This area of Norfolk is filled with narrow lanes, and ‘chocolate box’ villages with duck filled streams and babbling brooks running through the middle. An ideal and welcome break from the horrors of what was witnessed in the skies of occupied Europe all those years ago.
Travelling away from Great Massingham and West Raynham, we carry on east, toward Norwich and then take a left turn and head north. Cutting through the delights of Norfolk, we take in the last few sites that offer good examples of airfield architecture. Before reaching our first sight however, turn off the main road at Weasenham St. Peter, for here is a small reminder of the terrible tragedies of war.
Nestled in the village is a small but poignant reminder of the dangers faced by the young men who flew in our skies. Once over friendly territory, crews would often feel safe knowing that ‘home’ was but a few miles away. However, for many the danger was not over yet.
A pyramid memorial in this quiet and almost insignificant village, identifies the crews of not one but three aircraft that crashed close by killing all onboard. From this point you can see the hangars of West Raynham dominating the skyline, an indication of how close to home these young men were.
Blenheim L8800, of 114 Sqn RAF, crashed on 5th June 1942. On board were: Sg. F. Cooke, Sgt. J Wallbridge (VR) and Sgt. E. Kitcher (VR) all of whom lost their lives. On 17th October that year, a B25 Mitchell, FL206 of 98 Sqn RAF, crashed killing the crew: Flt. Sgt. D. Tanner, Sgt. E. Boreham, Sgt. L. Horton and LAC F. Barnett all of RAF(VR). Finally on May 22nd 1943, close to his spot a Douglas Boston III, AL285 of 342 ‘Lorraine’ Sqn. crashed killing all her crew, who were part of the Free French Air Force: Lt. M. Le Bivic, Lt. R. Jacquinot, Sgt. L. Cohen and Cpl. J. Desertlaux. All three aircraft were based at nearby West Raynham when the tragedies struck.
When leaving here, return to the main road and head east to our first stop at Foulsham.
RAF Foulsham, sits approximately 8 miles north-east of the Norfolk town of Dereham. It had a short active life of just three years, lasting between May 1942 and 1945, at which point it was closed to flying and used as a storage site for military hardware. It remained in this lesser state until the 1980s when it was deemed surplus to requirements and finally closed. The land it stood on, was then sold off to local farmers.
Built over the period 1940-41 by the construction company Kirk and Kirk Ltd, RAF Foulsham occupied land some 173 feet above sea level, and opened under the control of 2 Group Bomber Command. Much of the material that was brought in to construct Foulsham came via nearby railways stations, then along local roads through the village, leaving locals facing endless mud and traffic.
As a war-time airfield, Foulsham would have three tar and wood chip runways, one of which would later be equipped with the fog dispersal system ‘FIDO’, a valuable if not bizarre system designed to dissipate fog along airfield runways.
Foulsham’s three runways were 1,900 and 1,350 yards long, with the main runway heading in a north-south direction. By the end of the war it would have thirty-seven heavy bomber hardstands, nine T2 hangars and one B1, and as such, was a formidable size. Personnel numbers were reflected in this, with accommodation spread over several sites to both the south and east, able to accommodate upward of 2,500 personnel of mixed rank and gender. The ever important technical site sat to the east, with the bomb store situated to the south-west of the airfield, just off the end of the main north-south runway.
The watch office, now long gone, was built to design 518/40 which included and Meteorological section attached to the building. These designs were a development of earlier models using a new 9 inch rendered brick wall as opposed to timber, although timber was initially required for the floors and ceilings. Due to a shortage in wood at the time though, concrete replaced a large portion of these leaving only the balcony and control room using such material.
Whilst Foulsham opened under 2 Group, it would almost immediately – within a month of opening – be handed over to the US forces of the 8th Air Force and be renamed station B.13. However, this change never evolved into anything more as no American personnel were stationed here, and by the October it was back in RAF hands, and 2 Group once more. The next few years would see the airfield change hands several more times, and with each change would come new aircraft, new personnel and new roles.
The first units to arrive here were those of the host unit 2 Group. Both 98 and 180 Squadron arrived in mid October 1942 after their reformation/formation at RAF West Raynham. During this time, they both began to receive their aircraft, the American built B-25 ‘Mitchell II’. Their transfer across to Foulsham gave the airfield the honour of being the first station to use the type operationally. Both squadrons would remain active in the light bomber role until 18th August 1943 at which point they would depart and the airfield would change ownership once more.
98 Squadron, a First World War unit, had been operating out of Kaldadarnes in Iceland following a terrible loss of personnel when the Lancastria was sunk in June 1940. Their reformation at West Raynham, and subsequent move to Foulsham, had been quickly met with yet more losses, when one of the Mitchells ‘FL206’, spun killing all four members of the crew on board.
After this, the squadron would be dogged by misfortune, the squadron adjutant noting in the Operational Records that excessive rain had turned the site into a “disgraceful condition”; the weather was one aspect the staff would have to put up with for some time to come. *5
For the first sixteen days of November, all but a handful of days were washed out, the despair of staff being felt through the Operational Records, each day met with ‘Lectures continue, adverse weather for flying‘. However, on the 16th, training flights did manage to take place, but it too was met with more sadness as a second set of fatalities occurred.
During the training flight, Mitchell FL179 suffered a bird strike in the carburettor of the starboard engine, this caused the engine to fail. With only one serviceable engine the pilot, Flt. Sgt. K. Williams (s/n: 1062588), tried to land at nearby RAF Attlebridge, unfortunately the aircraft stalled and went into a spin. The resultant crash killed all three aircrew on board and wrote off the Mitchell.
Things were to not get any better for the squadron either. On the 30th, a third crash took yet four more lives when FL708 collided with high tension cables near to RAF Wendling. The explosion from the collision also killed a local farmer who was ploughing his field at the time of the accident. It had been a terrible start for the fledgling unit.
The poor weather continued relentlessly, hampering the squadron’s progress, both on the ground and in the air, with training flights being cancelled on a regular basis. During the small numbers that were taking place, further problems came to light adding to the frustrations already felt by the crews. Since taking on the initial batch of nine Mitchells on September 18th, the squadron had been having problems with the aircraft especially the guns and their turrets.
Gunners had found that extended bursts of gunfire were impossible, usually no more than a dozen rounds could be fired at any one time, a situation borne out by Wing Commander Foster, the Group Armament Officer, on the 16th December. In an attempt to remedy the situation, an American gun turret specialist visited the squadron, but by the 18th it was considered that the guns were ‘obsolete’.
January was much the same, snow added to further problems and again the aerodrome was noted as being in a “very bad condition“, all flying being cancelled until the middle of the month when a small number of flights did get airborne.
The first battle order came through on January 21st, but due to a late delivery of bombs, it was also cancelled, meaning the squadrons first operation flight wouldn’t take place until the next day.
Six aircraft were ordered to operations, and whilst all made it to the target, one aircraft, FL693, was hit by flak and disintegrated. All on board were presumed killed. The first months of 98 squadron had been challenging and difficult for those posted here.
180 Squadron had fared a little better, although after walking into a spinning propeller, L.A.C. J. Aspinall was killed, the only fatality of the squadron during the same period.
