RAF Chailey

updated 16/02/2013

Arthur Rayner
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Spit & Polish          Links

The three Squadrons of Polish Spitfires based at RAF Chailey were 302, 308 and 317 Squadrons.

For the complete history of RAF Chailey you need a copy of the book Spit & Polish by Richard Whittle price £14.99

This superb 96 page book in colour has masses of war time photos, plus colour profiles of the aircraft, and contemporary colour photos of Spitfires on the current airshow circuit.
The book is available directly from the publisher, Spitfire Art, art@spitfireart.com .You may purchase this directly from me, paying by cash, cheque or by paypal.



Spit & Polish has the following chapters:

Polish Battle of Britain Pilots: Interestingly, 19 of the Chailey pilots had fought in the Battle of Britain.
Prelude: Basic history of the establishment of the actual airfield.
Idiots Delight 11: A B26 Marauder landed 27/8/43.
Tujunga: A B-17 landed 25/2/44
What is an advanced landing ground?:
The Polish Air Force at Chailey:
A forty page diary of action.
In Defence of the Airfield:
Domestic Life at Chailey:
The Standard of the Polish Air Force:
Brig Gen A.K. Gabszewicz D.S.O.,D.F.C., V.M.: RAF Chailey's Commanding Officer.
A Narrow Escape: A Pilot's personal story.
And another.....:  Another Pilot's personal story.
I married a Polish fighter pilot:
A Halifax Mk111 Operation:
A Canadian Halifax bomber crashed at Chailey 25/6/44.
The Devil's Brat:
A B-17 crashed at Chailey 3/8/44.
After the departure:

Various appendices giving Polish pronunciation, lists of airfield construction squadrons, RAF Regiment Units, and lists of pilots in all squadrons.
168 Black & White photos, 39 colour photos, 11 colour aircraft profiles, various maps.

This picture depicting a Spitfire MkVC by Trevor Lay is available in the following formats:
Printed on an A4 sheet £10
Printed full size on canvas 24" x 30" £100
Original painting, gouache on canvas, 24" x 30" £1500

The text below is a précis of Spit & Polish 

RAF Chailey

An abridged history by Richard Whittle

In 1941, following the Battle of Britain, plans were formulated for the attack on Europe, to be known as Operation Hadrian, landing on the Pas de Calais. A need was perceived for at least six more airfields in the Sussex and Kent area. However the Dieppe disaster in 1942 ensured that Operation Hadrian was postponed indefinitely and this gave more time for the build-up of the RAF's resources. A decision was taken to provide a network of rudimentary landing grounds in Southern England, most of which would conform to a standard specification of two metal runways, 1400 and 1600 yards long respectively, with a width of fifty yards and a perimeter track as close as possible in order to keep the area required to a minimum. There were to be two blister hangars initially with provision for a further two and accommodation would be under canvas and in local requisitioned properties. Adequate dispersal was to be provided based on a standard scale of fifty aircraft using each site, and small arms, ammunitions and pyrotechnics would be stored in open dumps, as would bombs, with the proviso that access tracks must be provided for the latter. These landing grounds would be administered by 11 Group, Fighter Command. Most of the surveyed sites were on low quality farming land but the Ministry of Agriculture put up a fight and succeeded in stopping proposals at Shortgate, Hurstpierpoint (for which Coolham was substituted), Henfield, Ripe and Halland (letter to Sussex County Council from the Air Ministry dated 15th September 1942).

Named after the Parish in which it is situated, Chailey Advanced Landing Ground was one of 82 possible sites surveyed in 1942, from which 29 were selected for approval. Of these, two were rejected and two held in reserve. In 1944 it was to become one of the most important of all, playing host to the controlling Sector for nine Squadrons in three Wings, based at Chailey, Coolham and Selsey. These three Wings were to provide low cover to the invading forces establishing the Normandy Beach-heads.

