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Tatenhill Airfield, Staffordshire

On the B5234, 4 miles W of Burton-on-Trent (SK 1575 2406)


Tatenhill airfield is a few miles away and the nearest aerodrome of Second World War vintage to home. My interest in Tatenhill aerodrome started when I was about 14 (circa 1968). With my school friend Gary I would cycle up to the airfield and we would 'trespass' at high speed along the peri track pretending to be Graham Hill or Jim Clark in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. More recently my wife and I have walked along the footpaths of the Needwood area and so I've become reacquainted with the history of the site that survives today.

The airfield is still used for flying by local clubs and moneyed individuals and became licensed by the CAA for commercial flying in 1997. There has been a marked increase in activity over the past year or so.

"Best described as the aerodrome no one wanted, its war was spent as an RLG for a number of Midlands training units. Tatenhill had the last laugh though because it continued to operate aeroplanes long after its contemporaries were ploughed-up and still does now. Being the nearest airfield to Burton-on-Trent, centre of the English brewing industry, it was the obvious choice from which to operate a succession of business aircraft, the latest of which is the Beech Super King-Air G-BCUZ. A Cessna Citation executive jet visited recently and crop-spraying aircraft are often seen here too.
"These modern aircraft look very out of place amidst the fenced-off runways and crumbling wartime buildings. The King-Air is kept at one end of the east-west runway in a post-war hangar which resembles a cut-down 'T2' and there is a small control tower attached. The original hangars, a 'T2' and two Blisters, have gone but the old watch tower still stands in good condition a few hundred yards from its modern replacement. It is one of the small satellite types with four windows at the front, all very small to facilitate blacking-out. The upstairs control room retains its wooden floor and some of the internal doors are left, although all the inscriptions are now illegible. A small concrete block-house with no windows stands just behind it, once the 'speech broadcasting station'.
"Built in 1941 in picturesque rolling countryside, it was intended as a satellite for 27 OTU who flew Wellingtons from Lichfield on night-bomber training. This it became on November 2 1941, one of the OTU's Flights being detached here. There is also some evidence that it was used by 16 EFTS as an RLG for Burnaston during 1941, until Abbots Bromley became available, although this seems doubtful if construction was in progress.
The airfield was provided with a bomb dump on the south-east side and a number of frying pan dispersals were built on land to the north of the B5234 road, the hangars being situated in this area too. However, Tatenhill was found wanting and considered unsuitable for Wellingtons. It was only used until the larger aerodrome at Church Broughton was completed in October 1942 and was then left under a care and maintenance party. All flying facilities were retained and were used again on November 7 1942 when the station was loaned to Flying Training Command for 15 (P) AFU. This was an Oxford-equipped unit which was forced to use satellites literally all over the country after being displaced from its HQ at Leconfield to Andover for operational reasons.

"Tatenhill was next allocated to 5 (P) AFU at Tern Hill as a satellite for single-engined training. The Oxfords of the 15 (P) AFU detachment were to go to Grove in Berkshire. Indicative of the 'musical chairs' situation often prevailing in wartime airfield allocations, it was necessary to move the Heavy Glider Conversion Unit operating from Grove to Brize Norton as soon as possible. When the former station was vacated Tatenhill's Oxfords could go there, leaving room for the Miles Masters. This complicated re-shuffle was achieved by May 4 1943 and 'E' Flight of 5 (P) AFU started flying from Tatenhill, specializing in navigation and night training. This went on until January 28 1944 when the airfield was transferred to the control of 21 (P) AFU and Oxfords reappeared in the circuit.

