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 of an enemy raid. During the next hour about 150 aircraft were identified heading for the Isle of Wight and about 1245 hours eight RAF fighter squadrons were scrambled to meet the threat. The enemy formations comprised Ju 87 (Stuka) dive-bombers of SG2, Ju 88s of KG54, Bf 109Es of II/JG2 and Bf 110s of III/ZG76 Luftwaffe units.
When the Stukas reached the Nab Tower to the east of the Isle of Wight, the leading aircraft fired off signal flares and the force split into three groups, the largest of which headed for RAF Tangmere. The scrambled Hurricanes of Tangmere’s No 43 and 601 Squadrons met the enemy bomber force head-on over the Solent, while the No 602 Squadron Spitfires from Westhampnett set upon the escorting Messerschmitts above. In the ensuing action, 25 enemy aircraft were claimed to have been brought down between Tangmere and the coast. However, the first wave of aircraft, about twenty Stukas, Ju 88s and Bf 110 s, broke through the defending fighters and commenced their dive-bombing attack on the airfield at 1300 hours. This they did with great accuracy with no bombs dropping outside the airfield perimeter. All the pre-war hangars, with the exception of one, were destroyed or badly damaged. The Officer’s Mess and numerous other buildings were badly damaged and the sick quarters were reduced to rubble. Seven Hurricanes, six Blenheims and a Magister aicraft were destroyed in the raid, but the real tragedy was the deaths of ten RAF personnel and three civilians with another twenty persons wounded.
The Luftwaffe attack on RAF Tangmere was not only fought in the air. Second Lieutenant E P Griffin was an officer in the Royal Engineers tasked with his team of sappers to improve the aerodrome defences at Tangmere. On hearing the air raid warning he went to his battle station and with a Lewis machine gun shot down an attacking Messerschmitt Bf 110. The enemy aircraft crashed three quarters of a mile from the aerodrome killing its three crew members. His colleagues later presented him with a cartoon entitled “The Glorious 16 August 1940”.
THIS CARTOON IS PART OF A NEW EXIBITION IN THE MUSEUM’S BATTLE OF BRITAIN HALL ON ‘TANGMERE AND THE 16 AUGUST 1940’
THE EXHIBITION FORMS PART OF THE MUSEUM’S TRIBUTE IN 2010 TO ‘THE FEW’ 70 YEARS ON.