On July 26th 1943, an emergency landing was made at Foulsham by a B-17F #42-29802 of the 326th BS, 92nd BG, 8th AF, after a traumatic series of events that earned the co-pilot, John C. Morgan Flight Officer (later 2nd Lt.), the Medal of Honour for his valour and courage in action.
On that particular day, the aircraft, “Ruthie II“, was in a mass formation heading for Hanover, when a canon shell ripped through the windscreen splitting the pilots head. In addition to this, the oxygen system to the tail, waist, and radio positions was also inoperable, the top turret gunner had lost both arms and had major injuries to his side; the intercom system was out of action and several crew members had lost consciousness due to the lack of Oxygen.
Morgan grappled with the severely wounded pilot, who had wrapped his arms round the controls, to try and maintain level flight. Morgan decided the protection of the formation was better than heading for home alone, and so for the next two hours he flew in formation holding the pilot back with one hand whilst steering with the other. Eventually the navigator came forward and gave assistance allowing the aircraft to reach the safety of England and Foulsham.
For his actions, Morgan, of Vernon, Wilbarger County, Texas, received the Medal of Honour the following December in a ceremony presided over by Lt. General Ira C. Eaker. The story of Morgan’s bravery would form a part of the story line in the book and movie “Twelve O’Clock High”.*3
The posting of 98 and 180 Squadrons in August 1943 was no coincidence, as the airfield saw further development and new hangars added. These hangars were erected at various locations around the airfield site, ready to accommodate the forty or so Horsa gliders that would soon arrive here escorted by 12 Heavy Glider Maintenance Section. Their arrival marking the beginning of the preparations for the invasion of Normandy the following year.
A few days later, on September 1st, 1943, the handover of Foulsham took place and 3 Group became the new owners in a move that also signified the forming of 514 Squadron with Lancaster IIs, the less common radial engined version of this famous Avro aircraft.
514 Sqn was initially headed by Acting Wing Commander A.J. Samson D.F.C., although the first to arrive at the airfield was the squadron adjutant. On first inspection, he and his small party found that the office blocks had been completely stripped of all their furniture, even shelving had annoyingly been removed from walls. As a result the offices were virtually unusable, and so a huge clean up operation began in readiness for the ground and air crews who were to shortly follow.
Accommodation sites 2 and 5 were quickly allocated to the squadron for personnel use, and as soon as equipment began arriving, on a rainy and very wet September day, everyone was drafted in to unload and store the various much needed supplies.
To provide flying personnel for the new squadron, a support unit would also be formed at the airfield, that of 1678 Heavy Conversion Unit. The formation of this unit was achieved through the renumbering of the Flight of the same designation, a changeover that took place a month later, on October 16th 1943. The role of this unit was to convert experienced bomber crews over to the new Lancaster.
In the interim period, the new aircraft began to arrive. The first Lancaster ‘DS735’ touching down on 11th September, 1943, followed by three more (DS785, 783 and 784) over the next three days. Their arrival was met not with pomp and ceremony though, but by heavy showers and thunderstorms, the weather that had dogged earlier squadrons continued to play its terrible part in life at Foulsham. Over the next few weeks, aircraft were quickly modified and air-tested ready for flying, by the end of the month, eighteen Lancasters had been flown in and virtually all the crews had arrived ready for converting to the new type.
Over the next month, and although the weather yet again played havoc with flights, cross-countries and air tests were carried out with a high level of success. However, no one could control the weather, and the first planned operational sortie had to be cancelled due to extensive fog that blanketed the Norfolk countryside. Not until November 6th did a break allow any operational flying to take place, and that break allowed two small flights to get airborne.
A mining operation undertaken by four aircraft along with a bombing mission in which only two aircraft got off the ground, were the squadrons break into operational flying; not a major mission, but one that nevertheless broke the ice.
With the poor weather continuing, several more ‘ops’ were again cancelled allowing only the occasional ‘Bulls-eye’ or morning flight to get away. Whilst it must have been frustrating for crews, this did allow them to finally put into practice all the training they had undertaken so far.
Then on the 14th November 1943, news came through from above that 3 Group was being reorganised and that 514 Sqn would be moving from Foulsham to RAF Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire as a result. The move, expected to be completed by the 23rd, would coincide with the first operation to Berlin, a move that also signified the first phase of the ‘Battle of Berlin’. This would also be the first time a 514 Sqn aircraft (DS784 ‘JI-C’) would not return from operations; the loss being a blow to the squadron. Of the seven-man crew, one would be taken prisoner (F/S. B. Haines (RAAF)) whilst a further (Sgt. H. Lucas) would evade capture, successfully hiding out in Brussels until its liberation in 1944. The remaining five crewmen however, all perished in the aircraft’s crash.
By the 25th November, the move had been completed, and both 514 and 1678 HCU had now departed the airfield. With Foulsham now empty, it would undergo yet another change of ownership, this time to 100 Group, the specialists in electronic warfare. This change of ownership would, as before, bring another two new units, 192 Sqn and a supporting training unit 1508 (Blind Approach Training) Flight.
100 Group was formed that November as 100 (Special Duties) Group under the Command of Air Commodore E.B. Addison CB, CBE with its headquarters at Radlett in Hertfordshire. The aim of the move was to place all the electronic units under one single command, thus unifying its aim and bringing together all the resources of the thinly spread units. One of the main aims of the Group was to provide ‘spoof’ operations, confusing the ground operators and radar controlled night fighters, thus spreading them over wider areas. This would in turn, it was hoped, reduce the number of casualties from RAF bombers and achieve better bombing results as a consequence.
Other duties of the Group would involve the jamming of radar and radio equipment used by German aircraft and ground stations, monitoring German airways and providing incorrect orders to German crews using native speaking RAF crewmen. The war had become a battle of science.
Over November and December, airfields were taken over and aircraft supplied to the new Group. Squadrons were brought in to fill these sites and the Group grew from strength to strength.
A newly registered unit, 192 Sqn (formed a year before at RAF Gransden Lodge) operating a mix of Wellingtons, Mosquitoes, Halifax IIs and more recently, their newly acquired Halifax Vs, were transferred over to Foulsham, in one of the first moves to the airfield.
Formed through the renumbering of 1474 (Special Duties) Flight, 192 Sqn had been previously been monitoring the German Ruffian and Knickebein beams. In their new form they would monitor, amongst others, the western approaches to the Bay of Biscay, monitoring and recording night fighter channels.
However, the winter weather was up to its usual tricks, and it played havoc with initial flights. But despite this, within 48 hours of their arrival, 192 Sqn was classed as operational, and a memo to that effect was sent off to Headquarters 3 Group Bomber Command.
With no flying over the next three days due to the continuing bad weather, initial flights were able to begin on the 29th November, with three aircraft, all Wellingtons, performing Special Duties Flights over the Bay of Biscay. After landing at Davidstow Moor for refuelling, there was a major electrical fault at the airfield and the entire flare path and flying control facilities were put out of action. As a result, the three Wellingtons were grounded and unable to continue their flight home.
The weather continued to play havoc for the crews at Foulsham. A flight planned for a Mosquito and two Wellingtons on the 1st December had to be postponed and then finally cancelled. The next day, 2nd December 1943, three aircraft were ordered to fly to the Frisian Islands and the Dutch coast, but one had to return due to the pilot’s escape hatch blowing off, and a second overshot the runway on take off becoming bogged down in the mud. The aircraft was damaged but the crew were unhurt in the incident.
