As many know, Croydon Aerodrome in the 1920s & 30s was a cutting edge airport featuring the world’s first control tower, developing the concept of Air Traffic Control, and inventing the radio call “Mayday”. It was also the major aviation hub for London, and the gateway through which many celebrities and aviation pioneers passed.
They included the likes of Amy Johnson, who began her historic solo flight to Australia from Croydon in 1930; Francis Chichester (yes, him!) who set off the previous year (1929) from Croydon to become the second man to fly solo to Australia; TransAtlantic pioneer Charles Lindbergh in his aircraft, Spirit of St. Louis; and Winston Churchill who took flying lessons here… not very successfully and never again!
What many don’t know is that Herman Goering was one of those visitors.
At this point Goering was commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe and ‘Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan’ in other words, Hitler’s minister entrusted with the task of mobilizing all sectors of the economy for war.
The tale of his visit is told in a book, Croydon Airport 1928-1939 – The Great Days by Douglas Cluett, Joanna Nash & Bob Learmouth.
Goering had apparently wanted to be Germany’s representative at the Coronation of King George VI in 1937. This is just two years before war would break out with Germany.
When news of this leaked out, there was considerable anger in this country; Goering already being a much hated figure. Miss Ellen Wilkinson MP raised the matter in the House of Commons asking: “Can we have a guarantee that this country will not be insulted by the presence of General Goering?”
The press was angry and the Berlin propaganda ministry put out an announcement that the statement “that General Goering was to represent Herr Hitler at the coronation… was premature.” Hitler nominated his war minister, Blomberg, as his special envoy at the coronation.
Nevertheless, on May 11th, the day before Coronation, Goering commandeered a Junkers Ju 52 and flew to Britain, landing at Croydon Airport uninvited, with only his valet as companion.
There was no official welcome but the Special Branch were there to keep an eye on him. Herr Von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador, heard of the flight at the last minute, met him, and drove him to the German Embassy in Carlton House Terrace.
Goering conferred with Von Ribbentrop and Blomberg, who warned him of likely angry demonstrations if he appeared in public and said he would do great harm to the German cause. The Foreign Office also warned him off.
Goering spent the night in the embassy and then decided to give up and go home. He drove back to Croydon, deflated, as the crowd began to line in the Coronation route; his only visit to London having lasted just 12 hours, and being kept a closely guarded secret at the time.
It was later revealed in a Sunday Times article on 14th Feb 1972: Goering’s secret trip to London by Willi Frischauer.
So what’s there now?
Well, sadly, only the terminal building with its control tower, now presiding over an industrial/commercial estate, is left standing. Apart from some playing fields on the other side of warehouses and houses, there is nothing of the airfield left.
I went down to take some photos on what the forecast told me would be a sunny afternoon (16 Oct), and which instead turned out to be a foreboding, dark and gloomy afternoon thanks to remnants of Hurricane Ophelia dragging in tropical air and dust from the Sahara, turning the sky red! Minutes after I took the photos (the feature photo at 2.59pm) it looked like late evening circa 8.00pm!
Despite its location, the Grade 2 listed terminal building is pretty spectacular and worth a look. It is now used as commercial office space for a number of companies, but there is a small visitor centre run by the Historic Croydon Airport Trust, which is open on the first Sunday of each month (details on their website).
If you want to find out more, there are loads of historical sources to search, but Will Noble at The Londonist blog did a pretty good job of summarising it.