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Croydon Airport's time as the busiest in the country

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ONE politician might want to see Gatwick Airport adopt the Croydon name but, once upon time, this borough was home to the country's busiest airport, as Bunmi Adigun reports... ONCE considered the pride of London, Croydon Airport is now a remnant of the pre-war era. The airport, which played a pivotal role during the Battle of Britain, was left surplus to requirements after the war.

Croydon Airport helped to cement the borough's place in British aviation history, as the first commercial airport in the capital.

It dominated the country's aviation industry during the first half of the 20th century. However, it started out from humble beginnings, when it merely consisted of a pair of small airfields.

It was built in 1915 to help protect London against German Zeppelin raids during the First World War; and would later welcome the military again during the Second World War.

Croydon Airport officially opened to the public on March 29, 1920, after the airfields were combined to create London's first commercial airport, an historic moment for the borough as well as the rest of the United Kingdom.

At the cutting edge of aviation technology at the time, it was the first airport in the world to operate air traffic control, which has been a feature of every other new airport since it was introduced at Croydon in 1921.

The first major plane company to make use of the newly created airport was Imperial Airways, one of Britain's first airlines. The company operated flights to and from the far-flung territories of the British Empire.

Within a few years the airport was forced to expand, as more and more commercial flights were being scheduled.

During the Second World War, commercial aeroplanes made way for the military aircraft of the RAF and allied forces. Houses located near the airport were used as makeshift barracks as more and more soldiers and airmen were drafted into the airport, which was seen as an important strategic location.

During the war there were actually more flights in and out of Croydon Airport than there had been during its commercial heyday in the 1920s.

It wasn't long until the airport was grabbing the attention of the Nazis, who sought to cripple Britain's dominance in the air.

As London's only major airport, Croydon was specifically targeted by the Luftwaffe, who wanted to weaken the RAF and immobilise the capital.

Lord Haw-Haw, a radio personality on the German propaganda programme, Germany Calling, famously warned the British public in 1939 about an imminent attack by the Luftwaffe on Croydon Airport.

He said: "Croydon must beware. She is the second line of defence. We know the aerodrome is camouflaged, but we know just what kind of camouflage it is. We shall bomb it and bomb it to a finish." Despite this, the airport continued to play a frontline role during the war.

Read next week's Nostalgia for the second part of our look at Croydon Airport's history.

Main source: Croydon Airport: from war to peace, by Joanna Bogle, Douglas Cluett, and Bob Learmonth, published 2003.

Croydon Airport's time as the busiest in the country


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