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The Royal Air Force in Brighton, an overview

RAF Station Brighton

There have been a number of Royal Air Force units associated with the Brighton and Hove area; little is known about them, but they were linked with many of Brighton’s most famous landmarks during the period 1941 to 1946. Some moved here from elsewhere in the UK, others were formed here and were later relocated; collectively they were known as RAF Station Brighton.

The Grand Hotel

Well known buildings requisitioned

During the Second World War a number of Brighton’s most famous buildings were taken over by the Air Ministry for use by units of the Royal Air Force. These were mainly large hotels, the Grand Hotel, the Metropole Hotel, the Royal Albion Hotel, Lion Mansion Hotel and Abbots Hotel. The Brighton Aquarium was also requisitioned,but which unit occupied it is not known. Brighton was to become the holding centre for all Australian, and New Zealand, airmen arriving in and departing from the UK and they were the main occupants of the larger hotels. Although billeted in requisitioned luxury hotels there were few frills to the living conditions. The hotel rooms had been stripped out and extra beds installed to accommodate the hundreds of airmen that were to arrive in the town, some staying for several weeks, others several months before joining their next units. 

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The Aquarium

Abbot’s Hotel

RAF units based in Brighton

RAF Aircrew Testing and Selection Centre:
The first unit to open in the town. it is unclear where it was located, or when it opened, but it was possibly in the Brighton Aquarium buildings which were requisitioned early in the war. Aircrew candidates were instructed, and tested, on Morse code, aircraft recognition and basic navigation before being either selected or rejected for aircrew training.

Air Crew Disposal Wing:
A centre for mustering aircrew awaiting allocation to, or between, categories occupied the Metropole hotel from October 1941. Several hundred military men were stationed at the Brighton aircrew holding unit from the RAF and other allied nationalities. The centre closed in August 1942.

Polish Initial Training Wing:
This Unit moved from St. Andrews, Scotland to Brighton In May 1944 and was based in the Abbots Hotel in Regency Square. The unit transferred to Croughton in Northamptonshire towards the end of May 1944.

No. 1 Air Crew Refresher School:
Formed in  June 1943 this unit occupied the Royal Albion & Lion Mansion Hotels, Brighton. This was a remedial or “discipline course” for aircrew who had been involved in flying incidents/accidents. Also known as “Prune’s Purgatory.” and “The Naughty Boys’ Course”. The school moved to Norton Sheffield at the end of June 1943.

No. 11 (RAAF) Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre:
The receiving station for Royal Australian Air Force aircrew arriving in the UK,  11 P.D.R.C moved from  Bournemouth to Brighton in May 1943, occupying both the Grand and Metropole Hotels.  Aircrews would wait at Brighton for 3 to 4 months before being posted  to a training unit.  This unit also occupied facilities at RAF Charmy Down, Somerset. 11 P.D.R.C  closed in March 1946.

No 12 (RNZAF) Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre:
The receiving station for Royal New Zealand Air Force aircrew arriving in the UK,  12 P.D.R.C formed in Brighton at the end of May  1943 and existed alongside 11 P.D.R.C in the Grand and Metropole Hotels.  Closed down  at the end of May 1944 it reopened again  in October 1944 before finally closing on January 21st 1946.

Chain home Low and 10cm Radar Station:
Located on Whitehawk, Hill this station was part of a Chain Home early warning defence system. Chain Home Low radar sites were designed to detect enemy aircraft at lower levels that the earlier Chain Home system. The site was probably  equipped with two aerial arrays, one, the transmitter, on top of a 185ft steel tower, and the other, receiver,  on a 20ft -high wooden gantry. There would also have been an Operations Block on the site. It is not clear when the station opened or when it closed.

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