RAF Acklington...

...Guardian of the Northern Skies, new from Fonthill Media

Title: RAF Acklington
Author: Malcolm Fife

Publisher: Fonthill Media
ISBN: 978-1-78155-622-1

I have to admit to being a fan of books like this, giving a detailed history of an individual RAF airfield and author Malcolm Fife has done w good job with his history of RAF Acklington.  This was the most Northerly airfield for the RAF and it was to play an important part in defending the important mining, industrial and port facilities in the region.  Today the airfield is no more, put back to agriculture and industrial uses.  For RAF historians, those who once served there during their service career and indeed for local who are interested to learn more about the history of what once took place close by their homes.

The book starts with some background about how the area of Southfields was used as an alternative landing ground in WW1 and then later became a site to be developed as a training base for the RAF and made into a permanent airfield.  This is followed by an interesting and personal recollections of a Spitfire pilot, Sergeant Pilot H. David Denchfield, based there in 1940 with 610 Sqn.  This tells us what life was like during the period, how the squadron worked and some of the accidents which befell aircraft and pilots even during take-offs and landings, let alone in combat.

Then it goes back to more of a chronological sequence.  In the mid-1930's there was an expansion programme for the RAF and Ackligton was chosen as a home of for an Armaments Training camp with a live firing range at nearby Druridge Bay.  It provides the local background, with potential objections to the firing range and the on the other hand, the prospect of employment for local people.  Again, a number of personal memories help bring the story to life.  In chapter 3 we find out about the Gladiator squadrons who moved in early in 1940, followed by Hawker Hurricanes in chapter 4, detailing 8 Hurricane squadrons who were based there over the war years.  This also includes the events surrounding some of their successes over the He 111 bombers of the Luftwaffe.  It is the turn of the Spitfire squadrons in chapter 5 and there were 10 of these between 1939 and 1944 and then 7 Hawker Typhoon squadrons follow on.

The next part of the story moves to another aspect of the war for Acklington, as the German bomber moved on to night time attacks and Nightfighter units moved in.  These included Beaufighters, Defiants and Mosquitos not only with the RAF but also Canadian and USAAF units as well.  Chapter 9 covers one of the more unusual aircraft to be based in the area, the Douglas Havoc Turbinlight so some more interesting reading here as well.  Next come sections on Second Line units based at Acklington, such as target towing duties and then the Airfield Defences.  Coming to the end of the story of the WW2 operations, there is coverage of the use of Acklington as a Diversion Airfield for any other aircraft who needed it and then a section talking us through the other airfields in the area.

The end of WW2 wasn't the end of the story and as the war wound to a close it reverted to training operations and a Fighter Station moving on into 1946.  It continued to serve for armaments training on into the mide-1950's and with Cold War fighters on into the 1960's.  Meteors, Hunters Javelins and some other interesting types all feature during these periods.  The last two aspects of life at Acklington to be featured include Provosts with 6 Flying Training School and also use as a base for Search and Rescue Helicopters, a role it retained into the 1970's before the base was finally closed and sold off.

With the way the personal memories and plenty of archive photos are mixed in with the basic facts of who and what was there make it an interesting read and bring life to what once happened in an area which today can look like plain agricultural land.  Some of the photos of aircraft at Acklington over the years include some really interesting and unusual types.  What may be simple countryside today has a real history to it.

Robin