Calshot

  The first thing passengers on the ships that approach Southampton Waters notice is the tall tower which is the Coastguard Tower which stands proudly above Calshot Castle. Though this is overshadowed by the much taller chimney of the Fawley Power station.

Calshot was first mentioned in history in 495AD when it was related in the Saxon Chronicles that a Saxon chieftain had landed  somewhere between Lepe and present day Calshot with five ships, this was believed to have been Cericesora, the landing place of Cerdic, a name similar to that used in the manorial roll for the site in 980AD. Henry VIII was famous for his dissolving of the monasteries and being excommunicated by the Pope so he decided that Couldshore would be a perfect place to construct a castle, which would govern the approaches to Southampton, which during the 15th and 16th centuries deemed to be the third largest Port in England, and it was believed that the French and Spanish were ready to invade England and this seemed a likely place, and this castle would link in well with the other castles at Netley and St Andrew's on the common at Hamble.

 In 1585, an artillery garrison was installed on a permanent basis with one master gunner and seven gunners, the castle was badly damaged in the reign of Elizabeth I and 127 oak trees were brought from the nearby New Forest in order to make repairs, which were finished just in time for the Armada threat of 1588.

 

     
 
Calshot Castle and HM Coastguard tower   Entrance to the castle
 
Two figures in uniform, the left hand figure
has the flying suit made by Cotton, while the
other figure is in RAF Medical uniform
  The steep stairway up to the gun platform
 
The Rapid firing gun facing the Solent with the lifeboat in the background
 
Two cannons on the roof of the castle
 
The Barrack Room, note the rack for holding uniform and kit box at foot of bed
The second picture shows the coal burning stove.

Calshot was said to be a lonely outpost for the soldier and families who were stationed there as it was a very isolated and barren bit of coastline and it was frequented by bands of smugglers who found the shingle beaches and little inlets perfect places  for them to land their contraband at the dead of night without being seen by the Revenue men.

 
The Beach at Calshot   The Fawley PowerStation

James Parkinson was the Captain at Calshot and it is said that he ruled with an iron fist and he began a reign of terror that included a bit of privateering for many years, and his men would not let ships past the castle unless they paid a 'toll' of at least half of their cargoes.

During the Civil War of 1642 a Captain Swanley who was the commander of a Parliamentarian gunboat somehow managed to disable the canon in the castles of Calshot, Netley and St Andrews and held Southampton under siege, and would not lift it till the townspeople pledged their support for Cromwell. It was another six years before the Governor of Carisbrooke Castle on the nearby Isle of Wight made a report which stated that Castle had great strength.

One settlement here was known locally as Lazy Town as the men there seldom did any work and were thought to be involved with the local smuggling trade. A custom house was stationed at Hythe and they were ordered to stop the smuggling but as there were so few of them and so many smugglers who were so well organised that it made their mission impossible, especially so as many of the local villages in the area gave their support to the illegal trade. Luttrell's Tower was stood at the beach end of Calshot Spit and it was constructed in 1780 by Temple Simon Luttrell. It was a rather prominent building but ideally it had a network of tunnels that linked the cellars of the house to the cliffs.

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars a brand new Coastguard was set up and all along the coat houses were built for Revenue men to live in with their families. This also happened at Calshot but gradually they fell into disrepair and have been demolished.

 

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During the 1980s some memoirs were published in Canada which led to the story of some clandestine activities being conducted at Calshot, during World War II. This involved the use of a number of German Heinkel 115, floatplanes being taken onto the base to be used on highly sensitive undercover work.

A small team of airmen were sent to the base at Calshot, among them was John Iverach, a Canadian who had volunteered at the beginning of the war and had become a navigator with the RAF. The airmen were taken to a heavily guarded hanger, where they were shown a German Heinkel 115, which had been re-equipped with special equipment for a secret mission.

Apparently these planes had been flown to Britain from Norway, who had purchased the aircraft back in 1939, since then however, with the war moving into Norway, they had also captured two more Heinkels.

John Iverachs' pilot along with a wireless operator and gunner flew many missions into German held territory. On one occasion they even went into the German held port of Tripoli, where they saved a number of allied agents.

When one aircraft was forced down into the sea the missions were scrapped and the airmen posted back to various other units.

A Heinkel 115 in Finnish markings

   
 
Lawrence House with its plaque commemorating T. E Lawrence (Alias Aircraftsman Shaw

CALSHOT AND THE AIR

It was a cold day in Kittyhawk, North Carolina. on 17 December 1903, and there were only  five people assembled to welcome the Wright brothers as they flew a heavier-than-air machine for the very first time.

