Saturday, 31 August 2019

Why I did research on No.50 Squadron of the RAF

I came to Dover to look for the remains of the World War II radar station that stood on Swingate Down and was known as CH04. I knew that much of the radar station had been dismantled in the 1950s, but that the main mast had been retained and converted to broadcast BBC radio stations across Kent and the English Channel.

It took a bit of nosing about, but I eventually found the place. It was not until I got there and read the information board that I realised that CH04 had been built on the site of an earlier airfield that had been used by the RAF in the 1920s, and before then by the RFC in World War I. I made a note of the fact,and decided to look into this RFC airfield another time. Some while later, I had the opportunity to investigate RFC Swingate Down. It had been opened in 1914 to serve as a stop for refuelling aircraft on their way out to France, and then used for training purposes.

So far so good. But what intrigued me was that in the summer of 1916 the airfield at Swingate Down was recorded as having been the home base for a squadron of scouts (as fighter aircraft were then known) – and that the squadron in question had been No.50 Squadron. What puzzled me was that I knew that in World War II No.50 Squadron had been a heavy bomber squadron. Yet here it was in 1916 as a fighter squadron. Not only that but a little further research turned up the name of the squadron’s commanding officer: Major Arthur Harris.

So not only had one of World War II’s premier bomber squadrons been a fighter unit in World War I, but the great and famous Arthur “Bomber” Harris had been a fighter pilot. I was now thoroughly hooked. No.50 Squadron, its men and machines became a focus of research for me.

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