Bradwell Bay Airfield

 

In 1930 a small airfield with a single grass runway was established to service aircraft using targets on the offshore sandbanks for firing practice.

With the onset of the war in 1939 the airstrip was adopted by the RAF as a site for damaged aircraft to land as it would be one of the first landing places for planes returning from raids on the continent. During this period command for the site was undertaken by RAF North Weald with only a few  people based at Bradwell.

In February 1941 Bradwell Bay was enlarged into a full airfield with two concrete runways, 12 blister hangers , 18 fighter pens and 9 frying pan dispersal points and many nissen huts and was used as a fighter base for the remainder of the war.

photo courtesy of chrsiter landberg

At one stage over 2,000 service personnel were stationed at Bradwell

The airfield was in a strategically important defensive position on the coastline midway between the Thames and the port of Harwich and so was allocated fighter aircraft under the control of the Hornchurch Wing

The airfield was used on many occasions by aircraft of all sizes making emergency landings after forays into occupied Europe.

The first squadron to use the airfield was 418 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force using twin engine Boston aircraft designed to attack German night fighters

Mosquito in flight

 

Bradwell was one of the first stations to start using the Mosquito aircraft which were to prove one of the mainstays of the RAF during the war.

The Mosquitos were originally used to drop leaflets on occupied Europe although their role quickly changed to more direct warfare.

On D day Spitfires of 124 Squadron , Mosquito's of 219 Squadron and Warwick's of 278 Squadron were all involved in attack and defensive duties.

During the war Bradwell was home to 25 different squadrons flying Boston's , Mosquito's, Beaufighters, Typhoons, Tempests, Hurricanes, Spitfires, Mustang, Warwick and Walrus aircraft.
The Bradwell pubs echoed to the voices of Canadians, Australians and Czechs who all came to know this quiet corner of Essex.

1942 -A reconnaissance unit of the RAF Regiment patrols round the perimeter track at Bradwell Bay, Essex.

A Morris Light Reconaissance Car bearing the officer in charge, is followed by four airmen in a jeep as they pass a Douglas Havoc in a sandbagged revetment.

 

Bradwell was one of only 15 airfields to be fitted with fog dispersal equipment which entailed burning large quantities of petrol which raised the local air temperature and dispersed the fog.

501 Squadron at Bradwell Bay October 1944 with a Tempest Mk V

photo courtesy of chrsiter landberg

By 1946 Bradwell was closed as a military airfield although it was used by the Americans as a base for a fast range launch at Bradwell waterside for few years.

Plans to turn Bradwell into a civil airport were dropped due to the poor communications to the area from London.

What can be seen of the old airfield?

The airfield covered an extensive area that is now used as farmland with the northern perimeter part of the nuclear power station complex.

 

 

 

When entering  the site of Bradwell Airfield the first thing that a visitor sees is a monument to those who lost their lives in WW2 when flying from the airfield. This can be accessed from the main power station road.

The remainder of the complex is private property with access via private roads.  

The area is popular with walkers and the owners seem to tolerate visitors as long as they respect the area.

The main runway is still in place although it is blocked by gates from vehicular access.

The control tower has been converted into a house and still stands on the main access road

 

Old hangers are dotted around the site with most of them in use by the farmer for storage.


Further research

Fortunately there are many records of life at Bradwell Bay .

For those people able to visit Burnham on Crouch  Museum has an extensive archive of material available only by prior agreement.

Graham Smith has written an excellent book called Essex Airfields in the Second World War ( ISBN 1-85306-405-X) which provide full details of Bradwell Bay.

Stephen Nunn has written a book called  Maldon, the Dengie and battles in the skies (ISBN 0 9511948 6 0) which is a day to day account of  WW2 air action over this area.

For those not able to travel some links below are provided although I would like to especially recommend Christer Landberg's great site on Tempests which includes details of Bradwell Bay which was home to Tempests for most of World War 2.

BBC WW2 Stories - WRAF at Bradwell Bay
Christer Landberg's site on Tempests
Controls tower site with details and photos of Bradwell Bay
RAF - D Day pages - Lists aircraft that took part in D day
RAF reunion site - Bradwell Bay page
Wartime memories of Bradwell Bay

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