A preliminary ‘stripping’ survey was conducted on farmland forming part of the Hooke Estate, near Plumpton Green, early in 1942 and the site was accepted at a Meeting at the Air Ministry on 30th June subject to a lengthening of the runways, initially set at 1200 and 1100 yards respectively. A further Site Meeting was held on 8th October at which the positions for bulk fuel storage, ammunition stores, defence posts, etc. were agreed upon, as well as the restripping to provide runway lengths of 1500 and 1200 yards. The plans for Bognor, Chailey, Coolham, Funtington, Horne and Swingfield were sent to Fighter Command by Postagram on 17th October 1942 for approval and the addition of dispersals. Despite a reminder being sent on 28th December the proposed dispersal arrangements were not returned until 31st January 1943, and the Air Ministry promptly informed Fighter Command that the proposals were approved and that the Appropriate Works Department were being ordered to put the work in hand.

Meanwhile preparation work on site had been commenced by a Royal Engineers Airfield Construction Unit on 28th October 1942. It was anticipated that clearance and levelling would be completed by 1st June the following year. HT cables were buried, massive pillar oak trees felled. Worst of all, the Plough Inn and a pair of cottages on South Road also had to go as they fell within the funnel area of the main runway. A first world war army hut, which stood near the cottages, was dismantled carefully and re-erected on a piece of land at Plumpton Fiveways donated for the purpose by a local farmer named Norwood. It was not until 1956 that this was replaced with a permanent purpose-built structure. This was not the only casualty however as Great Homewood Farm, in the funnel of the Southern approach, was also demolished and the farmer, James Tucker, was moved with his family into a purpose-built Uniseco prefabricated bungalow, where they lived until 1947, when they moved again into a new farmhouse built for them by the RAF.

It has been previously recorded that the airfield was operational by Summer 1943 and that it was let out for grazing in Autumn/Winter while four blister hangars and three large hardcore dispersals were constructed, it then being reopened in April 1944. The official records paint a different picture.

Two Flights of No 5004 Airfield Construction Squadron, approximately 150 men, were engaged in levelling and preparing the ground, clearing obstructions and laying the runways from the beginning of July to the end of September 1943, and in November the work was extended to erecting the four hangars, constructing roads and paths and putting the finishing touches to the bungalow, presumably for Mr Tucker. The report for the month ended 30th November records the status as "Anticipated Completion:- OPERATIONAL: ‘Immediate’ - FINAL: ‘Subject to delivery of materials’. There were considerable problems with deficient materials for the hangars and waterlogged ground, and the estimated final completion date slipped a month at a time from 30/1/44 at the end of December until 30th April when it was reported:- "Flights fully engaged on day to day maintenance and other new authorised additional work". Earlier a new revision of the airfield plan dated 2/44 had been issued to the Works Flights, showing additional M.T. tracks, perimeter tracks and dispersals etc.

The identity of the first aircraft to land at Chailey has yet to be determined. However it was almost certainly one of two. Mr Michael Booth, a member of the Airfield Construction Squadron at the time, recalls a Squadron Leader from Shoreham with an Airspeed Oxford coming in one day in order to take advantage of the proximity of the new airfield to his home near Haywards Heath. Mr Booth and his Senior Officer, Mr E.R Green, were taken up in order to see the fruits of their labours from the air for the first time. The other contender for the title is rather more famous.

On 27th August 1943, a Martin B26 Marauder from the 449th BS, 322nd BG of the USAAF 8th Air Force, named "Idiot’s Delight II", was badly shot up by FW 190s and returned to England with no flying controls, virtually no rudder and a massive hole in the starboard wing. Furthermore the cockpit was filled with smoke and the Co-pilot, 2nd Lt Horace C Rodgers was injured. The pilot, F/O Frank Remmele, spotted Chailey’s North-South runway and successfully landed the stricken aircraft using only throttle control. The Marauder, 4131779, survived and was later transferred to the 351st BS, and Horace Rodgers lived to fly 29 missions in an even more famous Marauder called "Flakbait". The full story of this mission can be found in "The Annihilators – The History of the 322nd Bombardment Group". Also there is a photograph of 2nd Lt Ross H Buk standing by the hole in the rudder in "The Mighty Eighth" by R Freeman.

