Preparatory work began in August, 1941 on 335 acres of farm land 1.5 miles East of Henstridge village, for a naval airfield with a five-runway layout specially designed for Deck Landing Training (DLT). Progress was slow and it was not until April
1st 1943 the station was commissioned as HMS DIPPER.
No. 2 Naval Air Fighter School
RNAS Henstridge was planned as a satellite to RNAS Yeovilton but the growing pressure of training new aircrew meant that Henstridge would become a Fighter Training station in its own right. No. 2 Naval Air Fighter School (2 NAFS) took up residence on April 19th having moved from the now overcrowded RNAS Yeovilton.
Initially equipped with 18 hooked Spitfire Vs and 6 Miles Master trainers, these were supplemented later by the addition of Seafires, Sea Hurricanes and Harvard trainers. No. 2 NAFS was the only fighter school for Seafire pilots, and by September was turning out 40 trained Seafire pilots per month. The school also taught Deck Landing skills, 'D' flight being dedicated solely to DLT courses utilising the stations ‘dummy deck’.
The need for more space soon arose, and a further acquisition of 18 acres at Gibbs Marsh Farm,
became the site for an Aircraft Rectification Hanger and other ancillary installations; a further acquisition at Fifehead Magdalen was made for a dispersed accommodation site in addition to those at Marsh Farm and Priors Down. The next arrival at the station was 794 squadron, (No. 1 Naval Air Firing Unit) with a mixture of Martinets and Defiant target tugs, Fulmars Sea Hurricanes, arriving from RNAS Dale
on September 16th; this was only a short stay however the unit moved on to neighbouring
Horethorne on December 1st.
Formation and work-up of Naval Fighter Wings
Henstridge received its first front-line aircraft on October 19th when 894 squadron disembarked their 12 Seafire IIs from the Carrier HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, the extra manpower being housed in the newly completed B Camp at Priors Down. The squadron was on the station to re-equip with Seafire IIIs in preparation for the formation of No. 24 Naval Fighter Wing (24 NFW) with 887 squadron, which arrived 1from RNAS
Machrihanish on December 13th, also to re-equip with Seafire L IIIs; 24 NFW moved to
RNAS Burscough, Lancashire, on January 8th 1944.
On February 4th 1944 No. 748 Squadron, No. 10 Naval Operational Training Unit (10 NOTU), arrived from
RNAS St. Merryn operating a mixture of aircraft currently in front line service, like 794 squadron its stay was to be a short one, it transferred to RNAS Yeovilton on March 9th to make room for the arrival of No. 3 Naval Fighter Wing (3 NFW) arrived during March from RNAS Lee-on-Solent to work up for Bombardment Spotting duties during Operation Neptune, the invasion of Europe. The Wing comprised of Nos. 808, 885, 886 and 897 Squadrons, totalling 42 aircraft and 60 pilots. The first of these to arrive was 897 on March 3rd, switching to shore-based Spitfire VBs for this role, followed closely by 808 on the 7th, 886 on the e11th and 885 on the 31st, all from
RNAS St. Merryn
. The wing operated some Spitfire PR.XIIIs as well as some Seafire L.IIcs. 808 and 885 Squadrons moved to RAF Dundonald for further training on March 22nd, 897 followed on May 6th; 886 moved to RNAS Ayr
on the same day.
With the departure of 3 NFW Henstridge settled back into its primary role of training; 761 squadron had been greatly expanded iand now operated 68 aircraft and a they were joined by a new unit, 718 Army Co-operation Training Unit which formed here on June 5th 1944. with initial equipment issue of 9 Seafire IIIs & 6 Spitfire PR.XIIIs,. The later were used to train naval pilots in Tactical reconnaissance flying and the squadron eventually became the School of Naval Air Reconnaissance, the Army Co-operation role being dropped.
Post War use
With the war over the Fleet Air Arm began to contract, the School of Naval Air Reconnaissance moved to RNAS Ballyhalbert, Northern Ireland on August 17th 1945 leaving only 761 operating from the station. A detachment from 799 squadron, 'C' flight, arrived from RNAS Lee-on-Solent on December 17th operating a Sea Otter Conversion & Refresher Flying course. On December 27th 760 squadron also arrived from RNAS Lee-on-Solent; formerly the Corsair Familiarisation Unit part of No. 1 NAFS tat RNAS Zeals the squadron moved to Lee-on-Solent in September 1945 to become a detached element of No. 2 NAFS, exchanging their Corsairs for Seafire IIIs in October.
By the start of the New Year No. 2 Naval Air Fighter School was no longer needed; 761 disbanded at Henstridge on January 16th 1946, followed by 760 on the 23rd, their aircraft being absorbed into 759 Squadron (No. 1 NAFS) at Yeovilton. 799 ‘C’ flight also returned to Lee-on-Solent on this date. There was to be one final flying unit formed at RNAS Henstridge, this was No. 1 Ferry Pool, who formed here on February 2nd 1946, equipped with Oxfords, the unit left for Yeovilton two months later on April 2nd. HMS DIPPER, RNAS Henstridge was paid off on October 11th 1946 and the facility held as 'station in reserve on care & maintenance, at 6 months’ notice for reactivation’.
