Development Proposals could make RAF West Raynham Unique.

The second airfield that has recently seen proposals for new development is the large and complete site on Norfolk’s western side. It is RAF West Raynham. If these proceed, then West Raynham could be a unique development.

RAF West Raynham.

RAF West Raynham is a large airfield that operated well beyond the Second World War. It was home to some 20 squadrons and saw a range of aircraft including: Blenheims, Bostons, Tomahawks, Beaufighters, B-25 Mitchells, Mosquitos, B-17 Flying Fortresses, Canberras, Javelins and Bloodhound Missiles to name but a few.

It currently stands complete although a large part of it has been the focus of development since the RAF’s departure. Much of the former RAF housing has already been refurbished and sold off to private families; a solar park has also been built along the runway line and the accommodation sites developed sympathetically with the airfields history in mind.

Control Tower

The Grade II Listed Control Tower at West Raynham.

A recent report identified this site as being of “heritage value” and that whilst some of the buildings are “at risk” there is a strong desire to reuse buildings wherever possible. The only ‘listed’ building is the Control Tower (which is Grade II listed) which, along with the majority of the main buildings: Guard House, Station Headquarters, Chapel, Water Tower, District Heating Control Centre, four Hangers and the Training Dome, is in relatively good condition. A large majority of the remaining buildings were temporary or will require renovations to make them usable once again. The report states that:

“It is important that the character areas described keep their identity. The approach taken for existing buildings will vary according to the character area and the qualities of the specific buildings”.

The report also highlights the benefits of the MOD property, and that it provides suitable low-cost housing that would meet the Council’s housing target. It also states that the former technical area provides suitable accommodation for small industrial units or “start-up” businesses.

In essence, the survey illustrates the need to develop the site to fulfil the council’s need for housing whilst identifying the site as an important heritage site, and that the development should reflect this:

“The vision is to re-use and reinvigorate the site in a way that respects and celebrates the historic and architectural heritage of the site.”

The infrastructure of former RAF bases lend themselves to new villages; the layout, transport networks and available buildings, are perfectly suitable for the Garden Village idea. Open spaces intertwined with affordable accommodation and recreational facilities are all there. If this development goes ahead, then RAF West Raynham could become a well-preserved yet appropriately developed site that in the large part, reflects it historical importance and valued contribution to Britain’s defence network.

The full development brief can be found here from where the quotes were sourced.

West Raynham appeared in Trail 21.

West Raynham 042

Inside the Former officers Mess.

Development News for Britain’s Airfields.

Plans have been released this week for the development of three former RAF airfields in Norfolk. On the face of it, these represent steps forward in preservation whilst allowing a sympathetic development of these historical sites in at least two of them, and development and part preservation in a third. These proposals will not only revitalise the decaying structures, but will also allow public access to the very infrastructure of the sites that once protected our skies. In part, they offer a model for future development and preservation of Britain’s aviation heritage, whilst highlighting the sacrifice of the crews who flew from them.

The first of these is that of RAF Downham Market.

RAF Downham Market (RAF Bexwell)

Proposals were put to the government on Monday for a new multi-million pound technology park on the former RAF base at Downham Market. It is proposed that the site will create 4,600 jobs and become a centre of excellence for technology comparable to those already at Cambridge.

The £300m project will include a major campus dealing with data and data handling. This will include a research centre for both under and post-graduate students, a hotel, leisure and tourist facilities.

Whilst the proposals have only just been put forward, consultations have already started, and so final planning proposals are hoped to be revealed early in the new year. Local residents are raising objections due to the losing of the ‘green space’, along with increased pressure on the local infrastructure, which according to some, is already stretched.

According to reports, the plans also include restoring some of the few remaining buildings, creating a bronze statue and a museum to commemorate the work of Downham Market crews; something that is long overdue.

Downham Market airfield was the home of: 218 and 623 Sqns both flying Short Stirlings, 571 Sqn and 608 Sqn, both flying Mosquitos in the Pathfinder role and 635 Sqn who flew Lancasters between March 1944 and September 1945.  It is where Flt. Sgt. Arthur Aaron and Sqn. Ldr. Ian Bazalgette were both awarded VCs for their bravery and heroic acts whilst on missions over Europe. It is from where the last Mosquito mission took place which was also the last RAF operation of the war.

Whilst the runways and perimeter track are long gone, a few buildings still do remain in current use. There is no official memorial at Downham Market, although there is a memorial to both Aaron and Bazalgette outside the local church.

These plans are very much in the early stages, but a number of parties have shown an interest in the proposition and development is likely in the near future.

The government material can be accessed here.

Downham Market was originally visited in Trail 7.

Two B17s Collide near RAF Snetterton Heath (Station 138)

With the number of aircraft in the skies over Britain during the Second World War, it was inevitable that some would collide, often fatally. Carrying full bombs loads and full fuel tanks, these aircraft were literally ‘flying bombs’ and a collision would often have disastrous consequences.

One such incident happened on 29th January 1945 just months before the cessation of war. Two B-17s from the 96th Bomb Group collided over the small village of North Lopham near to RAF Snetterton Heath with the loss of all eighteen crew members.

The first aircraft, B-17G-DL*1 ’44-6137′, of the 337th Bomb Squadron was delivered from the factory to Tulsa Air Base on 12th May 1944; travelling on via Kearney Training base to Dow Field, Maine, on the 1st June 1944. It was initially assigned to the 452nd Bomb Group, where upon it was flown to RAF Deopham Green in Norfolk, England. After arriving at Deopham, it was immediately transferred to the 337th BS, 96th BG, and given the coding ‘AW – J’. The aircraft was subsequently flown on to RAF Snetterton Heath and operational status.

