A CEREMONY was being held today to remember hundreds of American Spitfire pilots and airmen based at Goodwood in the summer of 1942.
Seventy years ago, the men of the 31st Fighter Group descended on RAF Westhampnett – today renowned as the Goodwood Airfield and Motor Circuit – to help take on Hitler’s Luftwaffe.
They soon ditched their American planes after seeing Britain’s superior Spitfires in action and flew hundreds of daring sorties in the aircraft.
With their larger pay packets and smooth Hollywood-esque accents, the US flyboys certainly left a lasting impression on the area – notably among young ladies.
Today, war veterans and relatives of one of the American pilots, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Strawn, will gather at Goodwood in memory of the USAAF airmen. The ceremony coincides with the launch of a new book To War in a Spitfire about Lt Col Strawn.
The book’s co-author, Greg Percival, a Goodwood pilot from Gosport, said: ‘He was one of the US’s exceptional pilots and the book draws heavily on his personal diary and letters from his stay at Westhampnett and what he got up to in Chichester.
‘He loved the Spitfire. The American aircraft at the time were not good enough so they all had to fly Spitfires instead.
‘What I find important is that America’s first true action in the war was launched from Goodwood for the ill-fated Dieppe raid.’
Proceeds from the book, priced £25, will be donated to the RAF Association, Lt Col Strawn’s family, and used to set up a new flying scholarship at Goodwood.
The book launch is at Boultbee Flight Academy, Goodwood Aerodrome at 10am.
There are plans for a Spitfire flypast at 11.30am if the weather is fine and there are no technical issues.
Copies of To War in a Spitfire can be ordered online from towarinaspitfire.co.uk
300 HOURS IN THE AIR
AMONG the guests at today’s ceremony will be 90-year-old Peter Hale, of North End, Portsmouth, who flew 100 sorties in Spitfires during the final year of the Second World War.
Mr Hale, who served in 41 Squadron, said: ‘The Americans were flying Spitfires from quite early on in the war. I didn’t have much contact with them, but they always seemed to conduct themselves very well...I joined in 1944 and at that time my job was to intercept V1 rockets and shoot them down. Later, we did reconnaissance of V2s in Belgium and Holland. I flew about 300 hours in total...I’m just one of many who did their duty and, thankfully, I survived.’