During the Second World War the New Forest was a hive of military activity and had many hastily built airfields within or close to its boundary. A vast range of aircraft types flew from the area during the war, flown by a variety of foreign nationals including US, Canadian, Australian, Free French, Polish and Czech units. Some of the sites were classed as major airfields and located at the following locations:-
These sites are covered in detail on other pages in this web section. A fifth major airfield was located just outside the New Forest at Hurn and this is the only wartime airfield that still remains. Nowadays we know it as Bournemouth Airport.
In addition to the major airfield sites, there were specialist sites at Calshot and Sopley. RAF Calshot, situated at the entrance to Southampton Water, was a base for Sunderland Flying Boats immediately prior to the war but these squadrons were moved further away from the English Channel coast at the outbreak of hostilities. For the remainder of the war Calshot became primarily responsible for the repair, maintenance and modification of RAF flying boats, concentrating on the maintenance of Short Sunderland seaplanes. Meanwhile, RAF Sopley’s main purpose was to detect, locate and track enemy aircraft and provide inland radar coverage for the UK and it continued as part of the Air Traffic Control network until its eventual closure in 1974.
Supplementing the major airfields were four Advanced Landing Grounds (ALG). This was a term given to the temporary advance airfields constructed by the Allies during WW2 in support of the invasion of Europe in 1944. They were used to support the advancing ground armies engaged on the battlefield and once the front line moved out of range for the aircraft, the squadrons moved up to newly built ALGs closer to the ground forces and left the ones in the rear for other support uses, or simply abandoned them. Those in the New Forest were superseded by ALGs in Northern France and all would have been constructed on open ground using Sommerfeld Tracking, a form of stiffened steel wire mesh that was laid across the grass surface. These New Forest ALGs were situated at:-
- RAF Bisterne located to the south of Ringwood
- RAF Lymington located at South Baddesley
- RAF Needs Ore Point located at the mouth of the Beaulieu River
- RAF Winkton located near RAF Sopley to the north of Christchurch
During a very brief period between 1940 and 1941 there was also an Emergency Landing Ground (ELG) at Sway which was used briefly as an adjunct to Christchurch airfield, after which it reverted to farmland. There were also two “Starfish” decoy sites at Denny Lodge, near Lyndhurst and at Longdown ( situated close to the aptly named Decoy Pond Farm just to the north east of Beaulieu Road Station) whose purpose to confuse the enemy. Starfish sites were large scale night-time decoys created during the Blitz to simulate burning British cities and deflect enemy bombing raids. Both Denny and Longdown were decoys for the strategically important Southampton area with its large port and Spitfire factory. A decoy airstrip located at Woodgreen in the north west of the Forest was used to mimic the night time lights of nearby Ibsley airfield plus another at Ridley Plain near Burley to deflect enemy night time raids from nearby RAF Hurn.
Very little remains of any of these wartime operations which must have had a large impact on the area during 1939 to 1945 and many visitors today have little conception of what was happening back then. These airfields of the New Forest played an important part in securing the eventual victory in WW2 and are commemorated by a memorial standing on the western boundary of the site of the wartime airfield of Holmsley South, pictured above.
The map below shows all the airfield locations across the New Forest – red lines indicate runway layouts.
View New Forest Airfields in a larger map
Further information regarding all these airfields can also be found by visiting the Friends of New Forest Airfields (FONFA) website. FONFA is a registered charity that was formed by a group of aviation enthusiasts, service veterans and historians to inform residents and visitors to the New Forest about its significant aviation heritage. They maintain the Aviation Heritage Centre in Mosquito Way, Bransgore, BH23 8HE, which houses many interesting displays about the New Forest airfields and many of those who flew from them. The group is also responsible for the New Forest Airfields Memorial (pictured at the top of this page), which is situated within the perimeter of the former Holmsley South airfield.