Key Events in Manston’s History

These are key events from Manston’s history from our records, including some firsts for aviation as a whole. We expect more items to be added in due course.

Last Updated: Sep 16, 2018 @ 11:29 pm

Flight Lieutenant Smythe, R.N.V.R., at the erection of the first wooden building at Manston in February 1916

February 1916 Sub-Lieutenant Smythe begins to erect the first wooden huts at Manston.
19 March 1916 First recorded operational landing at Manston by Lt. Horace Austin Buss in a BE2C Biplane S/N 1159, after taking off from Westgate in a fruitless sortie in pursuit of an Zeppelin airship.
29 March 1916 Wing Commander Smyth-Osbourne (Divisional Commander Air Stations at Chatham) wrote to the Commander in Chief, HM Ships and Vessels to recommend the “small and dangerous aerodrome” at Westgate should be given up and “that portion of the Station devoted to land machines” should be transferred to the recently acquired ground at Manston.
27 April 1916 The Lords Commissioners of His Majesty’s Treasury wrote to the Admiralty sanctioning the move to Manston after an inspection and report.
29 May 1916

RNAS (Royal Naval Air Station) Manston becomes fully operational.

No.3 Wing moves from Detling to RNAS Manston with two BE2c, one Short Biplane, four Sopwith 1½ Strutters and a Curtiss Biplane under the command of Lieutenant HP Smyth-Osbourne. It was noted in records that Manston had become fully operational on this day.

On this day, it was also noted in the Manston Diary that aircraft from RNAS Westgate were also to be moved to Manston.

9 July 1916 Aircraft of the Manston War Flight including Flt Sub Lt Greig, Flt Sub Lt Mills, Flt Lt Sholto Douglas and others including Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter 9667 takes off in pursuit of hostile aircraft sighted from the aerodrome, but lost contact with the German aircraft that was at a high altitude. It was the first 1 1/2 Strutter to be engaged in home defence.
27 November 1916 Three aeroplanes from the Manston Wing including Flt Sub Lt Carr, take off to intercept the first aeroplane (Gotha) raid on London. No contact made.
22 August 1917

The last daylight Gotha raid on England and first enemy aircraft to crash on English soil.

Fifteen Gotha bombers of Kagohl 3 had set out from their Belgian base. The plan was for a two-pronged attack; one to attack Sheerness then either Southend or Chatham; the other group to attack Dover.

Camel B3834 ‘Wonga Bonga’ flown by Lt Arthur Frank Brandon claimed a Gotha which crashed at Vincent Farm near to Manston airfield. It was the first enemy aircraft to crash on English soil. He landed back at Manston and took off again in another Camel, B3923 “Springbok”, in pursuit of other attackers.

Reports from the day would lead to a number of different claims for the destroyed aircraft, which may have been shot down by ground fire.

A second Gotha crashed into the sea off Margate. A third was shot down over Dover.

The raid on 22nd August was the last daylight attack on England. The aircraft that made it back to Belgium bore many battle scars, including dead and wounded on board. The Gotha’s invulnerability had been proven wrong and the price of the raids was becoming too high.

For the British, the 13 week campaign was also costly, with nearly 20 tons of bombs being dropped on civilian targets, 401 dead and 983 injured. The resultant reports into the defences against what is often referred to as the first “Battle of Britain”, recommended the creation of an Air Ministry and a unified Air Service, which ultimately led to the formation of the Royal Air Force on 1st April 1918.

Read more here:

08 January 1918 Air Department decides to make Manston an immense RNAS training establishment.
1 April 1918 The RNAS merges with the RFC to form the Royal Air Force. Women’s Royal Air Force formed. Manston becomes RAF Manston.
30 August 1919 First mention of a civil aeroplane was an Avro 536, G-EACG owned by the A.V. Roe Company.
6 March 1936 The RAF’s first operational ‘modern’ monoplane, the Avro Anson, equipped with a retractable undercarriage, entered service with No.48 Sqn, RAF Manston.
3 September 1939 ORB reports ‘War declared against Germany’
21 November 1939 Three aircraft of ‘Yellow Section’ of No.79 Sqn ordered to patrol the channel near Folkestone. Only two took off due to engine failure. A lone Dornier 17 was attacked and crashed into the sea off Deal, the first enemy aircraft brought down over the channel.
8 January 1940 A Wellington of the No.1 General Reconnaissance Unit successfully detonates a magnetic mine laid by the Germans with its magnetic ring.
14 April 1940 On the night of 14th and 15th April, twelve Handley Page Hampdens of No.44, 50 and 83 Sqns were diverted to land at Manston, after being involved in the first mine-laying operations of the war.
26 May 1940 The increasingly desperate situation in France saw the start of the evacuation from Dunkirk under the code name ‘Operation Dynamo’. Over 7,000 troops were brought home on this first day under an umbrella provided by the RAF including No.264 Sqn Defiants using Manston (the squadron was based at Duxford from 10 May 1940 to 3 Jul 1940) which flew two relatively uneventful patrols during the day.
10 July 1940 Start of the Battle of Britain.
24 August 1940 Six heavy attacks, the first at 0600hrs when approximately 80 aircraft crossed the coast to Thanet, left Manston unserviceable after the heavy raid at 1520hrs, despite its many tunnels and underground shelters the RAF decided to evacuate the airfield and left for all but emergency use.
28 August 1940

Manston’s importance was recognised when the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, paid it a personal visit. He saw an airfield barely serviceable, still with craters everywhere and markers denoting unexploded bombs still to be dealt with.

Churchill was said to have been so appalled by the scene of destruction on the airfield, he wrote the next day to the Air Ministry to voice his concerns over the repair process.

On the same day, Churchill visited Ramsgate to see the damage caused by Luftwaffe raids and earlier, Dover. Whilst in Ramsgate, there was an air raid and he was ushered into the Queen Street tunnel entrance, where he had to be reminded that he couldn’t smoke. ‘There goes a good one,’ the PM is said to have sighed as he stubbed his cigar underfoot — whereupon the locals fought for the remains.

“It was while we were at Dover, that we saw the approaching German bombers and just a short distance away they were met by British fighters. Mr Churchill seemed mesmerized as the air battle took place almost overhead. We saw maybe two German bombers crash into the sea and some fighters with smoke trailing from them as they spiraled away from the main dogfight.

Later that afternoon, we had to drive to Ramsgate and on the way we saw a smoldering aircraft in a field, and Churchill asked the driver to pull off the road and get as close to the wreckage as he could. There was firemen, soldiers and ARP men standing around and I walked with the Prime Minister towards the aircraft. Even though I warned Mr Churchill about the dangers of being out in the open during an air raid, he said that he must have a look, and when he saw the tangled mess he said ‘Dear God, I hope it isn’t a British plane.’ He was reassured that it was not.”
Inspector W.Thompson, Churchill’s bodyguard

The photos include one reported to be at Ramsgate. There is another on the following link that shows Churchill outside what is now ‘The Royal’ overlooking Ramsgate Harbour: – as yet a reusable copy of this image has not been sourced, so if anyone has one we would be happy to add it to our list with credit retained.

There are clearly other photos available from this day – could this one be Ramsgate or Dover?

25 September 1941

The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill visits No.615 Sqn at RAF Manston accompanied by his wife, Clementine. He was in his capacity of Honorary Air Commodore of the Squadron.

Extract from No.615 Sqn ORB of the day:
“The squadron was delighted to welcome the Prime Minister and Mrs Churchill, together with the A.O.C. of 11 Group A.V.M Leigh-Mallory to Manston. Our Hon. Air Commodore had not visited the squadron since it was at Kenley, and we are glad to think that Mr Churchill found time to visit so soon after our arrival at Manston. S/Ldr Gillam introduced the Prime Minister and Mrs Churchill to all the pilots and Officers of the Squadron, and this was followed by tea.”

It would appear that part of his visit may have been captured on this newsreel, found for us by Jacques Brisset. It reports to be in 1941 and we know that the Prime Minister hadn’t visited No.615 Sqn since they were at Kenley in 1940, so it would appear to be the same visit.

5 October 1941

Wing Commander Tom Gleave arrives at Manston with orders to make it an operational station. Before leaving in September 1942, he campaigned for the long, wide runway of concrete or tarmac to save returning damaged aircraft.

