RAF Kenley 1917-1938
In June 1917, an area formerly occupied by a golf course was commandeered for use by the RFC under the ‘Defence of the Realm Act’, enabling the Canadian Forestry Corps to clear the ground and make way for airfield construction.
Seven double hangars were constructed and the airfield became known as the No 7 Aircraft Acceptance Park to where the country’s pioneering aviation manufacturers would send their aircraft to be assembled. In 1918, a larger hanger was built to accommodate the Handley Page 0/100 and 0/400 bombers. Alongside the heavy bombers of the time, Sopwith Camels and the DH9a bombers were either being tested or flown out to France for duty with the Royal Flying Corps. Resident RFC squadrons that had a variety of aircraft began to appear in 1918, as did No 1 (Communications) Squadron, which regularly conveyed officials to and from the peace conference that was taking place in Paris.
At the war’s end it was assumed that the land would revert to its original use, however, Winston Churchill stated in response to a question tabled that Kenley was too important to London to be given up. It was rumoured at the time that Churchill’s attachment to Kenley was due to the fact that he was learning to fly here.
In the following years and throughout the 1920’s, further developments to the airfield took place and several squadrons were accommodated on the airfield. One of these was 23 Squadron, which arrived in early 1927 and stayed until late 1932 . It was equipped with Gloster Gamecocks and was joined in 1930 by Douglas Bader. The following year he was involved in a tragic accident that lost him his legs, the story of which was portrayed in the film, Reach for the Sky. The station closed for further reconstruction, reopening again in 1934 with the arrival of No’s 3 and 17 Squadrons both flying Bristol Bulldogs.
Of further significance in this period was the formation of No 615 Squadron at Kenley. The Squadron was later to be adopted by the county of Surrey, but in essence became Kenley’s home Squadron. Today, the RAF Volunteer Gliding School has nominated itself 615 in honour of the squadron and shares its fighting badge.
Of further significance in this period was the formation of No 615 Squadron at Kenley. The Squadron was later to be adopted by the county of Surrey, but in essence became Kenley’s home Squadron. Today the RAF Volunteer Gliding School has nominated itself 615 in honour of the squadron and shares its fighting badge.
Into the thirties, and as war approached in September 1939, RAF Kenley went onto a war footing. The runway had been lengthened and improved to accommodate the new fighter airplanes that Fighter Command was being provided with. In terms of take-off, a Mark I Hawker Hurricane proved to be underpowered for the length of the original runway, so to compensate for this, the runway was lengthened. However, by the time of the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane had much greater engine power and the length of Kenley’s runway more than sufficed.
In addition, the perimeter track and blast pens were constructed. Hayes Lane was diverted; three pairs of the original 1917 hangars were demolished, as was the large Handley Page hangar. With storage for 35,000 gallons of aviation fuel, 8,000 gallons of petrol, 2,500 of oil storage and an armoury with space for 1.25 million rounds of small arms ammunition.
Anticipating enemy attacks, the airfield was defended by manned four 40mm Bofors emplacements, two 3 inch guns and Lewis guns. A slab of concrete on some of the remaining blast pens indicates a Lewis gun emplacement. A parachute/cable installation was installed on the north side of the airfield (this was responsible later for bringing down a Dornier on the 18th August 1940).
Kenley was ready for war.