New Year’s Eve saw the 367th Fighter Squadron based at Leiston in Suffolk making their fifth Combat Mission in their P47 Thunderbolts, providing escort for B17s going to Paris. They had been briefed to land at Manston for refuelling before returning to base, but the weather closed in and only nine of them found Manston. The rest either crashed or landed safely at various points in the Home Counties. One such was Captain Alfred (Earl) W Perry who found his way to Chailey and landed safely, but was so anxious that he held his thumb on the gun button all the way down the runway, having forgotten to set the safety catch!

One more notable visitor arrived before the airfield was commissioned, this being B17G 42-97468 ‘Tujunga’ of the 457th BG from Glatton, with 2nd Lt Robert D Lane and his crew who dropped in on 25th February 1944 for field repairs, departing for home on 13th March. ‘Tujunga’ and her crew were the ‘Memphis Belle’ of the 457th, being the first to complete their tour of twenty-five missions

At this stage it is necessary to explain briefly the organisation of the Fighter Squadrons of the 2nd TAF. These units were grouped for mobility purposes in sections of three designated ‘Airfields’, which in turn were grouped also in sections of three called ‘Wings’. Airfield HQs and Wing HQs were both self-contained fully mobile operational units. Within these Squadrons were five Polish Squadrons which formed Nos 1 and 2 Wings of the Polish Air Force in Great Britain, and these two Polish Wings were incorporated into the RAF numbering system as follows:- No 1 PF Wing, consisting of 302 (Poznan), 308 (Krakow) and 317 (Wilno) Squadrons, became 131 Airfield, and No 2 PF Wing, consisting of 306 (Torun) and 315 (Deblin) Squadrons was, with the addition of 129 ‘Mysaw’ Squadron, designated 133 Airfield. 135 Airfield was formed with 222 ‘Natal’ Squadron, 349 ‘Belgian’ and 485 ‘New Zealand’ Squadrons. These three Airfields constituted No 18 Fighter Wing, which was formed at Northolt on 18th October 1943 under the command of W/C Tadeusz Rolski, who was succeeded on 25th February 1944 by (acting) Group Captain Aleksander K Gabszewicz

On the 25th/26th April 1944 No 131 Airfield HQ, together with 18 Wing HQ, moved from ALG Deanland, near Golden Cross, to ALG Chailey and the following day its Spitfire IXs carried out the first landings there. As explained above, the squadrons forming 131 Airfield were 302, 308 and 317. Their Squadron Leaders were respectively S/L Waclaw Krol, S/L Witold Retinger and S/L Wlodzimierz Miksa. Their callsigns were WX, ZF and JH. . The Wing Commander was Julian Kowalski. No 2882 Anti- Aircraft Squadron, commanded by Squadron Leader H. Mills, took up the defence of the Airfield on 27th April.

The farmhouse at Bower Farm became No 131 Airfield Headquarters (see below) and Westlands Cottage in Bower (now Beresford) Lane was the Operations Room and Headquarters for No 18 Wing. The house now known as "Old Chimneys", originally the stables for Plumpton Farm, may have been the RAF Regiment headquarters. The current owner found the words ‘Sergeants' Mess’ still chalked on the door when he bought the property in 1946 (The Mid-Sussex Times, 2 June 1994).

The squadrons soon settled down in their new home and the local folk accepted and welcomed the polite young men. The main work of the aircraft was escorting and taking part in raids and operations known as "Ramrods", but they also carried out Air Sea Rescue patrols. It was quite normal for between 20 and 30 Spitfires to take off two or three times each day. However there was a social side. On 3rd May Polish National Day was celebrated with a Church Service and later a party in camp which was attended by ATS and Land Army girls. On 5th May a football match took place between the National Fire Service and 131 Airfield. The following day an ENSA show "Happy Tidings" was staged on camp. On 9th May the film "Here Comes Courage" was shown in a hangar. No 131 Airfield was officially renamed No 131 Wing Headquarters on 12th May 1944 and 18 Wing consequently became 18 Sector. On the 17th another football match took place, this time between Ardingly and 131 Wing HQ. On the 18th there was another party and dance and next day an ENSA show called "Sing and Swing" was held in camp. A cinema show was given in the NAAFI on 23rd May but the same day an order was issued banning private telephone calls. Meanwhile things were hotting up. The squadrons’ aircraft were engaged almost daily, as weather permitted, on Ramrod exercises bombing trains and other selected targets. The majority were bombers with about 25% fitted out as fighters. Between 1st and 15th May 60 Spitfires F IX were exchanged for Spitfires LF IX. One of the ferry pilots was the celebrated Polish lady A.T.A pilot – Anna Leska.

