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The story behind the Sutton Bridge RAF flight training school that turned young men into 'Top Guns'




Military aviation historian and author Alastair Goodrum has just launched his latest book, 'School Of Aces', which tells the story of RAF Sutton Bridge - and the remarkably effective training school that turned inexperienced pilots into some of the finest airmen in the world.

It led to the success of the RAF Fighter Command in the Second World War and victory in the Battle of Britain, writes BEN SMITH.

Norwegian Pilot Officer Marius Eriksen, who was a trainee at Sutton Bridge in 1941. (11717565)
Norwegian Pilot Officer Marius Eriksen, who was a trainee at Sutton Bridge in 1941. (11717565)

To celebrate the launch of the book, Alastair is hosting a talk and book-signing event on Thursday, June 20, from 7pm, at Bookmark in The Crescent, Spalding.

The story told in the book explores the twenty year efforts from RAF Sutton Bridge to turn young men from inexperienced pilots into 'Top Guns', by quickly producing an incredible training programme which changed the lives of many young men.

These Hawker Hurricanes flew from RAF Sutton Bridge. (11717571)
These Hawker Hurricanes flew from RAF Sutton Bridge. (11717571)

His book brings to life these men's stories, and how pilots, air gunners and ground crew came to be at RAF Sutton Bridge, what life was like there, and what happened afterwards. It also includes many famous names, drama and courageous moments.

Furthermore, the book explores why the school was set up in the first place. In 1918, there was a massive cutback in the quantity of active squadrons and a limited financial budget for the RAF.

School of Aces by Alastair Goodrum. (11718436)
School of Aces by Alastair Goodrum. (11718436)

Despite this, there were aims to re-shape the post-war 'junior' service the RAF offered, and Air Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard, as chief of the air staff, personally aimed to achieve long term quality in men, machines, organisation, and training.

Author Alastair Goodrum, speaking at an event at Spalding's St Mary and St Nicolas Church last year. (5241112)
Author Alastair Goodrum, speaking at an event at Spalding's St Mary and St Nicolas Church last year. (5241112)

This was achieved with three systems, the Armament Practice Camp, set up in the marshes in The Wash for air gunnery practice; Sutton Bridge's Operational Training Unit; and the Central Gunning School, set up from 1942 to 1944.

Some of the fighter aces who flew from RAF Sutton Bridge. From left: Jack Charles, Rene Mouchotte, 'Sailor' Malan, Alan Deere. (11717567)
Some of the fighter aces who flew from RAF Sutton Bridge. From left: Jack Charles, Rene Mouchotte, 'Sailor' Malan, Alan Deere. (11717567)

These three systems led to the RAF producing hundreds of high-level fighter pilots in a remarkably short amount of time, giving them the chance to succeed during WWII and come out victorious in the Battle of Britain.

  • The book is available from June 15 in all good bookshops in hardback (RRP £20) or direct from Amberley Publishing at www.amberley-books.com

SEE ALSO:

Author reveals stories of some of the men from Spalding killed in WWI

Spalding Parish Church talk will reveal the real people being names on WWI memorial

Respected Sutton Bridge Parish Council John Grimwood stepping down



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