RAF Hurn (1939 – 1944)

Whilst by far the shortest time frame of any era in the history of Bournemouth Airport, it is perhaps the time when the most interesting history took place.

 

With construction being completed, RAF Hurn officially opened as a Royal Air Force base on the 1st August 1941.

Wartime Hurn

This photo was taken in 1947, just after RAF Hurn started passenger operations, although it still shows the original wartime configuration of the airfield including all three original runways.

Few holiday makers realise that the two longer runways were the very same runways used by a plethora of both RAF and USAF squadrons during the war.

With most Bournemouth Airport histories stating that the history of Hurn can be traced back to 1941, it’s actually very easy to forget that the current Bournemouth Airport site in Hurn is actually the third time that Bournemouth has had an aiport. The first, at Ensbury Park Aerodrome, closed in 1928, the second was Christchurch Airfield which was known as Bournemouth Airport from 1928 until 1939, and the third is the one currently located at the village of Hurn. RAF Christchurch was actually based on the former Christchurch Airfield which was itself a busy small airport, flying school and light aviation centre.

 

The first RAF connection came in 1938 when members of the Bournemouth Flying Club joined the Civil Air Guard Scheme and started training pilots, and this continued right up to the outbreak of war the following year. This site was involved in RDF and Radar research and worked in conjunction with other sites at Worth Matravers near Swanage and another at Steamer Point in Christchurch which is now a popular nature reserve.

 

During 1939 the Air Defence Experimental Establishment was built on the northeast corner of the airfield, and opened in September that year.

 

In 1940, the Ministry of Production had a factory installed on the airfield, and later that year brought Airspeed in to manage production of a variety of aircraft. Airspeed, a division of De Havilland, were brought in later that year to manage the factory and commenced with production of the Airspeed Oxford Training Aircraft.

RAF Christchurch

Hurn Airport

The photo on the left, credited to FONFA, shows the interior of the Airspeed factory at Christchurch during production of Horsa gliders.

 

So important was the work undertaken at the site, that they went on to produce 695 Horsa gliders in Christchurch, 550 Airspeed Oxfords as well as various marks of De Havilland Mosquito towards the end of the war.

 

Although RAF Hurn officially opened in 1941, there were in fact three Hawker Hurricanes already in residence. Many smaller, important, airfields had a small number of aircraft based as a local defence flight, or airfield defence, and Christchurch was no exception.

As with most local air defence aircraft, these machines weren’t assigned as a squadron, but rather ‘given’ to the airfields to defend themselves in the event of attack. Typically the aircraft would be aging machines that had seen combat, and were generally repaired after being heavily damaged and pressed back into service in this smaller role.

 

This role, for Christchurch, was filled with a trio of ex Battle of Britain Hawker Hurricane Mk1’s. There were no set or stationed RAF pilots present, but the pilots would be airfield personel assigned to other roles who could be scrambled in the event of attack. In Christchurch, despite having three aircraft, it was actually fairly rare to see more than one aircraft in the air at any one time although they did account for shooting down several aircraft including some bombers.

 

What is most remarkable is that one of this trio still survives to this day and is on display at the Science Museum in London.

RAF Hurn

In 1940 the airport was taken on charge by 22 Group RAF using RAF Christchurch as their HQ. Later that year, the Air Defence Research and Development Establishment acquired the duties of the Special Duties Flight, predominantly for assistance in testing radar, and operated a variety of aircraft including a Bristol Blenheim, Avro 504K and Scott Viking gliders.

 

With no air defences installed at RAF Christchurch, there were few resident aircraft and most of the Special Duties Flight aeroplanes were flown out and stored at Sway overnight. The Fleet Air Arm also sent aircraft to RAF Christchurch for radar trials from HMS Raven at Eastleigh, although these were infrequent visits.

It is worth noting that until this point the location of RAF Christchurch was still on the site of the original Fisher airfield in Somerford, and in 1941 RAF Hurn was established to the north. In 1940 a Bellman hanger was erected on land to the north of Dennistoun Avenue.

 

Between March 1941 and late 1943 five additional hangers were installed, mostly surrounding Mudeford Woods. During this time, RAF Christchurch was mainly used for aircraft production and maintenance, with RAF Squadrons based at nearby RAF Hurn.

From late 1944 until the end of the war, RAF Christchurch reverted to the control of 11 Group RAF and the main activity was the repair of Airspeed Horsa gliders returning from Europe. In March 1945, control of the airport passed to RAF Transport Command where the focus was on production of Mosquitos, and on the 28th January 1946 control was transferred to the Ministry of Aircraft Production (later the Ministry of Supply).

 

 

In the postwar period, Railway Air Services and PSIOWA announced that services to destinations served in the prewar period would be resumed, although this never happened, and the Bournemouth Airport Company was finally wound up. Some pleasure flights still took place, and aircraft repair and manufacture still happened on the former RAF Christchurch site, but with RAF Hurn being a far larger area with purpose built runways, the site at Christchurch was finally abandoned in 1966 and turned into housing.