On 25th May the Station was visited by the Polish Commander in Chief, General Sosnkowski, who spent the whole day there. The following day Air Marshal Sir Arthur ‘Mary’ Coningham, the A.M Commanding 2nd TAF, paid a visit and addressed all personnel., and on the 28th it was the turn of Air Vice Marshal Saunders to visit the airfield. On 31st a distinguished visitor arrived in the form of Air Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory himself, who inspected the base between 17.30 and 19.00hrs and gave an address to aircrews.

On 1st June operational flying was prevented by weather conditions but Ramrod Ops continued on the 2nd and 3rd, at the end of which all aircraft were painted with the familiar black and white invasion stripes, "The work occupying personnel of the technical section until the early hours of the morning. All personnel were confined to camp". Weather again intervened on the 4th but next day 302, 308 and 317 squadrons were engaged from 14.10hrs onwards in uneventful shipping protection patrols South and Southeast of the Isle of Wight.

The Ops Record Book for 6th June reads as follows:-

"D. DAY - following a night during which the sound of Air Movement over the ALG had been incessant. Taking off at 05.25, 10.20, 14.30 and 18.50 the aircraft of the Airfield Squadrons provided low cover for the Assault Forces in the Western area. The pilots reported intensive, but apparently satisfactory activity. The Airfield Commander, W/C Zbigniew Czaykowski, at 07.00 conveyed the news of the landing in France to all Airfield personnel, pointing out that the task ahead would probably prove somewhat arduous, and wishing both air and ground crews all possible good fortune. Anticipation of the movement to the Continent became apparent in all personnel, and, in the meantime, action was taken to contend with any counter measures which may be launched by the enemy on airfields in this country. The local instructions confining all personnel to camp was relaxed".

From now on the squadrons continued to fly many sorties, suffering few losses. Every Department on the Airfield was strained to the fullest capacity in order to maintain the required standard of operational efficiency. All the Poles were praying for the day when they could go home again and it was considered a big step forward when pilots of 302 Squadron were the first to land at Airstrips in France, on 11th and 13th June. The subject of pilotless aircraft was becoming a universal topic and on 14th June at 18.00 hours a V.1 (Doodlebug) flew low over Chailey with a Typhoon in hot pursuit. The fighter fired two bursts and the flying bomb crashed and exploded in fields some two miles beyond the airfield. On the 16th a pilot of 302 squadron sighted another but was unable to contend with its speed! F/L Roman Hrycak, then in‘B’ Flight, 317 Squadron, recalls being on finals to land one day when a V1 was seen ahead of them which suddenly turned left and hit the ground just short of the Westerly runway, exploding and destroying some trees. No other damage was done and the Squadron landed uneventfully. Notwithstanding this, it is probable that at least one of these p.a.c., or ‘divers’ as they were officially known, was shot down by a Chailey Spitfire, although no claims were submitted.

More missions followed, providing escorts for light and heavy bombers such as Halifaxes and Lancasters, as well as Shipping, Air Sea Rescue and Anti-Diver patrols. On two occasions escort cover was provided for Dakota transports flying to the ALG known as B.2 in Normandy. Finally on the 27th and 28th of June the Wing HQ moved from Chailey to Appledram, near Chichester and the Airfield’s busy life abruptly ceased. A somewhat sad epitaph can be found in 308’s Record Book entry for 28.6.44 vis:- "In very poor weather and raining Squadron took off for A.L.G. Appledrum (sic), to operate from this new aerodrome".

