Lagens Azores

Lagens, Mid-Atlantic Stop ~ Azores

35SquadronUSTour

8th July 1946
8 Lancaster B1(FE) aircraft of ‘A’ Flight left for St Mawgan (Cornwall) on the 1st Leg of the Flight across the Atlantic. They were Led by the Squadron Commander, Wing Commander Craig.  Take off was at 11.00 hrs and they arrived at St Mawgan at 12.45 hrs.  Captains were Beetham (SW315 TL-A), Barker (SW313 TL-B), Mathers (TW657 TL-C), Clarine (TW872 TL-D), Hampson (TW879 TL-E), Craig (TW880 TL-F), Greig (TW869 TL-G) & Lamb (TW878 TL-H).  The Commander-in-Chief, Bottomley Bomber Command, again Honoured the Squadron by coming to see the Take-off and to wish it good luck and a successful Trip. The Air Officer Commanding No.3 Group was also present. A large number of Ground Personnel & Relatives of Personnel taking part in the Operation assembled near the Caravan at the end of the Runway to give the Squadron a good send-off.  On arrival at St Mawgan, the Squadron was allocated to Billets and then proceeded to lunch in the transient Mess. Briefing for the St Mawgan to Lagens Flight took place at 15.00 hrs.  A Recording of the Squadron’s activities was Broadcast on the 6 o’clock News. The BBC Reporter, along with one from Reuters News Agency would continue to Fly with the Squadron to the Pacific Coast.

FlightPlanStMawgan

9th July ‘A’ Flight. St Mawgans to Lagens (Azores)
8 Lancaster B1(FE) Aircraft of ‘A’ Flight left St Mawgan at 10.00 hrs led by Wing Commander Craig and arrived Safely at Lagens (Azores) at 16.40 hrs.  On arrival at Lagens, Personnel of ‘A’ Flight were debriefed, provided with a meal and allocated to Billets, after which they were addressed by the Squadron Commander

AnnTodd19488 Aircraft of ‘B’ Flight, led by Squadron Leader Harris, left Graveley at 09.55 hrs and arrived St Mawgan at 11.40 hrs
Captains were Cheshire (TW892 TL-L), Pennington (TW659 TL-M), Cornelius (TW660 TL-N), Dawson (TW 882 TL-O), Harris (PA411 TL-P), Stockwell (PA414 TL-Q), Robinson (TW870 TL-R) & Leadon (PA385 TL-S)
In the evening, 20 Officers & senior NCO’s of “B” Flight were entertained by Anne Todd (Film Star) and her husband at their home in Newquay
Todd was said to be the “holder of the most lucrative Contract ever signed by an English Cinema actress, with over $1M involved in its clauses”.  She commented in subsequent interviews that she continued to do her own grocery shopping, and latterly in her autobiography noted that she paid $880,000 in Taxes on the Contract

10th July ‘B’ Flight, St Mawgans to Lagens (Azores).  8 Aircraft of ‘B’ Flight left St Mawgan at 10.00 hours and arrived safely at Lagens at 17.00 hours

8 Aircraft of ‘A’ Flight led by Wing Commander Craig left Lagens for Gander Newfoundland) at 02.15 hrs but were recalled at 03.45 hrs owing to the weather conditions prevailing at Gander, which were entirely different from those Forecast at Briefing.  The ‘A’ Flight Aircraft landed at Lagens at 05.40 hrs.  The tried to take-off again the following night but they were delayed till about 04.00 hrs 12th July.  The whole detachment (A’ & ‘B’ Flights) had to be accommodated at Lagens overnight

The Advance Party in York MW234 flew from Gander to Mitchel Field, New York.

11th July 1946
Departure for Gander for the Main Party [‘A’ & ‘B’ Flights] was postponed until 04.00 hrs on the 12th July owing to the bad weather conditions still prevailing at Gander

Lagens Airfield (Lajes) Terceira, Azores
A  Site was chosen on the Island in 1934.  This Site was on the plain of Lajes, the present Site of Lajes Field where the Portuguese Military Service 1st constructed a Landing Strip of packed earth with a small group of support facilities.

LagensField43

The location of this Airfield proved critical as conflict exploded over Europe as WW2 erupted in September 1939. Nazi Advances throughout Europe galvanised both support & opposition among the Nations of Europe as WW2 began in 1939. As German Forces under Adolf Hitler advanced throughout Europe the Fascist Portuguese Government saw neutrality as its best role to play in the brewing battle between World Powers.  The Government of Portugal, headed by the Fascist Dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, expanded the Runway and sent additional Troops & Equipment to Lajes: including antiquated Gladiator  Aircraft.  The Salazar Government sold these Developments to Hitler and the Germans as the Portuguese Contribution to the Defence of Europe, while at the same time Portuguese Officials communicated that these moves contributed to securing British Lines of Communication to the Mediterranean.  The Portuguese then declared the Base capable of Air Defence against potential Invaders on 11th July 1941.  Germans were not the only ones interested in exploiting the advantageous location of the Azores.  Early in the War, the Allied Powers of Great Britain and the United States recognised a critical need for operating Aircraft out of the Azores. Britain saw the need to conduct anti-Submarine operations from the Islands since German U boats had wreaked havoc on Transatlantic Shipping via the “Azores Gap” during the 1st years of the War.  As the US became increasingly involved in the War,  American Military Leaders looked for the fastest means to get men & material to North Africa & Europe. The Azores offered that opportunity. However, the Portuguese Government initially maintained strict neutrality.  The challenge for the Allies remained to convince a Fascist Portuguese Government to allow Allied Operations to flow from Portuguese Sovereign Territory.

