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TANGMERE’S ‘FIGHTING COCKS’ SQUADRON DEFENDS ITS BASE

Friday 16 August 1940, some five weeks into what became known as the Battle of Britain, dawned sunny and clear. Towards noon, Britain’s Chain Home RDF (radar) system picked up indications of a major build up over Cherbourg of an enemy raid. During the next hour, one hundred plus aircraft were identified heading for the Isle of Wight and at about 1245 hours eight RAF fighter squadrons were scrambled to meet the threat. The enemy formations comprised Junkers Ju 87 (Stuka) dive-bombers and Messerschmitt Bf 109Es and Bf 110s.

When the Stukas reached the Nab Tower, to east of the Isle of Wight, the leading aircraft fired off signal flares and the force split into three groups, a small group pealed off to attack the Ventnor Chain Home station, a second group set course towards Portsmouth, where later they attacked Gosport, and the largest group headed for RAF Tangmere. The Hurricanes of Tangmere’s Nos 43 and 601 Squadrons and the Spitfires of No 602 Squadron from Tangmere’s satellite airfield, Westhampnett, scrambled to meet enemy force.

Squadron Intelligence Officer, Flying Officer Cridland, later reported what happened to No 43 – the ‘Fighting Cocks’.
Eleven squadron Hurricanes flown by Squadron Leader Badger, Carey. Woods-Scawen, Gray, Lane, Hallowes, Gorrie, Upton, du Vivier, van den Hove and Noble took off at 1245 hours and intercepted 50 to 100 Ju 87s travelling north off Beachy Head at 1255. The squadron was at 12, 000 feet and enemy aircraft were at 14,000 feet in flights of five, seven, in close vics, the vics stepped up. A head-on No 5 attack was made at once, some turned straight back to France, jettisoned their bombs and the leading enemy aircraft was shot down by Squadron Leader Badger, who was leading the squadron as Green1 and two people baled out. There were escorting Me. 109s at 17,000 feet but they took little part in the engagement, some of the pilots never saw them at all. The squadron then returned and attacked from astern whereupon the combat developed into individual affairs and lasted approximately eight minutes. Some of the enemy aircraft made no attempts at evasion while others made use of their slow speed manoeuvrability by making short steep climbing turns and tight turns – at least one [Hurricane] pilot made use of his flaps to counteract this”.

No 43 Squadron’s Pilot Officer Frank Carey, later Group Captain Frank Carey CBE, DFC**, AFC, DFM, US Silver Star, summed up his part in the action – “This was the first time that Tangmere itself was attacked – with considerable success too. We met the raid head-on over Selsey Bill. Due to our positioning, we were only able to fire on about the second wave, leaving the leaders more or less undisturbed in their bombing. However, we were very lucky that our head-on attack so demoralised the Ju 87s that they, and the successive waves behind them, broke up. Some dropped their bombs into the sea in an effort to get away”.

Following the twenty minute raid on the airfield, Tangmere’s returning fighters claimed twenty five enemy aircraft destroyed, including two Bf 110s, five Bf 109s and eight Stuka bombers with a further seven Stukas damaged.
During the engagement No 43 Squadron ‘s Woods-Scawen had been slightly wounded and had to crash land at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight and Hamilton Upton had to make a forced landing on the beach at Selsey.

TO REMEMBER No 43 SQUADRON’S ENGAGEMENT WITH THE ENEMY OVER SELSEY ON 16 AUGUST 1940, THE SOCIETY OF FRIENDS OF THE MUSEUM COMMISSIONED LOCAL ARTIST PAUL COUPER TO PAINT ‘IN DEFENCE OF TANGMERE’. THIS PAINTING FORMS THE CENTREPIECE OF THE ‘TANGMERE 16 AUGUST 1940’ DISPLAY IN THE MUSEUM’S BATTLE OF BRITAIN HALL.

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