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Suttons Farm 1917 - 1919

Following their losses in the Autumn of 1916, the Germans soon discontinued further Zeppelin raids. In 1917, however, new threats were to appear in the skies over Britain. These were high flying and heavily armed German bombers collectively referred to as Gothas.

Again, Britain's air defences were to prove wanting. The BE2c and its supposedly improved successor the BE12 were both incapable of catching the new bombers. The situation was remedied from June 1917 onwards by the introduction of new aircraft types including the Sopwith 1 ½ Strutter, Sopwith Pup, FE2, F2b Bristol Fighter, SE5a and finally in 1918 both the Sopwith Camel and Sopwith Snipe. All of these types flew from Sutton's Farm at some point. The introduction of these new planes and withdrawal of front line squadrons from France to bolster the Home Defence Squadrons countered the German Gotha menace but only at the expense of British air capability in Flanders during a critical period in the air fighting over the Western Front.

39 Squadron continued to be based at Sutton's Farm into 1917 and was re-equipped with the FE2b Bristol Fighter shortly before moving to North Weald in the summer of that year. Other squadrons that visited or used Sutton's Farm were 46 Squadron 56 Squadron, 66 Squadron and finally 78 Squadron, which remained until the end of the War. Amongst the visiting pilots was Captain James McCudden, flying with 66 Squadron who was already well on his way to becoming one of Britain's leading air aces of World War I. McCudden would briefly return again to Sutton's Farm in April 1918 to demonstrate the new Sopwith Snipe.

The original “Heath Robinson” feel of Sutton's Farm was now gone. Instead the air station had become a state of the art air defence station with proper hangars, accommodation blocks, workshops and its own fleet of transport trucks. From September 1917 the staffing of the aerodrome also included women of the Women's Legion Auxiliary (the forerunner of the Women's Auxilliary Air Force) who acted as telephonists, drivers, clerks and despatch riders. By the end of World War I, Sutton's Farm had also witnessed one of the first British public demonstrations of ground to air radio communication. Other new innovations now used included the use of airborne oxygen and heating equipment to allow safer and more comfortable higher altitude flying.

By the conclusion of hostilities on November 11th 1918 there were over 300 men and 24 women based at Sutton's Farm supporting three Squadrons of aircraft (78 Squadron, 141 Squadron and 189 Night training Squadron). A far cry from the three pilots and six fitters of late 1915. During those three years there had only been two pilots based at Sutton's Farm killed (both in accidents) and an observer/gunner injured in combat. With the end of the war, the requirement for an aerodrome at Sutton's Farm was called into question. And so on December 31st 1919 RFC Sutton's Farm was closed and the landing ground returned to agricultural use.

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