The British negotiated for the use of the Azores through a 570-year-old Treaty: the Treaty of Windsor (1373). Under an Agreement signed on 17th August 1943, Prime Minister Salazar agreed to the British request for Azorean Basing Rights “in the name of the Alliance that had existed … between Portugal & Great Britain.”  The British were given use of the Azorean Ports of Horta on the Island of Faial & Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel, in addition to Airfields on Terceira & Sao Miguel Islands.  Lagens Field, on the Island of Terceira, became a Crossroads in the Atlantic as the Air connection between Europe and the Americas developed.   On 8th October 1943, the Royal Air Force units disembarked at Angra, unloaded equipment & supplies and trucked them over a narrow, rough road a distance of 11-miles to what was originally known as Lagens Field.  They built Hangars, developed a large Power Plant, and set up Living Quarters.
UK Forces Enter Azores
Various shots of British Warships off the Azores. Long shots of the small Ships taking the men ashore from Warships.  Close up shot of a Map showing the position of Azores.  Union Jack flying.  Then pans to main Town.  Various shots of the supplies arriving at the small Garbour, Bren-gun carriers, Lorries Oil, etc. RAF & Naval officers talking with Portuguese Official.  Various shots of the Military Personnel together with Portuguese workers busy building the Airfield.  They use Bulldozers & Excavators. RAF B.17 Bomber landing. Various shots of the Soldiers eating at open-air Cookhouse.  A casualty in the Airfield erection is carried on a stretcher into the local Hospital.  Various shots of the Portuguese women helping our men with their washing.  Several shots of 2 Dakotas arriving, one bringing Air Commodore Brackley, the other Air Commodore Powell. The Meeting means a Link with East & west in mid-Atlantic. Several long shots, some aerial, of Airfield.
Their main task was preparing a surface that would allow Heavy Aircraft to land.  They brought 60,000 US-supplied Marston Mats (standardised, perforated steel plates 10ft long and 15-ins wide, pierced by 87 holes per Plate) to Terceira.  When these Mats were linked together, an all-weather, Heavy-Aircraft surface 150ft wide & 5,000ft long was created. Just 2 weeks after their arrival, Fighters (P-47s) & Bombers (Hudsons, Lancasters, Flying Fortresses, Yorks, & Wellingtons) began to operate against German U-boats around a 500-mile radius of the Azores.  This central part of the Atlantic known as the “Azores Gap” had previously been out of range of British & US land-based Air-cover. The new Airbase permitted RAF Aircraft to extend the scope of their vigilance in the protection of Allied Shipping in the Atlantic. Over the course of the succeeding months RAF Bombers destroyed a number of German U-Boats in the waters surrounding the Azores.  The 1st U-boat ‘kill’ came when a B-17 from 220 Squadron of the Number 247 Group Royal Air Force, Coastal Command attacked an exposed Submarine on 9 th November 1943 just 1 month after British Forces arrived at Lajes Field. The contributions of the Azores and the 3 anti-Submarine Squadrons at Lajes helped turn the Battle of the Atlantic in 1943.  For example, in 1942, 5,480,000-Tons of Shipping had been lost in the North Atlantic alone.  In the last quarter of 1943 with the RAF conducting operations out of Lajes, only 146,000-Tons of Shipping were lost. The U-boat Hunters sank 53 Submarines and discouraged many others from formerly safe refuelling areas around the Azores. The Battle of the Atlantic had finally turned in the Allies favour.  In 1953 the Official designation was changed again, back to the original Portuguese name of Lajes Field, which is still in use today.

12th July 1946
16 Aircraft (Main Party [‘A’ & ‘B’ Flights] left Lagens at 4-min intervals commencing at 04.00 hrs and arrived safely at Gander between 12.30 & 12.48 hours. The VHF facilities at Gander were unserviceable on the Squadron’s arrival, but some Crews were able to make contact on one frequency through the T.1154/R1155 combination.  H2S proved to be a most valuable Navigational Aid on this Leg of the flight, as back bearings were made on the Azores for distances up to 80-miles at night and pinpoints were made on the Landfall at Newfoundland even though the Squadron had to fly over an extensive Warm Front and through an Occlusion at this time.
Gander Stop (Newfoundland) for a pre-Tour Full Maintenance