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Tangmere Military Aviation Museum

Members gather in front of Neville Duke's world record breaking Hawker Hunter MK3

Wednesday 16th March 2016

On a sunny Wednesday, we drove ourselves to Tangmere for a tour of this historic museum.  Historic because, as explained to us by the Director, Dudley Hooley, in an outstanding introductory lecture, the Special Operations Executive, created by Churchill in 1940 as a top secret organisation to “Set Europe Ablaze”, were based here as well as in other centres around the country.  Other locations were used for specific tasks, such as Forgery, Combat Skills, Weapons & Tactics and Tradecraft.  We were amused by the stories of exploding coal and exploding rats!

The heart of the SOE enterprise was communications – in every operation there would be a radio operator.  Codes were integral, and Leo Marks was the SOE codemaster, who initially used poetry but then pioneered the one-time pads.

Odette's personal gun - found in an attic in Chichester at the house where she once lived

Some familiar names flew from Tangmere to be dropped into France to liase with the Resistance – Odette Sansom, Violette Szabo, “Tommy” Yeo-Thomas and Noor Inayat Khan (a name which I did not recognise, but who suffered terribly at the hands of the Gestapo).  Westland Lysander planes flew from Tangmere, and were adapted to collect agents from Europe, under the command of 161 Squadron.  Stories were told of planes crashing in fog, of oxen being used to drag a plane from a bog, unsuccessfully, and of pilots who were awarded medals for bravery.  161 Squadron flew 279 missions, inserted 293 agents, and collected 410.  Only 13 Lysanders were lost, due to the exceptional talent of the pilots.

David H and John W enthusing about the Hunter

Following the talk, we were escorted around two hangars, in which we found examples of fighter aircraft, from Hawker Hunters to Spitfires and Hurricanes, which were much more successful during World War 2 than the more romantic Spitfire, due in part to their construction, which was mainly of cloth.  This enabled enemy gunfire to pass through the Hurricane without affecting its flying ability.

The visit to the hangars was followed by a tour of the Museum, which contained a multitude of exhibits – to me, there was too much to see in one visit, and so I intend to return at a later date.  One particularly interesting display was the  remains of a Hurricane which was excavated from under a pavement in Shoreham.  Although its whereabouts were known, it was not known that the pilot was still strapped into the cockpit!

A most enjoyable morning was spent at Tangmere, followed by an excellent lunch at The Gribble Inn at Oving.  Thanks to Gwen for organising the visit and lunch, and to her husband John, who is a volunteer at Tangmere.

Text by Philip Akroyd

Photos by Jonathan Cross, Gwen and John Wright

Related Links (open in new window):

Tangmere Military Aviation Museum
The Gribble Inn, Oving