The station was not closed for long; in 1949 it was reopened for use as a satellite to RNAS Yeovilton but saw little use until No.767 Sqdn began using the Dummy Deck for the training of Deck Landing Control Officers (DLCOs), the squadron personnel being housed at Yeovilton, the aircraft remaining at Henstridge. The squadron completely moved into Henstridge for one week, beginning June 18th 1951 for intensive Aerodrome Dummy Deck Landings (ADDLs) prior to embarking in the training carrier, HMS TRIUMPH. Further embarked periods in HMS TRIUMPH & HMS ILLUSTRIOUS meant Henstridge was little used for the remainder of 1951. The squadron moved into the station completely at the start of 1952, taking up residence on January 4th while RNAS Yeovilton was closed to all flying for major runway reconstruction and extension works. The squadron’s Firefly FR.4s and Seafury FB.IIs where the last flying unit to operate from the station, moving to
RNAS Stretton on September 20th 1952. RNAS Henstridge was again reduced to non-flying status and returned to care & maintenance, at 3 months’ notice to re-open.
Mobile Naval Air Base No. 10 moves in
Although not an operational airfield RNAS Henstridge had been selected in the spring of 1951 to become the home of Mobile Naval Air Base No. 10. This unit, a remnant of a Second World War programme to provide mobile aviation facilities capable of occupying and operating captured enemy airfields, completed its formation period after the end of hostilities but was not commissioned for active service, instead it was retained for use as a development unit at RNAS Lossiemouth. (see The MONAB Story for more details).
Confidential Admiralty Fleet Order (CAFO) 139/51 called MONAB 10 out of retirement, effective from September 7th 1951; the unit was to be installed at RNAS Henstridge, Dorset. Once the unit had been re-constituted and manned it began to mobilise; the first components of MONAB 10 arrived at RNAS Yeovilton in the late spring of 1952, and was installed at RNAS Henstridge by the autumn of that year. The exact nature of MONAB 10's activities at Henstridge are not clear, however the MONAB that was installed at Henstridge differed slightly from those which operated during WW2, whilst many components still utilized the original specialist vehicles as designed in 1944, other components were reconstructed or replaced completely by new ones. Therefore, this move may have been intended to evaluate the new MONAB for use in other conflicts.
It is believed that no flying operations were conducted by the unit, at the time of its arrival all operational flying units had moved to Yeovilton andRNAS Henstridge was again reduced to Care & Maintenance status at three month's notice to re-open for use by MONAB 10 on January 23rd 1953. Areas of the airfield being allowed to return to agricultural use, buildings and hangars were retained for MONAB use. Equipment installed at RNAS Henstridge was maintained on a daily basis, the majority of the MONAB equipment and vehicles were stored in hangers at RNAS Yeovilton for much of the time, being rolled out for maintenance and then returned to storage. MONAB 10 was disbanded on July 2nd 1955; the equipment was still at Henstridge and Yeovilton until at least the end of 1955, maintained by a small retard party of 12 men who were bussed out from Yeovilton daily.
Dummy Deck reactivated for the Jet age
Henstridge was thought unsuitable for further use by Yeovilton, the station was now operating jets which Henstridge was not capable of handling on its WW II runways, however it was reopened again in 1954 for use by Yeovilton for Night Deck Landing Practise, a fact that upset many local residents. The Dummy Deck was suitable for Jet aircraft 'touch & go' approaches even though the station would have difficulty handling them on the existing runways. Henstridge remained open for Yeovilton’s use until June 1957 when it ceased to be a naval base,
Henstridge finished its days as a Naval Air Station in use as overspill accommodation for Yeovilton. What remained of the station was sold off from 1956, although parts of the airfield had been sold after the station was returned to C&M status in 1953, most if the hangars were sold in 1958. Bristows Helicopters rented a hangar from June 1953 and operated from Henstridge until relocating to Redhill in 1960. With their departure the whole 425 acres had been disposed of.
The first civilian use of Henstridge occurred in June 1953 when one hangar was rented out to Air Whaling Ltd run by Mr. Alan Bristow which established itself on the site; initially the company operated a single Dragonfly helicopter which was leased to a Norwegian company by westland Helicopters, Between 1954 until 1957 the annual servicing of four Westland S-55s operated by the South Georgia Co. Ltd. for whale spotting duties was carried out at Henstridge prior to their embarking for their journey to the South Atlantic each October. In June 1955 a new company, Bristow Helicopters, was formed at Henstridge operating four Widgeon helicopters for oil exploration in the Persian Gulf, the company relocated to Redhill in 1958. After their departure the Admiralty sold the hangers, the site nearest the A30 becoame the Henstridge Trading Estate, the remainder of the site being sold to local farmers.
One land owner on the Henstridge site began using Henstridge for light civil flying, holding annual fly ins during the 1970s, the number of residents grew to 16, a mixture of light and executive machines making regular use of the field. On June 27th 1980 the BBC purchased the whole site sold intending to use it as broadcasting relay station for overseas broadcasts and notice to vacate was served on the flyers. However, mounting local opposition resulted in the planning application being rejected and the BBC sold the land during January 1987.
Of the original five runways only one, 07/25 survives; the concrete ‘dummy deck’ and the underground machinery chamber form part of it, it is a tarmac runway slightly shorter than its original 1000 yards (914m) it is 820 yards (750m) long. The Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance and the Yakovlevs formation display team are based at the airfield and The Wessex Strut of the Light Aircraft Association (LAA), a general aviation club formed in January 1977, which holds an annual fly in and other events their first fly-in was on 17 April 1977 and attracted 107 aircraft; the airfield has become their adopted headquarters. on 16 January 2012 the Henstridge Airfield Ltd was incorporated as the airfield owner operator.
Click here for a list of
Admiralty Fleet Orders:
Confidential Admiralty Fleet Orders:
CAFO 139/51 Aviation—M.O.N.A.B. 10—Assembly
CAFO 247/51 Aviation—M.O.N.A.B. 10—Assembly