Menu Donate Request our help

Helpline: 0800 169 2942

"There was a terrific battle going on when we arrived"

In a special interview with Spitfire pilot and Battle of Britain veteran Squadron Leader Nigel Rose, he tells us about his first real sight of the Battle of Britain when 602 Squadron moved down from Drem in Scotland in August 1940.

"There was a terrific battle going on when we arrived," says Rose. "There was a Hurricane upside down in the middle of the airfield at Westhampnett and great fights going on in the sky above the airfield and so we got a bloodying of a scrap pretty well straight away."

Westhampnett was a satellite airfield of Tangmere near Chichester in West Sussex and Rose remembers the extremely basic facilities that were on offer there.

"I remember, having landed, we taxied in to one side of the airfield – there was only a windsock, a petrol bowser and a breakdown van and that was the lot – nothing else on the airfield.

"It had been three meadows, in which the ditches had been filled in and the hedges cropped and turned into a satellite airfield for Tangmere. So we parked by the side and went over and had tea in the farmer’s cottage, which was to become the officers' mess."

Although they had arrived in the midst of a big dogfight above, Rose and his squadron did not see action themselves for another 48 hours or so.

August was a crucial period of the Battle as the initial channel skirmishes gave way to major attacks from the Luftwaffe involving huge numbers of aircraft.

At that stage the attacks were specifically targeted at the RAF's defensive capabilities and Tangmere was hit heavily on August 16 when a massive raid from Stuka dive-bombers killed 20 people and inflicted significant damage on the base.

It was clear that Rose and 602 Squadron would not have long to adjust to their new surroundings.

Rose says, "We were kept away from the battles for two days and then we saw our first battles within a couple of days of arriving at Westhampnett. That was our beginning of the Battle of Britain."

Visit the Battle of Britain homepage

Related articles:

0800 169 2942

Sign up to receive the RAFBF e-newsletter