⌛️ History

Under construction

No 61 Operational Training Unit

 Formed at Heston on 9 June 1941 within No 81 Group to train fighter pilots for Fighter Command using Spitfires and Masters. It was moved to Rednal on 15 April 1942 and was transferred to No 9 Group on 20 April 1943 and then to No 12 Group on 15 September 1944. In October 1943, it operated 'Q' Flight, composed of 9 Gladiators and a Wellington, which were used to make a film depicting the Greek campaign of 1940/41. On 21 June 1945 it moved to Keevil, where it took over the Fighter Reconnaissance Wing of No 41 OTU. It disbanded by being redesignated No 203 Advanced Flying School on1 July 1947.

 In the event of a German invasion the OTU would have become No 561 Squadron (and later also as No 565 Squadron) to operate from Woodvale.

Rednal opened in April 1942 under the control of Fighter Command and No 61 Operational Training Unit (OTU) moved in, operating a large number of Supermarine Spitfires and Miles Masters. The airfield was given Montford Bridge as a satellite and Nos 6 and 7 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Units (AACUs) joined the OTU for a while. No 61 OTU continued to operate throughout the war, with North American Mustangs gradually replacing some of the Spitfires from the end of 1944 and into 1945. This unit also had the unusual task of acting as parent unit of ‘Q’ Flight, which employed nine Gloster Gladiators to help make a public relations film about the Greek campaign of 1941. 

During the summer of 1944 Rednal played another major role in receiving casualties from Normandy, with American Douglas C-47s bringing them here to be taken to various nearby military hospitals. Eventually the OTU moved to Keevil in June 1945 and Rednal was immediately put under self-accounting Care and Maintenance. By the following October it was already heavily run down in terms of personnel and closed in April 1946.

The majority of the three runways remain, as well as other buildings and the control tower. The airfield was used sporadically by private aircraft for a time, as well as by helicopters from nearby RAF Shawbury. A lot of the site has now been returned to agriculture, while it is also home to Rednal Industrial Estate and Rednal Karting Raceway, among other forms of recreational use.

Built in an out-of-the-way place in the depths of north-west Shropshire, Rednal was opened in April 1942 as a standard fighter OUT, with a satellite airfield at Montford Bridge (see PRN 29113). No 61 OTU was the sole user of the airfield with its Spitfires and Miles Masters. In June 1945, No 61 OTU moved out and the airfield was soon reduced to care and maintenance <2>

History of Rednal Airfield by Mike Davies

Rednal airfield opened as an RAF base on the 8th April 1942. 61 Operational Training Unit was located here between the 16th April 1942 and June 1945 under 81 Group Fighter Command. The training unit moved to Rednal from Heston, equipped for the most part with Spitfires, bearing the code letters DE, HX, KR, TO and UU.

Rednal was a standard three runway station, with it's runways being one of 1,600 yards and two of 1, 100 yards in length. 50 dispersal hard-standings were provided. Three Bellman Hangers were erected on the Technical Site and eight Blister Hangers were added later. The living sites were all to be found about half a mile to the north-west.

Retired Squadron Leader Peter Brown AFC, ex Battle of Britain pilot, was posted to Rednal from Heston as a flying instructor with the rank of Flight Lieutenant:

"I was posted from my Squadron to 61 OTU at Heston in June 1941 to take over No 4 Squadron, the flights were called Squadrons. We were equipped with Spitfire I and II and Masters I, II and III. I spent many happy months at Heston and when the news came through that we were to move north to an unknown airfield called Rednal near an unknown town called Oswestry there was much gloom."

"On the 16th April 1942 I led a flight of instructors and students from Heston to the northwest at about 6000ft and I well remember that we hit very heavy haze to the west of Birmingham. I saw little else until exactly on ETA [Estimated Time Arrival] and with the Gremlins working hard for me I suddenly saw a group of runways in a sea of mud as the surrounds had not then been seeded. For many weeks it was perilous to swerve off the runways or perimeter track."

"Rednal was the first dispersed site I had operated from. The layout was planned to minimize bombing damage by spreading out the buildings into the woodlands. In the event few airfields in the UK were bombed after 1942 but the nuisance value remained. The Admin buildings were well away from the airfield, the messes were further away still and it is fairly certain that the WAAF quarters were even further away and perhaps protected with barbed wire!"

Many accidents occurred at Rednal and the first recorded was on May 4th 1942 when Pilot Officer Pensa and Sgt Wright lost their lives in a Miles Master. The aircraft was sent up on instrument flying practice, however, the aircraft got into a spin and the port wing failed when the pilots were pulling out of the resulting dive.

July 1942 was a bad month for accidents with a total of five Spitfires written off and two pilots killed. The first intake of WAAF's arrived at Rednal on the 31st July 1942.

