Between the wars (1919-1938)
The immediate post-war years saw a scaling down of the RAF, from 188
operational squadrons and 291,000 officers and men in 1918 to 12 squadrons
and 31,500 officers and men in 1920. From July 1919 to January 1920, 8
Squadron were based at Duxford flying Bristol Fighters. In April 1920,
Duxford became No.2 Flying Training School (2 FTS), and was equipped with
Avro 504s, Bristol Fighters and DH9s. There was a shortage of experienced
instructors so the standard of training was not as good as it might have
been and there were many accidents, some fatal. Nevertheless, 2 FTS improved
pilot training sufficiently for other activities to be carried out, such
as experiments in aerial photography and mapping. In 1921 flights were
made in aircraft fitted with cameras over East Anglia and the pictures
taken used for map making. At the RAF Air Pageant at Hendon that year a
competition was held to see who was best at this new form of technology.
Duxford won, beating the School of Photography, based at Farnborough, into
In 1923 the RAF decided that the task of moulding pilots and ground
crews into an efficient and modern Air Force would not continue at Duxford,
which would instead become a fighter Station, a role it was to carry out
with distinction for 38 years. On 1 April 1923, 19 and 29 Squadrons were
formed, flying Sopwith Snipes. They were joined on 1 October by 111 Squadron,
flying Gloster Grebes, with which 19 and 29 Squadrons also began to re-equip.
In June 1924, 2 FTS left for Digby in Lincolnshire and 111 Squadron exchanged
its Grebes for Armstrong Whitworth Siskin IIIs, with which the squadron
carried out trials in high-altitude air combat. This task continued for
several years, with various changes in aircraft for variation and improvement.
By 1926, 111 Squadron was using AW Siskin IIIas and in 1927 Sqn. Ldr. Keith
R Park, later to command 11 Group during the Battle of Britain, was given
||Gloster Grebes in 19 Squadron's Belfast-type hangar, 1927.
|The same hangar in 1998, now called No.4 hangar (with a Hawker Hunter
that served with 65 Squadron at Duxford from 1957-61).
Since the early 1920s there had been a link between Duxford and nearby
Cambridge University. The link began when Emile Mond, whose pilot son had
been killed in the First World War, offered to endow a Chair of Aeronautical
Engineering provided that the RAF made facilities for research in flight
available nearby. The RAF had actively encouraged this relationship with
the idea that undergraduates might wish to join the Service as officers.
With this in mind, on 1 October 1925 the Cambridge University Air Squadron
was formed and by February 1926 flying training had begun at Duxford using
Avro 504s. By 1933 these had been replaced by Avro
Tutors, and the Squadron remained at Duxford until the outbreak of
the Second World War in 1939. In 1936 Flt. Lt. (later Air Commodore Sir)
Frank Whittle was studying Engineering at the University and flew regularly
from Duxford as a member of the Air Squadron. Whittle was the first person
to think of using a jet turbine as a means of powering an aircraft and
his engineering genius enabled Britain to produce the jet-powered Gloster
Meteor in 1943 - the Allies' first operational jet fighter.
Also worthy of note was the formation at Duxford
in January 1925 of the Meteorological Flight. Initially it had only two
aircraft, but as time went on AW Siskins, Hawker Woodcocks, Bristol Bulldogs,
Westland Wallaces and Gloster Gauntlets passed through its hands. In 1933
Jeffrey Quill joined the Flight, who later was to become Supermarine's
test pilot on the Spitfire and who delivered the first
operational Spitfire into Duxford in 1938.
In March 1928 111 Squadron left for Hornchurch, but not before starting
the trend of formation flying and aerobatics (some 30 years later 111
Squadron produced The Black Arrows, a Hawker Hunter display team and forerunner
of today's Red Arrows). This mantle now passed on to 19 Squadron, which
had moved up to AW Siskin IIIs and then to AW Siskin IIIas. 29 Squadron
was also flying AW Siskin IIIs and in April 1928 moved away to North Weald.