The soldiers and coastguards at Calshot that December, were completely unaware of the goings on at Kittyhawk as they prepared for Christmas. But within ten years this event would change this lonely spit of landy in a way that nobody imagined. Within seven a band of enthusiasts formed The Hampshire Aero Club at Gosport and in 1911 came the start of aviation history along the Solent area. Many boat builders also opened aircraft departments in the hope that this would lead to them to contracts with the Royal Navy who were showing an interest in the development of the aircraft. Samuel White and Saunders started production at the site at Cowes, Isle of White, Luke and Co. at Hamble and a year or two later Sopwith Aviation opened a factory at Woolston on the River Itchen. Camper and Nicholson also opened at Northam Bridge Southampton. Four naval officers were posted to the Isle of Sheppey to attend a course on flying and one of them Lieutenant Commander Longmore did his first solo flight and only 2 hours of tuition. He was not to know how much Calshot would influence his later life

The coveted Schneider Trophy

In 1912 a wealthy French industrialists, Jacques Schneider, announced his new aviation trophy competition. Schneider's race was different from others of the time for it was for seaplanes only national aero clubs, not individual pilots, could take part. But it was Schneider's intention to encourage development of seaplanes not just as racing machines but as practical aircraft,  So his contest involved a speed trial over a 150 mile course over open sea as well as a seaworthiness trial. The second Schneider race was held at Monaco in 1914 and the winner was a Sopwith Tabloid at a speed of 86.75mph.  But as war was looming on the horizon no races were held until Bournemouth in 1919 which was won by an Italian Savoia aircraft.

Here in the United Kingdom competitions were regularly being held and in 1913  a Sopwith Bat Boat won The Mortimer Singer Prize for a practical amphibian craft,despite the fact that its  undercarriage had to be lowered by a well-aimed kick from the observer on board!

In the same year a round Britain trip put up by the Daily Mail was won by another Bat Boat and both planes were purchased by the Royal Navy and started life at the newly formed Royal Naval Air Station, Calshot. which opened on 19 March 1913 and consisted of three sheds built to house 12 planes, one of these the Sopwith Hangar is still in use today. The first commanding officer was Lieutenant Spenser Grey who flew into the base from his home in Southsea every day in his own seaplane.

The first aircraft to arrive here was a Sopwith Bat Boat and the work at Calshot was encouraged greatly by Winston Churchill, who at the time was the First Lord of the Admiralty, and it was from here that he took his first trip in a seaplane on 28 August 1913, piloted by Tommy Sopwith who later taught Churchill to fly.

At nearby Eaglehurst House lived another famous person, albeit his fame was of a different nature. The was Marconi and he often entertained officers from the station to dinner at the house, and this helped hi in his early trials for setting up wireless telegraphy from the aircraft themselves. A poignant reminder of those early pioneering days is a small building on the site that was the wireless telegraphy shed.

Squadron Commander Longmore took over command at Calshot in January of 1914 and with his experience and that of other officers in the use of torpedoes and guns added the use of the seaplane into an offensive role to the reconnaissance trials that were being held at the time. The observation of U-boats, torpedo attacks, aerial photography and the use of mounted guns and bomb dropping techniques were all developed from these early beginnings at Calshot. On 4 August 1913 Longmore returned from a dinner party at Marconi's, Eaglehurst House to find a signal there for him from the Admiralty to tell him that the war with Germany had begun.

A Kings Review was held at Spithead in July 1914 and a large collection of aircraft from the Royal Naval Air Stations was assembled here, a total of 17 lined up with the fleet and did a fly past of the Royal Yacht. The political situation got worse within a few days, and the spit at Calshot was taken over with the former Castle Yacht Clubhouse becoming the officers mess. After the declaration of war on 4th August both  Calshot and Dover along with some other small coastal stations too over the defence of the English Channel and Calshot also acted as a training station for new recruits into the service and Calshot had an excellent war record. In 1916 patrols for the year achieved over 3,000 flying hours and the U19 was sunk off of Portland Bill by a Royal Navy ship that was helped by a spotter plane from Calshot. A White seaplane, sank the U32 by dropping a 100lb bomb from a canvas sling which was opened by the pilot pulling a string to disengage a split pin!



By now Calshot had become an important base and the development of the site and its buildings date back to this period. There were three flights based here in 1918 and together they managed to exceed 9.000 hours of patrol flights in a three month period. Out of 42 Uboats reported 3 were sunk.

Buildings, offices and workshops were constructed in 1917 and Calshot castle was practically engulfed by hangars, slipways and jetties. A new camp was need to give domestic and living accommodation and it was decided to built one at Eaglehurst. The officers mess was in The Flying Boat Inn, which sadly is now demolished and only St Georges Chapel remain. A narrow gauge railway was built to run from the spit to Eaglehurst and later the RAF bought the track and trains. A favourite sight for the locals was the Calshot Express which stayed in service up until VJ Day in 1945, and it was used to carry the personnel back and forth each day. One of the small locomotives. 'Douglas' is still in use on the Talyllyn Railway in Wales.

