Cumbria's airfields helped win Second World War battle for the skies

1 August 2017 5:06PM

THE role of flight training and aircraft building at Haverigg and Windermere featured in a talk on military aviation in the Second World War.

Graeme Austin has travelled more than 400 miles during research on Cumbrian Airfields, Then and Now which was presented to the Lancaster branch of the RAF Association at the Bare Village Club, Morecambe.

The historic counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and the Furness district of Lancashire were seen as being well away from the action - with bombers being stationed mainly in the east and fighters in the south.

He said: "The remoteness of Cumbria was a bit of an advantage.

"The airfields of Cumbria played an effective part in the war."

Mr Austin said RAF Millom - which is now Haverigg prison and farmland - was originally intended as a Fighter Command station.

It was provided with three runways and had six Bellman and other hangars for aircraft and provided with accomodation for up to 2,350 RAF personnel.

The site was given over to aircrew training as No. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School in 1941.

First to be used for training at RAF Millom was the Blackburn Botha aircraft.

Other aircraft seen included the Fairey Battle, Airspeed Oxford and Westland Lysander.

Duddon Estuary sand proved to be a problem as it got into the aircraft engines.

The rugged scenery was also an issue for inexperienced navigators and several planes came down in the hills - requiring searches for survivors and wreckage.

He said: "It was the place where they founded the RAF mountain rescue service."

Windermere became an important base for Sunderland flying boat production by the Short Brothers in the Second World War - part of a general move to shift war production from southern England sites at risk from air attack.

He said: "They had to move some of the Short's work from Rochester in Kent."

A factory at White Cross Bay, Windermere, was used to refurbish flying boats from 1941 and produced its first new aircraft in 1942.

The Windermere base had 1,500 workers - with around half being local craftsmen.

A total of 30 new aircraft were completed by 1944 - making use of engines and wings which were produced at other sites.

Windermere - and Barrow docks - had also played a role in the pioneering flights from water in the early years of the last century.

He said: "Large areas of open water appealed to the early aviators."

A plane by A.V.Roe was adapted for flight from water with floats and first took off from Barrow docks in 1911 but crashed on landing.

Successful flights and landings were made later on Windermere.

The Lakes Flying Club helped make the lake one of the country's key places for training seaplane pilots - many of them going on to serve on Royal Navy ships which were adapted as early aircraft carriers.

He said: "The majority of aviation activity in the First World War was focussed on Windermere."

Further north, RAF Silloth opened in June 1939 and still retains a guardhouse and some of its original 37 aircraft hangars.

He said: "Some of the buildings are in a pretty poor state."

It was training aircrew for Coastal Command by November, making use of Lockhead Hudson aircraft.

Crashes were common, leading to the coast off Silloth being called "Hudson Bay".

After the Second World War, Silloth was used for scrapping aircraft and in 1954 a group of Lancaster bombers arrived to film some of the outdoor scenes for the famous Dambusters film.

RAF Kirkbride in the north of the county was a training school from June 1940, using aircraft such as the Miles Magister and the Vickers Wellington.

It was used for aircraft storage after the war, including some of the RAF's early jet-powered planes.

He said: "It was the graveyard for the Gloster Meteor."

Great Orton opened in 1943 with three runways and was used after the war for bomb storage until it was closed in 1952.

The control tower survives and in 2001 a total of 26 pits were opened for the disposal of around 500,000 cattle killed during the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

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