On December 7th, Foulsham officially became part of 100 Group and another unit No. 1473 (Radio Counter Measures) Flight also arrived here to assist with the ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) operations. By February 1944, it was decided to merge the Flight with 192 thus forming a ‘C’ Flight. With additional Mosquitoes and Ansons – the hardware inventory at Foulsham was now growing rapidly.
Much of December suffered the same fate as its preceding months however, poor weather rendering flying unsuitable, leaving many aircraft and their crews grounded for prolonged periods of time.
100 Group’s inaugural operation on the night of 16th / 17th December, did not however, go in their favour. On what has become known as ‘Black Thursday’ the RAF bomber force of over 480 aircraft, took heavy losses. These losses whilst high over occupied territory, were made far worse by poor weather which claimed some eight aircraft from 97 Squadron at RAF Bourn – one sixth of its strength,
The beginning of the new year, 1944, saw big changes not only in Bomber Command, but at Foulsham also. As the second phase of the ‘Battle of Berlin’ began, Stirling squadrons and now Halifax units were being pulled out of the front line bombing campaign; their shortcomings becoming all to obvious as losses in the types began to mount. The poor weather continued to cause misery across Britain’s airfields, rain and fog preventing large continuous attacks on the German heartland.
The interminable fog was the driving force behind the new FIDO system now being installed at Foulsham. Bomber command had initially asked for eight airfields across the UK, but by the end of 1943 they were seeking twelve, and Foulsham (designated Station XXI) was identified as one suitable.
William Press were given the contract to install the system, and by mid February work had begun. Supplying the huge storage tanks was going to be a challenge though, and so a new siding was constructed at nearby Foulsham railway station. Its not known for sure whether the fuel was then piped the two mile distance to the airfield, or brought across in tankers, but whichever it was, it required a good deal of extra work.
At the airfield site, three storage tanks were assembled on Land at Low Farm, located at the northern end of the main runway. The much needed pump house and control point were also located here. Operators were kept on a 24 hr watch system, being billeted near to the equipment in two Nissen huts, one for officers and the other for ‘other ranks’.
Initial plans were for a mile of runway to be lined with the Haigill MK IV burners, with intersecting burners placed in trenches across the two intersecting runways. The placing of these burners, well out of the way of moving aircraft, initially being a difficult challenge to overcome.
Operating the burners was a tedious and dangerous job. After opening the valves and allowing petrol to fill a pool through which the operator had to walk, a match was thrown into the pool and the poor ‘Erk’ had to then run as fast as he could and throw himself into a small indentation in the ground hoping the flames would pass over and not ignite the clothes he was wearing. Once the burn had been achieved and all aircraft were down safely, the system was shut down and allowed to cool. Once the pipes were cool enough to touch, some 72,000 holes along the length of the pipes adjoining the runway had to be cleaned out to prevent a build up of soot. It was perhaps, one of the most tedious but vital jobs, RAF personnel had to perform.
Before the system could be fully tested though, a bizarre accident happened that resulted in no crew injuries, but two badly damaged aircraft and a Senior Flying Control Officer being posted and demoted.
On 27th April 1944 seven aircraft, a mix of three Halifaxes, two Mosquitoes and two Wellingtons, were detailed to operations performing ‘special duties’ over the continent. On their return, Mosquito DZ377 ‘DT-L’ landed first. Moments later, Halifax MZ564 ‘DT-X’ came in behind. After what appears to have been an error by the ground control staff, the Halifax landed on-top of the Mosquito without any knowledge of the heavy bomber’s crew. The situation had been made worse, not only by the poor weather, but by the fact that the Halifax appeared to have no working radio and that aircraft navigation lights had been extinguished due to an air raid warning at the airfield.
The accident occurred *4, after the Senior Control Officer had flashed a steady ‘green’ to the Mosquito pilot, who was at the wrong height and (apparently) accepted the light as permission to land. The result being, the two aircraft came in to land simultaneously with near disastrous consequences. However, there were no causalities except for the Senior Flying Control Office being posted and demoted for his misjudgement of the situation.
Meanwhile, the FIDO installation continued, with initial test burns being made in July. This first burn consumed some 16,250 gallons of fuel*1, and although results were positive, it wouldn’t be until the end of the year before the system would be put to the test and its first operational use.
Being such a ‘specialist’ unit, 192 Sqn operated for a short time in conjunction with a detachment of P-38/F-5 Lightnings of the USAAF. It would appear that there were five aircraft, Lightning 155, 156, 479, 501 and 515, operated by ten aircrew (Lt. Zeilder, Lt. Alley, Lt. Richards, Lt. Stallcup, Flt. Off. Vasser, Lt. Kunze, Capt. Brink, Capt Adams, Capt. Dixon and Lt. Holt) rotating around each one. The P-38 being a single seat fighter had to be modified to a two-seater to take the ‘Special Operator’. The purpose of this detachment was to search over the Zuider Zee in south Holland looking for signals associated with enemy radar controlled missiles – V2s. Often these searches would occur in pairs, but occasionally singular. On October 26th, Lightning 515 piloted by Capt. F. Brink with special operator Lt. F. Kunze, sent a message stating their intention to ditch in the North Sea. Using a position 60 miles off the Norfolk coast, four aircraft, two Mosquitoes and two Halifaxes, were immediately dispatched to search the area, unfortunately no sign of the aircraft was seen nor the crew. An Air-Sea-Rescue launch was also dispatched to the area locating items of wreckage that was later identified as part of a P-38 Lightning. The crew though, were never found.
December 1944 was one of Bomber Commands busiest. On the 9th the poor weather broke sufficiently for operations to take place. Four aircraft were ordered to fly, two Mosquitoes, a Wellington and a Halifax. The Mosquitoes, flew to Germany to monitor and record R/T transmissions; the Wellington monitored Knickebein transmissions thought to be used for Flying Boat activities whilst the Halifax was sent to the Ruhr for a ‘window’ dropping exercise. Unfortunately the Wellington had to return due to the bad weather whilst the Halifax failed to get airborne and crashed beyond the runway.
The aircraft, a Halifax III piloted by F.O. N. Irvine, had 22 operations under its belt. However, with time up at 18:28, the four engined heavy was unable to get airborne and ran off the end of the runway into an adjacent field. In the accident MZ817 ‘DT-O’, “Pete the Penguin” was badly damaged but thankfully none of the crew were injured and all walked away unhurt.
December was an eventful month for Foulsham. With the continuing bad weather, Bomber Command were having great difficulty getting aircraft back safely. On the night of the 18th/19th, a particularly poor night, the FIDO installation at Foulsham was finally lit and used operationally.
On that night, a large force of Lancasters were ordered to perform four operations to the Polish port of Gdynia on the Baltic coast. Along with the heavy bombers were a number of 100 Group aircraft including those from 192 Sqn based here at Foulsham. Five aircraft were ordered out on ‘Special Duties’, four Halifaxes and a Mosquito, in which ‘Window’ was dropped by three of them over the Rhur, whilst the other two monitored German radio transmissions – one 50 miles west of Stettin and the other over Gdynia.