The largest hangar, Sunderland Hangar, was once H Hangar and is now the Calshot Activities Centre and it was built during expansion of the site in 1917, the Schneider Hangar is a little bit older and the Sopwith Hangar goes back to 1913 and is the second oldest hangar left in Britain. It was the combining of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service on April 1st 1918 that was the beginning of what is now known as the Royal Air  Force and  the three flights that were based at Calshot became 240 Squadron RAF and in 1920 saw Calshot named as RAF Calshot and was a training establishment for flying boats and also a base for Coastal Reconnaissance.

There was also a large part of the unit designated for the training of motorboat crews and other marine craft, the boats mainly used for the rescue of airmen who came down in the sea. Another job they did was to tow targets for ships to shoot at as well as aircraft, and also as tugs for the flying boats.

Felixstowe flying boats powered by twin Rolls Royce engines were stationed here near the end of WWI and these could stay airborne for around six hours, and became one of the U-boats most formidable foes.

In 1925 Supermarine 'Southampton' flying boats took the place of the Felixstowe, the Southamptons had wooden hulls and a problem was that through seepage of water a further 400lb was added to their weight. Though later Duralumin which was then used. But though the hull was of metal the wings were still built our of wood and canvas. The Southampton had five open cockpits, including a tandem pair for the two pilots and the other three for the gunners who were equipped with Lewis guns, with five 97 round amunition drums, mounted on a metal rim to enable them to be swivelled.

The Supermarine Southampton



The Southamptons contributed greatly as a proving ground for the reliability of aircraft of the time and some of them flew many long distance tours,  the most famous being the Far East Flight, during 1927/28, when four Southamptons covered 27,000 miles around Australia and the Far East, without accident.

All metal construction with fully enclosed cockpits came into being in 1936, thus opening a new chapter in aviation.


In 1927 the Schneider Cup Competition, which was held in Venice was won by Britain. Flight Lieutenant Webster, had achieved 281.65mph in a Supermarine S5.

The Supermarine S6

It was 12 March, when Flight Lieutenant Sam Kinkead, flying the S5, was tragically killed when his plane crashed into The Solent while on a record attempt. Kinkead, was one of the service's finest junior officers, and he was buried at Fawley, and is commemorated at Calshot Activities Centre by the Kinkead Conference Room.

This win, in 1927, gave Britain the right to host the race in 1929, and naturally Calshot was chosen as the venue. The S5 aircraft, from 1927, had been developed as far as it could go. Britain was fortunate to have the design genius of RJ Mitchell at the Supermarine works. He designed the Rolls Royce 'R' engine. And an S5 plane was on display at the entrance to the Royal Pier in Southampton for many years until a Hall of Aviation was opened and it was moved here alongside a Short Sunderland flying boat and many other exhibits.

A crowd of around a million lined the Solent to watch the race on Saturday 7 September and Flight Lieutenant Waghorn did the seven laps at an average speed of 328.63mph to take the prize for Britain. And then five days later, Squadron Leader Orlebar smashed the air-speed record in an S6 at 365.1 mph.

A familiar name that was involved in the races was Aircraftsman Shaw, who was better known to many as Colonel TE Lawrence of Arabia.

Shaw came to Calshot to help with the 1929 Schneider Races and was the personal fitter for Wing Commander Smith of RAF Mountbatten in Plymouth. Shaw  was seconded to the British Powerboat factory at Hythe, and he worked closely with Hubert Scott Paine, the owner. Launches were the workhorse for many tasks at a flying-boat station, being used for  towing disabled aircraft, collecting bombs from practice runs, and for towing gunnery target boats.

Work at Hythe in developing these high speed launches led to the development of air-sea rescue craft and very fast motor torpedo boats.

Aircraftsman Shaw
better known as
T. E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)

Launch at sea


Sadly Aircraftsman Shaw, better known to everyone today as Lawrence of Arabia, died tragically in a motorcycle accident ir May 1935 near his home in Dorset.

 
Aircraftsman Shaw

In 1931 the work of the High-Speed Flight reached a climax, when it had to fly for the right to forever retain the prestigious Schneider Trophy. With the government near to recession they could not afford to develop a new plane to replace the S6 which were not powerful enough to guarantee success.

It was Lady Fanny Lucy Houston, formerly Lady Byron, who joined with two associates who provided a  100,000 sponsorship to allow  Mitchell to develop the S6B racing seaplane from his successful S6 of 1929. This  design allowed a new Rolls Royce 'R' engine, which was capable of giving  2,350bhp. T

he engine, a V12, was developed by Rolls Royce in just seven months, and Mitchell nicknamed it  the 'Flying Radiator', as its large and floats all available space and were used to cool the powerful engine.