"One of these Oxfords was destroyed in a spectacular crash on August 17 when EB731's trainee pilot failed to notice an aircraft below him on the approach. The runway controller fired a red Very light to warn him, whereupon he turned steeply to starboard and lost control. A wing tip struck the ground rolling the aircraft over and the pilot was very lucky to escape with minor injuries.
"On November 27 1944 the surrounding countryside was split by a mighty explosion, said to have been the biggest blast ever heard in the British Isles. The underground bomb-store used by 21 MU at Fauld, only three miles to the north of Tatenhill, had blown up with much loss of life and the huge overgrown crater can still be seen. No 21 MU now had to find a new base and eventually took over Tatenhill, the 21 (P) AFU aircraft moving to Seighford on January 26 1945.
"The RAF School of Explosives was also here from October 1945 until January 1947. The airfield was sold in the 1950s and the land between the runways has been cultivated. Many of the buildings near the tower have been converted into chicken houses but the dome-shaped astro trainer on this site has been demolished."
[David J Smith 1990]
Following the post-war release of Tatenhill aerodrome by the RAF to the Duchy of Lancaster's tenants in c1953, it was disused for a few years. The Burton-Newborough road (B5234), which traverses the site, had been closed 'for the duration' and was reopened in May 1954.
In 1959 the Burton upon Trent based Ind Coope brewery, who had a fleet of executive aircraft based at Burnaston airfield, acquired the lease to Tatenhill and transferred its operations there. On the north-east side of the perimeter track the company erected a remodelled, re-used Bellman hanger with a new control tower and office suite attached. At first only the eastern two-thirds of runway 08/26 was used. The other runways deteriorated rapidly and were used only occasionally. Runway 16/34 became disused very quickly while 014/22 was soon suitable for light aircraft only. Runway 08/26 was later extended to its present length of 1200m (1312 yds). A radar facility was erected at the convergence of 08/26 and 16/34 to deal with the dense winter fogs encountered over the Needwood Forest.
At commencement of operations Ind Coope transferred Captain David Lancaster (ex-RAF Fighter pilot) from Manchester to Tatenhill to become Chief Pilot. Captain Wally Evans DFC was appointed as his no. 2, with Chief Engineer Terry McCarthy completing the team. In 1961 Dave Moon replaced Terry McCarthy and he remained as Chief Engineer throughout, taking retirement in 1985. The team were joined by Captain Laurie Walford (ex-RAF) in 1968, who went on to became Chief Pilot upon David Lancaster's retirement. At its height the company had five pilots on site. At various times the brewery owned several executive aircraft based at Tatenhill including: G-APCZ de Havilland 104 Dove, G-ARDE de Havilland 104 Dove 6, G-ASNO Beech B55 Baron, Beech B 58 Baron S-ASIU Beech B65-A80 Queen Air, G-ASXV Beech B65-A80 Queen Air, and G-BCUZ Beech King Air 200. By the end of its operation the company had a Beechcraft King Air 90 and a Beechcraft King Air 200.
A highlight for all the staff at Tatenhill was a visit by HM the Queen in 1982 who, after visiting the Duchy of Lancaster estates in the Needwood Forest, flew out from the airfield in a Royal Flight aircraft. Laurie Walford, Dave Moon and other members of the team were presented to her before she departed.
The wartime watch tower became derelict during this period and was considered structurally unsafe. Concern was expressed that children using it as a playground might be injured and it was demolished in 1982/3.
The years 1984-5 saw large cutbacks at Allied Breweries which resulted in the closure of operations at Tatenhill in July 1985. The workforce, including Laurie Walford and Dave Moon, were made redundant and the aircraft sold. Thus ended a period of over 25 years private flying from the airfield.
A couple of years later the site came into the hands of Merlin Automatics Ltd, operating as an unlicensed airfield. It gained a licence in 1996, after the company became Tatenhill aviation. The second runway, 04/22, became disused some time after 2003.
The 21st century has brought a new development to the site. Due to the airfield's strategic position within the midland counties, the Midlands Air Ambulance have stationed a rescue helicopter (G-EMAA) on the northern peri-track west of the control tower and and flight operation buildings (see here). Aerial view

Airfield history

late 1940 (?)Construction of RAF Tatenhill authorised
Spring (?) 1941Construction started - as satellite for Lichfield A/D
16 EFTSBurnaston'summer' 1941Abbots Bromley'late 1941'Possibly, evidence unclear.
27 OTU, 'B' FlightLichfield2 November 1941Church BroughtonOctober 1942
October 19427 November 1942Care & maintenance
15 (P) AFULeconfield7 November 1942 Grove4 May 1943
5 (P) AFU, 'E' FlightCalveley4 May 1943disbanded February 1944(?)
21 (P) AFUWheaton Aston28 January 1944Seighford26 January 1945
27 November 1944Explosion at 21 MU RAF Fauld
21 MUFauld26 January 1945disbanded January 1947
RAF School of ExplosivesOctober 1945January 1947
January 1947Aerodrome closed to flying
January 1947(probably) 1953Care & maintenance)
(probably) 1953Site returned to Duchy of Lancaster's tenants
May 1954B5234 road re-opened to public traffic
Ind Coope (later Allied Breweries Ltd)Burnastonnot before 1959July 1985Private airfield
Merlin Automatics Ltdcirca spring 1987
Tatenhill Aviation Ltd (1)1987end of 1996Unlicensed airfield
Tatenhill Aviation Ltd (2) end of 1996presentLicensed airfield
Midlands Air Ambulance Charity East Midlands airportMarch 2008presentAmbulance helicopter base

Land at the field on YouTube here!
A tablulated history and photographs here.
For more information:
The Lez Watson Inexperience

The author - Leslie (Lez) V Watson - has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
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v20 :: January / February 2020