He also recommended Lieutenant Commander Eugene Esmonde for a posthumous Victoria Cross (VC) for his role in the Channel Dash operations that occurred whilst he was still Commanding Officer at Manston. He would later regret not putting forward more names for the VC given the readiness that his recommendation was accepted. He stand alone in the middle of the snow covered airfield, saluting the Swordfish crews of 825 Fleet Air Arm Squadron as they left for their ill-fated mission.

Gleave was shot down during the Battle of Britain, in August 1940 and grievously burned. He would star in ‘This is your Life’ in January 1991 and died in June 1993.

12 February 1942

Six Fairey Swordfish of 825 Sqn FAA commanded by Lt Cmdr Eugene Esmonde DSO take off from RAF Manston to attack the largest German battle fleet ever assembled, ‘The Channel Dash’. All the aircraft are destroyed and only 5 aircrew rescued out of 18.

7 May 1942 First de Havilland Mosquito to be seen at Manston arrives for refuelling.
24 August 1942 First B-17 Flying Fortress seen at Manston and possibly the first B-17 to crash land, lands badly shot up with three aircrew injured after an attack on Le Trait shipyards.
28 August 1942

Fifty six emergency landings on the night of 28th August 1942 left devastation that would lead to the approval for the new runway to be built. The Station Commander had already seen the increasing numbers of emergency landings increasing, with damaged aircraft of Bomber Command trying to make it to Manston in every kind on imaginable trouble. At the time, the airfield was comparatively limited for such landings, with many aircraft overshooting, adding to the damage to them, increasing casualties and also damaging the airfield and buildings. The undulating surface made matters worse, although Wing Commander Gleave had already pleaded for the construction of a really large runway with “lead in” lights, so far he had not been successful. The scene of carnage eventually led to the approval of the new runway.

At 20:15 the Northolt Polish Spitfire Wing, consisting of 302, 306, 308 and 317 Sqns started landing in the gathering darkness, 45 aircraft in all.

At 11:59 a Wellington of No.305 (Polish) Sqn crash landed on the beginning of the flare path. This aircraft had been attacked on its way to Saarbrucken by three night fighters in succession. Catching fire, the bombs were jettisoned. The rear gunner was killed in one of the attacks. The Navigator, Wireless Operator and Front Gunner baled out over enemy territory, but the Captain and Second Pilot brought the aircraft back to Manston.

Before 01:00 another three Wellingtons and three Stirlings had landed.
At 04:00 a Sterling of No.218 Sqn from Munich. After being told to avoid the obstruction of the first Wellington, he landed too far to the right, sweeping through a line of the Polish Wing Spitfires. It destroyed one Spitfire which burst into flames and swept on into a dispersal bay already occupied by an Albacore, ending in a tangle of metal.
Shortly after, a Stirling of No.7 Sqn, short of fuel, landed with his engines cutting. Again, trying to avoid the flare-path Wellington, he too landed too far to the right. He swept through a gap in the line of Spitfires, with Medical Officers, the Fire Party and others scattering out of his way. The aircraft hit a long wooden hut and cannoned into a Bellman hanger, damaging both considerably. Two men who would normally be asleep in the hut were fortunately out working.

Another Wellington followed, then another Stirling of No.218 Sqn, so short of fuel it was unable to taxi completely after landing, due to the engines cutting out.

13 April 1943

In the morning, the first trials of the bouncing bombs started at Reculver. Two Highballs (designed to be used against enemy shipping and not the dams) were dropped by a No.618 Sqn Mosquito but both bombs broke up. Gibson and Hay arrive to accompany Barnes Wallis and others to observe. A Wellington drops its first of two bombs that day (the ‘middle’ size), the outer casing shatters but the outer casing continues to spin and bounce.

The Type 464 Lancaster first drops from too high and the Upkeep dissapears after hitting the water.

14 May 1943 Cats-Eyes’ Van Lierde from No.609 Sqn sets off from Manston in a new role for a Typhoon, carrying bombs, dropped on a rail yard. On way back shot down Heinkel III.
5 April 1944 New runway at Manston brought into operation. In first three weeks in operation, 56 emergency landings took place.
6 June 1944

On this day, 6th June 1944, known as D-Day, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline forming the largest amphibious attack in history.

