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Thread: South Marston

  1. #1

    Default South Marston

    Can anyone tell me what hangars and how many were originally built at South Marston Airfield please?

    Thanks in advance

  2. #2
    Senior Member OneEighthBit's Avatar
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    Aug 2008
    EGBJ <-> ESSB

    Default Re: South Marston

    Can't help I'm afraid but I have a huge 1955 aerial of the site if it's of any use.

  3. #3

    Default Re: South Marston

    Definitely OEB, that would be a great help. Is it emailable or postable on the forum??

  4. #4
    Senior Member PETERTHEEATER's Avatar
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    May 2008
    Hua Hin, Thailand (resident) ex RAF Armourer 1956 - 1970

    Default Re: South Marston

    Some nice photographs here of aircraft types with background buildings:

  5. #5
    Senior Member OneEighthBit's Avatar
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    Aug 2008
    EGBJ <-> ESSB

    Default Re: South Marston

    Quote Originally Posted by REF View Post
    Definitely OEB, that would be a great help. Is it emailable or postable on the forum??
    I can post a smaller version on the forum and email a larger to me if you PM your email address. It's basically from the old OS coverage on Google but from the original hi-res scans.

  6. #6

    Default Re: South Marston

    Thanks OEB, I will send a PM but a photo on the forum would be great as well if thats ok.

  7. #7
    Senior Member netcompsys's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    North Lincolnshire

    Default Re: South Marston

    From Swindonweb

    Preparing for war

    Aircraft manufacture in the area was first mooted in 1936 when the Air Ministry, with one eye on Germany's re-armament, started to make plans for 'shadow' sites which would provide back-up to the country's leading aircraft factories should they be attacked - and even substitute for them, if they were put out of action.

    By 1938, with war seemingly inevitable, South Marston was chosen as a shadow site because of its good communication links, but mostly because it was so close to the large skilled workforce of Swindon's huge GWR factory.

    With the first planes to be built at South Marston due to be made from wood, the skills of craftsmen from the carriage and wagon shops were to prove vital.

    Many of the workers arrived via the Swindon and Highworth Light Railway. This was originally built to take railway employees from the Highworth area to Swindon, but a specially built new branch to South Marston meant that some of these workers would now be going in the opposite direction.

    South Marston was to shadow the Phillips and Powis Aircraft Ltd factory at Woodley, near Reading - and by 1940 some of the production of a training plane called the Miles Master was transferred to the new South Marston site.

    Building work on the factory at South Marston began in January 1940, but a hasty change of plan was ordered by government officials when they saw the size of the building that was taking shape.

    They felt that it presented too big a target to enemy bombers, so units were set up at Sevenhampton and Blunsdon instead.

    The South Marston factory was ready by the summer of 1940 - just as the RAF was about to fight and win the Battle of Britain.

    First production starts

    By the following spring, the first South Marston Master had rolled off the production line and a year later the factory was turning out nearly 80 a month.

    In all, over a thousand Masters would be produced at South Marston - and the aircraft was to prove one of the unsung heroes of the war.

    Many Spitfire and Hurricane pilots learned their trade in a Master, while a number of other air forces also used them, and some were to see active service as glider tugs.

    But it was as an effective trainer that the plane really made its mark.

    Some Masters could almost match the speed of early Spitfires and Hurricanes and are an important milestone in RAF history because they were the first high-powered monoplane trainers with similar handling characteristics to the new fighters.

    They also had the same 'goodies', such as retractable undercarriages, flaps and variable pitch propellors.

    At the same time as Masters were being produced at South Marston, the area also found itself helping with the manufacture of other aircraft.

    Men at Swindon's giant Railway Works machined 171,000 components and carried out some timber airframe refurbishment for Hawker Hurricanes, while Marine Mountings (later Lister and Petter or RA Lister), at Wroughton, and Plessey, in Swindon, were also involved in producing components for the war effort.

    The area was also about to put together whole bombers.

    In August 1940, the Short Brothers Ltd factory at Rochester was bombed and put out of action, and when the Belfast factory was also attacked, the Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP) switched much of the Short Stirling manufacturing to the Swindon area.

    Fuselages were built at Blunsdon and fitted out at Sevenhampton, while parts, including wings, were also manufactured in No. 24 Shop in Swindon Railway Works (in buildings now owned by Clares Retail Equipment Ltd, at North Star) and at a garage in the town centre (later to become Skurray's).

    These parts were all taken to South Marston, which also produced some of the wings, for assembly in a new purpose-built factory, called FS2.