On return to Foulsham, it was found that the airfield, as were many others in the area, was fogbound, and it had become necessary to light FIDO. The alert went out to all FIDO airfields and at Foulsham the burners were lit just after 02:00 hrs. A lack of experience and waterlogged pipes meant the system was not fully burning until some 25 minutes after the initial lighting, but just in time for the first aircraft ‘S’ Sugar to approach the runway.
The first aircraft to land was Halifax III LW623 piloted by Wing Commander D. W. Donaldson who, even after encountering strong winds caused by the fires, made a safe and successful landing. He is recorded as being the first captain to land such an aircraft at Foulsham.
Following on behind Donaldson was B-17 ‘R’ Roger from nearby RAF Oulton, who like many others, was flying on fumes. The pilot had just one chance and as he approached, he ordered the crew to take up crash positions. With visibility down to some 100 yards, he brought the B-17 in making a relatively good landing in appalling conditions between the rows of flames lining either side of the runway. Two further B-17s landed that night, one on three engines and another who missed the runway and became bogged down in the mud alongside. By the end of the night after all aircraft had been received, the burners were extinguished and visibility over the airfield diminished once more.
By the end of December, fifteen aircraft had benefited from the installation of FIDO at Foulsham; a system that had enabled them all to land safely in conditions that would otherwise have necessitated either finding an alternative site or bailing out. A third option was of course available, but the consequences almost final and fatal.
Whilst all this was going on, it was decided to create a new unit at Foulsham to support the electronics group. The Bomber support Development Unit (BSDU) were formed here during the April of 1944. Born out of the Special Duties (Radio) Development unit they would go on to disband at Swanton Morley in 1945 to become the Radio Warfare Establishment. Whilst here at Foulsham though, they would operate both Mosquitoes and Spitfire VBs along with the Tiger Moth and Avro Anson.
A further Halifax unit would grace the skies of Foulsham in the remaining months of the year. Also an electronics unit, 462 (RAAF) Squadron, was brought in to enable full coverage of ECM work as the war drew to its close. A former RAF Driffield unit, the squadron spent most of the last few days of the month transporting equipment to Driffield train station before departing themselves for Foulsham.
The weather over the winter of 1944 – 45 was one of the worst recorded. The Allies had reached the Ardennes where a final desperate counter attack was mounted by the Germans. Embedded in the thick woodland, troops fought both the weather and the enemy whilst much of the air cover was prevented from flying due to the continuing fog and snow.
At Foulsham some operations did occur, and on some occasions FIDO had to be lit to enable aircraft to either take off or land. January saw particularly strong winds, rain and snow, necessitating all personnel being tasked with snow clearing on January 10th. On the 15th, whilst climbing to cruising altitude the starboard outer engine caught fire. The engine was feathered and action taken to remedy the situation. However, a feathered propeller soon began windmilling causing dangerous drag and the fire spread. The bale out order was given but only two members of the crew were able to escape before the wing became detached and the aircraft came crashing to earth in a fireball. The two who escaped (Sgt. G. Sandy and F/Sgt N. Reed) were both injured in their landing, none of the others escaped with their lives.
On another occasion, an American B-24 had difficulty of its own and whilst attempting to land, crashed after over shooting the runway. The aircraft was eventually salvaged after coming to a stop on a local road.
FIDO’s record at Foulsham was, like many other airfields, a great success. Only on the night of 23rd February 1945 did fatalities occur whilst using the system. With several aircraft on ops that night, fog again prevented many from returning to their own bases, and a Mosquito from 239 Sqn based at nearby RAF West Raynham, attempted a landing without permission. FIDO had just been lit but some of the pipes had burst adding smoke to the fog that had by now risen to 50 feet above the runway. The pilot, 23 year old Flt.Sgt. Leonard Twigg attempted to land Mosquito NF.30 ‘NT354’ only to miss the runway and land some 70 feet to one side, colliding with a Halifax of 192 Squadron parked at its dispersal. The pilot was killed in the incident but the navigator (Flt Sgt. Turner) managed to escape with injuries. As a result only one other aircraft, a Halifax, landed that night, the others being diverted to alternative airfields.
Two other 192 Halifaxes were lost that night, both being shot down over Germany with the loss of almost all sixteen crewmen – the only three survivors being taken prisoner. Both Halifax MK. IIIs ‘DT-T’ and ‘DT-O’ carried British, Australian and other commonwealth crews.
But the events of the 23rd February would pale into insignificance on the next night- the worst on record for the Australian 462 Sqn. Considered ‘minor operations’, they were tasked with dropping window, flying ahead of seventy-four training aircraft who were acting as a diversionary raid over northern France. Four of the squadron’s aircraft were lost that night, with the loss of twenty-six of the thirty-one lives. A further 100 group aircraft, a B-17 from RAF Oulton was also lost that night, these five accounting for the bulk of the losses of that one operation.
The late spring of April 1945 produced further poor weather, and FIDO was brought into action once more (possibly for the last time) on the night of 18th/19th. The use of FIDO that night allowed some thirteen aircraft to successfully land, providing a safe landing for crews who were no doubt by now, looking to the war’s end and a apprehensive return to peacetime,.
By August 1945 the war in Europe was over and squadrons were already beginning to disband. The FIDO system was drained and dismantled after providing a safe take-off or landing for a considerable number of aircraft. For 462 Sqn, the 24th September 1945 signified the end of its road. Eleven months after its reformation at Driffield, it ceased to exist, being removed from RAF inventory for good. Its demise also signified the coming of the end of flying operations at Foulsham and ultimately its closure.
In June 1946 the airfield was closed to all flying duties, whereupon it became the final resting ground for a large number of Mosquitoes prior to scrapping. Foulsham then remained ‘in-service’ until the mid 1950s, with a US Army Special Signals Unit, until the MOD deemed the site surplus to requirements. It was then sold off in the 1980s and its doors closed for the last and final time.
Foulsham, like many of its counterparts in this region played a major part in the electronic war, monitoring and jamming radar transmissions for larger formations of bombers. Despite this important and ground breaking role, Foulsham had only a short operational existence.
Many of Foulsham’s buildings have surprisingly withstood the test of time. Whilst the runways have all but gone, now farm tracks and tree lines, some of the buildings do still remain and even from the roadside, you can see what must have been a remarkable place during its short, but hectic life. The road passes along the eastern side of the airfield, here, you can still see a number of the original T2 hangars, three in total, now utilised by a local potato business. (‘Addison Farm’ as it is aptly named, is in recognition of Air Vice Marshall Edward Barker Addison, the only person to Command 100 Group*2 during the war). Whilst two of these hangars have been re-clad, the third is still in its original metal. Hidden amongst these structures, are some of the original technical buildings, again some refurbished, some original. The mass concrete bases signify the manoeuvring areas linking this area to the main section of the airfield to the west.
At this point, there was until recently, gates separating the dispersal area to the east (now farm dwellings) to the hangar area on your left. During the War, this road was surprisingly open to the public and aircraft would be manoeuvred across the road, traffic being halted by an RAF Policeman.
Further to the north, beyond this area passing an air raid shelter, is the original entrance and further technical area. A pill-box, marks where the main entrance was. Turn left here and follow the road west. To your right you pass the original Fire Tender shed, a B1 hangar and other minor buildings in varying states of disrepair. To your left, a further T2, partially refurbished partially original. Further along, the road crosses the original N/S runway, full width remnants to the right and a tree-lined track to the left mark clearly where the enormous concrete structure was laid. The road ahead, is the where the 08/26 runway ran as it disappears over the brow of the hill. The road then turns away north leaving the runway and airfield behind you.
