Few people know that Tangmere and Ford aerodromes and the sites for three others at Southbourne, Rustington, and Goring-by-Sea were purchased by the US government on its entry into WW1 as training bases for American aircrew. The US Army Air Service intended to deploy four-engined Handley Page O-400 heavy bombers against targets in Germany, flying at night under radio direction — at that time totally new technology — as America’s contribution to the air war on the Western Front.
By the time the war ended, only Tangmere and Ford aerodromes had been built; the others were never completed, and until recently little was known about the Americans’ brief stay here. Now, a new research project in collaboration with the Museum led by Dr Ross Wilson of Chichester University’s History Department assisted by volunteers from Chichester Community Development Trust will document the lives of the American military personnel who were based at Tangmere aerodrome and other sites along the Sussex coast from 1917 to 1919.
The study is funded by the Gateways to the First World War charity — through the Arts and Humanities Research Council — which was established to raise awareness of the conflict on its centenary.
Dr Wilson is quoted as saying: “The United States did not have an advanced history of military aviation at this point so it agreed a programme of sharing technology and resources with Britain to instruct its pilots in fighting, reconnaissance and bombing. This was the start of the special relationship between the two nations so sites like Tangmere are a really important part of modern history. This project will enhance our understanding of the war in the Sussex region as well as demonstrating the importance of Tangmere on an international scale. We have already identified some individuals who were working at these aerodromes and in the next few months will be providing biographies and details of their service. Remembering the technological advances, the political developments, and those who served and died ensures we can also provide a better picture of this understudied aspect of the conflict for schools and community groups.”
An exhibition presenting all research unearthed from the project will be held in Chichester in September while Dr Wilson will host a conference at the University during the month to mark the centenary of the entry of United States into the First World War.