(Royal Naval Air Station Portland)

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Lat/Long:50.36.46N/02.29.08W Grid ref SY657793 .

RUNWAYS:Grass 2400ft.Heading unknown

Above:Map showing location of Chickerell Aerodrome,now built on.A reminder is the road name "Cobham Drive" ...and Below: The same area in the 1940s.The area enclosed by the red lines was the Aerodrome in 1936. At some time between then and the 1940s it was extended into the triangular area to the south.(marked in green)
The aerodrome at Chickerell first opened in 1918 as RNAS Portland for use by aircraft operating anti-U-boat patrols .There was one grass runway and one hangar.Some US Navy pilots were sent to RNAS Portland for trianing.
One notable event occurred on March 25th 1918 when US Navy pilot Ensign John F. McNamara, flying out of RNAS Portland,made the first attack on an enemy submarine by a U.S. Naval Aviator. For his attack, reported by Admiral Sims as "apparently successful," Ensign McNamara was commended by the Secretary of the(US) Navy for his "valiant and earnest efforts on this particular occasion."
Its use by the Navy was short-lived, ,the military units being disbanded very early in 1919.
Following the end of WW1,the aerodrome was used for a short time for airline services to Cricklewood.Operated by Handley Page Air Transport,using ex RAF HP 0-400 aircraft ,the service did not last long.Subsequently the aerodrome was used on an occasional basis by visiting aircraft.A display by Sir Alan Cobham's Flying Circus as part of the National Aviation Day Campaign was held on August 14 1932.A road on the site is named after him(see map above and photo below).
With the prospect of a future war in Europe,the aerodrome was once more taken over by the military in October 1936 as Forward Landing Aerodrome for aircraft using the Bombing Range at Chesil Beach,and also as a satellite field for RAF Warmwell.
Military use of the aerodrome continued after WW2 by Fleet Air Arm aircraft from Gosport and Lee-on-Solent until August 1955.The airfield and accommodation was then used by the RAF as RAF Chesil Bank in support of the bombing range at Chesil Bank(thanks to Stanley Giffin for this info) . Eventually the land was returned to civilian use in 1959 and subsequently built on .
An interesting insight into the living conditions on this little known airfield in the 50s is given in a letter I received from Harold Tokins ,ex RN, who was stationed there with a Royal Navy detachment for a few months.The substance of his letter is reproduced below,with his kind permission.
" Now I spent a few months there(Chickerell) with a S51 Dragonfly.  I cannot remember which year 
but it was 1951 - 53 and was before
and after the Christmas period.  Our airfield was a Sports Field that was fitted 
up with a canvas hangar and three narrow strips of concrete to allow us to push our
 Chopper into this hangar,  that's if it was possible to get it onto the concrete strips 
out of the mud. This small Sports Field was the home of a group of RAF Bombing Range
 staff.  There were three huts joined together to form a letter 'E' One leg was our
 living quarters, middle was the galley (cookhouse) and then the last was a recreational
 area.  for we had a Christmas dance in it.  The RAF staff numbered about 10 men. Mainly
 Armourers, a couple of Radio bods and a couple of GD and a Cook. There was a Flight
 Lieutenant in charge and he lived in a caravan away from the hut site. We ,the Naval 
detachment down from Gosport, were with our Pilot Lt. Cmd. Hank Phillips. An Observer ,
 Photographer and 6 of us to maintain the chopper one of each trade. Engine, Airframe,
 Electrical and Radio along with two Supervisors. So for just one little helicopter we
 were nearly as many as the full contingent of the RAF.  The bombing range that they were
 doing the siting and recording on was CHESIL Beach." 
Another who spent time at Chickerell was Donald C MacGregor. He was there during early trials of airborne sonar . The aircraft used was Sikorsky S-55 WW369 (see pictures below).What follows is a brief account of Donald's recollections of the time spent at Chickerell.
 "I too was stationed at Chickerell in the early 50's. 
I am also ex RN and at the time was attached to 705 Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Gosport, (HMS Siskin).
705 squadron was equipped with S51 Westland built Dragonfly helicopters that were engaged 
in a primary role of training SAR pilots. These training exercises were carried out in 
Stokes Bay, Gosport. The recovery method employed used a semi circular scoop net mounted on 
a metal frame suspended from the aircraft's winch. As a young lad I had great fun throwing
 myself off the stern of a torpedo recovery launch and waiting for the SAR Dragonfly to 
scoop me out of the water. A great skive!!! The torpedo recovery launches were part of ATDU
 (Aerial Torpedo development Unit) which was based at the RN Air Station at Gosport. (They 
later moved to RNAS Culdrose).
Somewhere, someone thought of the idea of putting a sonar set in a helicopter for submarine 
detection. So – a trials unit was formed with personnel from various places. I, with two 
others (dogs bodies with no specific remit) ended up at Chickerell. A Westland Whirlwind
 helicopter was modified, in that Westlands constructed a large open hatchway in the floor
 of the cabin over which they mounted a sonar set on an electric winch. This was the trials
 aircraft. A pit was dug with a digger, (no JCB's in those days) and was located underneath
 the helo pad with covered timbers, like an inspection pit only filled with water to depth
 of about six feet or so. This was for control testing and calibration purposes before 
going out on trials with the submarine. The cable drum took up a fair bit of space in the 
cabin, leaving just enough room for the operator and his instrumentation. The operators of 
the sonar set were general service (Pingers) ASDIC operators from HMS Osprey, the ASDIC 
training school at Portland just down the road from Chickerell. There were two pilots with
 the Whirlwind, a Lieutenant Commander RN and a Flight Lieutenant RAF. The maintenance crew
 for the Whirlwind were civilian engineers from Westland. Trials were Carried out with HM 
Submarine “Scotsman”, operating out of Portland. We had basic facilities at Chickerell, we
 were accommodated at HMS Osprey, Portland and were transported daily to Chickerell with
 bag meals for our lunches. The trials continued for some time before being successfully 
concluded. Since then, of course, it has become standard practice for helicopters to use 
aerial sonar detection methods on a world wide basis. On looking back, we were the 
trialists, the “sharp enders” from which it all started.
The  RAF personnel who were manning the quadrant sights on the Chesil Beach Bombing Range
 lived on site if my memory is correct. they were accommodated at Chickerell; we, on the 
other hand, must have caused an overload on the bed spaces and had to go to Portland for 
our accommodation.
One of the highlights of my time at Chickerell, was delivering fresh bread and daily 
newspapers to the lighthouse keepers in the area during our time at sea with the “Scotsman”-
 great fun."
The two pictures below , also from Donald MacGregor , show the Sikorsky S-55 WW339 (c/n 55-016) that was used for the Sonar trials. It arrived in the UK in early 1951 , was registered to Westland Aircraft Ltd on 6th Feb 1951(CofR R3148/1).First flight was on 6th June that year as G-AMHK.Then to WW339 with the RN for evaluation before reverting to G-AMHK. Then the RAF had an evaluation period and reserialed it as XA842.After reverting back to WW339 with the Navy again it finally became G-17-1(with Westlands) for one day only before being sold to Hvalfangstselskapet Globus in Norway as LN-ORK(cancelled from GB register on 1st Sept 1953).It was written off following unspecified accident on 25th Feb 1954 .
If anyone can add detail to this aircraft's history, particularly it's time with the Navy please Contact me!