As with all airfields, the accommodation blocks and bomb stores were scattered well away from the main airfield. With some searching, evidence of these may be found amongst the hedges and trees, public roads utilising the concrete sections of RAF road laid down originally.
Whilst the main layout of Foulsham is difficult to see from the road, the last remaining buildings have fared quite well and remain some of the better examples of original wartime architecture. There is a distinct ‘feel’ to the site that transforms you back in time to the days when heavy bombers and lighter twin-engined aircraft would rumble along its runways. Recent and ongoing development work by the farmer seems to be sympathetic and ‘in tune’ with the site, many buildings being reclaimed from nature and now ‘on show’ to the passing public. Whilst all are on private land, they are easily seen and it seems that there may be a winning formula here that other land owners could quite easily follow and preserve what is left of our disappearing heritage.
In the nearby village of Foulsham, beneath the village sign, stands a memorial to the crews and personnel who once served at RAF Foulsham.
From Foulsham, we head north-west, to a little airfield with the quaint name ‘Little Snoring’.
RAF Little Snoring
Little Snoring is, as its name suggests, a quiet village deep in the heart of Norfolk. Surrounded by beautiful countryside, it boasts a superb round towered church that holds a remarkable little gem of historical significance. Its history dates back to Anglo Saxon times, a time from whence its name derives.
The airfield, located about 3 miles north-east of Fakenham on land 191 feet above sea level, was opened in July 1943 following a period of construction by the company Taylor Woodrow Ltd. It would during its history, house no less than five different squadrons along with several conversion units, development units and a glider maintenance section before being used for civilian flying in more modern times.
The airfield was originally opened over the period July / August 1943, quite late in the war, as a satellite for nearby RAF Foulsham. It had three runways: two constructed of concrete 1,400 yards in length, (01/19 and 13/31) and one (07/25) of 2,000 yards again in concrete. As with other Class A airfields its runways formed the typical ‘A’ shape, with thirty-six dispersal sites constructed around the perimeter. A bomb site lay to the north of the airfield, a fuel dump to the south and the accommodation blocks dispersed away from the airfield to the south-west. The airfield was built to accommodate 1,807 RAF and 361 WAAF personnel housed over eight dispersed domestic sites.
To accommodate the various squadrons and their aircraft, the airfield would have 5 hangars, two T2s, two Glider and a B1, all dotted around the perimeter of the airfield, Many of these were not finished when the first aircraft moved in.
Initially opening under the command of 3 Group Bomber Command, its first occupants were the rare Bristol Hercules engined Lancaster IIs of both 1678 HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit) and 115 Squadron (the first unit equipped with the model); formally of RAF East Wretham, who were to carry out night bombing duties, a role it would perform throughout the war.
Of the two units, 115 Sqn were the first to arrive, the advance party being led by F.Lt. W. A Major DFC on the 5th August 1943, from East Wretham. The main party, led by F.Lt. R. Howarson, followed the next day, with the rear party, led by P/O. M.G. Gladwell arriving on the 7th. During this time all flying operations were suspended allowing the squadron time to move and settle in.
115 Sqn was historically a First World War unit, forming in 1917 going on to see action in France in the following year. Post war it was disbanded only to reform again in 1937 in preparation for the second impending world conflict. It would go on to have the dubious honour of having the highest losses of not only 3 Group but the whole of Bomber Command as well – a title, which amounted to 208 crews, not envied by anyone. *2
The two days following their arrival were taken up with flying training including bombing practice and air-to-sea firing before the first operations on the night of the 10th -11th August 1943.
Fourteen aircraft took off between 21:45 and 22:10 to attack Nuremberg, each aircraft carrying a mix of a 4,000lb ‘Cookie’ and incendiary bombs. Although much of the target was obscured by cloud, crews reported seeing many explosions on the ground along with fires being visible some 100 miles away.*1
Of those that departed that night one aircraft (DS684) had to return early due to the gunner’s economiser lead being unserviceable, with a second aircraft (DS665) failing to return and not being heard from again. Following a phone call received from RAF Detling in Kent, it was established that the aircraft had in fact crashed some 5 miles east of Maidstone, near to Hall Farm, Boughton Monchelsea in Kent*3. It would later be revealed that none of the crew on board had survived the crash.
With Italy crumbling, further pressure was applied to Germany’s ally through the bombing of both Milan and Turin; the might of the Lancasters now delivering their huge payloads on the two Italian cities. It was during the Turin raid on the night of 12th August, that Flt.Sgt. Arthur Louis Aaron from 218 Sqn at RAF Downham Market, would earn a VC for his courageous effort in keeping his aircraft flying whilst seriously wounded.
For 115 Sqn though, the night passed without mishap and all thirteen aircraft returned intact. The next few days saw no further operational flying, the crews undertaking training flights instead, a short relief from operations before they turned their attention northwards and the German rocket research establishment at Peenemunde.
Between 21:38 and 21:50, twelve Lancasters took off from Little Snoring taking a further combination of Cookies and incendiaries with them. Bombs were released between 7,800 and 12,000ft, a level that just scraped the ceiling of the rising smoke. Of the twelve aircraft that departed, one was lost, that of DS630 ‘H’ flown by F/O. F.R. Pusey – none of the seven aircrew, who were only on their third operation, survived. This took the total of those aircraft lost in the first few days of flying from Little Snoring, to three, almost one per operation.
Another short period of training then followed, before they once again turned their attention to Germany and the capital Berlin.
Amazingly the Lancaster squadron would fair much better than many of its counterparts, particularly those flying Halifaxes and Stirlings, losing only one aircraft, DS630 to the enemy, unlike other squadrons, which were decimated by the Luftwaffe and air defences surrounding the German capital. Of the seven crew on board this aircraft, three were picked up after spending six days drifting in a dingy off the Dutch coast.
The remainder of August was much similar. Training flights and further operations, including mine laying off the West Frisians Islands and the French coast, saw the month draw to its end. Whilst comparatively quiet in terms of losses, the squadron was none the less racking up a steady score of ‘failed to returns’.
In August, Little Snoring would become one of those airfields that would bear witness to an incredible act of bravery one that like so many others would become one of those little known about stories of the war.
On the night of August 23rd – 24th 1943, Berlin was again attacked. On this raid Lancaster ‘KD802’ ‘M’ flying with 207 Sqn from RAF Langar, was attacked by a Ju 88 night fighter. The rear gunner, Sgt. R. Middleton, managed to return fire achieving some strikes on the enemy aircraft, which led to it catching fire and crashing. But Sgt. Middletons determined efforts did not prevent the enemy aircraft from getting his own hits on the Lancaster, causing a fire in both the starboard wing and fuselage. In addition t this, the tail plane and all its controls had also been damaged and the pilot was struggling to maintain control over the burning aircraft.
P.O. McIntosh ordered the bombs ditched at 22:49 hrs. With a lighter load he then turned for home in the hope of reaching home or at least safer territories. In a desperate effort to extinguish the fire, Sgt. Middleton then volunteered to climb out of the fuselage onto the wing, something that had been tried by others in similar situations, but it was a risky and daring challenge. The pilot P.O. McIntosh, refused to grant permission, fearing the the rear gunner would be lost in the strong winds, a risk he was not prepared to take.
