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LMSS Masthead

LMS Air Services

Photo of DH84

One of the RAS early twin-engined D.H.84 'Dragon six' aircraft, G-APCX at Croydon Airport in south London.

The LMS and the other three railway companies were alive to the development of transport generally and in 1929 all four Companies succeeded in obtaining powers to own and operate aircraft and to provide passenger and freight air services - in fact to organise and maintain the full range of facilities required for such an operation.

The LMS Air Transport Act was passed on 10th May, 1929, but it was not until 21st March, 1934 that the LMS took active steps to set up an air service. The LMS and the other three, and British Airways, subscribed to the formation of a company "Railway Air Services Ltd.".

However, in March 1931 the four railway companies made an arrangement with the then Imperial Airways Ltd. for urgent freight and parcels addressed to a destination on any air route operated by Imperial to be handed in at certain railway stations and forwarded at an inclusive freight charge. A similar joint air and railway service was operated in the reverse direction, goods being accepted by Imperial at any point on their routes for through transit to railway stations in the U.K. One hundred and forty stations in the U.K. were included in this scheme and the service commenced on lst April, 1931, and the LMS and other companies had now entered the air freight business.

On 20th August, 1934, Railway Air Services Ltd. opened the London - Belfast route on behalf of the LMS from Croydon with calls en route to Belfast at Birmingham, Manchester and Ronaldsway, Isle of Man. This latter IOM call was omitted soon afterwards however, but only temporarily.

Railway Air Services were to provide the aircraft, and British Airways the flight personnel, and the various railway company routes were determined by the railway "zones" in the U.K. However, the railway companies were financially responsible for 'their' routes.

In 1934 the LMS through RAS were awarded the Royal Air Mail contract for the London Belfast route and for the other routes also. However, this was soon lost for 1935, but regained again for 1936 and thereafter retained.

The Air Terminal for all RAS flights was at Victoria Station, London.

The initial LMS services to Belfast were operated with De-Havilland 10 seat Type 86 Dragon Rapides, and this service was later extended from Belfast to Glasgow.

Traffic for the period 20th August 31st December, 1934 was:

Mileage flown98,787 miles
Passengers carried1,037
Freight4,760 lbs.
Mail carried3,621 lbs.

- an active 4 1/2 months !

In 1935 further developments took place and the London/Belfast/Glasgow service was advertised to include a call at Speke airport, Liverpool.

On 19th January, 1935 the LMS, together with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Co. Ltd. subscribed capital in equal shares to form the Manx Airway section of Railway Air Services Ltd., and on 19th April, 1935 a new service from Manchester via Speke and Squires Cate Airport, Blackpool, to the IOM was inaugurated. In 1935 over 600,000 miles were operated on LMS Services and 5,740 passengers carried with 17,186 lbs. of freight.

The first flight of the day left Glasgow (Renfrew) at 8.45 a.m., Belfast (Aldergrove) 9.45 a.m., Liverpool (Speke) 11.10 a.m., Manchester (Barton) 11.35 a.m., Birmingham (Castle Bromwich) 12.15, finally arriving at Croydon at 1.05 p.m. Connections from the IOM and Blackpool were made at Manchester.

The daily return flight left Croydon at 3. 10 p.m finally arriving at Renfrew at 7.30 p.m.

In 1936 with traffic increasing a request stop at Stoke-on-Trent was advertised on the Glasgow service and connecting flights from Leeds and Bradford were introduced to the schedule at Manchester.

Air tickets were now obtainable at any Railway Station and were fully interchangeable for all or part of both or return journeys. Outward by Air, return by Air, or sea and rail were options now open to the traveller, and advance luggage arrangements were also extended to air service passengers. Holders of railway season tickets or bulk travel vouchers were able to obtain discounts on air fares.

An operating link between RAS and Coast Lines was forged with the ' appointment of Coast Lines Director, G. A. Read, to the Bard of RAS Ltd. in 1936.

In 1937 the Manx Airway Services were merged with those operated by the Blackpool and West Coast Air Services Ltd., a subsidiary of Olley Air Services Ltd., and the merger led to a reconstruction of a company first registered in 1935, Isle of Man Air Services Ltd., with the LMS, the IOM Steam Packet Company and Olley Air Services each taking a third share. Services from the IOM to Carlisle, Belfas and to Glasgow were operated for the LMS by this reconstructed Company.