The second aircraft, B-17G -BO*1 ’43-38746′, was initially delivered to Lincoln Air Base on 16th September 1944. It was also flown on to Dow Field but later in the September of that same year. Here the aircraft was assigned to the 338th BS, 96th BG, transported to Snetterton Heath, and given the coding ‘BX – J’. The aircraft arrived for active duty in the October of 1944.

The 96th BG, consisted of four squadrons: the 337th, 338th, 339th and 413thBSs,  operating both B-17-F and B 17-G models. At the time of the accident they were part of the 3rd Air Division, 45th Combat Wing, Eighth Air Force.

The 96th BG like their crews, were relatively young. Activated on 15th July 1942 at Salt Lake City, Utah, the group wasn’t allocated any operational personnel until reaching Gallon Field in Idaho, in August that same year. They moved through a number of airfields and training camps, until setting sail for the European Theatre of Operation on the Queen Elizabeth, on 5th May 1943, arriving in Greenock, Scotland, six days later. After moving from Grafton Underwood to Andrews Field, in Essex, they finally arrived at their base RAF Snetterton Heath,  on 12th June 1943 where they would remain until December 1945.

By the end of the war the 96th BG would have completed 321 missions in total dropping in excess of 19,200 tons of ordinance, a figure that included around 130 tons of supplies. They would lose 189 aircraft in operations over Europe and would receive two Distinguish Unit Citations for their operations over both Regensburg and Poznan.

On the day in question, January 29th 1945, two years into their war, the two aircraft took off from their base at Snetterton Heath (Station 138) to attack the Bielefield Marshalling yards at Kassel as part of Mission 811.  As they were forming up to find their position in the flight, the disaster struck. The first aircraft flown by Second Lt. Alex Philipovitch,  flew across the path of the second aircraft flown by Second Lt. George Peretti. As a result Peretti’s port wing struck the B17 causing it to explode whilst his own was split in half. As a result of the collision, both aircraft plummeted helplessly to the ground killing all eighteen men on board.

Regrettably, this collision was one of many that occurred both within the USAAF and RAF during the Second World War, a sad loss of many a young life. Thankfully however, neither this tragedy, nor the sacrifice of the crews will be forgotten as the people of North Lopham have laid a commemorative memorial stone in the village centre on their combined war memorial, just a few miles away from Snetterton Heath airfield, now Snetterton race park.

The names of the crew members, many of whom were only 19 or 20 years of age, appear in the St Paul’s Cathedral Roll of Honour, London.

Aug 2015 found in North Lopham

The memorial stone at North Lopham

In honour of the crews:*2

B-17 ’44-6137′

2nd Lt. George .J. Peretti: Buried – St. John Cemetery, Illinois (age 22)
2nd Lt. Ernest .S. Throne: Buried – Fountain Grove Cemetery, Ohio (age 29)
2nd Lt. Gerald. S. Stambaugh: Buried – Keokuk National Cemetery, Iowa (age 23)
Sgt. Robert. I. Good: Buried – Greenville Union Cemetery, Ohio (age 24)
Sgt. Maynard. A. Faux: Purple Heart and Air Medal, Buried – Cambridge American Cemetery, UK (age 19)
Sgt. Gordon. C. Shaul: Buried – Ford City Cemetery, Pennsylvania (age 20)
Sgt. Noble. E. Ellington: Buried – Gwin Memorial Cemetery, Louisiana (age 25)
Sgt. Clarence. C Hagler: ETO Ribbon with 1 Battle Star, AD Ribbon, Air Medal, Buried – Gilmer City Cemetery, Texas (19 years old)
Sgt. Robert. R.Stone: Purple Heart, Air Medal, Buried – Forest Lawn Cemetery, North Carolina (age 22)

B-17, ’43-38746′

2nd Lt. Alex. Philipovitch: Purple Heart, Buried – Gettysburg National Cemetery, (age 23)
2nd Lt. John. C. Hubbard: Buried – McCall Cemetery, South Carolina, (age 30)
Flt. Off. Slatten. H. Gooden: Buried – Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, (age 27)
Flt. Off. Martin. P. Schmidt: Buried – Saint Mary Cemetery, Omaha, (age 19)
T/Sgt. Richard. J. Zander: Buried – Mount Sinai Cemetery, Pennsylvania, (age 20)
T/Sgt. Charles. H. Tibbatts:  Purple Heart, Buried – Cambridge American Cemetery, UK
Sgt. Robert. K. Smith: Buried – Stones River National Cemetery, Tennessee, (age 19)
Sgt. James. E. Flora: Buried – Musselman Cemetery, Indiana, (age 20)
Sgt. William. F. Brauner: Buried – Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum, Missouri, (age 19)

Sources:

RAF Snetterton Heath appears in Trail 27.
*1 – “The B-17 Flying Fortress Story”, Roger A Freeman with David Osborne, 1998, Arms and Armour
*2Find a Grave, accessed 14/11/15

RAF Fowlmere “a remarkable number of aviation firsts and combat records”.

This airfield concludes our three-part tour of Southern Cambridge for now; we shall be revisiting this area again shortly to see the remaining historic sites that once protected these green and pleasant lands from our invaders. This last stop however, is a former base just a stones throw from the Imperial War Museum and former Fighter Command base at Duxford – we go to RAF Fowlmere.

RAF Fowlmere (Station 378)

Fowlmere’s life can really be divided into two mains parts. That under the RAF as a Battle of Britain era airfield and that of the USAAF for which Fowlmere would achieve a remarkable number of aviation firsts and combat records.

