SURREY HILLS GLIDING CLUB

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The former Royal Air Force Station Kenley, more commonly known as RAF Kenley (now known as Kenley Aerodrome) was a station of the Royal Flying Corps in World War I and continued in the hands of the RAF.

Flying commenced in 1917, and ceased to be active in 1959. The airfield at Kenley now hosts 615 Volunteer Gliding Squadron (VGS), a Royal Air Force gliding squadron of the Air Cadet Organisation and the Surrey Hills Gliding Club.

In 1936, Kenley became home to Sector B HQ of No 11 Group Fighter Command, responsible for the airfields of Croydon, Friston, Gatwick, Redhill and Shoreham. In 1939, two new concrete runways were built to accommodate Hurricanes and Spitfires.

During World War II RAF Kenley was one of the three main fighter stations (Kenley, Croydon and Biggin Hill) responsible for the air defence of London. It was during the crucial days of the Battle of Britain that these three RAF stations came into their own, fighting off the overwhelming might of the German Luftwaffe.

In May 1940, when Germany started the blitzkrieg on the airfields of Holland, Belgium and France, a squadron from Kenley set out for German bases near The Hague, and destroyed four Junkers 52 troop carriers. Meanwhile, another squadron from Kenley set out for France as part of a force to deliver aircraft replacements for battered fighter squadrons.

The airfield was first attacked in August 1940, when it was devastated. Realising that the operations room for the sector was vulnerable, it was moved to "Camp B", a butcher's shop in Caterham. Kenley and the surrounding area continued to suffer raids throughout the Battle of Britain.

The aerodrome was used as a location in the following films: Angels One Five (1952) and Reach for the Sky (1956), the latter about Douglas Bader who was posted to RAF Kenley in 1930 with No. 23 Squadron RAF shortly before his accident in 1931.

Although few of the remaining buildings survive and the control tower was demolished after a fire in 1978 along with the hangars, Kenley is thought to be the best preserved of all World War II RAF fighter stations, with the runway still in its original configuration. In 2000, English Heritage identified Kenley as “The most complete fighter airfield associated with the Battle of Britain to have survived”. In 2006, the respective Councils of Croydon and Tandridge designated the airfield site as a Conservation Area.

Some of the original 12 E-shaped blast pens remain, as well as the shelters for the servicing personnel. One in particular — forming the background to the RAF memorial — has been fully restored. Since 2004 these structures have been protected as Scheduled Monuments.

For further information on the history of Kenley, please see the Kenley Airfield Friends Group web site

The RAF finally left Kenley in March 1974, but a fire in October 1978 resulted in the control tower and hangars being demolished. However, the airfield continues its flying tradition as the home of the 615 VGS and of course Surrey Hills Gliding Club.


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Line up of 485 Squadron. “Subscription” Spitfire Mk Vbs at Kenley airfield 1941