First World War (1914-1918)
The advent of war often heralds great strides in the development of weapons in a very short space of time, and the First World War was no exception. When war broke out in 1914 aviation was a new, exciting challenge that was untested as a method of combat, yet such was its perceived potential that by 1917 the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) had embarked on an ambitious scheme to expand the service from around 160,000 to nearly 300,000 men. One of a number of new sites chosen to train RFC aircrew was a few miles north-west of the the village of Duxford in Cambridgeshire. The site comprised 223 acres of land on the south side of the Newmarket to Royston road (now the A505) and 15 acres on the other side of the road. Tenders were invited from companies for the construction of the airfield, which would include hangars, service buildings and living quarters for up to 800 personnel.
In the summer of 1917, P & W Anderson, a Scottish civil engineering company, was given the contract to build Duxford airfield, and work began that October, at an estimated cost of £90,000. The buildings on the airfield site were mostly of brick and timber, but those on the domestic site on the north side of the road were mainly timber only. Four permanent timber-trussed hangars were built, consisting of three double-bay and one single-bay Belfast types, with wooden concertina-type doors at each end. (The three double-bay hangars are still in use today, and indeed have been listed as buildings of special architectural and historic interest. The single-bay hangar was destroyed during the making of the film Battle of Britain in 1968).
In 1917 the war with Germany was in its third indecisive
year. There was stalemate on the Western Front where the opposing forces
faced each other across No Man's Land. Bombing raids on London by Zeppelins
of the German Air Force had underlined the potential of air combat, so
the achievement of air supremacy together with the benefit of the manufacturing
resources of the United States, seemed to offer an opportunity to break
the deadlock. The RFC's expansion called for a massive flying training
programme, and the construction of many new Training Depot Stations of
which Duxford was one. There was no less urgent need for ground crews and
the US government agreed that up to 15,000 newly recruited air mechanics
should serve at the British flying schools. This would release experienced
British personnel to the operational squadrons on the continent. As the
first batches of American mechanics gained experience they would move to
France to join the US pilots as the latter finished their flying training.
The mechanics would then be replaced by new waves from the US.
One of the original double-bay Belfast hangars, viewed in 1998 (right).
|Duxford Airfield from the air in 1918, looking east towards
Newmarket. Note the DH9 bombers in front of the eight Bessonneau hangars
and the three double-bay and one single-bay Belfast-type permanent hangars.
(above) Duxford Airfield from the air in 1918, looking directly overhead. DH9 bombers in front of the eight Bessonneau hangars are again visible, note however that one of the double-bay hangars has yet to be completed.
(left) Royal Air Force Duxford, 1918
A = Double-bay Belfast hangar 170' x 200'