But whatever its achievements, its wartime life was dogged by bad weather, and in particular rain! Poor drainage and heavy water logging left if unusable for large periods, inhospitable and rather bleak with poor accommodation, it was not a noteworthy ‘curriculum vitae’ for a prestigious fighter airfield. It is one of those airfields that took a long time to reach an honorary status, being home to a large number of RAF units, most for short assignments only, it was rarely in the spotlight. In total, it would be home to some 17 operational RAF squadrons,  a small number of training squadrons and one USAAF squadron. A rather high number for any second world war station.

Initially built as a First World War airfield, it opened on October 1st 1916, a small number of buildings were erected including six hangars and the runways were grass. It remained operational until the early 1920s at which point the buildings were demolished and the land reused.

With the next threat of an invasion looming, the defence of Britain was paramount. Fowlmere was then identified as a suitable site for a satellite to nearby Duxford, and Spitfires began to arrive from 19 Squadron. 19 Squadron would ‘yo-yo’ between Duxford and Fowlmere between June 1940 and August 1941, operating the Spitfire I,  IB and IIA in the process. These crews would operate as part of the Duxford Wing in the Battle of Britain where 19 Squadron would gain notoriety.

Duxford September 2015 436a

A sight once common over Fowlmere.

Following significant loses over France and southern England, the Boulton Paul Defiant was withdrawn from front line operations and pulled back to perform in ‘secondary’ duties. Part of this meant a short stay at Fowlmere in July 1940 for 264 Squadron who, whilst carrying out night-fighter duties, were in transit to Kirton-in-Lindsey.

Subsequent to their departure, there was a silence at Fowlmere which was only broken by a short five-day stay by the Hurriacne IIBs of 133 Squadron, whilst moving between Collyweston and Eglington. Noted for their twelve .303 machine guns and Merlin XX engines, first used in the Hurricane IIA, it used a mix of 30% glycol and 70% water. By using this mix, the fuel mixture was not only safer but it meant the engine would run much cooler thus giving it a longer life. Further examples of this aircraft would return later in the summer of 1942 with another squadron, 174 Sqn, also whilst transiting, but this time from and back to their main station at RAF Manston.

The winter of 1941 / 42 would remain quiet at Fowlmere, and it wouldn’t be until the following spring on March 12th, that there would be any significant action at the base. The first visitors being a detachment of Spitfire VBs from 154 Sqn whose main force was based away at Coltishall. Eventually, a month later, the entire squadron would transit over, but yet again, they would be another short-stay resident who would depart  for RAF Church Stanton in early May that year. Other than the short visits by the Hurricanes, all would be quiet again until the autumn and in September Fowlmere would be blessed with yet another short stay of transiting Spitfires. The VBs of 111 Squadron, would stay for one month whilst on their way the Mediterranean and North Africa. 111 would go on to become famous for their Lightnings and the ‘Black Arrows’ aerobatics team with their Hunters in the post war jet era.

Once again the winter would have a quietening effect on Fowlmere, and there would be little happen for the next few months. The following March though, would see a considerable amount of movement at the airfield. Preceded by a short stay of Austers from 655 Squadron, Spitfire VBs of 411 Squadron and Spitfire VCs of 167 Squadron would arrive in the early days of March. Their departures on the 12th and 13th respectively would be interceded by the arrival of more Spitfire VBs of 421 Squadron, who also left on the 13th of that month. Similar movements would take place only a few days later. On the 19th 2 Sqn RAF arrived and stayed for just over a month. But the arrival and departure of 2 Sqn signalled a big change for Fowlmere and their Mustang Is were to be not only the end of RAF interests in the airfield, but a sign of things yet to come.

Littlefriends.co.uk

Aircraft of the 503rd FS from the waist gunner’s position of a B-17. Aircraft seen are, from rear to foreground: P-51B ‘D7-O’ “Miss Max”; P-51D ‘D7-M’ “Sally II”; P-51D ‘D7-Z’ “Shy Ann”; and P-51D ‘D7-F’ “Dee”. *1

After April, Fowlmere would remain very quiet. With the increasing need for bomber bases for the USAAF, Fowlmere was identified as a possible site. This potential new lease of life was to be short-lived though and the decision was reversed only a matter of weeks later. It was not to be, but thankfully, it was not the end of Fowlmere.

Handed over to the Americans as a fighter airfield, it would be upgraded. Two new runways were built (1,400 and 1,600 yds) using Sommerfield Track and pierced planking, eight new blister hangars were erected, to compliment the ‘T2’ hangar to the north of the site and firm plans were drawn up that would shape Fowlmere for the rest of the war.

To deal with the staff, eight sites would be developed. All to the north-eastern side of the airfield, there would be a communal site, five accommodation blocks in total for officers and enlisted men separately, a sick quarters and a sewage treatment site. The main road to Fowlmere village already severed, would have a runway built across it, aircraft pens, technical buildings and a wide range of supporting structures including: fire sheds, harmonisation walls and around forty hardstands around a perimeter track that encircled the two runways. The main technical area would be to the north, whilst the bomb and fuel stores were to the south along side the remains of the southern section of the main road. Fowlmere would be taking on a new role and it would be permanent.

The control tower at Fowlmere, home of the 339th Fighter Group, 1945. Image via James G Robinson. Written on slide casing: 'Fowlmere Tower, 1945.'