61 Operational Training Unit - Personnel on the 31/7/42:


RAF Officers 108

WAAF Officers 8

Airmen 916

Airwomen 394

Total 1426

One WAAF, Leading Aircraft's Woman, Margaret Hay, was posted to Rednal in September 1942. Margaret joined the control tower staff in Spring 1943. She remembers the tower's highly polished floors, large control desk, huge maps laden with information which included details such as barrage balloon sites, etc, covering the back wall. Radio Telephones on various channels were used to communicate with the pilots in a language peculiar to aviation. The complexity of the control tower meant that Margaret was sure, that for a stranger entering the tower, it was like a madhouse. Yet seated at the control desk there was also peace of mind to be found in the view over the Welsh mountains.

"The Control Room was a lovely place to work, Shropshire is a lovely County; and to sit at the control Desk and look out over the Welsh mountains was lovely, I am a Scot so the view pleased me. I was actually lucky enough to hitch a lift home with some of the pilots to Scotland several times and then my poor father had to pay my train fare back to Rednal the next day!"

Rednal seen a number of famous faces either go through the training system, or put on a refresher course for a 'rest' or arriving at Rednal as part of the Staff. In fact one of Rednal's Commanding Officers was, Don Finlay, who was C/O of 41 Squadron during the Battle of Britain and a pre-war Hurdles Champion and he could be seen every morning running around the perimeter track at Rednal. Perhaps the most celebrated pilot to be trained at Rednal was the French fighter ace Pierre Clostermann who detailed his experiences in his book "The Big Show".

In addition to French pilots, there were pilots from all over the British Empire; from the USA and from the many European countries who managed to escape the dictatorship of the Nazi regime. There was also a large contingent of Polish pilots , which gave rise to the Polish Headquarters on the ground floor room of the control tower. The Polish instructor talked directly to his pilots over the radio telephone when they were in need of assistance. Understandably their English vocabulary was often forgotten with the traumas of wartime fighter training.

The training undertaken by the pilots at Rednal was intensive. This being the case training sessions often resulted with high accident rates. In common with other OTU's Rednal witnessed many incidents; take off and landing crashes, mid-air collisions, taxying accidents and Spitfires lost on the high ground of south Shropshire and North Wales.

The possibility of such accidents put a great strain on the personnel working at Rednal, day after day, week after week. Controller's Clerk, Margaret Hay, experienced this strain and describes in particular the tension in the control tower as pupil pilots made their first flights in a Spitfire.

"...when the first solo flights were made it was panic stations. The pilots flew every day, weather permitting, at dawn, dusk, and night. This meant that the only time the ground crew could relax was when the weather was 'C' for Charlie ["Clamped", ie fogbound] flying for pupil pilots was then forbidden."

"Rednal was a very basic station, the flare path had to be laid with goose neck flares. If the wind changed direction when we were flying and the runway had to be changed, it took sometime for the flare path lorry to go out, lift the flares, drive them round to the new runway in use and re-lay them. It was fun and games when the pilots would call up short of fuel! Panic stations to get them down safely. We heard many last words over the R/T and it was awful to hear and watch a fatal prang. If they were in trouble we informed the crash tender crew, also the ambulance, so everything was ready for the plane coming in. It was so sad, so many young men killed on training , it was such a waste of young life."

Flt/Lt, Reg Todd, MBE, RAF Retd, then Sgt Todd took his first flight at Rednal on the 28th April 1943:

"I got into the cockpit in earnest, ran up the engine, tested the magnetos and taxied to the end of the runway. The adrenalin was flowing like mad. When I called up the control tower for take off clearance, guess what? The R/T set was unserviceable and I had to return to the 'D' flight line! The next day Spitfire I KR-V behaved itself and after lining up on the runway, I opened the throttle and off I went. The acceleration was most noticeable, my first impression was of being pushed back into the seat. Next move was to ease the plane into the air. It did not take too much bidding and in no time I was airborne ready for the next item on the agenda...getting the wheels up. This meant changing over what you were doing with your hands. One very often took off initiating a switch back for one tended, for the first couple of flights to pump the control column as well as the undercarriage pump handle! The sum total of this was to make the aircraft take off like a porpoise. As both hands were full at that stage, great fun was had by all when the throttle friction nut was defective and the throttle lever came back to idle. Having gotten over over this crises, one looked around to find the airdrome which was nowhere in sight. That sorted out it was time to enjoy the flight. I thought there could be no other airplane to fly so sweetly. After flying a dozen other types, I still feel the same, a marvellous thing to be in."

The exercises undertaken at Rednal included sector reece, cross-country, high climb to 30,000 feet, instrument flying, low flying, formation flying, bomber affiliation and dogfight practice. Dogfight practice claimed the life of one young Belgian, Pilot Officer, Jean Noizet who collided with another Spitfire and crashed into a local wood; his body was only discovered in 1977, still inside the cockpit of his Spitfire. The remains of this aircraft are now on display at RAF Cosford museum. A book is due to be published about this pilot, titled 'The Limitless Horizon'.

