Manston was originally built as an airfield for use by the Royal Navy in the First World War. Its strategic location right on the coast of Kent, facing the North Sea, led to German Gotha bombers being intercepted on their way to attack London.
Its strategic location also meant that it was inevitably to play a major part in the Battle of Britain in 1940. However, its vulnerability on the sea coast of Kent led it to become a target of convenience for the Luftwaffe which bombed and strafed it mercilessly. Many of the raids which it suffered in August and September were carried out not only by Luftwaffe twin-engined bombers, but often involved Me109s making surprise attacks. The defenders often had no warning of enemy aircraft which were able to come in across the sea and then strafed Manston.
Manston was to see some of the most intense fighting of the Battle. Attacks on it did much damage. A particularly serious attacked occurred on 24th August when seven RAF personnel were killed. It was the scene of some remarkable episodes particularly when enemy ground level attacks occurred when flights of Spitfires were actually taking off. Manston’s importance was recognised when the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, paid it a personal visit on 28th August 1940. He saw such a scene of destruction that he called for the Air Ministry to pay more attention to the urgent need for an organised system to be set up to handle the repairs required both here at Manston and elsewhere in Fighter Command.