Stow Maries Aerodrome & 100 Years Remembered

Last month, January 2015 saw the 100 year anniversary of the Zeppelin raid on King’s Lynn. The town remembered 100 years ago and the fear which gripped the local area and the country.

Late last year a trip from RAF Marham visited Stow Maries airfield in Essex to learn about the history of the Royal Flying Corps and the formation of the RAF, while recalling the historic events which took place so close to home.

Six CMU personnel boarded a minibus and ventured through the Suffolk and Essex country lanes to visit a distant aerodrome bounded by fields. This was no ordinary aerodrome, this was Stow Maries; one of the RFC’s first bases built in response to a domestic crisis that was developing during World War I. There are some extraordinary comparisons that can be made between Stow Maries and RAF Marham. Our aim was to get a full appreciation of these and look at the development of aircraft, infrastructure and operations of the biplane, Tornado and Lightning II.

In January 1915, with engines roaring, two German Zeppelins forged their way across a North Sea night sky towards East Anglia on a mission to bomb English soil. The new concept of air warfare had begun. King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth were both struck which caused immediate fear and anger across the country. In response, Home Defence Squadrons were stood up, one of them being B Flight of 37Sqn, at Stow Maries in September 1916. Having established an organisational structure and undergone training the first kinetic engagement occurred over 23rd/24th May 1917 in response to a large Zeppelin raid this time targeting London. Later, aircraft were sent up to counter Gotha bomber raids, which one may argue was the first aerial Battle of Britain. There were truly heroic stories about the Stow Maries operations, which were made all the more challenging by the temperamental aircraft and a technology still in its infancy.

Through WWI, the initial wooden sheds were replaced with brick structures to provide better protection from the elements. At the end of the war, it became surplus to requirement and having been requisitioned earlier, sold back to the original owner at an auction. In WWII, both the RAF and USAF realised that due to land drainage problems, it was unsuitable for their aircraft. Coupled with accessibility difficulties it was largely untouched through subsequent decades and left to quietly age in the elements. This then is the incredible part; Stow Maries is where you can still see how the RAF inherited much organisational structure and operational concepts from the RFC. Walking around, you pass the Engine Workshop, Airframe Workshop, MT Yard, Ambulance hut, SHQ, Officers Mess, Blacksmiths (Workshops), accommodation blocks for male and female, the water tower, remnants of the Service Institute (NAAFI) and the Ops Building which looked a carbon copy of the RAF Akrotiri Armourer Line Hut. It was a jaw dropping experience to walk around the site even with nothing being said. You knew exactly where everything would be to the inch before you got to it. To say we were bowled over by the experience is not an overstatement.

For the Staff Ride element we researched three topics for three aircraft, the topics being; a particular aircraft and its development, the basing requirements for that aircraft type and finally the operations it was involved in. Naturally, the three aircraft were the biplane, Panavia Tornado and Lightning2. Standing on the very ground where Air Power was being developed and being proven allowed each topic to resonate through us. We were able to identify so many parallels between each, the only real differences being size, cost and complexity. Key parallels were the need for strong leadership, a coherent organisational structure, training and the welfare of the airmen.

Stow Maries is a superb destination for a Staff Ride for all ranks and trades as every aspect of our current role and ethos was born in a remote Essex field. We were truly indebted to the Curator, Ivor Dallinger, who gave us a comprehensive tour together with an incredibly detailed history about many aspects of the RFC at that time. Have a look at their website at www.stowmaries.org.uk to find directions and opening times.