Remembering our wartime history ahead of the Great Yarmouth Air Show
PUBLISHED: 11:37 15 June 2018
Aircraft will be buzzing over Great Yarmouth seafront at its first ever show this weekend- but the shoreline has seen aerial action in the past - when it was a vital First World War military base repelling enemy airships, navy vessels and submarines.
The Royal Naval Air Station was at the South Denes, which has been used for horse racing and drying fishermen’s nets, and is now the location of the town’s outer harbour.
It opened in April 1913, closed in 1919, was used for pleasure flights until the 1930s and then turned into a holiday caravan park – whose visitors spent a penny in former barracks buildings.
Air show director Asa Morrison says: “Military planes will be flying over Great Yarmouth’s shore to entertain the crowds – a poignant reminder of the town’s important and serious role as a naval air base in the Great War.”
The Great Yarmouth air station was part of a network founded by First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill to tackle the growing threat of zeppelin raids.
A fleet of 30 planes and 300 airmen and crew were also tasked with spotting German ships and detecting U-boats. There was a mix of wheeled and float planes able to land on sea or land. Hickling Broad was on standby if the sea was too rough.
The public were barred from the site during flying operations, but could visit on Sunday afternoons if the crews were not in action.
Unfortunately the local planes were unable to save Great Yarmouth from being written into a piece of military history – when it was the victim of the first ever aerial attack on the UK on January 19, 1915 – because the aircraft could not match the airship’s cruising height. But on November 27, 1916 they shot one down over the sea near Lowestoft. Two more were chalked up in 1917 and 1918, credited to Flight Commander Bob Leckie, who also badly damaged a U-boat.
The only physical reminder of the station’s role is a blue plaque on 25 Regent Street, a former office of the Great Yarmouth Mercury, which was the regional headquarters of the Royal Naval Air Service.