Manx Air Races - 1938
The 1938 series attracted a considerable number of foreign entries making the Isle of Man Air Races a really international affair. The entries rose to 33 and included six from Germany with Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Latvia and America all represented. By far the strongest force came from Germany with an entry of three ME 108s, an AGO Ao192 Kurier, a Klemm 135 and a Focke WuIf Fw 44 Steiglis which became a standard basic trainer for the Luftwaffe. An interesting British entry was that of Flying Officer Geoffrey de Havilland, son of the brilliant aircraft designer. He was flying the racing T.K.2 built by the de Havilland Technical School under the sponsorship of Lord Wakefield of Castrol fame who did so much to support speed sports in pre-war days. Tommy Rose was entered in a rare Hendy Heck but didn't start because of engine problems.
The start of the race, now organised by the Royal Aero Club, was moved to Hatfield and while the course remained unaltered the finish was at Ronaldsway rather than Douglas. First away on a bright Saturday morning was R.L. Porteous in a Childern DW.1. He left at 11.25 a.m. and once again Alex Henshaw in the Mew Gull was last away at 12.45 p.m. As the field gathered for the last dash to Ronaldsway the vagaries of the Manx weather once again took a hand in matters and it was a rain-soaked crowd that eagerly awaited the climax. They were to see the amazing little Comper Swift, once owned by the Duke of Windsor and now flown by Stan Lowe, storm over the finish line. He had taken 111 minutes and 21 seconds flying time and had averaged 159.5 m.p.h. It was 62 seconds later that Alex Henshaw streaked across the line in the Mew Gull with a time of 71m. 41s. - 247 m.p.h. Third was the Hermes-powered Avian of Flt. Lt. Edwards closely followed by the T.K.2 of Geoffrey de Havilland. German pilot F. Pasquay in one of the ME 108s and Miles Guthrie in another Mew Gull crossed the line together and tied for fifth place. To make up for the chaos of last year all 16 starters completed the course and all within 18 minutes of the winner.
During that weekend of 1938 more aircraft arrived to take part in the Air Derby and Tynwald Race presenting to the enthusiast a colourful galaxy and one of the finest collection of types ever assembled. Ronaldsway coped admirably with its guests while normal scheduled services came and went. One of the passengers arriving was the German Air-Attaché, General Lieutenant Wenninger - a former wartime U-boat commander. He was a very interested spectator, especially in the performance of the German contingent. At the Saturday night presentation Alex Henshaw, after receiving the prize for the fastest from London told the audience, 'The Isle of Man Races are the finest civil aviation show in the country and possibly the world.' He may have had second thoughts when Whit Monday arrived with weather so bad that the afternoon races had to be postponed until Tuesday when better weather prevailed. The Isle of Man, high in the sunshine league of the British Isles, was letting the side down very badly! But on Tuesday there was brilliant sunshine though flying conditions were decidedly bumpy, especially over headlands and hills. First away in the Air Derby was Ernst Gerbnacht in the Fw 44 followed five minutes later by John Rush in his grey Hawker Tomtit. A spectacular take-off was made by the formation of the three ME 108’s coloured red and blue. They played follow-my-leader round the three laps as they chased the early starters Gerbrecht and Rush. Behind them was Henshaw and a commentator kept the excited crowd informed as the competitors began to bunch down the west coast of the Island and the final leg to Ronaldsway. It was John Rush in the Tomtit who had managed to pass Gerbrecht and keep the rest of the pack at bay who crossed the line first, followed by Gerbrecht and then Alex Henshaw leading the three ME 108’s of Roeders, Pasquay and Wohlenheim. John Rush was, of course, delighted to win such a prestigious race, his first win ever. Alex Henshaw could well have been the winner had it not been for the ball race of the variable pitch propeller braking and adding to his handicap. He had spent many hundreds of pounds on tuning the Gipsy Six Series II engine, The final leaderboard for the race read as follows:
- 1st J. Rush Hawker (Tomtit) 82m. 59s. (117 m.p.h.)
- 2nd E. Gerbrecht (Fw 44) 89m. 27s. (108.25 m.p.h.)
- 3rd A. Henshaw (Mew Gull) 40m. 38s. (239 m.p.h.)
- 4th Roeden (ME 108) 52m. 505. (184 m.p.h.)
- 5th Pasquay (ME 108) 53m. 9s. (183 m.p.h.)
- 6th Wohlenheim (ME 108) 53m. 22s. (182 m.p.h.)
As a result of engine power being increased to 120 h.p., The Tynwald Air Race attracted 12 entries. The race turned out to be the most dramatic of the series with Czech pilot, Josef Novak, in trouble from the start. He had taken off in the B.E. 51 cabin monoplane but was unable to gain height because of engine trouble. He was able to turn back and land safely, the fault being water in the carburettor. The other B.E. 12 in the race lost its propeller and made a forced landing in a field at Ballamenagh, north of Douglas. Neither the pilot, Czech Air Attaché Lieut. Colonel Kalla, nor his passenger Captain Milas was hurt but the aircraft's undercarriage was badly damaged. The machine was transported to Ronaldsway for repairs. At the end of the first lap, P. B. Ellwell called it a day because of the terrific buffeting he was experiencing in the tiny 40 h.p. Taylor Cub. After three laps in the rough conditions first to finish was Clausen in the Klemm 135 but was later disqualified when it was discovered he had raced without a passenger as originally stated. Clausen's exclusion meant that a delighted Stan Lowe was awarded the new Olley Cup and he thus became the only pilot to win all three of the Manx race series. He had averaged 147.75 m.p.h. in the little Comper. Second place went to Flt. Lt. Edwards in his Avian at 102.5 m.p.h. and third of the eight finishers was R. L. Porteous in the Chiltern at 98 m.p.h.
That weekend also saw the first glider (towed) crossing of the Irish Sea. The pilot was German ace Herr Kronfield who, in 1931, had been first to cross the English Channel winning a Daily Mail prize of £1,000. Herr Kronfield took off in a Kirby Kite from a Yorkshire airfield, towed by instructor pilot Mark Lecayo at the controls of an Avro Cadet. Strong winds were against them and it took one hour and 50 minutes for the 31 mile crossing between St. Bees Head and Maughold Head. Unable to make Ronaldsway they landed late on the Sunday evening at Hall Caine. On Tuesday Herr Kronfield was at Ronaldsway and gave a demonstration of his skills after the day's racing.
Manx Aviation in War and Peace published by kind permission of: The Manx Experience