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The Ale Carrying Spitfires of WWII


A spitfire pilot sits on the wing of a Two Seat Spitfire

Spitfire Beer Delivery Flights

This year’s Goodwood Revival saw our Mk IX Spitfires and our G-IRTY replica set up to represent a story of wartime “needs must”. The soldiers and airmen who took part in the epic and historic D-Day invasion were in need of some good old British beer and the Spitfire became the flying dray for the delivery of beer to the boys in France. One of the breweries that stepped up to offer their beer was Henty and Constable Ltd of Westgate, Chichester, just down the road from the Spitfires.com headquarters.



Fitting A Spitfire Flight For Ale

Only a few weeks after D-Day, a newspaper ran a story that reported that only watery cider and poisoned water was available to our boys on the front. Sadly, no spare transport aircraft were available to bring non-essential items to the forward landing grounds. As a result of this, several Spitfire squadrons operating out of nearby RAF Tangmere rose to the challenge by utilising a 45 Gallon Jettison tank (normally used for fuel), but steam cleaned and re-purposed for carrying ale. There was an Air Ministry photograph that was distributed showing Wing Commander Rolf Arne Berg of No. 132 Norwegian Wing sat on the wing of a Mk IX Spitfire watching proceedings as Pale Ale is decanted from the kegs to the drop tank of the aircraft.


A MKIX Spitfire with two beer barrels under the wings at Spitfires.com
A Spitfire Mk IX out of RAF Tangmere with beer barrels slung underwing, pictured somewhere over the South Coast.

Spitfire Flying Over Sussex

One of the first squadrons to take part in beer runs was 412 RCAF Squadron of 126 Wing, Second Tactical Air Force which was locally based at RAF Merston and then latterly at RAF Tangmere during the invasion period. Climbing up over the Sussex countryside and setting course for the recently created forward landing grounds on freshly liberated French soil, although they were not always totally liberated! One of the first landings occurred on a strip known as ‘B4’ that still had German snipers within range and the pilots were informed that they should depart forthwith!


11 days after the invasion started, another Canadian unit 416 ‘City of Oshawa’ Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force commenced beer runs from RAF Tangmere with their Mk IIs from England to the newly built airfield at Bazenville, just three miles from Gold Beach.


Sadly, reports came back that the beer tasted of Avgas, regardless of how much cleaning had been carried out.


A Spitfire pilot have a beer after a Spitfire experience flight
An RAF mess member of staff (on the right) filling a fuel tank with beer.

Creating A Spitfire Beer Bomb

The next methodology utilised was to fly beer in a cask. A modification was carried out to enable the cask to be carried on the Spitfires’ bomb racks. Pilots with the RAF’s No. 131 (Polish) wing, flying Spitfire Mk IXs, (probably 302 Squadron or 308 Squadron), claimed to have invented the idea of the “beer bomb”, using casks that had home-made nosecones fitted to make them more aerodynamic. These aircraft were operating out of RAF Ford, a stone’s throw from RAF Westhampnett, the current home of Spitfires.com.


Beer Barrels destined for a Spitfire's wing
An RAF crewman affixing aerodynamic nosecones to some traditional beer barrels.

The RAF also later utilised the Hawker Typhoon to carry out beer runs. These particular aircraft were able to carry much more than the Spitfire in its tanks. The USAF also copied what the RAF was up to with its own aircraft, utilising the P47 Thunderbolt.


We are privileged to be able to help recreate some of the stories and deeds of the local airman and squadrons who operated Spitfires from Goodwood, Tangmere and the local area. This year’s Goodwood Revival gave us the opportunity to raise a pint in memory of those who gained a little light relief and slaked their thirst with beer flown out to France from the local breweries.


References

References were obtained from a webpage written by Martyn Cornell.


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