“As with other fighter bases, Manston played its part in the D-Day landings of June 6th 1944. Typhoons from Manston proved a formidable enemy to the German army when it tried to move tanks and other vehicles to the front. Aeroplanes from Manston also took part in ‘divers’ patrols – attacking and destroying V1 rockets being fired at London.” from

In the build up to D-Day, squadrons operating from Manston took part in the campaign against German radar stations.

Read more:

15 June 1944 Flt Lt John Musgrave (pilot) and Flt Sgt F W Samwell (Navigator) in a Mosquito VI from No.605 Sqn operating from RAF Manston become the first RAF crew to shoot down a V1 flying bomb.
21 July 1944

The first two Meteors (EE213 and EE214) were transferred to RAF Manston from Culmhead, as officially did No.616 Squadron, still operating Spitfires. The Squadron had a busy morning packing before taking off from Culmhead at 1155hrs. The Meteor and Spitfire pilots were billeted in separate huts and the Meteors kept under cover and under guard in the hanger. The Meteors would be used to counter the threat of the V1s targeting London, where at the time, only the Hawker Tempest had the low-altitude speed to be effective against them, but fewer than 30 were available.

Although limited in numbers and in their range, the 410mph Meteor was marginally faster that the Tempest V and Spitfire XIV with top speeds of 405mph and 396mph respectively, but it excelled at 1,000 to 3,000 feet, just where the V1 operated.

26 July 1944 No.616 Sqn ‘Meteor Flight’ was declared operational and the squadron was keen to start operations against the V1. The squadron was the world’s first operational jet squadron before the debut in August of the rocket powered Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, and in October, the Messerschmitt Me 262, although there was a report of the first encounter of the Me 262 on 25th July on an experimental interception against an RAF Mosquito.
4 August 1944

Another Key Event at Manston! First V1 flying bomb downed by a Gloster Meteor Jet.

No.616 Sqn – In the morning, haze and poor visibility prevented operational flying. F/O Dean took off from Manston at 1545hrs in Meteor EE216 to patrol inland area under Kingsley II (Biggin Hill) Control. At 1616hrs, a Diver was sighted at 1,000 feet near Tonbridge. Dean dived down from 4,500 feet at speed of 450 mph and attacked it from dead astern. His four 20mm cannons failed to fire, a common failing for the Meteors, so instead, flying level alongside the bomb, Dean manoeuvred his wing tip a few inches under the wing of the flying bomb and by pulled upwards. It send the bomb diving to earth four miles South of Tonbridge. F/O Dean would be reprimanded for damaging the wingtip of his aircraft. Later ‘tipping’ would change from a physical tip to positioning the aircraft’s wing above the wing of the bomb, disrupting the airflow and thus affecting the gyroscope from which the V1 would crash.F/O J.K.Rodger sighted a Diver at 1640 hrs, near Tenterden on course of 318° at 3,000 ft and a speed of 340 mph. Attacking from astern, Rodger fired 2 bursts of 2 seconds and saw the Diver crash and explode, 5 miles N.W. of Tenterden, claiming the Squadron’s second kill.

17 September 1944

Fifty Six Albemarle tugs take off with their gliders to form part of 1st Allied Airborne Army’s major operation in Holland, including Arnhem as part of Operation Market Garden.

Read more about Market Garden and Manston’s role here:

21 September 1944 Fog Intensive Dispersal Operation (FIDO) used to assist 19 landings. The basic principle was to burn vapourised petrol under pressure in channels by the side of the runway.
8 May 1945 VE Day celebrations included a parade and Victory Dance in the Loop hanger at Manston.
7 November 1945

Group Captain Hugh Joseph Wilson, CBE, AFC, Royal Air Force, Commandant of the Empire Test Pilots’ School, Cranfield, set the first world speed record with a jet-propelled airplane, and the first speed record by an airplane in excess of 600 miles per hour (965.6 kilometers per hour), when he flew the Gloster Meteor F.4 (Mk.IV) EE454 ‘Brittania’ to 975.68 kilometers per hour (606.36 miles per hour) at an altitude of 250 feet (76.2 meters) over a course from the Herne Bay Pier to Reculver Point, along the south coast of the Thames Estuary.