Fowlmere Tower, 1945*2

Fowlmere would open again on the 4th April 1944 as Station 378, with the arrival of the 339th FG, the penultimate fighter group to be based in the UK. Flying P-51s, the 339th FG at this time consisted of three squadrons, the 503rd (D7), 504th (5Q) and 505th FS (6N). They would use Fowlmere as their only European base and whilst here would be used in both the fighter escort and ground attack role.

Their first mission was on April 30th with a fighter sweep over France, followed by around 5 weeks of escort duties of medium and heavy bombers. They soon made their mark on the air war though. In the first thirty days, they claimed forty aircraft shot down and fifteen destroyed on the ground.

Initially flying P-51Bs they would also use the ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘K’ models. Missions would include: strafing runs over airfields; attacking communication lines; supporting the allied push out of Normandy; dive bombing locomotives; marshalling yards; anti-aircraft batteries and troops. They also supported allied advances such as the breakout at St Lo and in the Ardennes. The group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for operations on September 10th and 11th whilst attacking heavily defended airfields and defending bombers of the ‘Bloody Hundredth’ whilst attacking cities in Germany. All in all they were to prove themselves a formidable force in the air.

One of the peculiarities of the 339th was the stripped jacket and baseball cap wearing  Runway Control officer. It was worn so the pilots could see him and his signal that it was clear to take off. A signal they depended upon greatly. Here he signals to a P-51 at Fowlmere embarking on a bombing mission in August 1944.*3

Each time the 339th went into battle it would seem a new record would be set. On the 29th November 1944, in a ferocious air battle, Lt. Jack Daniell shot down five FW-190s, giving him ‘Ace in a day’ status, the last pilot of the US Eighth Air force to do so. In early 1945, during strafing attacks 105 aircraft were destroyed in one mission, another first for any group. A remarkable feat that was repeated only twelve days later with a high score of 118 and an individual record for its leader Captain Robert Ammon.

The 339th would not only becomes a formidable force, but they would be the first units to test new ‘G’ suits, designed to prevent blacking out in tight turns, an essential piece of clothing in today’s modern air force. They would also take the British designed gyroscopic gun sight and develop it for use in the P-51, an innovative device that calculated deflection increasing hit rates both at greater distances and with more accurately.

By the war’s end the 339th would rack up a total of  264 missions, with 680 aircraft destroyed, two-thirds being on the ground and on heavily defended airfields, whilst losing less than 100 aircraft and crews. They achieved the greatest number of air and ground ‘kills’ in any twelve month period of the war,  a DUC and a remarkable reputation.

Fowlmere had finally achieved the status of its more famous neighbours, but it was a little too late for this airfield, the war was finally over. After the Americans pulled out in October 1945, Fowlmere fell silent for the last permanent time. The land was eventually sold off in the 1950s long after all military operations had ceased.

Fowlmere is one of those airfields that is quite difficult to find. Tucked away at the back of the village access is through an industrial site and along a rather grand driveway that is actually a farmers track. The road leads to nowhere other than the farm, a small light airfield and a memorial.

Before driving or walking to the memorial start off at the village centre. Facing south, site 3 would be behind you, and sites 4, 9, 7 and 5 to your front. Take the road south and then turn in toward Manor farm; as you enter, there is an industrial site on your right. This road, was the original main entrance, and there would have been a picket post, Co’s house and Officer’s Mess to your right. On you left was a further Officer’s mess, recreation room for enlisted men, and a block with showers and ablutions for the Sergeants. The road bears right, here you can see, in the field to your right, a Nissen hut once part of the Communal area (Site 2). Now derelict and truly overgrown its days are definitely numbered. The original plan layout differs quite a bit from the current layout, and it is difficult to ascertain the precise nature of its origin. However, it could have been either an ‘A.M.W.D*4‘. or latrines for 310 – 400 enlisted men. Using satellite photos, you can clearly see the foundations for a number of other buildings including the: Officer’s Mess, Dental Centre, Stand-by set house and CO’s quarters. This road, which was originally much shorter than it is today takes you into an industrial estate that has reused some of the period buildings, these may well have come from the original site and have been moved or the site was built differently to the original design. It is at this stage difficult to determine.

Aug 2015 005

One of the few remaining structures at Fowlmere, now overgrown and disappearing, this Nissen hut stands on Site 2.

Leave here and turn right at the end of the road. This grand road takes you up the hill toward the airfield. On your left would have been the sick block Site 8 with a barrack hut, sick quarters with 18 beds, a garage and mortuary. Follow this road along, at the farm follow the road right, and the memorial is about 100 yards further along on your left. A small space has been made available for parking by the adjacent property who kindly ask you to look after the memorial during your visit. It is sad that we have to ask people to do this, it should be an absolute.

The memorial overlooks the remains of the airfield. The original T2 hangar stands reclad in its original position now storing small private aircraft. Other remains, the crew rest rooms and two main workshops, have been reclaimed by the farm and incorporated into the farm infrastructure. A considerable amount of concrete also exists from this technical area, again utilised by the farm.  The watch office, originally built to 17/65840 for the RAF, was later replaced by a the more common 343/43 two storey type; this too is long gone and would have been to your front beyond the hangar.

A quiet an unassuming place, Fowlmere remained a satellite for most if its life, seeing a number of temporary stays by some prestige aircraft and squadrons. It wasn’t until the latter parts of the war that it really came into its own, sadly though, this was short-lived; but the P-51s of the 339th would carry Fowlmere’s history into the annuls of time and the small private aircraft that now stand where Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mustangs were once dispersed, grace the skies where their forefathers cut their teeth – in the skies over war-torn Europe.

Aug 2015 018

The Memorial overlooks the airfield, the reclad T2 and its new inhabitants beyond.

