The summer of 1940 was long, sunny and hot and the pilots of Fighter Command’s No 11 Group were facing the German Luftwaffe’s daily bomber raids. Group sector airfields such as RAF Tangmere were in the thick of the battle, later known as the Battle of Britain. Squadrons were divided into sections, each with its own dispersal hut away from the airfield main buildings. The hut was used by the pilots to relax, catch up on lost sleep, most were exhausted, and to wait for the telephone call instructing them to take-off to meet the next raid – a ‘scramble’.
Squadron aircraft would be parked nearby and when the telephone call to scramble was received, the ground crew, riggers and fitters, also needed to know to enable them to be at the aircraft when the pilot arrived. They had to be there to strap him into the cockpit and start the Spitfire or Hurricane’s Merlin engine. To notify the ground crew, a scramble bell was rung.
Another bell found on RAF Stations is a ceremonial bell called the Station Bell. The Museum is fortunate in having the Station Bell that was at RAF Tangmere throughout the Second World War and up to the airfield’s closure in 1970. Following the closure, the bell engraved ‘Air Ministry 1939’ was amongst many items that quickly disappeared as ‘souvenirs’. However, in 1998 a young Royal Naval Cadet returned it to the Museum having found the bell hidden away in a naval paint store underneath some sacks.
TANGMERE’S SCRAMBLE AND STATION BELLS CAN BE FOUND DISPLAYED IN THE MUSEUM’S BATTLE OF BRITAIN HALL