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Aerial of Horchurch Today


Why Hornchurch? 1915 - 1962

Since Prehistory the Thames Estuary has been a vital route from continental Europe into the heart of Southern Britain. In good times this has meant it has been an artery for trade; in bad times a potential highway for would be invaders. Since at least the period of the Dutch Wars of the 17th century and up to the end of World War II, British defensive policies in relation to the rest of Europe have been geared to deny enemies from using the Thames to strike at London; the nation’s capital and the powerhouse of Britain’s commercial and industrial power.

Even before the outbreak of War in 1914 against the Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm, the potential of military aviation to add a third dimension to war on land and at sea had already been realised. The Thames was an easy landmark to follow from the air, by day or by night, into the heart of London and the line of the Thames was first used thus by German raiders in World War I. During World War II, the intensity of the aerial attacks led to the unfortunate towns along the path of the Thames being referred to as lying in “Bomb Alley”.

The defence of London from air attack was already being considered in 1914 by the then War Ministry and conclusions reached as to how it should be achieved. These conclusions were to prove to be relevant for both World War I and World War II. The conclusions were that the only sure way to prevent an air attack on London was to make an aerial interception of airborne attackers, preferably well before they made their own attacks.

To make such an interception it was appreciated that a permanent home defence force of dedicated fighter air craft flying from bases in a cordon across enemy aerial approach routes was required. It was also appreciated that early warning of an enemies approach would be required to allow effective interception. Finally, and crucially, it was realised that the direction of interceptions was best undertaken by a central control which could collate the observations of an approaching raid and so warn the relevant air fields in plenty of time to ensure that intercepting air craft had time to reach a position and altitude from which they could effectively attack a raider.

This doctrine was first established when raiders could only be picked up by the Mark I eyeball or ear when crossing the coast and when the standard aircraft of the day had a top speed of c 90 mph and took upwards of an hour to reach their maximum operational altitude of c 12,000’. It remained relevant during the early years of World War II when air craft speeds reached 300 - 400 mph, maximum altitudes c 30,000’ and enemy aircraft formations could be picked up by Radar when massing over the French coast.

During World War I Hornchurch’s location was ideal for an intercepting plane to reach its patrol position and altitude to intercept raiders that were first identified by observers on the Kent, Essex or Suffolk coasts. During World War II, Hornchurch’s location allowed aircraft based there to intercept raiders, over the Kent coast and to harry them all the way to their targets and possibly, if fuel and ammunition allowed, all the way back again.

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