On the occasion of his first lunch meeting as the new President, Chris Perkins MVO was also the speaker this day, 10th July 2018. The subject was about the air station where he had been the longest in his service life.
Today the sight and sound of a Chinook helicopter flying across Basingstoke’s sky line is so common that in most cases they are ignored. Yes, we know they are based at RAF Odiham but most know little about our local airfield. Retired RAF Squadron Leader Chris Perkins MVO , from Kempshott, gave a presentation to our members about the history and changing face of what is now home to the largest deployment of helicopters in the UK.
Chris Perkins served 22 years at RAF Odiham and became interested in its history, although there were little official archives. Just after WW1 the RAF air station at Andover carried out aerial surveys over Odiham Down, seeing potential to expand their activities to be closer to the army base at Aldershot and the important flying centre at Farnborough. In 1925 a summer camp was established and grass runways allowed some flying.
The 1930s saw expansion of RAF Odiham with two tarmac runways needed to handle heavier planes. The Empire Air Day in 1937 was a great spectacle and interestingly an official visit to the station was conducted by Luftwaffe General Erhard Milch. During WW2 he oversaw aircraft production in Germany. He was so impressed by RAF Odiham that he earmarked it for his HQ should England be conquered.
Within 10 days of the declaration of war in September 1939 the service men of RAF Odiham with their Lysanders and Blenheims deployed to France engaged in army support roles suffering several losses. They were replaced with RAuxAF Squadrons 613/614 with Hind, Hector and Lysanders together with a detachment of WAAFs filling administrative support posts. Change continued at Odiham as in 1940 RCAF 110 Squadron arrived with other foreign personnel and the establishment of Belgium/French Flying Training units. They were visited by General De Gaulle.
Two days after Luftwaffe aircraft were spotted carrying out area reconnaissance, RAF Odiham was the target on 12th August 1940 for Junkers 88 of Kampf Geschwadern51 (Bomber Group 51). They were intercepted by Hawker Hurricane fighters of 43 Squadron from RAF Tangmere in West Sussex. On 15th August RAF Odiham was mistaken for the target RAF Andover when a Junkers 88 crew made navigational errors and their bombs killed several in Odiham village. The next attack was on 23rd March 1941 when a Junkers 88 jettisoned 12 bombs in the vicinity of the airfield whilst trying to get away from a persistent Hurricane. Three days later another Luftwaffe bomber was engaged by the station’s defences as it flew over the camp. This was the last recorded incident of the enemy’s attacks on RAF Odiham in WW2.
Following the formation of the Army Co-operation Command in December 1940, it was decided to replace the aging Lysander with fighter aircraft capable of completing photo reconnaissance missions. The American Curtiss Tomahawk was chosen and in April 1941 the Canadian 100 Squadron, renumbered 400 Squadron at Odiham, began to re-equip. They were joined by 171 Squadron.
May 1942 saw the first of the 1000 bomber raids with five Blenheim Mk 1V of 13 Squadron involved. They went on three such raids with several losses with crews buried in Holland. August 1942 saw 13 and 613 Squadrons supporting the Dieppe raid.
From November 1942 RAF Odiham experienced a great build up with all types of army co-operation activities besides operational air and shipping support sorties. All were in preparation for the forthcoming invasion of Europe involving many types of fighter aircraft.
Transport Command came in 1945 with 233 and 271 Squadrons of Dakota aircraft and the Canadian Transport Wing formed.
There was a ground strafing range in Dogmersfield Park and Lord Haw Haw was returned via Odiham from Germany to face trial as a traitor. There were still many fighter aircraft based here. 54 Squadron with Hawker Tempest Mk11, 130 Squadron with Spitfire Mk1V and 247 was the first Vampire jet unit with 54 and 130 Squadrons converting to Vampires to form the first RAF Vampire wing. In 1947 54 Squadron became the first RAF formation team flying jets.
Flying machines had proven their worth in WW1 and became a separate military force in 1918 when the Royal Flying Corps became the Royal Air force. On 10th July this year, its century was celebrated with a large fly past in London. RAF Odiham can beat that with the Coronation Review of the Royal Air Force on 15th July 1953.
There were 331 planes on the ground and a fly past of 197 piston engined planes and 444 jets. This was, and will probably be, the largest ever collection of RAF planes ever seen.