A stones throw from Fowlmere, is the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, essential to anyone with an interest in the Second World War. Home of many displays, exhibitions, and restoration projects it has to be on everyone’s list of to-dos. The Duxford website can be accessed here.

Sources and further reading.

*1 Photo from Russell Abbey (www.55th.org) from the ‘Little Friends’ website.

*2 Photo from Roger Freeman collection FRE 5982  American Air Museum in Britain.

*3 Photo from Roger Freeman collection FRE 5961 American Air Museum in Britain.

*4 This is the reference on the site plans, if anyone knows what it means please let me know.

In memory of Sgt Jimmy Thornton

A moving tribute between airmen. 

As we spend the day remembering and giving thanks to those who gave their lives in conflict, I thought it timely to share another poem that was included in my grandfather’s collection of war memorabilia. As with the last poem I published, I am not sure of the author. It is unlikely that my grandfather […]
https://broodyswar.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/jimmy/

The Government Response to ‘Keeping Airfields as Greenfield Sites’. 

I recently signed a petition for a review into the classification of former airfields as Greenfiled sites, when it came to light that they had been classified as ‘Brownfield’. Whilst understanding and appreciating the need for land for housing and industrial development, my concern is that too many former historic sites are being developed without concern or reference to their historic value. There are a number of these sites currently affected by planning  applications and if approval is given, then they and their history could be lost forever. 

Whilst not wanting to oppose development in its entirety, I would like some preservation aspect built into development plans so that the sacrifice made by those who served and the value of the contribution made by these sites, is not lost forever.  

The petition can be accessed by clicking this link. The current number of signatures stands at around 17,500. 

The Government response is below:

National policy and guidance recognises the importance of airfields, we will work with the aviation sector to ensure the current policy relating to development on airfields is better understood.

Brownfield land is defined, for the purpose of national planning policy prior to and in the National Planning Policy Framework, as land that has been previously developed. Airfields, as land that has been previously developed, are therefore regarded as brownfield land. A central premise of the policy has been and remains that it should not be assumed that the whole of the curtilage of a brownfield site should be developed. This has been made clear in the definitions of previously developed land set out in Planning Policy Guidance 3 (Housing – revised 2000), Planning Policy Statement 3 (Housing – 2003 as revised) and the National Planning Policy Framework (2012). The definition in Planning Policy Guidance 3 included a footnote which defined curtilage and stated that “where the footprint of a building only occupies a proportion of a site of which the remainder is open land (such as at an airfield or a hospital) the whole site should not normally be developed to the boundary of the curtilage. The local planning authority should make a judgement about site layout in this context, bearing in mind other planning considerations.” Although this detailed explanation of curtilage was not carried forward into Planning Policy Statement 3 the assumption in relation to developing the curtilage of previously developed land, including airfields, has remained the same and there has been no change to the policy relating to airfields in this respect.

Applications for the re-use or modernisation of airfields must be considered in the context of national policy. The National Planning Policy Framework, Planning Practice Guidance, the Aviation Policy Framework and the General Aviation Strategy acknowledge the significant contribution that aviation makes to economic growth across the country.

The National Planning Policy Framework encourages the effective use of land by re-using land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value. The Framework also makes clear that local plans should take account of the growth and role of airfields in serving business, leisure, training and emergency service needs. Applications for planning permission to re-develop airfields must be determined in accordance with Local Plans, Neighbourhood Plans and the London Plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The National Planning Policy Framework is a material consideration in planning decisions.

The National Planning Policy Framework strongly encourages early and meaningful engagement and collaboration by local planning authorities with neighbourhoods, local organisations and businesses so that Local Plans, as far as possible, reflect a collective vision and a set of agreed priorities for the sustainable development of the area. 

In March 2015, following the General Aviation Red Tape Challenge and the publication of the General Aviation Strategy, Planning Practice Guidance was strengthened to make clear that local authorities should consider the interconnectivity between airfields of different sizes and that they should have regard to the Aviation Policy Framework. The Aviation Policy Framework is clear that maintaining access to a national network of airfields is vital to the continuing success of the sector, and sets out Government policy to allow aviation to continue making a significant contribution to the economy.

In July 2015 the Government announced its intention to legislate to grant automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites identified in brownfield registers, subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details. The Government is taking this commitment forward in the Housing and Planning Bill. Decisions about the suitability of sites for inclusion in brownfield registers and the grant of permission in principle must be consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework. The Government intends to set out criteria to determine the suitability of sites for inclusion on the register in Regulations. We propose to consult on these criteria and the wider policy in due course.

We will work with the aviation sector to ensure the current policy relating to development on airfields is better understood.

Department for Communities and Local Government

The Petitions Committee will take a look at this petition and its response. They can press the government for action and gather evidence. If this petition reaches 100,000 signatures, the Committee will consider it for a debate.

The Committee is made up of 11 MPs, from political parties in government and in opposition. It is entirely independent of the Government. Find out more about the Committee: https://petition.parliament.uk/help#petitions-committee

Thanks,

The Petitions team

UK Government and Parliament

My Meeting with R220222

I was surprised and privileged  to receive a letter this morning. What an honour it was. 

Originally posted on RCAF 425 Les Alouettes:  I have to say I did not know what to expect when I first paid a visit to Mr Corbeil in May 2010. Little did I know then that this would be the first of more than 50 meetings with a veteran air gunner with 425 Alouette who…
https://athabaskang07.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/my-meeting-with-r220222/

For Some it’s too late – RAF Caxton Gibbet

There are many airfields in this country that have sadly just ‘disappeared’. Whether it be to housing, industry or agriculture, the fact remains they are no longer there and are now reduced to fading memories and mere mentions in the history books. For many of these it is too late.

