Historic Air Field in Shropshire
Rednal - Intro
Rednal is the most northerly of the 11 "townships" of Ruyton XI Towns, and the only one which shares a first letter. The history of Ruyton's curious name is related elsewhere, but Rednal is a Saxon name, derived from 'Radenshale' - or "House of Stone".
The Airfield was built in 1942. It was never designed for combat as it is so far from the east coast, but it has some defensive features such as bunkers, machine gun nests and an underground 2-room battlefield headquarters.
Its main function was to train pilots to fly the iconic Spitfire fighter plane. The remote location made it safe from enemy bombardment and a good place to send foreign pilots for training in case they were not entirely to be trusted. The precaution was unnecessary since Rednal produced some of the finest air-aces of the era - pilots like Buerling, Wojda, Clostermann - and hosts of others, many tragically killed - they would arrive at Rednal, sometimes having escaped from occupied continental Europe, get trained up and be sent on to places like Biggin Hill for 'The Big Show'.
The fatalities in training were of a similar frequency as in combat. Partly the aircraft were ex-battle stock, partly the better ground-crew were reserved for front line operations, partly the pilots were sometimes a little too daring and then there was a war on: things were in short supply and you had to get on with things and quit moaning.
More Recent Developments
The Runways, Taxiways, Perimeter Roads and grass areas
The runways, 1 of which is still in use for aviation, are 0.5 mile (700meters) long and enclose a 50 acre triangle of cultivated land. The site has been used for testing and inflating a number of balloons, aerostats, airships, inflatables and zeppelins. The giant 'doughnut' that opened the 2010 Commonwealth games in New Delhi was tested at Rednal.
On 12th November 2000 Jason Rennie broke 3 world records at Rednal:
- Ramp to ramp truck jump 21 trucks.
- Ramp to ramp tandem record 96ft.
- Head on moving ramp record 122ft
See the gallery for more details on these events. If you need a big space to do something,
History of Rednal before the Airfield
Although Rednal is not mentioned in William I's valuation of England, the Domesday Book, often mistakenly called the Doomsday Book hull.ac.uk/Domesday/Doomsday, neighbouring hamlets are, and the name Radenhale appears in Court Rolls; probably a Saxon name which may meaning 'Stone Hall of Raden'. It was already settled in the Bronze ages since finds have been unearthed from that era. The whole area was gifted to the Fitzalan family (later Earls of Arundel) at the time of William I. There is a mention of Rednal Wood as well as surrounding 'meadows' and 'cornfields' in the 14th C when the Black Death struck. Around the time of the battle of Shrewsbury, a dispute over fish and flour led to the murder of the Miller of Rednal, and during the Wars of the Roses 'Hugh of Rednal' was fined for charging excessive tolls. Rednal is the most northerly of the 11 'townships' of the strangely named Ruyton XI Towns - the 12th century Earls of Arundel's idea of making a few hamlets sound like a huge city wiki Ruyton-XI-Towns.
The Shrewsbury Chester railway opened in 1846; an accident occurred very near Rednal in 1865 with the death of 15 people - the accident report of the time referred to a Rednal station and a Rednal junction which was where passengers could change between canal and rail transport at Rednal wharf, also the site of a glue factory known locally as 'The Bone Works' (now completely vanished thanks to the 'restoration' of the neighbouring canal whose overseers saw fit to demolish an atmospheric and historic piece of Industrial Revolution Heritage).
Rednal during the war years
The flatness of Rednal and its railway connection caught the eye of the air ministry in WWII. In 1941 a small hamlet was levelled and an airfield was built for training fighter pilots. No. 61 OTU numbered over 1,000 servicemen and women, with cinema, hospital, flight simulator, aerial reconnaissance section, fire station, decompression simulator, gas attack simulator, etc, deliberately dispersed in case of bombing raids. The French air-ace Pierre Closterman got out of France and arrived at Rednal in April 1942. He retrained on Spitfires and the accounts of derring-do include a mock-dogfight during which a piece of undercarriage was lost to a garden wall outside Shrewsbury. But the acts of bravado came at a heavy price - local farmer Roger Hampson can remember a plane crashing through one of the roofs of Haughton farm, landing in the farmyard and being consumed by flames with the badly injured pilot perishing in front of his eyes. A Belgian pilot Jean Noizet, who had joined the resistance, been captured, imprisoned, sent to a POW camp in Spain, escaped, made his way to Britain, enrolled in the RAF, then crashed in woods near Wellington on a training flight from Rednal - such was the shortage of resources at the time that his body was not recovered till 1977. Canadian wildman of the skies George 'Buzz' Beurling once won a bet that he could take-off, fly and land a Spitfire when too drunk to walk to it and get into the cockpit. He went on to terrorise the enemy in the liberation of France, the defence of Malta and perished in the Middle East in 1948. The airfield played an important part during July and August 1944 following D-Day, receiving some 1,000s of wounded direct from Normandy in Dakota C-47s for treatment at surrounding hospitals.
