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Painting highlights raid which changed the war

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: July 29, 2010

Mervyn Sullivan stands with his depiction of the raid on RAF Kenley outside Biggleston's in Hayle.

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A LOW-LEVEL Luftwaffe raid on Surrey's RAF Kenley aerodrome on August 18, 1940, transformed the Battle of Britain and the course of the Second World War.

It was to be the German's flagship assault. If successful it would have decimated the RAF leaving us prone to invasion.

But a simple mistiming as the planes crossed the Channel meant the attack bombers which were to precede the low-level assault were delayed and the mission largely failed, with six of the nine German aircraft being destroyed.

A new display at Biggleston's in Hayle recounts this day and explores the Cornish town's key role in the Battle of Britain.

Peter Channon, of Gwinear, grew up near Kenley and learnt to fly from the air base. Six months ago he teamed up with his friend and artist Mervyn Sullivan to recreate the scene on canvas in commemoration of the day.


Peter said: "As a youngster I lived near the base and learnt to glide from there. I wanted to have something which depicted the raid."

Now a pilot, Peter flew around the base taking photographs from several angles.

He said: "We needed to catch it just right so that it would allow us to show everything that happened. We've managed to reconstruct from a modern picture what happened 70 years ago."

Months of research followed so they could work out which planes flew in at which angle, what buildings were bombed and what escaped.

Mervyn said: "It's so involved, so detailed, so historically accurate and took so long to do – it's a picture that recreates what happened in 1940."

Along with Croydon and Biggin Hill, RAF Kenley was one of the main fighter stations responsible for the defence of London.

August 18 saw the Luftwaffe fly in at below radar height to attack the base. However, they were spotted crossing the Channel.

A squadron from Croydon was launched and the element of surprise was lost.

The Germans flew into a hail of gunfire with only three planes making it back to the continent.

A planned high-altitude attack designed to soften up the target failed when bad weather delayed them.

The vital operations room at Kenley survived and from here the airfield would go on to play an important part in the war.

None of this would have been possible without the extraction of a vital petrol additive.

High octane fuel was essential to powering fighter plane engines. Limited supplies had been made available by the Americans but, with war looming, the Government decided to start production in Hayle.

Dibromoethane would be made in a factory on the town's North Quay.

There was only one other English producer of this fuel additive and so Hayle became the heartbeat of the Hurricanes, Spitfires, Lancasters and Mosquitoes which helped win the battle and turn the tide of the war.

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