RAF Mattishall Airfield – Part of Trail 36

Following on from previous posts about Tydd St. Mary and Narborough airfields, RAF Mattishall was used by the same squadron, 51 (HD) Sqn to combat the threat from Zeppelin airships over the eastern counties of England. Now long gone and sadly relegated to the history books, we visit another airfield that played a role in the defeat of these once mighty airships.

RAF Mattishall.

Close by to RAF Swannington is the former RAF/RFC airfield at Mattishall, a few miles to the south beyond Attlebridge and its huge USAAF base. Closed at the end of the First World War, Mattishall saw detachments of 51 Squadron during the First World War. 51 (HD – Home Defence) Squadron had its headquarters at Thetford, with other flights at Harling Road, Narborough and Tydd St Mary. Flying a range of models, including both the BE2 and BE12 models; 51 (HD) Sqn had a mix spread across these airfields taking on the FE2b in both single and two variants later on in the war.

Intrusions by Zeppelins were more common in the earlier stages of the war, and the Home Defence Squadrons were created to counter-act them. Poor performance initially led to poor successes against these airships but that didn’t stop the determined young crews of the RFC and latterly the RAF. Toward the end of the war in 1918, home defence had been scaled back. However, as the newer Zeppelins, Gotha and Zeppelin-Staaken were able to fly at much higher altitudes, home defence squadrons needed a more able aircraft to combat them. In poured numbers of Sopwith Camels, SE5 and DH4s, but it was all a bit ‘too-little, too-late’ for the mighty airships that once ruled the skies.

During the last Zeppelin raid of the war on the night of August 5th/6th, 1918, RAF DH4s and Sopwith Camels attacked a small fleet of airships of the Norfolk coast. Inland the home defence squadrons were alerted and scrambled but the group of Zeppelins never made it in-land and flights from 51 Squadron at Mattishall were to play no part in their eventual downfall. Sadly Lt. Drummond from Mattishall flying in FE2b ‘A5732’ had to make a forced landing at Skegness, presumably as a result of engine trouble. This was to bring the night fighter operations to an end and with it the end of both 51 Sqn and RAF Mattishall.

The airfield was built close to Toll House Farm and had a range of facilities common to First World War airfields. A few wooden huts and two hangars were erected on-site and these proved to be the limit of accommodation on the 80 acre site. Post war, these were all sold off to local businesses and farms and the land returned to the farmer.

Now completely agricultural, Mattishall was once a hive of flying activity for a short period of the war, where flying bravely in open cockpits and without parachutes was common place. Sadly, Mattishall’s existence has disappeared into the history books and it is no more.

A short history of Mattishall along with some personal accounts can be found here.

Mattishall is can be found in Trail 36 – North Norfolk (Part 6).

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2 thoughts on “RAF Mattishall Airfield – Part of Trail 36

  1. Great post Andy. You make a good point that the mighty Zeppelin had long since seen its best days by 1918. The German high command persisted with the concept despite extremely heavy losses. In some ways the demise of the Zeppelin is reminiscent of the demise of the battleship at the end of WW2, as it became clear that the aircraft carrier was a more effective weapons system.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are absolutely right Rich. Both suffered from the advances in technology and improvements in new and more modern forms of warfare. Toward the end of the first world war aircraft took over the bomber role and attention focussed on London and the South. The style of war changed, technology improved and the airships days as a bomber were well and truly over.

      Liked by 1 person

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