Thankfully though, many of our larger airfields have had their buildings, especially hangars or Nissen huts, reused in some guise or other and so they live on in the day-to-day lives of their new owners. Whilst travelling around southern Cambridgeshire on my recent trails, I came across several examples of these lost or forgotten sites. The first is the rather oddly named Caxton Gibbet.

RAF Caxton Gibbet.

Having a history worthy of reading in itself, Caxton Gibbet has links to not only the Doomsday book, but also the Romans and the Bronze Age with traces of early settlements being unearthed only recently. Its folklore talks of brutal and violent executions and  for a small village, it has a remarkable amount to shout about.

Its history therefore includes a lot of death and this wouldn’t change during the Second World War.

The small field that was Caxton Gibbet airfield was partly used as a relief landing ground. It was centred between the numerous airfields around here but it was never designed to be a major player nor hold more than about 80 personnel. It only had grass runways,  temporary accommodation and a few small brick structures, including airfield defence positions, to signify its existence . It was used primarily by nearby 22 Elementary Flying Training School ‘F’ Flight, based at Cambridge flying a variety of biplane trainers. It was also used as an emergency landing ground and it was not surprising to see a wounded bomber attempting landing here. Surprisingly though, despite its lack of ‘operational’ importance, Caxton Gibbet suffered a rather large number of attacks from Luftwaffe aircraft. A number of bombs were dropped on it, several personnel were killed and damage was inflicted to a number of aircraft. However, despite all this unwarranted attention, little impact was made on this small and rather ‘insignificant’ airfield during its long history.

A number of training accidents did occur, practising stalls and other dangerous manoeuvres did claim several lives from the young would-be pilots. Locals tell of aircraft falling from the sky and aircrews plummeting to their deaths.

Opened in 1934 it would remain in use  until the end of the war in 1945. A small gliding club utilised the site post-war but eventually it was closed and returned to agriculture.

A small village that is battling for its own existence against the spreading conurbations that now surround it, Caxton Gibbet is slowly being absorbed into much larger developments. As for the airfield, it would seem it has now disappeared but its stories, like Caxton’s  gruesome history, live on in the history books.

RAF Caxton Gibbet forms part of Trail 29.

Home to the P-51s with a Reputation for Success. RAF Steeple Morden

In the final section of these Cambridgeshire Trails, we end with two fighter stations, both of which played a vital part in the defence of Britain and subsequently taking the war to Germany. Our first stop, boasts probably one of the best memorials in the area if not the country. It is that of RAF Steeple Morden.

RAF Steeple Morden (Station 122)

RAF Steeple Morden has been on my list of places to go for quite some time. Since seeing the photos taken by my friend, and reader, Steve Darnell,  I have wanted to know much more about it. After driving for a short distance from our previous site at Gransden Lodge, we arrive at the site of this former base.

The wide open expanses reveal little of its former life, the travesties , the bravery nor even the mundane hustle and bustle of a busy fighter airfield.

FRE_002932 aerial view

Steeple Morden, 11 May 1945*1.

Construction of Steeple Morden began in 1939 with its opening the following year. Initially, a satellite for nearby RAF Bassingbourn, its early existence would be fairly low-key, housing Wellington MK.1s of 11 Operational Training Unit (OTU) who were based at nearby RAF Bassingbourn. 11 OTU as a training flight, used the airfield primarily for navigation, landing and other training operations. This wasn’t to say that Steeple Morden was to be all quiet though. The first and probably most talked about event of this time, was the mistaken landing by a Junkers Ju 88 after the crew became disoriented following a raid in the midlands. The aircraft crashed as it landed and was written off, but enough of it was salvageable to  be used for assessment purposes. Shortly after this, at least two attacks occurred by the Luftwaffe rendering a number of Wellingtons damaged. Whilst some damage was inflicted upon the airfield, little overall disruption occurred.

Being a training unit, accidents were inevitable. Following a tragedy filled inception, the OTUs generally were to lose a number of crews or aircraft through lack of experience or mechanical failures. 11 OTU was no exception. On April 5th 1941 Wellington L4216 careered off the flare path causing its undercarriage to collapse. Luckily no one was injured in this instance, but it would set the scene for further tragic incidents. Wellington L4302 stalled on the night of 18th April, killing both pilots as the aircraft plunged into the ground at Abington Pigotts and on 8th June 1941, Wellington Ic, R1728, mysteriously crashed into the sea killing all six crew members. It is believed they were bounced by enemy aircraft and shot down. Steeple Morden’s crews were not as unfortunate though as those at nearby Bassingbourn, whose loss rates were even higher, – but they would certainly not get away lightly.

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The Village Sign at Steeple Morden Reflects its Aviation Links.

Following runway upgrades at Bassingbourn in the Autumn of 1941, further aircrews would find themselves based here and the pace of life would increase. During 1942 11 OTU would take part in the 1000 bomber raids over Germany, and attacks on prestige targets such as Bremen, Düsseldorf, Essen and Koln. On the night of 25th/26th June 1942, Wellington Ics DV778, ‘KJ-A’; R1078, ‘TX-Q’ and X2313, ‘KJ-L’; would all fail to return from Bremen. These high prestige  targets would claim further: Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and British lives from 11 OTU.

In September 1942, Steeple Morden was handed over to the US Eighth Airforce, and 11 OTU would move on to their new base at RAF Westcott in Buckinghamshire, to carry on training activity there. Earmarked for a new bomber station, it was given the designation Station 122, and would undergo a huge structural transformation.