In 1931, 19 Squadron re-equipped with Bristol Bulldog IIas which trailed
smoke while engaged in formation aerobatics. At the beginning of 1935,
19 Squadron was chosen as the first squadron to fly the RAF's fastest new
fighter, the 230 mph Gloster Gauntlet, and the display team, led by Wg.
Cdr. Harry Broadhurst, became famous for flying three-aircraft formations
with wings tied. By now, squadron colours were carried, and 19 Squadron's
blue and white chequerboard marking certainly caught the eye.
19 Squadron Bristol Bulldog, with blue and white chequerboard
||19 Squadron Gloster Gauntlets in 1935
Wg. Cdr. Harry Broadhurst (centre) and 19 Squadron's
1936 display team.
Another well-known aerobatic pilot of the time was Fg. Off. Douglas
Bader, who had been making a name for himself with daring displays. In
December 1931, however, his Bristol Bulldog aircraft crashed on a routine
flight and Bader lost both his legs. Undeterred, Bader recovered from his
injuries and, with the help of artificial legs, returned to 19 Squadron
at the end of October 1932. On arrival at Duxford, Bader was informed that
he would be in charge of the Motor Transport section. Determined to fly
again, however, he pestered the RAF into letting him try and after Christmas
that year he was finally given the chance of an air test. Once airborne,
he took over the controls of the aircraft and after nearly an hour he landed
it. The instructor, Plt. Off. Cox was impressed, but others were not convinced.
A repeat performance was arranged and Cox kept his hands out of the cockpit
so that watchers could verify that it was indeed Bader flying the aircraft.
The sceptics were convinced but those at a higher level were not, and in
April 1933 a review board decided to retire Bader on the grounds of ill
health. But events would conspire to see Bader return to Duxford 7 years
1935 was King George V's Silver Jubilee year
and the King took the salute at Duxford on Saturday 6 July as 20 squadrons
of the RAF flew past in review order. The guests included the Prince of
Wales (later King Edward VIII), the Duke of York (later King George VI),
and Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Trenchard. More than 100,000 members
of the public came to see the spectacle, which comprised a static display
as well as the flypast. In all, 182 aircraft took part in the flypast,
and in squadron formation they stretched for 9 miles across the Cambridgeshire
|Handley Page Heyford bombers fly over Duxford as part
of King George V's Silver Jubilee Review of the Royal Air Force, 6 July
||King George V's Silver Jubilee Review of the Royal Air
Force, 6 July 1935. Avro Tutors of the Cambridge University Air Squadron
are lined up on the grass and a Handley Page Heyford rests besides the
Many of the 1935 Silver Jubilee Review guests had
lunch in what is now Duxford's No.5 Hangar (above right). Centre
piece in 1935 was the prototype Gloster Gladiator.
In July 1936, 66 Squadron was formed at Duxford, equipped with Gloster
Gauntlets, and the new squadron joined 19 Squadron in perfecting combat
tactics with these then modern aircraft. Although Duxford's routine was
re-established, major changes were soon to take place because the development
of air warfare began to take on a serious meaning. Problems in Germany
spurred the RAF into making decisions about its future role in air defence,
and Duxford was transferred from 11 Group to the control of 12 Group, the
Group charged with the defence of the whole of the Midlands area.
Thursday 4 August 1938 saw an event which
ensured Duxford a place in the history books. Technology was moving on
all fronts, and the development of aircraft had taken a mighty leap forward
when R. J. Mitchell designed the Spitfire. This was one of the first monoplane
fighters, and on that afternoon Supermarine's test pilot Jeffrey Quill
flew Spitfire K9789 into Duxford for delivery to 19 Squadron, an event
that ensured the squadron's place in aviation history as the first to equip
with the new aircraft.
