Kenley’s Battle of Britain heritage is to receive a double tribute this Sunday, with two World War II fighter planes – a Spitfire and a Hurricane – due to perform a fly past over the old airfield.
The fly past will commemorate the events of August 18, 1940, regarded as “the hardest day” of the Battle of Britain, when the RAF lost 68 aircraft. With its fighters in the sky fighting to protect their own base and other fighter stations such as Croydon and Biggin Hill, Kenley Aerodrome suffered extensive damage on the ground from Luftwaffe bombers, with all 10 hangars and 12 aircraft, including 10 Hurricanes, destroyed and the runways badly cratered. The Operations Room had to be moved to an emergency location away from the airfield.
Kenley’s history as an airbase began under what was then the Royal Flying Corps in 1917. RAF Fighter Command left the aerodrome in 1959. Although the control tower and hangers have long since been demolished, the runways remain in their wartime configuration and Kenley is regarded as one of the best preserved WWII airfields.
From 1940, Croydon – with its international airport – and south London was in the frontline in the aerial war: the rail yards at Norwood Junction and Clapham Junction were important targets for the Luftwaffe bombers seeking to destroy the capital’s transport infrastructure. But with high-level bombing rarely accurate, there was always much deadly damage elsewhere.
The last Battle of Britain fly past at Kenley was almost 18 months ago, and drew a crowd of several hundred spectators who were privileged to witness some spectacular low-level flying by a Spitfire. Many took up vantage points around the airfield’s perimeter, standing on top of the reinforced blast shelters which were built to try to protect the wartime personnel.
A Spitfire in flight is a awe-inspiring sight. A war machine first, the RJ Mitchell-designed aircraft is nevertheless admirable as a spectacular feat of engineering, the purring sound of its Rolls-Royce Merlin engine always distinctive as it swoops into view.
Given fair weather – the old planes are not risked in heavy cloud, rain or high winds – there could be another large crowd gathered at Kenley this Sunday at around 1.30pm.
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