level, the site was further reduced to inactive status in April 1947. The site lay derelict until 1950 when the Home Office took over the buildings to the north-east of Stamford Hill, converting them into an open prison, while the flying field reverted to agriculture [2].

The grid ref below is centred in the middle of the Airfield (598250,169950).

See 1946 Aerial Photographs [3,4].

The open prison lays to the south of Stamford Hill around the old airfield buildings. The later closed prisons were built to the south and south east of the hill.[5]

Eastchurch Airfield was formally requisitioned from the Royal Aero Club in December 1914. It served as a base for No. 2 Squadron Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and No. 4 Squadron, although this situation was fluid with parts of the squadrons being posted off to other bases; the units were also flying a huge variety of aircraft. The airfield at Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey played a significant role in the history of British aviation from 1909 when Frank McClean acquired Stonepits Farm, on the marshes across from Leysdown, and converted the land into an airfield for members of the Aero Club (later Royal) of Great Britain. Later, McClean loaned his aeroplanes there to the Royal Navy to train officers in the skill of flying. RNAS Eastchurch (parent ship PEMBROKE II ) existed from June 1913 until 1 April 1918 when the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps combined to form the Royal Air Force and RNAS Eastchurch became RAF Station Eastchurch. Four Aircraft hangars, built by the engineers Harbrows for the Admiralty in 1912 still remain at Eastchurch within what is now HM Prison Standford Hill. HM Prison Swaleside was built on the airstrip of RAF Eastchurch. (6)

Jim Preston Personal Communication (Verbal communication). SKE13236.

Jim Preston Personal Communication (Verbal communication). Ske13236.

<1> Victor Smith and Ron Crowdy, Thames Gateway Assesment: Gazetteer of Defence Sites (Index). SKE6445.

<2> Ashword, Chris, 1985/1990, Action Stations 9: Military Airfields of the Central South & South East (Monograph). SKE8330.

<3> 1946, Photograph (Photograph (Print)). SWX9508.

<4> 1946, Photograph (Photograph (Print)). SWX9509.

<6> Fleet Air Arm, 2016, Fleet Air Arm Officers Association. (Website). SKE31491.

Sources and further reading

Cross-ref. Source description
---Verbal communication: Jim Preston Personal Communication.
<1>Index: Victor Smith and Ron Crowdy. Thames Gateway Assesment: Gazetteer of Defence Sites.
<2>Monograph: Ashword, Chris. 1985/1990. Action Stations 9: Military Airfields of the Central South & South East.
<3>Photograph (Print): 1946. Photograph. 3085. print.
<4>Photograph (Print): 1946. Photograph. 3087. print.
<6>Website: Fleet Air Arm. 2016. Fleet Air Arm Officers Association..

Related records

TQ 96 NE 1000Part of: The Royal Aero Club flying ground, home of the Short Brothers Factory, Eastchurch (Monument)

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