Remarkably the aircraft reached the North Sea, McIntosh considered ditching the aircraft fearing its time was almost up, but before he could take action, the navigator announced that they had in fact reached England and the safety of home. Coming in from the north, the first suitable airfield they came across was Little Snoring.
Fuel was now low, and with the landing gear down one of the aircraft’s engines cut out, but using all his skill and training, McIntosh manged a successful and safe landing
The aircraft was written off, so extensive was the damage caused by the fire, but the crew were all safe and uninjured thanks due to an amazing feat of courage and determination by the crew to get the aircraft back home.
September would be much of the same for those stationed at the airfield. More training flights, interspersed with operations to Germany. As with other months, September would see further losses for the squadron. On September 6th, DS658 piloted by F/O. R. Barnes, ran off the runway on return from operations, the aircraft was so severely damaged it was considered beyond repair and used for spares. The crew fared much better though, with none receiving any injuries in the accident. A second incident occurred on the 14th when during crew trials on a new aircraft, the bomb sight jammed resulting in the pilot being unable to maintain level flight. After ordering the crew into crash positions, the aircraft struck a bank a few miles from RAF Downham Market near to Magdalen station. Six of the eight on board were killed, the two survivors sustaining serious injuries.
During this month, the HCU that had joined 115 Sqn at Little Snoring received a new posting, they would depart the airfield moving on to RAF Foulsham where they would carry on their role of training pilots for the Lancaster.
In October, further operations to Kassel and mine laying in the West Frisians were badly affected due to six of the twelve aircraft being unable to take off. The first was affected by one of the air crew suffering airsickness; the second suffered a burst tyre which left it stranded on the perimeter’s edge; a third got bogged down in the mud trying to pass this one and three more got stuck behind these unable to pass or turn. The remainder of the aircraft got away safely though, and although carrying out operations satisfactorily, they encountered electrical storms over the target area which hampered the equipment on board. All these crews returned safely and there were no further mishaps
On November 7th, a near catastrophe was luckily avoided after Lancaster DS825 crashed on take off after one of its engines cut out part-way down the runway. After inducing a violent swing the bomber crashed causing its other engines to catch fire. Luckily there were no explosions and all the crew managed to escape the wreckage unhurt.
115’s last operation from Little Snoring would take place on November 23rd 1943, the day prior to its departure for RAF Witchford. Twelve Lancasters, six from both ‘A’ and ‘B’ Flights, lined up and revved their engines to take off speed departing once more for Berlin. With them they took the usual mix of incendiaries and ‘cookies’, all destined to fall on Berlin’s streets. Two aircraft failed to take off and two returned early; one due to a faulty Gee set and the other a faulty air speed indicator. One of the returning aircraft dropped its payload on Texil, the other safely on unoccupied land before turning for home. The remainder of the squadron continued on and successfully completed the operation, the attack being considered ‘satisfactory’.
With that, 115 Sqn’s time at Little Snoring had come to an end, departing the next day for RAF Witchford where it would continue the brave fight over Nazi Germany. On their arrival at Witchford, a new flight was immediately formed, ‘C’ Flight, and as a result new crew members would soon arrive. Little Snoring meanwhile was about to see some major changes itself, not only in personnel and aircraft, but ownership as well.
On December 8th 1943, the station became the charge of 100 Group, the Electronic Warfare Group who had taken up residency elsewhere in this part of Norfolk.
100 Group were the last operational Bomber Command Group to be formed during the war, with a clearly defined role which was to provide night intruder support for bombing operations, and was headed by Air Commodore Edward Addison. Like their counterparts at Great Massingham, Foulsham, North Creake, West Raynham and Sculthorpe amongst others, they would take part in electronic warfare and counter measures against enemy fighter operations. 100 Group, investigated a wide range of devises suitable for tracking, homing in on, or jamming enemy radars. With a wide rage of names; “Airborne Cigar“, “Jostle“, “Mandrel“, “Airborne Grocer“, “Carpet” and “Piperack“, they used both “Serrate” and “ASH” to attack the enemy on their own airfield at night before they could intercept the allied bombers.
With its takeover of Little Snoring, came 169 Sqn who had only been formed at Ayr just two months before. They received the Mosquito II, the remarkable twin engined beast from de-Havilland which was to perform well in its new role as Night Intruder. In support, came 1692 (Radar Development) Flight, also know as the (Bomber Support Training) Flight from RAF Drem, also in Scotland.
A few days later the two units were joined by a third squadron, 515 Sqn from RAF Hunsdon also with the Mosquito II and VI, and Bristol’s Beaufighter IIF. All three would work in the area of Electronic warfare.
169’s departure from Ayr was marked with a very ‘successful’ party in the corporal’s mess, with contributions of £1.00 from officers and 2/- from non-commissioned ranks. The beer flowed well into the night, with many trying their rather shaky hands on the piano. Regular rallying on the squadron hunting horn brought the party goers back together and ensured the party spirit was maintained and kept going well into the night.
Norfolk’s wet and miserable weather greeted the personnel as they arrived over the next few days here at Little Snoring. Once they settled in, training flights were scheduled but many of these had to be cancelled due to the continuing rain and fog,
With talks by staff from Rolls Royce on engine handling and another on Bomber Command Operations and Tactics, December’s poor weather provided little time for flying. A reconnaissance was made of the Norwich pubs, and parties became the order of the day, Christmas leave was arranged and various quarters were decorated. As the mood lasted well into the New Year, the war had at least for now, come to a standstill.
On January 5th 1944, the monotony was broken when thirteen USAAF B-17s landed at the airfield by mistake, the American crews, much to the annoyance of those in residency, were given temporary use of the mess until they could depart some days later. Much ribbing by the locals no doubt helped ease the burden of sharing their beer and alcohol supply.
Various flights did manage to take place in the meantime, using both the Beaufighter and Anson. Further talks were given by escaped POWs, who gave an interesting insight into what to expect if you were shot down over occupied territory.
Over the winter months, gliders were brought in for storage and maintenance, ready for the impending assault on the French coast. These were stored in hangars on teh western side of the airfield and moved prior to D-day.
On January 20th, the first operation finally took place, a Serrate flight over Northern Holland in support of the bombing of Berlin. Two Mosquitoes were detailed but one had to return shortly after take off as the aircraft’s skin began peeling away from the wing root. Those on board were ‘thoroughly disgusted with their bad luck’.
It was this bad luck that would dog the squadron for the remainder of the month. More cancelled flights, aircraft unserviceable and instruments failing during flights. It wasn’t until the 30th January that the string of bad luck would be broken when Sqn. Ldr. Joe Cooper and Flt. Lt. Ralph Connolly, shot down an Me 110, forty miles west of Berlin in Mosquito HJ711 (VI-P). This was the squadron’s first ‘kill’ of the war since being reformed. Utilising their AI equipment, they destroyed the aircraft with a 3 and 7 second burst of gunfire from 200 ft. The aircraft blew up causing the Mosquito to swerve so violently that it entered a near fatal spin. The crew were only able to pull out after falling to an altitude of 5,000 ft. All in all, they fell some 15,000 feet before recovering. Needless to say, there was huge jubilation when they returned, the aircraft being greeted by several hundred personnel at Little Snoring.
