HERITAGE: History in the 1930s

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September 1931, Flt Lt G H Stainforth established a new World Speed Record in the Supermarine S6B at Lee-on-Solent.
The 1930s were the heyday of Lee-on-Solent, as was illustrated by the further expansion of the aerodrome. In the 1930s, Lee on Solent continued to increase in importance as a Floatplane Training Flight, which in February 1930 the Flight was transferred to the Admiralty. A large rebuilding programme commenced in the 1930s with grand buildings reflecting the importance of Lee as the Coastal Area Headquarters, which later expanded to become RAF Coastal Command.
Heyday of the RAF at Lee-on-Solent

The decade commenced with Lee-on-Solent being talked about around the world, when on 29 September 1931, Flight Lieutenant G H Stainforth of the High Speed Flight established a new World speed record at 407.5mph in the Supermarine S6B at Lee-on-Solent. This was a record that was to stand for fourteen more turbulent years and right through into the beginning of the jet age!

Also see summary of Stainforth's biography in the Daedalus Roll of Honour

In 1931 the first grass airstrip was constructed to the west of the town, and Lee on Solent became HQ RAF Coastal Area followed by a major rebuilding programme which reflected its importance as the RAF Coastal Area Headquarters, which included the construction of new hangers, and residential property including the classic style wardroom.

This expansion period was also to see the opening of the aerodrome in 1934.  The first aircraft to land were two Queen Bee drones destined for trials with HMS Achilles.

Fairey IIIF S1307 built in 1929 and finally delivered to Lee on Solent in August 1935

In 1935, following the replacement of the Fairey IIIFs with Hawker Ospreys the shore base for disembarking catapult flights was transferred from Lee on Solent to Mount Batten, an RAF flying boat base, although two years later the home shore base for 712, 713, 714, 718, and 716 Flights Osprey, Fairey Seafox and Walruses reverted to Lee on Solent on 15 November 1937.

With the increasing threat from the German expansion on the continent, RAF Coastal Command formed from the expanded RAF Coastal Area on 14 July 1936 when ADGB was replaced by fighter, bomber, coastal and training commands. The Eagle Block was established as the Headquarters Coastal Area. This made Lee-on-Solent the nerve centre off all naval flying with operational squadrons frequently using the site. When it formed Coastal Command had a strength of three groups. Of the three fighting command, Coastal Command was the least well-equipped, the new equipment and a large proportion of the funds for aircraft went to fighter and bomber commands. Coastal Command had three groups No.18 Group based in Scotland, No.16 in South Eastern England and No.15 covering Western England and the Irish Sea. The Command had nineteen squadrons including six of flying boats.

Dunning Hanger, HMS Daedalus

Throughout the early 1930s the aircraft of No. 443 Catapult Flight used the School of Naval Co-operation at Lee on Solent as their shore base, when not operating their Fairey IIIF seaplanes from the battleship HMS Valiant and the cruiser HMS York.  The Fairey Flycatchers of the cruisers HMS Emerald, HMS Enterprise and HMS Kent also used Lee-on-Solent as a shore station.

Pre-war photograph of HMS York with her biplane aircraft embarked

The prominent and imposing Victorian villa fronting Marine Parade, Ross House, originally named Beachcroft and built in 1898 was incorporated into the base in the 1930's and used as the Captain's House.

Early Fairey Flycatcher being hoisted onto a warship late 1920s-early 1930s

Situated at the very centre of British sailing on the banks of the River Hamble lies Riverside House, the home of the Royal Air Force Yacht Club. In 1932, the C-in-C Coastal Command was based at Lee on Solent and he agreed to formalise the dinghy R.A.F.'web-foots' group at RAF Calshot and the title "Royal Air Force Yacht Club" was granted. At the inaugural meeting, the station commander Group Captain H.R. Nichol CBE was elected the first Commodore and Flight Lieutenant A.M. Carey the first secretary. (see ref.)

Spithead Review 1935 as photographed from the air near Lee on Solent

On 11 August 1938 the Fleet Requirements Unit (later numbered 771 sqdn) was formed to provide facilities for the Fleet such as exercises with locally based ships and target towing for naval gunners.

Parachute Stores, HMS Daedalus

On 24th May 1939, the establishment was returned to the Admiralty and commissioned as HMS Daedalus, becoming the headquarters of Flag Officer Air (Home) and the barracks from which all Fleet Air Arm ratings were drafted to ships and naval air squadrons. The Fleet Air Arm headquarters was centred on Wykeham Hall, the imposing building dating from 1895.

In 1936, RAF Lee on Solent hit the National Headlines because of an espionage trial which went to the Old Bailey. The man at the centre of the trial was Dr Hermann Goertz, the unfortunate self-made Nazi spy, whose slight mistake in his use of English affected the rest of his life. 

Dr Goertz arrived in Britain on 29th August 1935, along with his 19 year old secretary, Marianne Emig. They had spent a few weeks in Mildenhall, Suffolk, before arriving in Broadstairs. The Doctor and his secretary appeared to be a very happy couple, who posed as "uncle" and "niece", but they drew more attention to themselves because of their Zandapp motorbike, and their attire, which seemed "more akin to flying than cycle riding". 

It was the Zandapp motorcycle that attracted Kenneth Lewis, a young airman to Marianne Emig, as she rode by. Kenneth was at home in Broadstairs, on leave from Lee-on-Solent for a few weeks. Marianne and Dr Goertz invited him around to tea, and the conversation turned to the Royal Air Force. Kenneth said later, at the trial, that he was surprised at how much the pair knew about the RAF. Marianne seemed particularly interested in him, and asked him to write to her, but specified that he should always write on Air Force crested paper and envelopes, whenever possible. She also asked him to send her pictures of Air Force "flying machines" and aerial views of Lee-on-Solent. He obliged, and sent her published picture postcards. He noticed, that on his visits to their house, they seemed very eager to prise information out of him, and Marianne was also willing to pay for films or development of photographs of RAF aircraft. 

