Lagens Azores

Lagens, Mid-Atlantic Stop ~ Azores

35SquadronUSTour

July   9th ‘A’ Flight. St Mawgans to Lagens (Azores)
July 10th ‘B’ Flight, St Mawgans to Lagens (Azores)

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 galvanized both support and 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 and 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 11 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 U.S. became increasingly involved in the war, American military leaders looked for the fastest means to get men and material to North Africa and 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 17 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 and Great Britain.”  The British were given use of the Azorean ports of Horta on the island of Faial, and Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel, in addition to airfields on Terceira and 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 8 October 1943, the Royal Air Force units disembarked at Angra, unloaded equipment and 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 position of Azores.  Union Jack flying.  Then pans to main town. Various shots of the supplies arriving at the small harbour, bren gun carriers, lorries oil, etc. RAF and Naval officers talking with Portuguese official.  Various shots of the military personnel together with Portuguese workers busy building the airfield.  They use bulldozers and 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 and 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 U.S.-supplied Marston mats (standardised, perforated steel plates 10 feet long and 15 inches wide, pierced by 87 holes per plate) to Terceira. When these mats were linked together, an all-weather, heavy-aircraft surface 150 feet wide and 5,000 feet long was created. Just 2 weeks after their arrival, Fighters (P-47s) and bombers (Hudsons, Lancasters, Flying Fortresses, Yorks, and 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 and U.S. 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 first 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 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 refueling 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.

Lagens (Azores) to  Gander ‘A’ Flight on the night of the 10th took off but was re-called after 3 hrs. the tried to take of again the following night but they were delayed till about 4 amon 12th July.

Gander Stop (Newfoundland) for a pre-tour full maintenance

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