Retired Squadron Leader Peter Brown AFC, ex Battle of Britain pilot, was posted to Rednal from Heston as a flying instructor with the rank of Flight Lieutenant:
"I was posted from my Squadron to 61 OTU at Heston in June 1941 to take over No 4 Squadron, the flights were called Squadrons. We were equipped with Spitfire I and II and Masters I, II and III. I spent many happy months at Heston and when the news came through that we were to move north to an unknown airfield called Rednal near an unknown town called Oswestry there was much gloom." "On the 16th April 1942 I led a flight of instructors and students from Heston to the northwest at about 6000ft and I well remember that we hit very heavy haze to the west of Birmingham. I saw little else until exactly on ETA [Estimated Time Arrival] and with the Gremlins working hard for me I suddenly saw a group of runways in a sea of mud as the surroundings had not then been seeded. For many weeks it was perilous to swerve off the runways or perimeter track." "Rednal was the first dispersed site I had operated from. The layout was planned to minimize bombing damage by spreading out the buildings into the woodlands. In the event few airfields in the UK were bombed after 1942 but the nuisance value remained. The Admin buildings were well away from the airfield, the messes were further away still and it is fairly certain that the WAAF quarters were even further away and perhaps protected with barbed wire!"
Many accidents occurred at Rednal and the first recorded was on May 4th 1942 when Pilot Officer Pensa and Sgt Wright lost their lives in a Miles Master. The aircraft was sent up on instrument flying practice, however, the aircraft got into a spin and the port wing failed when the pilots were pulling out of the resulting dive. July 1942 was a bad month for accidents with a total of five Spitfires written off and two pilots killed. The first intake of WAAF's arrived at Rednal on the 31st July 1942.
61 Operational Training Unit - Personnel on the 31/7/42:
Ranks RAF Officers 108 WAAF Officers 8
Airmen 916 Airwomen 394 Total 1426
One WAAF, Leading Aircraft's Woman, Margaret Hay, was posted to Rednal in September 1942. Margaret joined the control tower staff in Spring 1943. She remembers the tower's highly polished floors, large control desk, huge maps laden with information which included details such as barrage balloon sites, etc, covering the back wall. Radio Telephones on various channels were used to communicate with the pilots in a language peculiar to aviation. The complexity of the control tower meant that Margaret was sure, that for a stranger entering the tower, it was like a madhouse. Yet seated at the control desk there was also peace of mind to be found in the view over the Welsh mountains.
"The Control Room was a lovely place to work, Shropshire is a lovely County; and to sit at the control Desk and look out over the Welsh mountains was lovely, I am a Scot so the view pleased me. I was actually lucky enough to hitch a lift home with some of the pilots to Scotland several times and then my poor father had to pay my train fare back to Rednal the next day!"
Rednal has seen a number of famous faces either go through the training system, or put on a refresher course for a 'rest' or arriving at Rednal as part of the Staff. In fact one of Rednal's Commanding Officers was, Don Finlay, who was C/O of 41 Squadron during the Battle of Britain and a pre-war Hurdles Champion and he could be seen every morning running around the perimeter track at Rednal. Perhaps the most celebrated pilot to be trained at Rednal was the French fighter ace Pierre Clostermann who detailed his experiences in his book "The Big Show" in which he describes the grimness of the midlands in wartime with a frenchman's distain and is very funny about the Shropshire mud. In addition to French pilots, there were pilots from all over the British Empire; from the USA and from the many European countries who managed to escape Nazi occupation. There was also a large contingent of Polish pilots , which gave rise to the Polish Headquarters on the ground floor room of the control tower. The Polish instructor talked directly to his pilots over the radio telephone when they were in need of assistance. Understandably their English vocabulary was often forgotten with the traumas of wartime fighter training. The training undertaken by the pilots at Rednal was intensive. This being the case training sessions often resulted with high accident rates. In common with other OTUs Rednal witnessed many incidents; take off and landing crashes, mid-air collisions, taxying accidents and Spitfires lost on the high ground of south Shropshire and North Wales. The possibility of such accidents put a great strain on the personnel working at Rednal, day after day, week after week. Controller's Clerk, Margaret Hay, experienced this strain and describes in particular the tension in the control tower as pupil pilots made their first flights in a Spitfire.
"...when the first solo flights were made it was panic stations. The pilots flew every day, weather permitting, at dawn, dusk, and night. This meant that the only time the ground crew could relax was when the weather was 'C' for Charlie ["Clamped", ie fogbound] flying for pupil pilots was then forbidden." "Rednal was a very basic station, the flare path had to be laid with goose neck flares. If the wind changed direction when we were flying and the runway had to be changed, it took sometime for the flare path lorry to go out, lift the flares, drive them round to the new runway in use and re-lay them. It was fun and games when the pilots would
call up short of fuel! Panic stations to get them down safely. We heard many last words over the R/T and it was awful to hear and watch a fatal prang. If they were in trouble we informed the crash tender crew, also the ambulance, so everything was ready for the plane coming in. It was so sad, so many young men killed on training , it was such a waste of young life."