    Take-off and landing facilities were also needed for the four-engined Stirling, so two 1,000-yard concrete runways were constructed close to the FS2 site.

    These were painted with woodchips dipped in camouflage paint, while sections of hedges were also put together to be spread across the runway when not in use, and complete the deception.

    Stirling bomber

    The first Stirling took off for delivery to the RAF at the beginning of 1942 and soon the factory was completing 16 a month.

    Between the autumn of 1942 and the spring of 1943, however, production of both the Master and the Stirling was wound down.

    The intention was to produce Lancaster bombers instead, but plans were shelved as the factory prepared to play host to the world's most celebrated military aircraft.

    The Spitfire story

    First the factory undertook modification work on US aircraft, but demand for the new generation of Spitfires - the Mark 21 - became so great that South Marston turned all of its production facilities over to these most famous of fighters.

    Control of the factory duly passed from Phillips and Powis to Supermarine, with South Marston now becoming the shadow factory of the famous Castle Bromwich site in the Midlands and the original Supermarine factory in Southampton (which was extensively damaged by bombing in 1940) where RJ Mitchell designed and tested the original plane.

    Much of the workforce received hasty retraining in metalwork as a result and, at first, the factory only carried out modifications on older Spitfires before the first South Marston-built Mark 21 was delivered to the RAF just before Christmas 1943.

    South Marston's role in the Spitfire story, however, was short-lived. The new Spitfire was a high altitude fighter and - especially with D-Day on the horizon in the summer of 1944 - the situation had moved on.

    In the end, only 121 Mark 21s were built at South Marston, although another 50 modified Spitfires bound for naval action (which the Royal Navy called Seafires) were also made there.

    Production of later versions of the Spitfire also continued after the war, before South Marston's last Spitfire (actually a Seafire) was completed in January 1949.

    In October 1945, Vickers bought the factory and airfield from MAP (it cost them 500,000) and the factory's new roles included the modification of planes which had survived the war into trainers.

    Spitfires also continued to fly out of South Marston after repairs and modifications, with most of these ending up in foreign air forces.

    Walrus and Sea Otter amphibians were also refurbished - the former destined to fly the colours of the Netherlands and Argentinian air forces, and the latter for civil duties.

    By the 1950s the South Marston factory was part of the Vickers-Armstrongs (Aircraft) Ltd, Supermarine Division.

    Still the spirit of the Spitfire was proving persistent as production turned to the Attacker, a jet version of the Spiteful, which in turn had evolved from the Spitfire.

    The Attacker was the Royal Navy's first jet fighter designed for launching from aircraft carriers and was also used by the Royal Pakistan Air Force. In all, 182 attackers were built at South Marston between 1950 and 1953.

    Next off the production line was the Swift, an RAF fighter that had evolved from the Attacker.

    This aircraft was destined for the record books when a South Marston-built Swift (WK19 set the world speed record at 736mph, over Libya, on September 25th, 1953 - a record it held for just eight days.

    This was the second time that a vehicle made in the Swindon area had held the record - the GWR locomotive City of Truro having set it at 102.3mph in 1904 (see link below). In all, 197 Swifts were manufactured - all of them at South Marston.

    The factory also produced Scimitar jets for the Royal Navy, and it was to be a Scimitar that would be the final complete aircraft built on the site, in January 1961.

    Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the factory produced components for a wide range of other Vickers products - and not always for aircraft.

    Some parts were for hovercraft, while others - in an ironic twist from when railway workers switched trades to build those first Masters - were components for railway carriages.

    Throughout this time, Vickers was an important research and development site, with designers at South Marston, for instance, pioneering new freeze-drying processes.

    The site had one more twist up its sleeve - and ensured that South Marston would have a hand in the production of planes, trains and automobiles during its lifetime.

    In the mid-1980s, Honda bought the site, adapted the runways to become a test track and made way for its 1.5million sq ft car plant by demolishing the original factory.

    Happily, the old FS2 building remains, providing commercial, workshop and warehouse accommodation for BSS (Business Space Services), and the Sevenhampton buildings also survive.

    Although South Marston was the biggest, it was by no means the only wartime and post-war aircraft engineering site in the Swindon area.

    The Vickers Armstrong Factory,
    South Marston circa. 1950


  8. #8

    Default Re: South Marston

    In the book by Rod Priddle, Wings Over Wiltshire there is a caption that relates to the Control Tower,

    Following closure, the ATC building was transported by lorry to the Badminton Estate
    Does anyone have any more info or any idea what he refers to?

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