With two more kills in February, the tally of three would remain stagnant until mid April when a series of five more 110s were brought down. With three more in May, their total would stand at eleven by the time 169 Sqn were destined to leave.
March and April would see the arrival of new faces at Little Snoring. A small section comprising of only three aircraft (believed to be just two P-51s and a P-38) flying in American colours would arrive for training and trials with 100 Group. On March 24th, one of these aircraft would take part, somewhat unofficially, in the raid over Berlin. Flown by Major Tom Gates, he managed to get his name added to the operations board for that night, taking a P-51 to Berlin and back. During this epic flight, he apparently strayed over the Ruhr but the German anti-aircraft gunners failed to bring him down and he returned to Little Snoring unscathed by the first of several such experiences.*4
During mid April, Little Snoring was itself the subject of an attack from Luftwaffe aircraft, these intruders following the bomber stream home from a Serrate mission over Tergnier. According to operational records, the attack consisted of scattered bombs and cannon fire which caused no major damage nor casualties.
Another new face, this time for 515 Sqn, was that of Sqn. Ldr. Harold B. ‘Mick’ Martin of 617 Sqn fame, pilot of Lancaster ‘P – Poppsie‘. Whilst at 515 Sqn Martin would excel as a Mosquito pilot, strafing airfields, trains, railway yards and a flying boat base all in one night. He is also accredited with the shooting down of an unidentified aircraft and an Me 410.
But the bad luck that had shadowed Little Snoring crews would have the final say, when on April 11th, Mosquito DD783 flown by F.O. H. Stephen and F.O. A. Clifton spun from what was thought to have been a low level roll that went wrong. The manoeuvre led to a stall and spin at a height between 2,000 and 3,000 feet. Both airmen were sadly killed in the crash, the only 169 Sqn airmen to lose their lives whilst at the airfield.
Finally on June 4th 1944, both 169 Sqn and 1692 (Radar Development) Flight departed Little Snoring for pastures new. The move, hours before the D-Day landings being more than coincidental. The 3rd and 4th were given over to packing and moving equipment to Great Massingham, and only one early morning sortie was planned, but it had to be cut short when the aircraft developed engine trouble and hour or so into its flight over France.
With that, the two squadrons moved out and began to prepare for early morning flights over the Normandy coast in the early hours of June 6th 1944. Their short time at Little Snoring had been far from noteworthy, other than to say how badly the weather and lack of serviceable aircraft had dogged their early flying days.
515 Squadron who had moved onto the airfield just days after 169, would now be joined by 23 Sqn, also flying the Mosquito VI. Both these squadrons would concentrate on enemy night fighter airfields, seeking them out and destroying enemy aircraft on the ground, a low level intruder role that 23 Sqn had performed well in the Middle East.
The summer arrival brought a little light relief to those at Little Snoring. 23 Sqn who had arrived in two parties via Liverpool and Gourock, had previously been at Alghero in Sardinia. Their journey had not been the delight they would have wished for, both ferries, the Strathnaver and the SS Moolton, being held outside the ports for over four days before staff were allowed to disembark. However, once at the airfield, seven days leave was granted and the majority of personnel left for London and a week’s recreation.
Training flights, night flying practise and target practice then filled their time with both squadrons taking part in firing practise over the Holbeach Range on the Wash. Compasses were swung on the aircraft and low flying became the immediate focus. Those crews undertaking night flying were amazed at the number of lights displayed at British airfields, the 23 Sqn adjutant describing them as ‘Pansy’ when referring to the Drem lighting system employed at many airfields at this time.
Sadly the poor weather returned and yet again many flights were cancelled at the last minute. Instead parties were held, and great merriment once again fell over the airfield.
On 5th June, ten sorties were carried out over night by 515 Sqn Mosquitoes. Airfields at Montdider, Rossieres, Ardorf, Varal and Marx being targeted. Further patrols were carried out over Wunstorf, Celle, Creil, Beavis and Courmeilles with bombs being dropped on some and vehicles set on fire at others. A road bridge and barge were attacked on the Vecht Canal and airfields at Twente and Plant Lunns were patrolled by two more Mosquitoes. Further patrols and attacks were undertaken using a variety of HE bombs and incendiaries. Other vehicles were also set on fire during these intruder raids. Two aircraft flown by, Sqn. Ldr. Shaw (the Flight Commander) and Sgt. Standley Smith (a/c 950), along with Flt. Lt. Butterfield and Sgt. Drew (a/c 189), took off from Little Snoring but neither were ever heard from again and were recorded as missing in action.
The remainder of June involved much the same, poor weather hampering night flying but where the squadron was able to get airborne, 515 patrolled numerous enemy airfields, attacking goods trains and destroying a small number of enemy aircraft. Some He 111s and Ju 88s were amongst those destroyed whilst attempting to take off. The month ended with 515 crews undertaking in excess of 415 hours night flying time and 48 hour daylight flying.
23 Sqn meanwhile were suffering the same disappointments with the weather, although this did not spoil the merriment, the adjutant reporting several parties occurring whilst the remainder of leave was taken and the last of the crews arrived from abroad. Some night sorties did take place, again trains were attacked and several airfields were bombed. A small number of aircraft were seen and attacked with some resulting in ‘kills’.
A small number of the Mosquitoes of both squadrons were modified to carry ASH, the American built airborne interception (AI) radars. By the end of the year training on the new equipment was in full swing as were the parties!
December brought a devastating blow for 23 squadron though, with the loss of their Commanding Officer W.Com. A. M. Murphy DFO, DFC and C de G with Palm. He had been in charge of 23 Sqn for almost a year and was both liked and respected by all those in the squadron. Air-sea patrols were carried out by the squadron in conjunction with the Air Sea Rescue Service but nothing was found of him, his aircraft, nor his navigator Flt. Sgt. Douglas Darbon. That night, the squadron was stood down and on the following day a party was held in which many attended from lunch time to well into the night – few were seen before lunch the following day. Within a few days, Murphy’s navigator took a turn for the worst, and applied for a posting out of the squadron. Much to his disappointment though he was offered an Operational Training Unit (OTU), a move he did not wish for nor relish.
On the 9th December a little lightheartedness crept into the squadron when two Canadian aircrew landed at the wrong base by mistake. Only when they were down did they realise their mistake and were immediately awarded the M.H.D.O.I.F. The adjutant doesn’t explain the acronym, but it is likely to be something derogatory!
The number of sorties being performed by the crews in 23 Sqn were reflected in their departures. With seven crews with between 50 and 65 flights on their logs, they were all lost as tour expired, the lack of crews now becoming an issue at the airfield.
The poor weather returned once more closing down the station on several occasions. More training mean that December had been the ‘heaviest’ training month since the squadron arrived in the UK. 23 Squadron’s first ASH sortie had to be scrubbed on the night of 18th, and was followed by the inevitable party and poker.
The 22nd saw two aircraft manage to get off the ground. Unfortunately these ASH equipped aircraft had no luck in seeking out the enemy. A Lancaster diverted from its own airfield made an appearance at the airfield on Christmas Eve and the crews were treated to one of Little Snoring’s magnificent parties, a party that needless to say, went on well into Christmas Day.
