In Part 1, we saw how Little Snoring developed, taking on the Lancasters of 115 Squadron with the radial engined MK.II aircraft. In this next part, they soon depart and ownership of the site takes a change and with it comes new aircraft, anew crews and a new role.
September for 115 Sqn 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.