RAF Hurn

Whilst the former Bournemouth Airport in Somerford had been turned into RAF Christchurch, a new purpose built airfield had been built in Hurn, north of Christchurch.

 

With solid runways, rather than the grass strips that were used in RAF Christchurch, this enabled a far greater array of aircraft to access the site. Opening in 1941, RAF Hurn saw a huge amount of squadrons based there over the duration of the war.

 

  • Telecommunications Flying Unit – 13/8/41 to 25/5/42 – Various types
  • Special Duties Flight (later absorbed by Telecommunications Flying Unit) – 10/11/41 to 25/5/42 – Various types
  • 1425 Flight – 12/41 to 5/42 – Liberator
  • 297 Squadron – 5/6/42 to 24/10/42 – Whitley V
  • 170 Squadron – 17/6/42 to 10/10/42 – Mustang I
  • 296 Squadron – 29/6/42 to 25/10/42 – Whitley V
  • 298 Squadron – 24/8/42 to 19/10/42 – Whitley V
  • 88 Squadron – 29/9/42 to 30/3/43 – Boston III
  • 239 Squadron – 6/12/42 to 25/1/43 – Mustang I
  • 296 Squadron – 19/12/42 to 3/6/43 – Whitley V and Albemarle 1/II
  • No 3 Overseas Aircraft Despatch Unit – Formed 1/43
  • 412 Squadron – 1/3/43 to 6/3/43 – Spitfire Vb
  • No1 Heavy Glider Maintenance Unit – 1/5/43 to 6/5/43 (formed and immediately transferred)
  • 295 Squadron – 30/6/43 to 16/3/44 – Halifax V and Albemarle I/II
  • 296 Squadron – 15/10/43 to 14/3/44 – Albemarle II
  • 570 Squadron – 15/11/43 to 14/3/44 – Albemarle I/II
  • 620 Squadron – 22/11/43 to 18/3/44 – Stirling III
  • 438 Squadron – 18/3/44 to 3/4/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 439 Squadron – 18/3/44 to 2/4/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 440 Squadron – 18/3/44 to 3/4/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 125 Squadron – 25/3/44 to 31/7/44 – Mosquito XVII
  • 181 Squadron – 1/4/44 to 20/6/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 182 Squadron – 1/4/44 to 20/6/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 438 Squadron – 19/4/44 to 27/6/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 439 Squadron – 19/4/44 to 11/5/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 440 Squadron – 20/4/44 to 28/6/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 247 Squadron – 24/4/44 to 20/6/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 604 Squadron – 3/5/44 to 13/7/44 – Mosquito XIII
  • 439 Squadron – 20/5/44 to 27/6/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 198 Squadron – 22/6/44 to 1/7/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 183 Squadron – 1/7/44 to 14/7/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 609 Squadron – 1/7/44 to 9/7/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 257 Squadron – 2/7/44 to 8/7/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 193 Squadron – 3/7/44 to 11/7/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 197 Squadron – 3/7/44 to 20/7/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 263 Squadron – 10/7/44 to 23/7/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 266 Squadron – 13/7/44 to 20/7/44 – Typhoon IB
  • 418 Squadron – 14/7/44 to 29/7/44 – Mosquito II
  • 277 Squadron – 18/8/44 to 29/8/44 – Spitfire Vb

 

 

This was an end to RAF involvement with RAF Hurn for the time being, as in August 1944 it was transferred to the command of the USAF.

509th Thunderbolt

In 1943 the USAF required a several advanced landing grounds along the south coast of England prior to the invasion of Normandy, and RAF Hurn was provided for this use. In 1943 a 1650 yard long steel and plank runway was installed to support the heavier American fighters, although it retained its original four grass landing strips.

 

The 4th April 1944 saw the arrival of the first resident American aircraft, the 405th Fighter Group. The 405th consisted of the following squadrons flying P-47 Thunderbolts.

 

  • 509th Fighter Squadron
  • 510th Fighter Squadron
  • 511th Fighter Squadron

The next American aircraft to arrive at RAF Hurn were from the 422nd and 425th Night Fighter Squadron, flying six P-61 Black Widows.

 

These arrived in June 1944 and departed in July, to be replaced the following month by the 397th Bombing Group consisting of the following squadrons

 

  • 596th Bomb Squadron
  • 597th Bomb Squadron
  • 598th Bomb Squadron
  • 599th Bomb Squadron

 

All four squadron flew B26 Marauders. Their departure in September 1944, and subsequent reacquisition by the RAF signalled an end to squadrons being based at RAF Hurn.

Castle Cabs

Fate works in funny ways. Before the war, the base at RAF Christchurch had been the areas dominant airport, even referred to as Bournemouth Airport, yet in the closing years of the war (and thanks to substantial government investment in runways and buildings) it was evident that RAF Hurn was by far the more suitable airport to be used for civilian purposes.

 

Unlike RAF Christchurch which was handed to the Ministry of Supply for use in aircraft manufacture, on the 31st October 1944 RAF Hurn was handed over to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and in the closing years of the war up until 1948 Hurn Airport became the main airport for international flights into the UK and sealed its future as the new site of Bournemouth Airport.