Bombed by the Luftwaffe

Ford Airfield – Bombed by the Luftwaffe – 18th August 1940

As we are nearing August 18th, I am turning my focus back to Ford Airfield for it was on this fateful day 80 years ago, a Sunday, that Hermann Goering’s Luftwaffe tried to bomb the airfield out of existence. Alfred Price, described the day’s events as ‘The Hardest Day’ in his book of the same name. Luftwaffe targets for the day included key RAF Fighter Stations at Biggin Hill, Kenley and North Weald. It was mystifying then, why they chose the Royal Naval Air Base of HMS Peregrine, which was a training station and not a front-line Fighter Station.

Ford was not very heavily defended. Air raid warnings were being sounded all morning followed by the ‘All Clear’ without any enemy activity affecting the airfield. The time was shortly after 2.00pm, the all clear having been sounded, the men and women were preparing to have lunch. Minutes earlier, at 1.59pm, Poling Radar Station picked up a force of incoming enemy aircraft over the Isle of Wight which they estimated to be in the region of 150 aircraft (the true number was nearer 270). Hurricanes of 601 squadron where already in the air patrolling over Tangmere. 43 squadron based at Tangmere, also flying Hurricanes, were scrambled to patrol over Thorney Island. Spitfires of 602 squadron took off from Westhampnett (Goodwood) and were ordered to cover Ford and Poling.

The incoming force, consisting of Junkers Ju87s (Stukas) and Bf109s (fighters), had separated into four distinct groups: their allocated targets were Gosport, Thorney Island, Poling and Ford. Those targeting Ford and Poling flew along the coast from Selsey, past Bognor and Littlehampton. Once past Littlehampton, 28 Stukas peeled off, turning into the wind and dived onto the unsuspecting Naval base whose only defence were six vehicle-mounted Lewis Guns. The unequal battle was over in 10 minutes leaving 28 people dead and 75 injured. One act of forlorn heroism was displayed by Lt. Commander Michael De Courcy of the Royal Naval Observer School, who died firing his service revolver at the enemy. The damage to the Station was vast. Fuel storage tanks were set alight; hangers, workshops and barrack huts destroyed. On the ground five Blackburn Sharks, five Fairy Swordfish, two Fairey Albacore torpedo-bombers and a Percival Proctor were destroyed, and a further 26 aircraft damaged.

The RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes gallantly intercepted the raiders, suffering heavily for their bravery. Four Spitfires of 602 squadron were hit in quick succession. Sergeant Basil Whall’s Spitfire received a fatal hit, not before accounting for two Stukas, but he managed to ditch it safely in the sea 20 yards off Middleton beach. FO Ian Ferguson was also over the sea when he was hit. He stayed in his aircraft to prevent it crashing into Littlehampton and ended up crash-landing in Toddington Cemetery. When two Home Guard men reached the Scot, they thought he must be Polish as they could not understand a word he was shouting. The language turned out to be rather ‘blue’ in a broad Scottish accent. Meanwhile PO Harry Moody shot down a bomber into the sea before his own aircraft was hit by enemy cannon shells forcing him to crash-land at Ford. Another pilot, PO Micky Mount, suffered the same fate but he managed to nurse his crippled Spitfire back to Westhampnett.

Possibly the most memorable event was that carried out by Dunlop Urie. When his Westhampnett based squadron was scrambled, his aircraft wasn’t serviceable so he jumped into a brand-new aircraft which had just arrived waiting to be painted in the squadron’s colours. He was returning to the airfield having run out of ammunition when he was attacked and struck by cannon shells which not only badly damaged his aircraft, but also wounded him in the legs. He managed to make it back to the airfield but the aircraft was a ‘write-off’. It had a service life of 24 minutes.



Ford Airfield - Bomb Damage - 18th August 1940

The raid signalled the end of the Navy’s war-time occupation of Ford for on the 30th September 1940 they departed and the RAF moved in.

Copies of my book describing the raid in more detail as well as a general history of the airfield from 1918 to 2018 are currently available.

I am always pleased to receive any information concerning any aspect of the airfield’s history that can be included in a revised edition of my book.

Allen Misselbrook
July 2020
Yapton & Ford Local History Group

(Originally published in Sussex Local Magazine, Arundel, August 2020)

Previous page: 18th August 1940
Next page: Lt. Fred Kirk