The lower picture shows the aircaft and the personnel involved in the trials.Donald says ...."There is a strong RN presence in the team. The RAF are represented, as are the civilian maintenance crew from Westland's. The two uniformed guys (back right, rear row) are the two ASDIC operators from HMS Osprey, Portland, down the road. You will also note that this machine has a winch fitted. It came in handy for delivering the fresh bread and newspapers to the lighthouses."

In 1958/59 Stan Griffin spent some time at Chickerell whilst serving in the RAF.His remeniscences below.....
" I was in the RAF and stationed there from March 1958 to early mid 1959. 
 At that time it was solely manned by RAF personnel and under the command of a Flight LT.
 Our responsibility service  the bombing range off Chesil Beach. 
 We had a control tower near the Moonfleet (N50 37 21 W02 31 58) and a radar unit(at N50 37 22 W02 31 59)  which was later
 moved onto the beach at Burton Road  Abbotsbury(approx N50 39 42 W02 37 49).
  We also had manned observation units on Chesil Bank with boats kept in a boathouse which were used to cross the inland water.
RAF Chickerell obtained it's  supplies  from the Navy at Portland  and personel would make weekly trips  to Portland to collect food etc.
The base    closed in 1959 when it was discovered that a boat was unlawfully being built in the boathouse for an officer. 
All the personnel were transferred out and the bombing range closed down.
Soon after that, the land was sold and subsequently became a housing development." 

Stan also states that there were no resident aircraft at the time although there was a visit by an
Auster aircraft and occasional visits by parachutists who jumped from a tethered balloon.Greg Schofield remembers watching this activity in the mid-late 50s. ".

RAF and FAA Units
513 Flt:DH.6:1918.
241Sq:DH.6:formed from 416/417/513 Flts August 1918,Formally disbanded 18-6-1919
705 Sq Dragonfly HR1/HR3,detachment from Lee-on-Solent arr 1-53,dep 3-53
771FRU:Martinet:Detachments from Gosport 9/45 to 8/55

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