No.19 Squadron was formed in 1915 as a training unit,
training crews on the RE7 two-seater for service in France. In June 1916
the squadron moved to France with the BE12 single seat aircraft. It took
part in the Battle of the Somme where the aircraft proved virtually useless
as a fighter and the squadron went over to bombing operations. In 1917,
equipped with the Spad S7, the squadron flew offensive patrols during the
Battles of Arras, Messines Ridge and Third Ypres. During that year, it
claimed around 150 enemy aircraft brought down. In 1918 the squadron became
the first unit to fly the Sopwith Dolphin (as commemorated in the unit's
crest, right) and as the tide of war turned offensive actions included
escort of DH9 bombers as well as routine patrol. By the end of the war,
the squadron had accounted for 285 enemy aircraft and awards for bravery
made to officers included ten Military Crosses, six Distinguished Flying
Crosses and three Belgian Croix de Guerre. The squadron was disbanded in
in 1919 but reformed in 1923 at Duxford as a training unit. From 1924 it
became a fighter squadron and was to be linked with Duxford until 1941.
'Possunt Quia Posse Videntur' (They Can Because
They Think They Can)
19 Squadron was not planned to be the first RAF unit to equip with
Spitfires. At the beginning of 1938 that privilege had been reserved for
41 Squadron based at Catterick in Yorkshire - then flying the RAF's fastest
biplane fighter, the Hawker Fury Mk II. But several landing accidents,
one fatal, with the Hawker Hurricane, the RAF's other new monoplane fighter,
which had entered squadron service in January, led to concern that Catterick
was too small for the faster-landing Spitfire. Manufacturing delays in
the production of the Spitfire allowed the matter to be reviewed and on
21 June 1938 an Air Ministry committee decided that 19 Squadron should
have the first Spitfire instead. Several reasons underlay this decision.
The airfield was already being enlarged and Sqn. Ldr. Iliffe Cozens, 19
Squadron's CO, was a qualified engineer with a degree in aeronautical engineering.
It was also in Duxford's favour that it would be easily accessible from
London for the various VIPs and experts who would want to monitor the Spitfire's
entry into operational service. The first two Spitfires off the production
line at Eastleigh, Southampton, (K9787 and K9788) were delivered for trials
to the Martlesham Heath Experimental Establishment in mid-July 1938. On
28 July, 19 Squadron's two flight commanders, John Banham and John Gordon,
flew there to get their first experience on the type. On 4 August the third
production Spitfire, K9789, already overdue for delivery to Duxford, was
ready for its final factory test. Jeffrey Quill decided that if all was
well to carry on and fly the aircraft straight to Duxford. There were no
snags and he was over Duxford within 40 minutes. The Duxford and 19 Squadron
Operational Record Books have identical entries: "First Spitfire for
intensive flying on re-equipment."
Intensive flying or not, K9789 did not take to the air again until the
following week. It was first stripped for examination by the station engineers.
On 11 August 1938 Sqn. Ldr. Cozens flew it for the first time and the next
day the Station Commander, Wg. Cdr. Lester, tried his hand. Also on 12
August a second Spitfire, K9790, arrived for intensive flying with 66 Squadron.
The two squadrons were required to reach 400 hours on the aircraft as soon
as possible and by 22 September K9789 had reached 240 hours in 42 days,
an average of around 5.5 hours a day. On 26 September, European problems
began to surface in the form of the Munich crisis and, in common with most
RAF Stations, Duxford was placed on 2 hours alert. Spitfire testing and
re-equipment was not complete and it was with the now outdated Gloster
Gauntlet that 19 and 66 Squadrons stood by.
During October, Spitfire delivery stepped up and there were 12 on 19
Squadron's strength by the end of the month. Not until the end of October
did 66 Squadron begin to re-equip over and above their single trials aircraft.
As late as 26 October they were still receiving replacement Gauntlets but
by the end of the year both Duxford's squadrons were up to strength and
operational on Spitfires.
||K9795, the ninth production Spitfire, being flown by
the CO of 19 Squadron Sqn. Ldr. Iliffe Cozens in 1938. Note the pre-war
Six 19 Squadron Spitfire Mk Is, pictured in October 1938.
||The first public outing for the RAF's new fighter - the opening of
Marshall's new aerodrome on Newmarket Road in Cambridge, 8 October 1938.
*in association with Duxford Aviation Society and Cambridgeshire County
Council. The contents of this UNOFFICIAL website does not in any way reflect
the opinions or ideas of any owner or operator present or past involved
with the location popularly known as Duxford Airfield.