History of the Airfield
pictures courtesy of Peter Crosier and Mike Aitchison
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1915, during the First World War an Airfield was established on
the Berwood Playing Fields. The War Dept carried this out. This
was initially set up for a training centre, including ones from
France, Canada and later on for testing new Aircraft. The size of
the airfield was small in comparison with others. Very few staff.
A commanding officer, his assistant and two mechanics. Planes
were also few, only three or four. Flying was limited to forty
minutes due to the fact with fog, high winds and a large presents
of Industrial haze from nearby factories. The other hazard that
faced the pilots was the presence of a sewage works at the very
end of the runway.
first squadron to be based at Castle Bromwich was that of 10
Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. This squadron was on hand to
train the many staff of other Squadrons based in France. The
training aeroplanes used at the time were Maurice Farmans.The
pilots were accommodated in tents at the edge of the runway, and
the mess area was a large marquee. This later changed and they
were transferred to Erdington and also the local jockey's
quarters at the racecourse. With the staff increasing all the
time the Old Hall Farmhouse was used as an officers' mess, new
rooms were built and a line of huts were erected as billets for
the remaining staff. German prisoners of war were placed in
corrugated iron sheds next to the Castle Bromwich station. These
building were later to become the British Industries Fair, an
early form of the now known NEC.
were many characters abounded for Castle Bromwich. It has been
said that an Indian Prince visited at one time, and the Flight
Commanding Officer Captain Henderson used to wear a kilt when
flying instead of the recommended uniform
the signing of the Armistice to end the First World War, the
officers at the airfield celebrated by taking all the furniture
out of the mess and setting fire to it. Little did they know it
the war, the home farm premises were let to Dunlops. The
airfield was still active but was given over to the Midland Aero
Club for the fliers of the University. It also had regular visits
from Jones & Cobhams' flying circus and for two
Americans who had a "signwritting" contract in order to
supply advertising for the local industrial concerns. Also it was
used as a refuelling stop in the Kings Cup Air Races.
though peace was established in 1918, it was not until 1922 (and
then after pressure) that the Air Ministry allowed the drainage
board to retake control of a large proportion of the land. Sewage
farming had now ended although contracts had to be honoured in
the supply of dried sludge. During this period the Government
erected some buildings with a cost of £12500. These became
profit within a short period of time after the buildings were let
out. The large corrugated hangers were let out for a period of
two weeks a year, so local business men keen to promote the
Birmingham's manufactured products. The B.I.F was promoted
nationally and received visits from members of the Royal Family.
At these times trainloads of people would commute from Birmingham
to Castle Bromwich station. A part from these busy times the area
surrounding the Airfield was peaceful.
Squadrons of the Airfield
Bromwich became a stopping place during many early air races.
Probably the most historic of them all was June 20 1914 when,
during the Daily Mail London to Manchester Air Race, the playing
fields were a port of call in both directions. Six competitors
came and four proceeded to Manchester, leaving Graham White
entertaining the crowd in his Farman Biplane. The war office
requisitioned the site in 1914 and established flying school's
Aeroplane Squadron formed on May 11 1915, and stayed until
December 12 1917 by which time it had become NO.5 Training
Squadron. On September 1 1915, the famous 19 (fighter) Squadron
was born here, worked up using BE 2cs and Caudron G111's, and in
late 1915 took over some RE 7's from NO.5 Squadron.NO.55 Squadron
formed here on April 27 1916.Using BE 2cs, FK 8's and Avro 504's,
it became a training unit and left in June 1916. No.38 Squadron
followed, forming on July 14 1916 as a home defence Squadron
flying BE 12's, RE 7's and FE 2 'bs before leaving in October
1916. Assorted reserve Squadron commenced existence at Castle
Bromwich including NO. 28 here from June 1916 to July 1918, NO.34
based here during November 1916, NO.67 formed in June 1917 and
NO's 54,55 and 74 here in 1918. Of these No.54 was the last to
leave. An Aircraft Acceptance Park opened at Castle Bromwich in
April 1918 testing locally built HP 0/400's and SE 5's. To Castle
Bromwich came the remnants of 9 Squadron held here from July 1919
to the year's end. Castle Bromwich had been most active during
the First World War.
looked bright and, in August 1919, the Air Board acquired it.
