Arms Smuggling etc
During the 1950’s and 60’s Haddenham was a very busy airfield full of comings and goings by all sorts of interesting aircraft. It was also home to one or two and this chapter attempts to note a few of these in the hope of conveying what this airfield was like at the time. Research has been difficult and a lot relies on the arrival and departure logs for the period 1950 - 1990 which were loaned to me by Roger Syratt.
Whilst Airtech were at the height of their business a small
company set-up shop in a corner of one of the hangars. Firth Helicopters
was a small firm building a rather unique helicopter designed by the
engineering firm of Heenan, Winn and Steele. It had a twin-rotor system
set on small stub wings either side of the fuselage powered by two Gypsy
Major engines within the fuselage.
As can be seen from these rather poor photos the Firth
helicopter was radical in just about all of it's features. Initial tests
were completed tethered to the ground and as far as we can tell the
aircraft never actually 'flew'. Tests came to an abrupt end on the failure
of parts of the drive system.
During 1948 the Jewish military arm the Hagana were using several light
aircraft such as Austers for bombing and other duties in their fight for
independence. Although these small aircraft were doing invaluable work it
was obvious that bigger aircraft were needed for transport and combat so
several agents were sent around to Europe to procure more appropriate
Beaufighter at St.Athan being readied for the flight to Haddenham for 'filming'.
The Bristol Beaufighter had earned an excellent reputation during World
War II especially in anti-shipping strikes and was heavily armed, however
by now most were being retired. Zur came up with the simple idea of
producing a film about the exploits of the Beaufighter and its New Zealand
crews and using this as a cover to fly the aircraft out of the country.
Six Beaufighters arrived at Haddenham in early May of 1948 and for a short
time were to be seen taxying around the airfield followed by a cars with
cameramen in. When the time came for the aircraft to leave for Israel, as
it was soon to become, flight plans for a trip to Scotland for ‘better
scenery’ were filed. Before anybody could do anything about it the
aircraft were on their way in the other direction! However all this was
not before a tragic accident had occurred on the 28th May when one of the
Beaufighters (G-AJME), spun in after an engine failure in the circuit, the
pilot, Julian MacNeile Verschoyle-Campbell, being killed instantly. This
undoubtedly hurried their departure.
The Beaufighters had left Haddenham unarmed as befitting their film
role, and so this was Zur’s next task. The hardest part of this was not
the procurement but the transportation of the guns and ammunition to
Israel. Following an abortive attempt to take them by sea, John Harvey a
British-born Israeli chartered a friends Halifax, which co-incidentally
had once belonged to British American Air Services. G-AJPJ’s flight from
White Waltham went smoothly until it tried to land at Ekron air base where
unfortunately the landing lights had failed. Diverting to Tel Aviv and
after a double engine failure the Halifax crashed off the end of the short
runway and overturned. Both pilot and cargo survived although the aircraft
itself was a complete write-off.
At least one other connection between Haddenham and Israel also came about. On 16th July 1948 a Mosquito (G-AIRU) left Abingdon ostensibly on a short hop to Haddenham for a new owner but never arrived. It too ended up in Israel, this time via Nice not Corsica and Yugoslavia which was the route the Beaufighters had taken.
If you visit the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton have a good look at
the Vickers-Supermarine Walrus. This aircraft believe it or not was found
on the scrap heap in a corner of Haddenham airfield in 1963 having been
abandoned there sometime around 1949. You couldn’t get much further from
the sea than Haddenham if you tried! A former Irish Air Corps machine it
had been bought by a Wing Commander Kellett and registered in 1946 as
G-AIZG then flown from Dublin to Biggin Hill in March 1947 where it
flew on several occasions taking people down to the coast for a little
fishing and sunbathing!
The Walrus as it is now at the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton.
On the dump next to Airtech in the eastern corner of the airfield.
Many interesting aircraft used Haddenham during the fifties and sixties. The following are extracts from the arrival and departure logs with my comments where I’ve deemed them necessary. The dates given may not be the only time the aircraft visited Haddenham just the more noteworthy. If anybody has the logs for the period 1946-1950 I would be very interested !
19/6/50 Me.108 SE-PBZ
11/7/50 Miles Nighthawk G-AGWT
5/4/51 Beech Bonanza OO-EXT
20/4/51 Miles Messenger G-AKKG
6/6/51 Miles Mercury G-AGVX
12/6/51 Bucker Jungmeister EC-AEX
15/6/51 D.H. 89 Rapide G-AGUR
14/7/51 EoN Olympia G-ALPV
7/8/51 Sikorsky S-51 G-AJOV
15/8/51 Avro Lancastrian G-ALPF
4/9/51 Percival Prince P.13
12/10/55 Gloster Meteor NF.12 WS602
13/5/62 H.P.R.7 Herald G-APWA
If you would like to view the complete Visitors Log for the period June 1950 to June 1991 and have Microsoft Excel, then click here Haddenham Visitors.XLS.
©Copyright Peter Chamberlain, 2009, 2010, 2011