The mid-1930s were the scene of much intercompany exchange and alongside the LMS service other privately owned companies were still operating. However, with the might of the LMS behind RAS and with the LMS able to integrate its other services, not least the railway side and hotels, the private companies could not really compete, and several companies sought to allign their resources with the IMS/RAS operation.

Further reconstruction of the services in Scotland occurred in 1937. The LMS, British Airways and David MacBrayne Ltd. took equal shares to form two companies:

  1. Scottish Airways Ltd.
  2. Western Isles Airways Ltd.

However, since the LMS already owned 50% of MacBrayne they had in fact a 50% stake in the two new companies.

The new Scottish Airways company took over the services and operations of Northern and Scottish Airways Ltd. and Highland Airways Ltd., in the Scottish mainland, and both companies had previously been subsidiaries of British Airways Ltd.

Western Isles Airways Ltd., took over the services of Northern and Scottish Airways Ltd. radiating from Glasgow to the Western Isles of Scotland and the Hebrides.

The traffic was progressively increasing and new aircraft were added to the fleet when required. The RAS fleet consisted of the following:

19373 x DH 86 10 seat 4 engine aircraft(a)
8 x DH 89 10 seat 2 engine aircraft(b)
3 x DH 84 8 seat 2 engine aircraft(c)
19383 of (a) above
3 of (b) above
1 of (c) above

Four of these aircraft were assigned to LMS services:

3 of (a) above
1 of (b) above

Railway Air Services Ltd., and other railway controlled air companies operated more than 80% of the total United Kingdom internal mileage in 1938 and the services were a safe and speedy alternative to long rail and boat journeys.

In 1938 many eyes were aware of the events in Europe and the government were concerned with making plans for possible conflict. The Government undertook highly secret negotiations with the air companies and particularly with operators of internal air services, and concluded contracts with them to provide for immediate requisitioning of aircraft in the event of war, the contracts to remain dormant until required. These contracts included not only the aircraft but crews and other services, and they were signed in September, 1938.

A full questionnaire relating to aircraft, personnel and maintenance arrangements was conducted and the Government used the information to formulate its early plans for the requisition of private air transport resources, warning RAS that its entire operational base may have to be moved at short notice in the event of a national emergency.

In July 1939 the Superintendent of RAS was warned that all the companies civil activities would have to support a war effort and the company was told to be ready to move at 48 hours notice to Whitchurch Aerodrome, Bristol, upon receipt of a coded telegram from the Air Ministry.

In August 1939 monthly returns of the RAS fleet were called for and by the 27th August this return was called for daily, to include full movements of aircraft and personnel.

Events were moving quickly and after the scheduled air services were completed on 31st August, telegram instructions were received from the Air Ministry at 11.20 p.m. instructing the RAS fleet to move to the 'war base' at Bristol on lst September. The travelling public were advised by BBC broadcast that the RAS flight schedules had been temporarily suspended.

Within 24 hours, the entire fleet and staff were transferred to Exeter, as an 'outbase' to Bristol, and the RAS Superintendent was placed in charge of the Exeter base, controlling a mixed fleet from Imperial Airways, British Airways and RAS.

With services in suspense, the Air Ministry relented and allowed Scottish Airways Ltd. (50% LMS Owned) to resume civil operations on its services from Glasgow to Campbeltown and Islay, on 11th September, 1939, and three days later the Inverness - Wick - Orkney, and inter-Orkney Isles services were resumed. Isle of Man Air Services recommenced the Liverpool Isle of Man service on 20th November, 1939, later extending this in March 1940 to Belfast. The Glasgow - Belfast was re-opened on 6th May, 1940 and on all these services one flight each way per day was allowed.

The Government's intention in requisitioning civil resources was that these should be used by Senior Services personnel in Britain, and for moving urgent supplies into France at short notice. In fact a great many flights by RAS aircraft into France took place.

The Air Ministry suggested that railway associated air companies should group to form the 'Railway Associated Group' of airlines under the title Associated Airways Joint Committee, and for non-railway connected companies to form another group, so that negotiations could be conducted by the two groups with the Air Ministry, rather than with individual companies.

Five Air Companies in which the LMS were interested:-

together with three others:-

all railway associated companies, grouped to form the Railway Associated Group.