Castle Bromwich appeared to be an ideal airport site and the
British Air Transport Co opened, on September 29 1919, their
first London-Birmingham passenger service.
brought the next milestone, 17 competitors in the first Britain
King's Cup Race. A repeat performance came on July 13 1923. Air
Ministry approached the city, offering £3000 to assist the
running of an aero club. Flying clubs, they argued, could form a
cheap reserve force. Some £2000 of the money was spent on a
couple of DH Cirrus Moths for the Midland Aero Club, which opened
in style on October 16 1925.
decisions led to the formation in October 15 1926, of No.605
(County of Warwick) Squadron, part of the newly formed Auxiliary
Air Force. Equipped with DH 9a's, the Squadron displayed itself
on July 16 1927 to over 100,000 people. Nearly 100 aircraft took
part in the show, including Gamecocks of 32 Squadron, Horsleys, a
Siskin, a Hinaidi and a clutch of RAF DH 60's. An Armstrong
Whitwort Argosy biplane brought the official delegation, and then
gave the Lord Mayor a memorable flight. A year later the
1000-mile King's Cup was routed via Birmingham. In 1929 it took
place over an even greater distance, competitors calling at
Castle Bromwich on the homeward leg.
Westland Wapitis replaced 605's DH 9a's in April 1930 and Castle
Bromwich became increasingly used by Railway Air Services. The
GWR element extended its services to Cardiff, a 40-minute flight
away when travelling in a tri-motor Westland Wessex. A steady
expansion of the Railway Air Services was reflected when, in
April1934, Midland and Scottish air ferries introduced a run to
Liverpool. By that time RAS were using DH 86's. In April 1933
Bulldogs of 111 Squadron exercised here, and a year later there
was talk of Birmingham having its own AAF Squadron.
replaced 605 Squadron's Wapits in 1934 and were exchanged for
Hinds late in 1936. Early in 1937 the go ahead was given for a
£250,000 to be spent on a station over the next two years.
Included was the cost of a "C" Type hanger and a
stylish Headquarters building for the auxiliaries, built by the
Chester Road, opposite a huge factory site which Lord Nuffield
acquired in 1938. Castle Bromwich was a train volunteer
reservists at a six aircraft strong unit known as 14 E&RFTS.
In 1938 agreement was concluded with the Midland Aero Club for
the latter to be a Civil Air Guard flying instruction unit,
remaining when the VR School moved to Elmdon in1939. Before 1938
ended, 605 Squadron was notified that its role would change to
that of a fighter.
Moths were delivered to the Aero Club in February 1939, and six
DH Moth Minors were to follow. April1939 brought 605 Squadron its
Gladiators. Another 213 acres were added to the field in the
expectation that Hurricanes would come to 605 Squadron. With the
opening of Elmdon in May 1939, scheduled air services were
switched to Birminghams council's new playground. The last
pre-war display at Castle Bromwich provided the public with the
first look at a Spitfire.
Second World War
Come the war
and Castle Bromwich fighter Squadron moved to Tangmere. In
replacement came assorted ground units and balloon crews. The
E&RFTS combined with No's20 and 44 to form 14 EFTS on
September 3 1939, the school leaving for Elmdon a few days later.
No 7 AACU arrived in April1940 to co-operate with the
Wolverhampton Searchlight School. Another AAC formation, No 116
Squadron based at Hendon, had a detachment here in 1941 for
Anti-Aircraft gun calibration.
Bromwich is remembered for it's massive contribution to the
Spitfire Production/ programme. Although production did not
commence until 1939 it was June 1940 before the first SpitfireII
taxied of the Factory to the Airfield for the first of 33,198
Spitfire test flights here.
Castle Bromwich Spitfire P7280 was delivered to the RAF on June
27 1940, and the first delivery to a Squadron took place on the
17th June 1940. Production reached 30 Spitfires a week with the
Factory long concentrating on Mk V's and IX's and later the high
speed Mk21 & 22's. Huge Spitfire orders were placed, for 1000
on April 12 1938. In May 1942 2,990 Spitfires were ordered, to be
produced in the largest single order for any British military
aircraft. Many came to be the backbone of the Spitfire Squadrons
in the last two years of war. The Factory also built 50 Sea fire
Factory closed in December 1945 it had built 15634 Spitfires Inc
of Sea fires, and a 305 contribution to Lancaster
production the first of which was completed in late 1943. Brook
lands CRO functioned at Castle Bromwich, repairing 71 Wellington
bombers. From the Factory, Alex Henshaw, of the pre-war Mew Gull
fame, test flew Spitfires.
War, Castle Bromwich reverted to being a training station for
No.44 Reserve Centre formed on November 1 1947 and 5 RFS used
Tiger Moths and Anson 21's. Also here was HQ 3605 Fighter Control
Unit, No. 4 Gliding School, ATC and Birmingham University Air
Squadron. No.605 Squadron's aircraft needed hard runways so it
was stationed at Honiley.No. 5 RFS disbanded on June 20 1954
after re-equipping with Chipmunks.
Bromwich closed April 1 1958, there remained one last link with
the great Wartime days, Spitfire IX, 6457M standing for lone not
far from where it had been born as ML427. That item has passed on
and on the hallowed ground now known as Castle Vale, has raised a
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