Stokes Bay Torpedo Dropping Zone
Admiralty Pier at Stokes Bay
The old pier at Stokes Bay closed for use in 1915 and the Admiralty used it during WWI for the transportation of munitions and fuel. In 1922 the pier was sold by the LSWR and it was bought by the Admiralty, together with the railway line south of Gosport Road Station. The pier was converted with the addition of a narrow gauge railway to allow the recovery of practice torpedoes. Small trucks for transporting the torpedoes ran on this line. The Torpedo Development Unit at H.M.S. Vernon operated a torpedo test run at Horsea Island but when it became necessary for a longer test range Stokes Bay came into use.
Stokes Bay torpedo dropping zone
The purpose of the Stokes Bay range was to observe the performance of torpedoes when they were dropped from aircraft. The torpedoes were not carrying any explosives and the anticipated use of the range was four drops per day.
Between 1930 and 1932 the Torpedo Development Flight flew out of RAF Station Gosport, situated at Grange Airfield between Forts Grange and Rowner at Gosport. The Torpedo Training Unit (Feb 1937 - 19 Mar 1940) also flew from RAF Station Gosport. The Torpedo Development Unit (1939 - 11 Nov 1943) then used the station and finally an armed services section known as the Air Torpedo Development Unit (Flight Section) ATDUFS maintained and flew various aircraft out of Grange airfield and launched torpedoes at the Dropping Zone sited off the beach at Stokes Bay from Nov 1943 - 18 May 1956. The aircraft used included the Vicker Vildebeest and the Bristol Brigand whilst numerous others underwent torpedo trials at Stokes Bay, such as the Blackburn Firebrand TF.III in 1945. There were some fatalities at Stokes Bay. On August 1st 1940 Vicker Vildebeest K6408 crashed in the Solent off Ryde Pier whilst on torpedo dropping duties at Stokes Bay, killing the Pilot and his AC2 Photographer. On June 16 1942 Bristol Beaufighter Mk VIC X8065 crashed during Torpedo trials over Stokes Bay when its Port engine failed during turn to port at 200ft. The aircraft rolled inverted into sea killing the pilot officer and the CO of the TDU, Wg Cdr Shaw. On January 7, 1942, a Bristol Beaufort Mk IIA crashed on take off. the two crew on board, both of the Aerial Torpedo Development Unit were killed when the engine failed. On October 11, 1945, Fairey Swordfish Mk III NF333 took off from RAF Gosport and collided with a Beaufighter over the torpedo range at Stokes Bay. The Swordfish on an experimental torpedo drop dived out of control into the sea, killing the Armament Test Observer. The Beaufighter landed safely. In 1947 the ministry of Supply informed Gosport Borough Council that it wished to continue using Stokes Bay sea area as an aircraft range for research on torpedoes and torpedo installations in aircraft, as an air to sea range, and aircraft torpedo development unit; The Council agreed but wanted assurances that no torpedoes were to be dropped on Stokes Bay Beach!
ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFT OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD© IWM (MH 23)
In 1951 it was reported that the torpedo range at Stokes Bay was no longer satisfactory. The torpedo trials unit was moved to RNAS Culdrose in 1956 when RN Air Station HMS SISKIN was closed down and the airfield became HMS Sultan.
On October 17th 1961 The Times reported that the first use of a Martin Baker rocket assisted pilot ejector seat over sea was tested at Stokes Bay. A dummy pilot was fired 350ft into the air from an aircraft lighter 300 yards off shore close to Stokes Bay pier. The dummy shot into the air almost vertically, separated from its ejection seat, the parachute billowed open and dropped it into the sea, where the dinghy automatically inflated and lifted the dummy from the water.
During the demolition of the pier in July 1988 one of the torpedo trollies was recovered from the sea and left for a few days on the beach.
Torpedo trolley and a wooden practice torpedo recovered from the sea at Stokes Bay
An eyewitness report concerning the T.D.U. at Stokes Bay can be found here:
WW2 People's War
The wooden practice torpedo, recovered from the sea at Gosport, can be seen on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton, Dorset.
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