Three concrete runways were built, the main running NE-SW, and two secondary running E-W and NW-SE. A large concrete perimeter track linked each one with some 55 pan style hardstands, 9 blister hangars and a T2 hangar. The main dispersals were to the south-east and south-west, with the technical and administration areas to the north behind the watch office. There were seven crew sites, two further WAAF sites, two communal sites and a sick quarters, enough for over 2000 personnel. These were all situated to the north-east beyond the end of the main runway. The bomb store, capable of holding 100 tons of bombs, was to the south-east.

The first units to arrive were the: 5th, 12th, 13th and 14th Photographic Squadrons of the 3rd photographic Group, Eighth Airforce, who would remain here between 26th October and November 1942, whilst on their way to the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations and the Twelfth Air Force. Led by Colonel Elliot Roosevelt, the son of the US President, they would go on to achieve a Distinguished Unit Citation for their part in action over southern France.

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P-51 Mustangs of the 355th Fighter Group break formation, ready for landing, over the ground support vehicles and control tower of Steeple Morden Airfield. *2

For a short period between the departure of the Americans and January the following year, Steeple Morden would remain calm and quiet. The next residents being a return to training and 17 OTU (RAF), bringing with them Blenhheims, who wold also only stay for a very short period before moving off again to RAF Silverstone to the west.

The sound over Steeple Morden would then change for good. In came the mighty P-47 ‘Thunderbolts’ nicknamed ‘Jugs’ of the newly formed 355th Fighter Group (FG). No longer seen as suitable for a bomber station, Steeple Morden would be designated a fighter base and this would become its sole use for the remainder of the war.

The 355th FG was made up of 354th (Sqn code WR), 357th (OS) and 358th (YF) Fighter Squadrons, having white noses with red, blue and yellow rudders respectively. Their initiation into war would be slow, lack of supplies and aircraft restricting their ability to perform operationally. With a gentle start, they covered short-range bomber escort duties and low-level sweeps over Belgium, their first operational sortie being on 14th September 1943. Subsequent escort duties though, would take them deep into the heart of Germany. Using the American 75 gallon drop tanks as a substitute for slow delivered 108 gallon British paper tanks, they could reach Germany itself and support the beleaguered bombers of the Eighth Air force all the way to the target and back – a god send to the crews of the B-17s and B-24s.

The 355th would take part in some of Europe’s fiercest air battles, covering targets such as: Berlin, Karlsruhe, Misburg and Gelsenkirchen. But for such dramatic missions, ‘kill’ rates would remain remarkably low.

With the introduction of the new P-51 ‘Mustang’ the 355th’s fortune would turn. Now turning to strafing and low-level bombing runs, they would focus their attention on destroying the Luftwaffe on the ground. They would attack German airfields and earn themselves the apt name ‘The Steeple Morden Strafers‘. A DUC would follow on April 5th 1944 for an attack in a snow storm on the Luftwaffe airfield at Oberfaffenhofen and five other military bases. The 355th claiming to have destroyed 43 aircraft, damaging a further 81 and achieving 8 ‘kills’. From here the numbers continued to climb, both kill rates and the numbers of aircraft destroyed. They had certainly earned their reputation and their name.

FRE_000441 tower

Men of the 355th Fighter Group Survey the Airfield from Inside Steeple Morden Control Tower.*3

Further operations would take the 355th as far away as Politz in Poland, a remarkable achievement for a fighter aircraft, made possible by the addition of the larger drop tanks. The Normandy landings and the St Lo breakthrough were also covered by the 355th, supporting ground troops, strafing supply lines and enemy ground forces. Confidence and determination were high and a short visit by Glenn Miller would only go to increase the joys of the 355th’s successes – morale would be good.

Then Steeple Morden would take a blow. Early on January 1st 1945, B-17 ’42-37911′, “Heat’s on“, of the 401st BS, 91st BG, RAF Bassingbourn, would crash in the dispersal at Steeple Morden killing all crew members and injuring a number of staff on the ground. At least two P51-Ds, 44-14374, ‘WR-A‘ and 44-14498, ‘YF-S‘ were destoyed*4. Such were the fortunes of war.

“We started off the New Year of 1945 with a scheduled flight to the oil refineries at Merseburg on January 1st, but diverted to Kassel when we found Merseburg clouded over. No. 911, “Heats On”, of the 401st Squadron, on her 92nd mission and flown by 1Lt Earl J. Jeffers, had an engine fail on take-off. Lt Jeffers tried to put her down on the nearby 355th Fighter Group base at Steeple Morden, the main runway of which was directly in the flight path from runway 25 at Bassingbourn. Back on the 6th of March 1944, 2Lt Walter Wildinson in No. 761, “Blue Dreams”, had made a similar emergency landing at Steeple Morden. Although the crew forgot to lower the landing gear and completely wrecked the aircraft, no one in “Blue Dreams” or on the ground was injured. But, as “Heats On” touched down, for some unknown reason she careened into a P-51 dispersal area, striking parked aircraft and exploded, killing all 9 of the crew aboard. There are all sorts of ways to die in an air war. Several of the fighter base ground crew members were seriously injured, but none was killed. For us the mission was uneventful.”*5

As the war drew to a close, the 355th continued to strafe ground targets. Their final operation taking place on 25th April 1945. Their final tally would rise to over 860 ‘kills’ with 500 being as a result of ground strafing – one of the highest of any Eighth Air Force unit. Withdrawing Germans left airfields empty and allowed the allies to move to France and eventually into Germany itself. The 355th would go on to form part of the occupying Allied force leaving Steeple Morden for Gamblingen airfield on July 3rd 1945, and then onto Schweinfurt in April 1946, itself a former target for the Eighth Air Force. Eventually in August 1946 the 355th would return to the US without any equipment to be disbanded in the following November.