A change of policy for the air companies was made and they were now required to operate certain public air services on specified routes cons sidered to be of national importance, and this was on a day to day basis. Just as suddenly as air services had recommenced, so they were again suspended on 17th May, 1940 and aircraft used for war requirements. A short resumption followed but again suspension was ordered and the aircraft were placed on standby for the Dunkirk operation and elsewhere. Further resumption on 3rd June, suspension again on 15th June followed and aircraft were ordered to France. Four of the seven aircraft had to be abandoned at Bordeaux, but services were generally resumed again on 27th June, 1940, with alterations to services as the war requirement determined from time to time.

Ten of the twelve air routes designated to be of 'National importance' were on the LMS network of associated companies and the LMS was thus fortunate in preserving much, and to be congratulated on developing the all important routes.

The routes were:

  1. Shoreham - Guernsey - Jersey
  2. * Liverpool - Belfast - Renfrew
  3. * Liverpool - Dublin
  4. * Inverness - Kirkwall - Sumburgh
  5. * Aberdeen - Stromiess - Kirkwall
  6. * Renfrew - Campbeltown Islay
  7. * Renfrew - Stornoway
  8. * Renfrew - Tiree - Barra - Benbecula - North Uist
  9. * Liverpool - Isle of Man Belfast
  10. * Wick - Kirkwall - Stromness - Thurso
  11. * Inter-Orkney Islands
  12. Penzance - Scillies

* LMS Assc. Routes.

In 1941 the Liverpool - Belfast and Glasgow - Belfast services carried more than 10,000 passengers on 200,000 route miles, and Air Mails were also carried.

In late 1942 the LMS, and GWR & SR acquired the major interest in British and Foreign Aviation Ltd., and also in its subsidiary, Olley Air Services Ltd.

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company obtained further shares to secure a 50% stake in Isle of Man Air Services, taking half the shares formerly owned by Olley, and the LMS owning the other 50%. The Steam Packet Company and the LMS each appointed 3 Directors to the Board of Directors of ICMAS, with the LMS continuing to provide the Chairman, Mr. W. P. Bradbury, O.B.E.

By 1944 the Liverpool and Glasgow services into and out of Belfast were twice daily with a further flight laid on to meet summer requirements. Scheduled services were resumed in the London area, when on 13th November, 1944 the Croydon - Liverpool flight recommenced using a 10 seater DH 864 engined aircraft, which had hitherto been a mainstay of the airwork during the war.

With the resumption of this service the Chairman of RAS Ltd., Sir Harold Hartley a Vice President of the LMSR, presided at an inaugural luncheon at the Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool, and referred to a programme by the Railway owned air companies to operate a comprehensive network of air services in the U.K. and on to the Continent, with a high degree of co-ordination between Rail, Road, Sea and Air transport, in the post-war era.

The Railways, and principally the LMS, therefore took a great part in integrating all modes of transport to provide the best possible services for the public in the postwar period.

Throughout the RAS operations only one passenger was killed - by German action - and during the war period 250,000 passengers, 6 million lb. of mail and cargo were carried and 6 million miles were flown.

Early in 1945 the Government reviewed the plans of RAS to provide integrated transport services and in a White Paper on the future of Air Transport then to be published, the various plans and proposals were considered, including nationalisation.

Further new aircraft were acquired, chiefly DH 89A Dragon Rapides, to operate a new direct Prestwick - Croydon service, and the need for larger 12 seat and 25 seat British built aircraft identified with the extended services.

Although RAS operated the services, now with their own personnel, the railway companies continued to undertake financial responsibility for the services in their areas of the country.

By 1947 the RAS activities became a part of the newly formed British European Airways and railway responsibility ceased.

A word about liveries to close. The 1933 GWR service - the first to start - was operated by an aircraft in the GWR livery, but it is believed LMS aircraft were silver with red markings pre-war, camouflage until April, 1945, and a new Rapide was delivered in the 'new' livery of aluminium dope, with red lettering and outlined in green and red, with white and blue identification marks, in April, 1945, for use on the new direct Prestwick - Croydon service - the Royal Scot run of the air !

Specimen registrations for modellers:

Pre-warG.ACVY MercuryD.H.86B 10 seat 4 engined
G.AEFH NeptuneD.H.86B 10 seat 4 engined
G.AEWR VenusD.H.86B 10 seat 4 engined
G.AEFF JunoD.H.89A 7 seat 2 engined
WartimeG.AFOI (Camouflage livery)
1945G.AGLED.H.89A 5 seat (Camouflaged)
G.AFFFD.H.89A 5 seat 'New livery'

Further Reading

H.N. Twells, LMS Miscellany. OPC 1982 ISBN 0 860931 72 2

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