During its short operational life Chailey was a remarkably lucky Station. Only two Polish pilots lost their lives and two others incredibly survived being badly shot up, although one of these was never to see combat again.

The first fatality occurred on 18th May when F/O Miki Adamek’s Spitfire was hit by flak as he was returning across the channel. He struggled to maintain height until ordered by his C.O., S/L Wlodzimierz Miksa, to bale out. As luck would have it, his ’shute snagged on the tail of his aircraft and he was dragged down into the sea off Seaford Head, where his lifeless body was recovered by the Newhaven lifeboat.

The 21st May proved to be a black day for 308 Squadron. Three Flights under the command of S/L Witek Retinger, led by himself, F/L Josef Jeka and F/l Jan Kurowski flew to Abbeville on a strafing misssion. Over the target they encountered intense flak and Jeka was forced to make an emergency landing in a field. Kurowski was not so lucky. He was hit and badly wounded and, in attempting to make a forced landing, he hit the ground too hard and his Spitfire exploded on impact, killing him instantly. Some reports suggest that the aircraft exploded in mid air but this was not the case. F/O Stanislaw Czarnecki had a remarkable escape when he brought his Spitfire, ML116, back to base and landed safely with his rear fuselage almost severed by a shell passing through just behind the roundels.

Two pilots apparently had charmed lives. F/L Tadeusz Szumowski, 302 Squadron, was taking off in his brand new Spitfire MK962, WX – E, with a full bomb load on 7th May when a tyre burst and the aircraft flipped over onto its back, trapping the unfortunate pilot underneath, hanging by his straps. However he escaped with minor injuries.and was flying again three weeks later.

Warrant Officer Eustachy Lucyszyn, also 302 Squadron, took off in Spifire ML257, WX – N, with his comrades on 19th June at 20 05hrs (double Summertime was then in use) for a ‘Neptune’ beach patrol, not realising that this would be his last flight with the Squadron. About 45 minutes later his aircraft was hit and he remembers nothing until he woke up early next morning to find himself in a field with his legs badly mangled and only a wingtip of his Spitfire for company. He could not get on his feet so he shuffled across to the nearest fence and under the barbed wire. Stopping to get his breath he found himself staring up at a notice:- "ACHTUNG — MEINEN!" He was subsequently rescued by French villagers and handed over to the American Field Hospital on Omaha Beach from where he was conveyed on a Landing Craft back to Blighty. It was almost two years before he could walk again.

Contrary to the written opinion of historians there is evidence that Spitfires were not the only type of aircraft to operate from Chailey. Station Log, 30th May 1944:-

"11 Mustangs from 315 Squadron, 133 Wing, operating from this Wing, took off at 09.10 as Target and Withdrawal cover to "Ramrod" 947, aircraft landed at 13.50. 6 Squadrons of Typhoons, from Honningly [sic] and Hornchurch landed on this airfield before operation with rocket firing." On 11th June a P47 from the 61st Fighter Squadron at Boxted, landed at Chailey, piloted by Zbigniew Janicki, who had flown in to see his old friends such as Gabszewicz, who had served in the same Squadron earlier in the year. Tragically, two days later, Janicki was killed in action.

Chailey was to save more lives. On 25th June Halifax III HX275 ‘S for Sugar’ of 433 R.C.A.F. Squadron from Skipton-on-Swale was returning from a successful raid. Seven minutes after bombing, at 09 08 hrs, 12000ft, they were hit by heavy flak and the Air Bomber, F/O Dave Harris, was seriously wounded. They called "Darky" about seven times but no response was received. The Flight Engineer, Sgt F.D Smith, administered morphine to his wounded colleague, and the Captain, F/O Tom Prescott, made a successful emergency landing at Chailey, where Harris was treated by a Polish Doctor before being conveyed to a local Hospital. Three days later they left to return to their Yorkshire base, without the slightest notion that the Polish camps were being struck at the same time. On 1st July the remaining staff of No.18 Sector moved their Ops Room to Ford Aerodrome and then a few days later to ALG Funtington, near Chichester, where the Sector, in common with a change of policy, was disbanded. Group Captain Gabszewicz was reassigned to the Command of 131 Wing, where he was given the substantive rank of Wing Commander on 1st September 1944.