The departure of the 355th left Steeple Morden quiet. The 4th FG moved in with the 334th, 335th, and 336th FS before they too moved back to the US in November 1945 and temporary disbandment. Formed around a nucleus of former RAF ‘Eagle’ Squadron members, they came here from RAF Debden with a record of success that exceeded most other units. This departure signified the end for Steeple Morden and the airfield was finally closed. The land was sold off back to its original three owners in the early 1960s and it was returned to agriculture, having the majority of its infrastructure demolished or removed.

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Steeple Morden Technical Site today. The Watch Office would be to the Right in This Picture.

The only significant remnants of this historic airfield, now stand high on the hill-top, a few huts, odd buildings but a remarkable and formidable memorial, that are in tune with the success and bravery of all Steeple Morden’s Allied crews.

With Steeple Morden it is best to start in the village at the village sign, which signifies the links between the community and the base. Located at the village centre, the  sign depicts both an RAF Wellington and a P-51 flying low of the countryside.  A timely reminder that both RAF and USAAF services operated from  here. Take the main road east out of the village, and the airfield and memorial are on your right hand side. A small parking space, once a concrete road that led away from the main part of the airfield and housed general purpose huts, allows you to leave your car and view the memorial without causing a problem to the speeding traffic that uses this road.

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The Impressive Memorial to the Crews Who Served at RAF Steeple Morden, both USAAF and RAF.

A grand three-part concrete memorial, its centrepiece the propeller Bose of a P-51 Mustang, overlooks the airfield. To the right and left side are the inscriptions and dedications to the crews of both the RAF and the USAAF. A polished granite stone, all that is left of the watch tower, sits beneath the memorial and three former Nissen huts remain behind giving an atmospheric feel to this site. The fields beyond now completely agriculture this little part of the airfield virtually all that remains. Small sections of concrete, show where the technical site once stood, primarily to your left, with the dispersals and main airfield to your front. The watch office (drawing 13726/40) now long gone, would have been to your left and in front. The entire technical area in which you are standing is now soil, returned to agriculture once more. There are three small huts behind the memorial, these were the crew lockers and drying room, which stood in front of crews tennis courts, suitable for a much-needed recreation break. Along the hedgerow beside the road, would have been 5 further Nissen huts housing the defence crew quarters, again they have all gone.

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Crew Locker and Drying Rooms are Virtually the only buildings left.

On a warm summers day, the views from here are stunning. I can imagine a cold winter would transform this place to a freezing, inhospitable airfield with little protection from the elements. A dramatic change indeed.

If you leave here and continue east away from the village, you pass on your left the original operations block designed to drawing 228/43. It contained the crew briefing room, interrogation block and office annex. Still intact, the surrounding buildings mere piles of rubble. Continue on from here and you arrive at the village of Litlington. The church of St. Catherine’s is on your right and this is a ‘must stop’.

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The Airfield Operations Room, Whilst Standing, is in Poor Condition.

Before entering the church, look around, the houses opposite, and most of those making up Litlington, are on six of the former accommodation sites. Now mainly bungalows and family homes, there is virtually nothing left visible to show that this was once a vibrant military area.

Once inside the church you will see a beautiful stained glass window that commemorates the 355th FG. A P-47 and P-51, stand aside the eagle of the U.S. Air Force, with the 355th’s sword insignia at the centre of the crest; its detail and stunning blue colours enhanced in the summer light.

A specially commissioned painting can also be seen here. Created by Spencer Trickett, it depicts a P-51D “Miss Steve” as flown by Lt. William Cullerton of the 357th FS, 355th FG, at RAF Steeple Morden. His story is a remarkable one. Shot down by ground fire on April 8th 1945, he was captured by the SS, shot and left for dead. A Jewish doctor and German farmer found him and saved his life. He was then taken to a German hospital from where he escaped and was found by advancing American forces.

Cullerton was the fourth highest scoring ace of the group and the 29th of the entire Eighth Air Force. He was awarded: a Presidential Citation; the Victory in Europe Medal; the Air Medal with Clusters; the Distinguished Flying Cross with Clusters; the Purple Hear; Silver Star with Clusters and the Distinguished Service Cross. His aircraft, “Miss Steve” was named after his girlfriend whom he later married, and is depicted flying low over the church; a landmark used by Steeple Morden crews as it stands directly in line with the main runway.

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The Memorial Window at St. Catherine’s Church.

Whilst the majority of Steeple Morden has gone, there are thankfully strong community links with the Eighth and the veterans of the 355th. Whilst predominately American in ‘flavour’, the church window provides a fitting end to a fruitful trail, and what is surely one of the most prestigious memorials on any airfield today. For other photos of this and other memorials, click this link to the memorial page.

From here we go on to conclude this part of our trip with a visit to the RAF base at Fowlmere.

Notes and sources:

*1 Photo from IWM, Roger Freeman Collection, FRE2932,

*2 Photo from IWM, Roger Freeman Collection, FRE000443

*3 Photo from IWM, Roger Freeman Collection, FRE441

*4 Information from ‘Little Friendswebsite accessed 30/10/15

*5 Extract from “Mary Ruth Memories of Mobile…We Still Remember” Ch1- Another Time, Another Place–Lady Lois, Little Jean, published on 91st Bomb Group Website.