World War Two
Dunkirk, Battle of Britain, and the Blitz (1940-41)

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Wartime colour photograph of Fairey Fulmar preparing for battle
Dunkirk Evacuation, May 1940

During the British Expeditionary Force evacuation from Dunkirk in May and June 1940, land based aircraft from Lee-on-Solent and other FAA air stations played a vital part, several squadrons operating in numerous roles including bombing enemy tanks around Dunkirk and Gravelines. After the fall of France, and the threat of invasion of southern England, Lee-on-Solent became a front-line base in attacks in the Channel and against mainland Europe by Fleet Air Arm and RAF aircraft of Coastal Command.

Battle of Britain and the Blitz, 1940-1941

During the Battle of Britain, Lee-on-Solent was, along with Gosport, one of the Royal Navy's airfields used in the defence of Southampton and Portsmouth. Royal Navy fighters were permanently based there, and occasionally RAF units were detached, using the airfield in the same way as a satellite or relief landing ground.

JU87 Stuka dive bomber in action

The first major air raid of the Second World War on Daedalus occurred on 16th August 1940 when twenty JU87 Stuka dive bombers attacked the airfield. This raid caused serious bomb damage to HMS Daedalus, three hangers and forty two aircraft were destroyed, 14 people were killed and 5 wounded. Just some of the aircraft damaged in the air raid of 16 August included the DH 86 AX841 (ex G-ACZO) W9374 Percival Q.6 W9374 (ex G-AFFE) and DH 94 G-AFNY (Reference).

It was during this raid that Flight Lieutenant James Nicolson of 249 Squadron remained at the controls of his blazing Hurricane while continuing his attack on a Messerschmitt 110 before being forced to bale out with severe wounds and burns to his hands and face. For this action he was awarded the Victoria Cross, to become Fighter Command's one and only recipient.

Fighting to put out the Blitz fires

In a further night raid on 23 November 1940, sadly ten Wrens (WRNS) were killed when their billet accommodation at Mansfield House in Lee-on-Solent was hit. The Town area suffered considerable war damage during the blitzes of 1941 with more than half its houses damaged. The raid of January 10, 1941 was the most devastating on Portsmouth of the Second World War, wiping out many landmarks including the Guildhall.


Friday, 16th August 1940 

"Channel hazy, other places fair Attacks begin around lunchtime. West Malling, Tangmere, Westhampnet, and Manston fighter airfields attacked. West Malling put out of action for four days. On 16 August, the Luftwaffe made an effort of only slightly less magnitude than the day before in three great assaults over Kent and the Thames Estuary, Sussex and Hampshire and finally at four different points between Harwich and the Isle of Wight". 

"After a small initial raid had damaged West Malling airfield to put it out of action for a further four days, over 300 German aircraft in three large groups swept in just after midday. Non-fighter airfields were attacked at Farnborough, Harwell, Brize Norton, Gosport and Lee-on-Solent. Many aircraft were destroyed on the ground but only three of these were fighters. Ventnor radar station put out of action. London docks heavily bombed. Night: Bristol, Chester, Portland, Newport, Swansea, Worcester and Tavistock bombed Aircraft losses that day: RAF 22, German  45. Other aircraft attacked the naval air stations at Lee-on-Solent and Gosport. 

Saturday, 17th August 1940

At naval air station Lee-on-Solent yesterday (16 August) 2 hangars were destroyed and considerable damage done to buildings in air attack. Casualties estimated 14 killed and 5 wounded.

Diplomatic Correspondence from Great Britain to the President of America
Military Situation: July 1940 Index




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