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.
The fuselage itself utilised that of the Planet Satellite a four seat aircraft designed by the same firm just after the war which had failed to fly. It was constructed entirely of zirconium magnesium which was of course a radical departure from the materials more commonly used then.

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. 
The Firth helicopter was handed to the College of Aeronautics for study in 1955 where it languished for some years.



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 types.
Emanuel Zur was Chief Pilot for the Aviron Company and had ferried a Rapide out to Palestine in 1947. He was instructed to go to England and purchase another Rapide. Somehow he managed to succeed in this task where others had failed, ( the British authorities were well aware of the use these aircraft were being put to), and so came to a deal with the Croydon based firm of Mayfair Air Services to ferry the aircraft to Tel-Aviv. Whilst this was going on Zur had obviously been busy and through Mayfair had purchased some rather more potent aircraft.

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 Times of April 26th 1949 reports that P/O B.J.G. Carbury was one of 4 pilots who was fined for flying a Beaufighter to Palestine 'around August 1948 illegally and without a valid export licence'. He had been paid £500 for the trip.

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.
The Beaufighters, flown by 103 Squadron at Ramat David, proved useful at a time when they were needed but a lack of spares as well as combat losses soon grounded them and in fact none are believed to have flown after 1949. One of the aircraft disappeared on a mission in October 1948 and the wreckage found near the village of Ishdud 46 years later! The remains are with the Israeli Air Force Museum.

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!
Roger Syratt who was working at Joseph Lucas’ at the time remembers it being in a sorry state, laying on its side but fortunately still with the engine and a few instruments left but a lot else missing. He was particularly miffed at having been beaten to the control wheel!
A recovery crew from the Historic Aircraft Preservation Society (led by Russ Snadden later well known as the leading light in the restoration of the Me109 'Black 6') arrived at Haddenham in 1963 and took what was left of the Walrus away. It was donated to the Fleet Air Arm Museum and went to the Naval Air Station at Arbroath for restoration into its present glory.

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
Visiting Hordern-Richmond’s on business.

11/7/50   Miles Nighthawk  G-AGWT
This was a one-off a/c. Built  in 1944 it was well known in the late forties-early fifties for its racing exploits flown by Tommy Rose.

5/4/51   Beech Bonanza  OO-EXT
Belgian registered this must have been quite a surprise to people used to seeing pre-war wood and fabric Austers, Messengers and Moths.

20/4/51   Miles Messenger  G-AKKG
Owned by Shell-Mex this a/c  was flown by Vivian Varcoe to just about every airfield and air display in Britain on company business between 1948 and 1957.

6/6/51   Miles Mercury  G-AGVX
This was again a one-off aircraft based on the Miles Messenger but with retractable undercarriage.

12/6/51   Bucker Jungmeister  EC-AEX
Probably the most famous aerobatic aircraft of its time, it was owned by Prince Cantacuzino, a Romanian. He was famous for performing very low level aerobatics which usually culminated, after a seemingly normal approach and landing, with a burst of power followed by a flick-roll at 20 feet! He visited Hordern-Richmonds a couple of times over the next year.

15/6/51   D.H. 89 Rapide  G-AGUR
Part of the BEA ‘Islander’ fleet and named ‘Lord Roberts’ this a/c had flown down from Glasgow with a stretcher case for nearby Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

14/7/51   EoN Olympia  G-ALPV
Flown by Lawrence Wright from Dunstable this must have felt like old times!

7/8/51   Sikorsky S-51  G-AJOV
Operated by BEA as ‘Sir Lamorah’ this helicopter was one of a number used on an experimental city-to-city type operation which was probably way ahead of its time. On this occasion it made an emergency landing to adjust its load before continuing. This and bad weather diversions were the main reasons for this and others of its type making several diversions into Haddenham over the next few years.

15/8/51   Avro Lancastrian  G-ALPF
Flown by Air Vice Marshal Don Bennett of ‘Pathfinder’ fame this a/c was owned by his company Fairflight and used on the Berlin Airlift and afterwards on general freighting. (Presumably this is the aircraft in the photo outside Airtech’s). It was retired in November of 1951 when the airline was sold to Freddie Laker.

4/9/51   Percival Prince  P.13
Landed with one propeller feathered presumably whilst on a factory test flight.

12/10/55   Gloster Meteor NF.12  WS602
Flown by Flt.Lt. Bailey this was an emergency landing on a flight from West Malling. Haddenham's first and only jet!

13/5/62   H.P.R.7 Herald   G-APWA
This was the company demonstrator aircraft and was shortly afterwards flown for 99 hours by Prince Philip on a South American tour. This aircraft is now preserved outside the Museum of Berkshire Aviation at Woodley nr Reading.

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.


In The Beginning




Glider Training




Ferry Pilots


Closing Down


Airtech Ltd


Motorcycle Racing


Arms Smuggling etc


Upward Bound

Acknowledgements, Bibliography, Links, Files Etc


©Copyright Peter Chamberlain, 2009, 2010, 2011