Torpedo Dropping Zone

Stokes Bay Pier and the Torpedo Development Unit

The RAF Torpedo Development Unit was made up of an armed services section who maintained and flew the various torpedo launching aircraft, a civilian section of scientists and engineers, plus  workshops. The civilian offices were wooden huts on the old parade ground within the Victorian Fort Grange which gave its name to the air station R.A.F. Grange. It is now part of HMS Sultan.

Stokes Bay Torpedo Dropping Zone

The Torpedo dropping Zone was at Stokes Bay and the Admiralty made use of Stokes Bay pier to retrieve the dropped torpedoes and to deploy the targets.  To get to the boat necessitated descending a flexible rope ladder hanging under the pier and boarding the boat as it went past. During the Battle of Britain, the T.D.U. workshops were bombed and they moved to a temporary workshop beneath the Ashley Wallpaper factory in Lees Lane, Gosport.
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.

Stokes Bay Pier

Stokes Bay Pier in use by the Torpedo Development Unit post WWII.

Stokes Bay Pier

Stokes Bay Pier in use by the Admiralty

Between 1929 and 1932 the Torpedo Development Flight flew out of RAF Station Gosport, situated at Grange Airfield between Forts Grange and Rowner at Gosport. On 2-11-29    No.36 Squadron (Hawker Horsleys) arrived from Northolt for torpedo dropping. It departed 14-11-1929.

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 located off the beach at Stokes Bay from Nov 1943 – 18 May 1956.

The first successful land plane to be used as a torpedo- bomber was the Sopwith Cuckoo. This was followed in succession, by the Blackburn ‘Swift’, ‘Dart’, ‘Ripon’, ‘Baffin’, ‘Shark’, and ‘Fairey Swordfish’. In addition to these the Torpedo Development Flight also used the Hawker ‘Horsley’ and the Vickers ‘Vildebeeste’. Numerous others underwent torpedo trials at Stokes Bay, such as the Blackburn Firebrand TF.III in 1945 and the Bristol Brigand.
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!
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.

ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFT OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD© IWM (MH 24)

ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFT OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD

Vickers Vildebeest torpedo bomber of B Flight, RAF Gosport.

ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFT OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD© IWM (MH 45)

ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFT OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD

A formation of Fairey Swordfish Mk.I aircraft from RAF Gosport.

ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFT OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD© IWM (MH 27)

ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFT OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD

A formation of three Blackburn Baffin torpedo bombers from RAF Gosport .

ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFT OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD© IWM (MH 23)

ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFT OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD

A Fairey Swordfish Mk.I from the Torpedo Training Unit at Gosport drops a practice torpedo during training.

ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFT OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD© IWM (MH 20)

ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFT OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD

A formation of five Fairey Swordfish Mk.I aircraft from the Torpedo Training Unit at Gosport.

ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFT OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD© IWM (MH 15)

ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFT OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD

A formation of Fairey Swordfish Mk.I aircraft from the Torpedo Training Unit at Gosport.

Blackburn Baffin K3589

Blackburn Baffin K3589 dropping at torpedo at Stokes Bay (Photo The Aviation Forum)

TDU Dart

A T.D.U. Dart at Stokes Bay (Photo The Aviation Forum)

Vildebeest S1712.

Vildebeest S1712. dropping a Torpedo at Stokes Bay (Photo The Aviation Forum: Found in the attic of a Gosport house)

 

TDU Trolley

A torpedo trolley lies abandoned on the beach at Stokes Bay during the demolition of the pier in 1988. (photo David Moore)

TDU trolley

A TDU trolley recovered from the sea at Stokes Bay in 1988 (Photo David Moore)

Practice Torpedo

A wooden Practice Torpedo recovered from the sea at Stokes Bay, now in the Fleet Air Arm Museum