Following the departure of 131 Wing and personnel, general maintenance of the aerodrome was continued until 21st August 1944, albeit with only one Flight comprising 9 NCO's and 56 men, when this too was withdrawn.

The biggest impression however was made by 42-102617, SU – T, a B17G named ‘The Devil’s Brat’ from the 544th BS, 384th BG at Grafton Underwood, which got into trouble on 3rd August 1944 when No.3 engine ran hot and the propeller shaft sheared shortly after crossing the coast on the way to a raid on the Oil Refineries at Merkville. When a second engine failed the Captain, F/O Frank L Allred, made the decision to turn back. The bombardier prepared to jetison the bomb-load, but was unable to do so and when, on re-crossing the coast, the third engine packed up, Chailey was sighted and Allred made a perfect landing on one engine. However, as luck would have it, the aircraft bounced over a piece of rough ground, possibly the minor road which crosses the runway, and the sheared prop dropped to the ground and bounced back, piercing a fuel tank. They were almost immediately engulfed in flames but the crew all got out successfully and ran for cover before the stricken bomber exploded, damaging property over half a mile away. The Engineer/Top Turret Gunner Raymon L Noble received a bad cut to his arm from a windmilling propeller and Nick Leschak, who was the Toggelier/Nose Gunner, still suffers from pains in his shoulder from when he was thrown across the bomb bay while trying to put the safety pins back, plus Tintinitis from the tremendous noise of the bomber exploding only 200 feet or so from where he lay. It is miraculous that there were no other injuries

There were probably many other movements at Chailey. Certainly local folk remember the airfield as being in use for much longer than the two months when the Polish Squadrons were there. A P38 Lightning attempted a forced landing but on touching down, one undercarriage leg folded and the aircraft skidded along the Somerfeld tracking, off the end and past the Overshoot, then through the hedge and across South Road (Wivelsfield-Plumpton) finishing nose-down in a field. This may have been P 38J CY – T of the 55th Fighter Group from Wormingford and it may have happened on 9th May 1944 but this has not yet been confirmed. There are also memories of a number (between twelve and twenty) of American? C47s landing, probably in poor weather, and staying for a few days. Some say they were bringing wounded personnel home.

On 3rd October 1944 Fighter Command gave notice that they had no further use for 14 of the ALGs including Chailey and that remaining R.A.F. equipment should be withdrawn as soon as possible. However it is believed that personnel were retained until 30th November or thereabouts. Works Flights 4840 and 4842 of 5027 Airfield Construction Squadron moved from Bognor and Appledram ALGs on 11th April 1945 to begin the long job of restoring the land to a state fit for agriculture and, although they left on 15th June with their task apparently completed, it was to be many years before the area ceased to show signs of its temporary use as an airfield. In fact to this day the plough still turns up pieces of rod, bar and picket, relics of the thousands of yards of Somerfeld and Army track which played such an important part during the Normandy landings. A small brick building with a concrete roof, looking somewhat like a Convenience, stands on the South side of the former airfield, and a similar structure remains at Coolham ALG. These are probably the only remaining evidence of what was the typical Bulk Fuel Installation for ALGs, being constructed to house the diesel engines which pumped the stored fuel into the bowsers, which were then towed to the hardened refuelling points beside the runways. There are also the remains of a metal track and hutments in Plumpton Wood alongside Aerodrome Road. These are the remains of the Communal site, mainly used by non-flying personnel.

After hostilities ceased, the local A.T.C. used the short runway (15/33) for winch operated gliding, which inspired farmer’s son Jim Tucker to take up the hobby, and he has only recently retired as a gliding instructor with the South Down Club. Probably the last time powered aeroplanes, as distinct from Microlights, used the airfield was in 1950 or ’51 when half a dozen Harvards were seen to drop in, their occupants pausing for a cigarette, before taking off again, leaving the fields to the peace of the birds and the local farmer.