To dismiss any misgivings he might have had, Marianne told him "You must remember, in the next war, England and Germany will be on the same side". All appeared to be well in Broadstairs, until the six weeks tenancy for "Havelock" was nearly complete. Mrs Johnson who arrived to do some gardening one morning, noticed a full milk bottle on the doorstep and a post office notice through the letterbox. The house was obviously empty. Upon enquiry, the notice turned out to be a telegram to her from Dr Goertz. It read: 


Two days later, a more explanatory postcard arrived, posted from Ostend. "I had on account of news I received to hurry to Germany. I will be back on Saturday to deliver you your home, clean and in order. I left my bicycle combination behind the door of the little house. Please take care of it. Sincerely yours Hermann Goertz." 

When Mrs Johnson went to look behind the door of the outhouse, all she found were the overalls, which he used to clean his bicycle, some photographs, and upon further investigation, a small intricate camera. The motorcycle was nowhere to be seen! She informed the Estate Agents that the tenancy was up, and waited for Dr Goertz and Marianne Emig to return. They never arrived. Meanwhile, Mrs Johnson was worried about the disappearance of the motorbike, and reported it missing to the police. They searched, and found no trace of it. They did, however, find sketches and documents about RAF stations in Goertz's overalls, which laid the foundation for his arrest.  Suddenly, Mrs Johnson realised that his "combinations" were his overalls, not his motorbike which he had taken to Germany with him. Goertz's simple error prepared the way for the police to discover his interest in British military establishments which led him to the Old Bailey. 

When Dr Goertz returned to Britain via Harwich three weeks later, the police were waiting for him, and he was arrested on sight. Marianne Emig was not with him. He was held at Brixton Prison, and the hearing took place at Margate. The charges against him were "that he made a sketch, plan, or note of RAF Stations, calculated to be useful to the enemy, and conspired with Marianne Emig, a young German woman, to commit offences against the Official Secrets Act".

At the Hearing, Dr Goertz pleaded Not Guilty. He described how he had come to Britain between 1929-1931 in his professional capacity as a lawyer, to fight the lawsuit for Messrs Siemens against the British Government. Siemens lost the case, and he told how he had to fight for his remuneration on returning to Hamburg. The company refused to re-engage him, and also denied him his fee of £7,500, a small fortune in those days, as he had been unsuccessful in winning the suit. He was left almost penniless.  His creditors in Hamburg began to press him for £500 that he owed them, and so he came to England to write a novel to earn money. Whilst collecting material for the novel, which would be based in East Anglia (Britain) and Schleswig-Holstein (in Anglia, Germany), he stayed near Mildenhall. There he witnessed the development of several small aerodromes. It was then, he said, that he decided to write an essay entitled "The Enlargement of the British Air Force". This work he claimed, was the reason behind all his sketches and enquiries. 

The evidence against Goertz, however, implied a shadier side to his past. The fact emerged that he had applied for engagement into the German Air Ministry, and that he considered himself "Particularly suitable for employment in the Intelligence Service".

Further evidence provided proof that he had worked as an interrogator of allied prisoners in 1918. Goertz had written in his letter of application to the Ministry that "I was successful in my methods of interrogation ... There was hardly an aviator from whom I was unable to get more or less important statements ... I am even now in contact with military aviators on the Active List". A copy of the Active List (on sale to the public) had been found in the Doctor's possession upon his arrest.  The German Air Ministry however had not been impressed, and for the second time in a few weeks, he was refused employment. 

It would appear then that Goertz, haunted by the spectre of bankruptcy, took it upon himself to come to Britain to do some undercover work in order to try and influence the German Authorities. The theory is reinforced by two letters that he wrote to his wife from Broadstairs. 

"We are writing a big report -- much depends on it." and "I should like to place myself at the disposal of the SS. J should like to show that they were wrong in refusing me." 

The hearing by this time attracted national headlines as Goertz was the first spy to be tried in Britain since the First World War, and was referred to the Old Bailey in March 1936. The Jury decided that Goertz had committed offences against the Official Secrets Act, regardless of whether he had been ordered to do so, or had done it on his own initiative. He was sentenced to four years penal servitude which he served in Maidstone Prison. This, however, was by no means the end of the story. 

Goertz was released from prison in 1940 when he was 48 and incredibly was deported back to Germany. The two countries were at war, and he had been a spy! The Authorities there were obviously impressed by his determination and loyalty to the German Intelligence Service and, despite his blunders over his "combinations", he was offered undercover work. He had achieved his objective at last. 

While in prison, he formed a few links with the Irish Republican Army and, because of these, he was parachuted into Fire in September 1940 -- only a few months after his release! He had with him a Telefunken transmission set and enough money to "Provide him with lavish spending for a few years". Goertz established himself with a Nazi sympathiser in Templeogne, Co. Dublin, and continued to work from there until the Irish Police caught up with him and ten other spies in 1941. For the second time in his espionage career, Dr Hermann Goertz was detained behind bars, until his release in 1947. Finally, Dr Goertz took his own life with poison. 

He had been one of the most notorious spies of the Second World War period, who had a most unfortunate, if not tragic career.  Dr Hermann Goertz, the Lee on Solent spy, was buried in a Dublin cemetery - with a Nazi Flag over his coffin. 

          (source: extract from the account by Plt Off. Fiona Brown WRAF).


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