In order to give pilots some experience in dive bombing, a target was set up on the airfield in 1943 but was moved following a fatal collision between two Spitfires over the target.

A number of military hospitals were established in Shropshire prior to D-Day in preparation for the inevitable heavy casualties. Rednal was one of the airfields chosen to take receipt of the wounded who were flown direct from the battle front. The first Dakota landed at Rednal on July 3 1944. Flights went on throughout July and included wounded German as well as Allied personnel. During August, 77 Dakotas landed at Rednal flying in about 1, 750 men, the average load was 24 stretcher patients per aeroplane.

One of the largest aircraft to land at Rednal was a Liberator which was diverted due to bad weather on April 24 1944. One unusual visitor was Baltimore AG689 from Hullavington, which crashed on take off on the 16 September 1944, killing two of the occupants and seriously injuring three others.

61 OTU began to re-equip with Mustang III's in January 1945 and at the same time a number of Master's were exchanged for Harvards. The Mustang's accident rate was lower than the Spitfire at Rednal, however five pilots were killed in crashes resulting from causes as diverse as oxygen failure, colliding with high ground, losing control in cloud and stalling on approach when carrying long range fuel tanks. A Polish pilot flying Mustang FZ150 crashed at Rednal after striking a telegraph pole in a tight turn following a practice attack.

Rednal's last casualty was Pilot Officer Jamison on May 30 1945, flying Mustang FX942, the pilot radioed Rednal's control tower that he had reached Whitchurch at 25,000 feet; that was the last that was heard from the young pilot, as the aircraft was seen falling out of the sky and breaking up on the way down.

On June 16 1945, 61 OTU moved to Keevil in Wiltshire. Rednal was no longer wanted and was reduced to Care and Maintenance, then finally sold off in 1962.

Rednal Airfield is now owned by the local Mostyn-Owen family and is the home to a number of activities, including paint-balling and go-karting, as well of course being the operational base for Rednal Aviation <3>

Grid Ref : SJ3723527535

Summary : A former World War Two military airfield, opened 1942, closed 1945. The airfield was equipped with three tarmac runways and Blister and Bellman aircraft hangars. There was temporary accommodation for personnel. The airfield was principally used by 61 Operational Training Unit, however in July 1944 it was used by American transport aircraft engaged in evacuating wounded troops from Normandy. By 2001 the airfield was used for agriculture, industry and liesure activities. Many military buildings including the control tower were said to be extant in 2001. Airfield defence features are also evident- please see SJ 32 NE 23 to SJ 32 NE 27. Unclear cropmarks in the northern part of the former military airfield may represent Prehistoric or Roman enclosures but could possibly be features relating to the World War Two function of the site: please see SJ 32 NE 10.

References (not all in print):

  • The Limitless Horizon - Michael Davies

  • Shropshire Airfields in the Second World War - Robin J. Brooks

  • Flying Units of the RAF - Alan Lake

  • Shropshire Airfields - Alec Brew, Barry Abraham

  • The Big Show - Pierre Clostermann

  • Shropshire Airfields - Toby Neal

  • The Military Airfields of Britain: Wales and West Midlands - Ken Delve

  • Malta Spitfire - Beurling & Roberts

  • Mission Accomplished - Frank Mares

  • Action Stations 3. Military Airfields of Wales and the North-West - David J Smith

  • Hero - The Falcon of Malta: Life of George "Buzz" Beurling - Brian Nolan

  • Sniper of the Skies – Spitfire Ace over Malta: The Story of George Frederick 'Screwball' Beurling, DSO, DFC, DFM - Nick Thomas

  • The Forgotten Few: The Polish Air Force in World War II - Adam Zamoyski

  • 303 Squadron: The Legendary Battle of Britain Fighter Squadron - Arkady Fiedler

  • Poles in the Battle of Britain: A Photographic Album of the Polish 'Few' - Peter Sikora

  • The Polish 'Few': Polish Airmen in the Battle of Britain - Peter Sikora

  • For Your Freedom and Ours - Lynne Olson

  • Poles in Defence of Britain: A Day-by-Day Chronology of Polish Day and Night Fighter Pilot Operations: July 1940 - July 1941 - Robert Gretzyngier

  • The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War - Halik Kochanski

  • No Greater Ally: The Untold Story of Poland’s Forces in World War II - Kenneth K. Koskodan

  • First to Fight: The Polish War 1939 - Roger Moorhouse

How to research:


Pierre Henri Clostermann DSO, DFC & Bar, 28 February 1921 – 22 March 2006

Official site: pierre.clostermann.org

wiki: Pierre Clostermann

An extraordinarily talented and successful pilot who trained briefly at Rednal.

There is a witty, but frustratingly brief account of his time in Shropshire in his book 'The Big Show' / 'Le Grand Cirque'

Pierre Clostermann

interview in French

Pierre Clostermann

interview in French

Pierre Clostermann

interview in French