The squadron remained stood down for several days, but as December drew to a close further ASH equipped aircraft took part in sorties over occupied Europe. The year ended on a positive note though, and although the squadron had lost many experienced and well liked crews, they were looking forward to better weather and more operational flying.
The dawn of 1945 brought more of the same with both squadrons remaining here until after the end of hostilities.
The Sunderland Cup, an annual award presented to the most efficient WAAF section within Bomber Command, finally came to Little Snoring in 1945. A prestigious award, it brought many dignitaries to the airfield including: Air Commodore R.G. Spencer, Group Captain B.R. O’B. Hoare, DSO., DFC., and Air Vice Marshal E.B. Addison, CB., CBE., Air Officer Commanding 100 Group.
The cup was presented by Group Officer C. Woodhead, Deputy Director WAAF. to Flight Officer C.L. Gallavan, officer in charge of the WAAF. Section at the airfield. It was a very proud moment for the ladies of the airfield.
515 were finally disbanded on June 10th that year whilst 23 Squadron remained in situ until 25th September 1945. With the addition of 141 Squadron in July 1945, the last few months were much quieter operationally even though there were three squadrons on the base, During this time, a great change began in the structure of the Air Force, with crews being posted out to other squadrons and units, and surplus aircraft being put into storage. Operational records show a continuous list of ‘Operational Flying Hours – Nil’.
The new Mosquito NF XXXs began replacing the ‘old stock’ of Mosquitoes that had been so successful in the previous months and years. But these updated models, with their more sophisticated radars, were not to see any operational flights with these units.
Eventually in September 1945, flying officially ceased and the airfield was soon reduced to care and maintenance. Given over to 274 Maintenance Unit it became a storage site designated as No 112 Storage Sub-Site.
Like other airfields in this area, it became the home for surplus Mosquitoes on their way to a sad ending under the choppers blade. Luckily for some though, their fate would not be so awful and they were fired up and flight tested ready for delivery to the Fleet Air Arm or alternative Air Forces overseas. Many sadly though, ended up as fire wood.
The Nissen huts, like many airfield huts, were used to accommodate civilians until such times as suitable housing became available locally. In July 1951, No. 2 Civilian Anti-Aircraft Cooperation Unit (CAACU) was formed here, and flying a collection of warbirds including a: Beaufighter TT 10 (RD781); Spitfire XVI (TD344); Mosquito TT.35 (TA633); Vampires FB.5 (WA117); FB.9 (WL573); T11 (WZ584); Oxfords and an Anson. These would take to the skies, operating over the Wash off the Lincolnshire / Norfolk coast. In 1953 they too pulled out though, the airfield becoming too run down to be operational.
At this point, the site was largely passed to civilian hands, what was left was used by the Americans to store their own surplus equipment and not for any flying activities. A short lived move that eventually led to the final closure and demise of the airfield.
Following sale of the site, a large number of buildings were demolished or taken away for use elsewhere. The officers’ mess – which housed four ornately and beautifully written honours and awards boards, painted by Douglas Higgins – was also demolished, but luckily, these were saved by a local woman and now reside in the base’s ‘official’ church, St. Andrew’s, on the west wall. Written in paint, they detail the awards and ‘kills’ of the various crew members stationed at Little Snoring. Just a short walk from the church is the village sign which depicts a Mosquito, often seen over the skies of Little Snoring all those years ago.
In 1957, the McAully Flying Club was established here as the Fakenham Flying Club headed by its founder Elwyn ‘Mac’ McAully who sadly lost his life three years later in a flying accident at the airfield.
Since its closure, the runways have virtually all been removed, with only a few remnants of concrete left existing; the northern threshold of the main runway being used to store gravel and other road material. The largest and best preserved examples are two of the original T2 hangars, both used to store farm produce. A blister hangar is also on site but thought not an original of Little Snoring. Private flying now occurs on the sole remaining part of the runway located to the west. Part of the perimeter track forms the public road on the boundary of the eastern side of the airfield, and a small number of buildings, mainly huts, exist in private gardens used as storage sheds. The local caravan site has what is believed to be the base hospital and / or mortuary now a washing block.
Little Snoring’s gem is its watch office, standing proud in the centre of the site, a lone wind sock fluttering from its walls. Run down and dilapidated, it is crying out for love and restoration, but I suspect this isn’t going to happen and perhaps its days are very sadly numbered.
During its short operational life, twelve Lancasters and forty-three Mosquitoes were lost during missions over enemy territory and up until 2018, there existed no ‘official’ memorial in memory of these tragic losses. In July, the Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust placed an airfield marker on the western end of the site, just beyond the runway’s threshold, that omission has at least been corrected.
The base commander, ‘glass eyed’ Group Captain ‘Bertie’ Rex O’Bryan Hoare (Sammy) was a known character and has been mentioned in a number of books discussing night intruder missions. He was a very successful Mosquito pilot and looked up to by his fellow pilots. A superbly detailed account of him appears in ‘The Snoring Villages‘ and is certainly worth a read. He sadly died in an air accident in 1947 in Singapore.
Little Snoring was by far a sleepy airfield. Those who were stationed here made the best use of what they had, and when the cold winter weather put paid to operational activities, recreational ‘sorties’ took over and the airfield came to life in other ways. Operationally, Little Snoring played a huge part in intruder operations, strafing airfields and interfering with German Night Fighter operations. Even Adolf Galland in his book ‘The First and the Last‘ acknowledges the extent to which 100 Group went to “set really difficult problems for the German Night Fighter Command”. A true accolade to any wartime airfield and the men and women who worked there.
Sources and Further Reading (Foulsham)
*1 Williams, G. “Flying through Fire – FIDO the Fogbuster of World War Two“. Alan Sutton Publishing, 1995.
*2 There is a 100 Group Association that keeps the memories of 100 group alive. A number of Veterans from the group meet for reunions, coming from all over the world.
*3 The Congregational Medal of Honour Website.
*4 Bowman, M., “100 Group (Bomber Support)” 2006, Pen and Sword.
*5 National Archives: AIR 27/782/1
National Archives: AIR 27/1156/59
National Archives: AIR 27/1156/60
National Archives: AIR 27/1456/69
National Archives: AIR 27/1917/17
National Archives: AIR 27/1917/18
National Archives: AIR 27/1156/43
Janine Harrington, secretary for the Association, writes her own books based around 100 Group, read it through her blog.
Janine’s writings are inspired by her mother’s story of her wartime fiance Vic Vinnell of 192 Squadron at Foulsham, who, together with Canadian pilot Jack Fisher, never returned from a secret operation on the night of 26th / 27th November 1944.
The wartime memories project, has a section focusing on RAF Foulsham and people trying to trace crew members who served there. It is worth a look through perhaps you may know someone from there.
Sources and Further Reading (Little Snoring)
*1 National Archives AIR 27/890/15; AIR 27/890/16; AIR 27/1094/17; AIR 27/288/11; AIR 27/1981/31
*2 Ward C., & Smith S. “3 Group Bomber Command An Operational Record” Pen and Sword, 2008
*3 This is taken from the official Squadron Operational records, other sources including Chorley’s Bomber Command Losses state the crash was near to Broughton near Huntingdon.
*4 Bowman, M., “Battle of Berlin: Bomber Command over the Third Reich, 1943–1945” 2020, page 297 Pen and Sword (accessed via google books)