For more details, see:

15 July 1946 RAF Manston transfers from Fighter Command to Transport Command.
14 July 1950 RAF Manston transfers from Transport Command to No.11 Group, RAF Fighter Command, to share with USAF units.
15 July 1950 Advanced detachment of men from the USAF Strategic Air Command’s 7512th Air Base Squadron arrived at Manston to prepare the base for the arrival of the F-84 Fighter Wing.
22 September 1950

Another Key Event Involving Manston.

Colonel David C. Schilling and Lt. Col. William Dee Ritchie Jr were directed by Letter Orders, Headquarters USAF to conduct a non-stop flight from Manston to New York by use of mid-air refuelling to test the feasibility of the Probe-drogue system. Both pilots were flying EF-84E Thunderjets. It was the first attempt to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean from the UK and the mission became known as ‘Fox Able Four’.

They left Manston at 1401hrs and flew up to the west coast of Scotland, overhead of Prestwick at 1508hrs. They continued north to intercept ‘Camelback 1’ the first refuelling link-up. They then set course for Iceland.

Lt.Col Ritchie suffered a broken refuelling probe and would have to bale out over Newfoundland, but Col. Schilling would fly on to land at the USAF base at Limestone, Maine, rather than the planned destination in Long Island.

The total time for the flight was ten hours and two minutes, a record for the crossing.

1 December 1952 RAF Manston becomes USAF Manston.
27 November 1954 A USAF SH-19 (S-55) rescue helicopter from Manston locates the wreck of the South Goodwin Lightship, hit by a hurricane force 12, rescuing Andrew Murton who was on the lightship observing bird migration. The crew of seven were never found.
30 June 1958 Manston returned to the Air Ministry and RAF Fighter Command control from the USAF. Manston had closed as an operational airfield, some believing the complaints about noise leading to its closure.
15 June 1959 Inaugural flight to Le Touquet for Silver City Airways, commencing civil activity at Manston. They would operate the route with Handley Page Hermes aircraft.
24 March 1963 No.618 Sqn’s Gliding School launched its first glider from Manston, training instructors throughout April and May 1963.
30 March 1969

Last day of service, after eight years at Manston for RAF Helicopter Search and Rescue No.22 Sqn, despite intense local representations. Two call outs.

The decision was made due to the reduction in fighter aircraft activity in the South and a shortage of crews. The judgement was that the Manston area could be covered by Coltishall in the North and East, Thorney Island to the South and West.

The outcry was sufficient to cause the Department of Trade to contract Bristow Helicopters Ltd to provide Search and Rescue cover starting 1st June 1971.

1 June 1971 Bristow International Helicopter Company in silver and orange Whirlwind helicopters commence a trial civilian rescue service. 2 crew are No.22 Sqn ‘old boys’. This was to be the first civilian Coastguard Helicopter Unit operating under the direct control of H.M. Coastguard.
30 September 1974 Bristow International Helicopter Company’s civilian rescue service ends after scrambling 627 times, rescuing 174 people and 20 bodies.
7 July 1981 The first solar-powered airplane, The Solar Challenger piloted by Steve Ptacek succeeded in crossing the English Channel, landing at Manston.
6 March 1987 RAF Search and Rescue teams in helicopters from No.22 Sqn at Manston were part of the rescue operation for the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry which had capsized shortly after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. It saw the loss of 193 lives from a total of 463 passengers and 80 crew. Manston was also used as the forward operating base for other helicopters scrambled from RAF Brawdy, RAF Coltishall, RNAS Culdrose and RAF Bulmer. An RAF Hercules which had landed by chance at Manston on its way to RAF Lyneham was also commandeered to fly to Zeebrugge with underwater lighting equipment, divers, diving equipment and a team from the Kent Fire Brigade and their equipment.
31 March 1999 Remainder of RAF Manston closes, leaving the RAF Fire Services Central Training Establishment as occupant on the previous domestic side of the base, also formerly known as ‘Manston Camp’.