The race was won by Flight Lieutenant Boothman who attained a speed of 340 mph and he is remembered by the Boothman Conference Room at Calshot. A fortnight later Flight Lieutenant Stainforth achieved 407.5mph in an S6B which again smashed the air speed record, this was not beaten until a further two years had passed.

The combined generosity of Lady Houston and the courage of the Schneider Cup pilots along with RJ Mitchell's designs brought an era of aviation history to a fitting end. In five years Mitchell went on to design the one aircraft that made him most famous The Supermarine Spitfire with its Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Mitchell died on 11 June 1937 at the age of 42 and did not see the success of his plane.

In 1938 Calshot was again preparing for hostilities, and the land at the spit was bought by the RAF and the beaches and beach huts closed. When war was declared the resident squadrons, 240 and 201 were sent to Scotland and Pembroke Docks. Calshot was then responsible for the repair and maintenance of the flying boats and marine craft and for training the crews of the launches. Eaglehurst was enlarged to house the ever increasing number of personnel that passed through the base and in 1940 several strange float planes appeared at Calshot. Norway had bought Heinkel He115 seaplanes before the war, and before the country fell to the Germans the planes were flown out and later were often used to pick up special agents from inside enemy territory.

Calshot also sent five seaplane tenders to help in the evacuation at Dunkirk on 31 May 1940 and three of these tenders carried 500 men to safety, with one of them making a successful second voyage.

It was just before the war, that the Short Sunderland flying boat entered service with the RAF, and Calshot became very busy with as many as 20 craft being dealt with each month.

The Sunderland was soon to became the workhorse of Coastal Command and, like the Felixstowe, it was invaluable in the war against U-boats. On D Day, 6 June 1944, these planes covered all approaches along the Channel, keeping the invasion fleet free from attack by U-boats. Two squadrons of 4/7 Dragoon Guards, with waterproof tanks, a Welsh infantry regiment and 150 Canadian troops embarked for the Normandy beaches from the slipways within the base.



201 and 230 squadrons flew home to Calshot in March 1946, and the station once more became a flying base.

Developed as a long-range patrol aircraft, The Sunderland flying boat was capable of 16 hours' duration. Armed with a top, rear and nose gun turrets and it included a well-equipped galley, to make the long hours of searching across open seas pass more pleasantly. Weighing in at 20 tons, the plane carried 2,500 gallons of fuel.


The Sunderland Flying Boat

Short Brothers built he first Sunderland flying boats, at Rochester.and by 1938, Short and Harland, in Belfast was building the planes for the RAF. In all, 749 aircraft were built.

The Sunderland was a formidable weapon, often armed with upwards of 11 machine guns, mounted in power-driven turrets. In June 1943, a Sunderland, returning from Lisbon, fought off eight Junkers-88 fighters after downing four of them.


During the Berlin crisis of 1948, all the Sunderland aircraft from Calshot were called into action and flew over 1.000 sorties to the Berlin Lakes from Hamburg carrying food into the city and evacuating sick children.

On their return  from Berlin 201 and 230 were transferred to Pembroke. Some flying continued at Calshot, but, on 1 April 1961, the base finally closed. Calshot had been at the centre of many aviation achievements, but most will remember it for the days in 1929 and 1931, when courageous pilots from the High Speed Flight raced for the coveted Schneider Trophy and won.

At nearby Southampton, Sunderland flying boats, in their various commercial versions, were still a regular sight. In 1948, a flying boat terminal was opened in the eastern docks, from which aircraft flew to the far-off corners of the Empire, offering the public a faster and equally luxurious trip to that offered by the liners of the day By 1950, BOAC ran its last flight from Southampton Water; although Aquila Airways kept services running until 1958, the era was closing fast.

The Princess Flying Boat



The story of these aircraft cannot close without mention of the proposed long-haul replacement for the Sunderland. In 1945, Saunders Roe, at Cowes, designed and developed a flying boat weighing in at 140 tons. The size of the Princess could be compared to many of the aircraft owned by commercial airlines that provide cheap flights to various locations. It would carry 100 passengers and have a range of 5,000 miles. One Princess was completed and flew, before the project was scrapped. The two unfinished craft were cocooned at Calshot for nearly 20 years, before being scrapped.



In 1981, a Sandringham flying boat, called 'The Southern Cross', landed at Calshot after an epic journey across the Atlantic Ocean. This plane is now housed in the Hall of Aviation, in Southampton. The last flying Sunderland, 'Excalibur'. came ashore at Calshot in 1984. After an extensive refit, it was flown to Florida in 1994 to join the extensive collection of Kermit Weeks.

On 18 May 1964, Hampshire County Council took over the base and ran the first sailing course.

Footnote: Today the Coastguard is more into safety at sea and on the shoreline while smuggling comes under the Customs and Excise.

Thanks to the Calshot Museum for allowing us to use these photos and text