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The History of Kent

Copyright Kent Past 2010

RAF Hawkinge

Following the outbreak of war in 1914, the War Office surveyed Kent for suitable sites to place airfields. One such place was just outside the village of Hawkinge. The land, a field known locally as Megones, was owned by Lord Radnor.

Within months, temporary buildings and tents started to arrive at what officially called Folkestone Field. The airfields main purpose was for transporting aircraft across to France. The airfield continued to be used for this purpose, although in 1917, more permanent hangers started to arrive, together with a number of administrative buildings. There was a name change to Hawkinge Aeroplane Dispatch Station, when the remit included the transportation of supplies to troops in France and Belgium. A role which continued and included mail to troops stationed on the continent during peacetime after 1918.

Hawkinge was expanded following the re-organisation of the RAF in 1923. New hangers and operations buildings were erected, with water and communications systems installed. The airfield’s role changed to that off training for both RAF and the Army.

Fighter training continued at Hawkinge into the first months of the Second World War, when it was decided, it was too close to the French coast and training was moved to a safer distance. As the airfield was the closest to France it was re-designated as a fighter station, and on 19 December 1939 the first Hurricanes from 3 squadron arrived.

Due to its proximity to the French coast, Hawkinge became a prized target, and was to play an important part within the German ‘Operation Sealion’ plan, where paratroopers would invade and take control of the airfield, to enable the Luftwaffe to make the short hop across the channel.

Hawkinge played a major part in the Dunkirk evacuation, with planes providing around the clock air-cover to the retreating forces. The Hurricanes used the airfield as a forward base, arriving in the morning refuelling and heading off to France. They would return, refuel, re-arm and head off back across the channel.

As the fear of a German invasion increased following Dunkirk, and the strategic importance of Hawkinge was realised, it was afforded greater protection, with the installation of anti-aircraft guns being placed around the perimeter.

The first raids were not made on Hawkinge until 12 Augusat 1940, with major damage being made, although the grass runways were soon repaired and the Spitfires and Hurricanse which used it as a forward base, were soon operating again, despite three further raids that month. On 7 September 1940, a direct hit was scored on the main building, as was an air-raid shelter in the village, killing six villagers.

During the ‘Battle of Britain’ Hawkinge saw a continuous stream of Spitfires and Hurricanes land, refuel, re-arm and take off again, keeping as many planes in the air to fend off the major Luftwaffe attack.

The base was under regular attack from German planes flying in low under the radar dropping their payload and returning across the channel. The response was to have six Spitfires based at the airfield with at least three in the air patrolling at any given time. When the enemy were sited, there was time to get planes in the air. Despite the Luftwaffe’s best efforts Hawkinge remained operational throughout the war.

On the lead up to D-Day Hawkinge played a diversionary role to convince the Germans that the invasion would be in the Calais area. During the actual invasion, Grumman Avengers were based there equipped with depth charges to keep the channel clear of U-boats.

Following the war, the fighter base was officially closed 3 September 1945. It was however used by WAAF technical training unit and later for glider training. However, in 1964 the Ministry of Defence sold the land, although for a short while in 1968, memories were invoked, with the making of the film ‘Battle of Britain’.

Today, the land has been used for housing and agriculture, although a small corner has been portioned off as a Battle of Britain museum, run by enthusiast, and well worth a visit.

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