Flt/Lt, Reg Todd, MBE, RAF Retd, then Sgt Todd took his first flight at Rednal on the 28th April 1943:
"I got into the cockpit in earnest, ran up the engine, tested the magnetos and taxied to the end of the runway. The adrenalin was flowing like mad. When I called up the control tower for take off clearance, guess what? The R/T set was unserviceable and I had to return to the 'D' flight line! The next day Spitfire I KR-V behaved itself and after lining up on the runway, I opened the throttle and off I went. The acceleration was most noticeable, my first impression was of being pushed back into the seat. Next move was to ease the plane into the air. It did not take too much bidding and in no time I was airborne ready for the next item on the agenda...getting the wheels up. This meant changing over what you were doing with your hands. One very often took off initiating a switch back for one tended, for the first couple of flights to pump the control column as well as the undercarriage pump handle! The sum total of this was to make the aircraft take off like a porpoise. As both hands were full at that stage, great fun was had by all when the throttle friction nut was defective and the throttle lever came back to idle. Having gotten over over this crises, one looked around to find the airdrome which was nowhere in sight. That sorted out it was time to enjoy the flight. I thought there could be no other airplane to fly so sweetly. After flying a dozen other types, I still feel the same, a marvellous thing to be in."
The exercises undertaken at Rednal included sector recce2, cross-country, high climb to 30,000 feet, instrument flying, low flying, formation flying, bomber affiliation and dogfight practice. Dogfight practice claimed the life of one young Belgian, Pilot Officer, Jean Noizet who collided with another Spitfire and crashed into a local wood; his body was only discovered in 1977, still inside the cockpit of his Spitfire. The remains of this aircraft are now on display at RAF Cosford museum. In order to give pilots some experience in dive bombing, a target was set up on the airfield in 1943 but was moved following a fatal collision between two Spitfires over the target. A number of military hospitals were established in Shropshire prior to D-Day in preparation for the inevitable heavy casualties. Rednal was one of the airfields chosen to take receipt of the wounded who were flown direct from the battle front. The first Dakota landed at Rednal on July 3 1944. Flights went on throughout July and included wounded German as well as Allied personnel. During August, 77 Dakotas landed at Rednal flying in about 1, 750 men, the average load was 24 stretcher patients per aeroplane. One of the largest aircraft to land at Rednal was a Liberator which was diverted due to bad weather on April 24 1944. One unusual visitor was Baltimore AG689 from Hullavington, which crashed on take off on the 16 September 1944, killing two of the occupants and seriously injuring three others. 61 OTU began to re-equip with Mustang III's in January 1945 and at the same time a number of Master's were exchanged for Harvards. The Mustang's accident rate was lower than the Spitfire at Rednal, however five pilots were killed in crashes resulting from causes as diverse
2 i.e: reconnaissance
as oxygen failure, colliding with high ground, losing control in cloud and stalling on approach when carrying long range fuel tanks. A Polish pilot flying Mustang FZ150 crashed at Rednal after striking a telegraph pole in a tight turn following a practice attack.
A few names of personnel killed at, over, flying from or engaged in military activities at Rednal are Lister, Noizet, Turner, Wilkerson3, Zgainski, Batchelder, Degail, Gilbert, McPherson, and Robertson.
Rednal's last casualty was Pilot Officer Jamison on May 30 1945, flying Mustang FX942, the pilot radioed Rednal's control tower that he had reached Whitchurch at 25,000 feet; that was the last that was heard from the young pilot, as the aircraft was seen falling out of the sky and breaking up on the way down. On June 16 1945, 61 OTU moved to Keevil in Wiltshire. Rednal was no longer wanted and was reduced to Care and Maintenance, then finally sold back to the owners in 1962.
Flying training continues at Rednal in the form of helicopter training from nearby RAF Cosford, whose trainers use the distinctive triangle of the airfield for manoeuvres and have permission to perform hovering practice on outlying patches of grassland.
In the 1970s the Airfield buildings were granted light industrial use and the change to an Industrial Estate began. A few of the early pioneers are still at Rednal, working with sons and even grandsons.
Aviation returned to Rednal with the interest of global balloonist Per Lindstrand and his need for a large flat site to test airships. The restoration of some tarmac and construction of a new hanger made it possible for private pilots and model aircraft enthusiasts to use the airfield.
On 12th November 2000 Jason Rennie broke 3 motorcycling world records at Rednal: Ramp to ramp truck jump 21 trucks. Ramp to ramp tandem record 96ft. Head on moving ramp record 122ft
Now the airfield also hosts a Kart track and Paintballing site so unlike so many other WWII sites, it has not been entirely lost to development.