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Heroes Of Our Time

Airfield Information

 

Name

Royal Air Force Great Massingham / RAF Great Massingham

Opened

July 1940

Closed

November 1950

Runways

Originally Grass, then later 3 x Concrete

Hangers

4 x T2 and 1 x B1

Location

7 miles SW of Fakenham

OS Ref

TF805235

Current Usage

Aviation / Farmland / Industry / Limited flying

Notes

Originally opened as a satellite for West Raynham. The station originally had grass runway until September 1943 when work commenced to improve the base, this work was finished in Summer 1944. The site was closed to operational flying in early 1946 but some aircraft from West Raynham used the airfield until the 1950s

Prominent People

Keith Miller / Bill Edrich / Kenneth Wolstenholme

Links

http://www.ukairfields.org.uk/great-massingham.html

http://www.ukairfieldguide.net/airfields/GreatMassingham

http://www.controltowers.co.uk/G/Great_Massingham.htm

http://www.abct.org.uk/airfields/airfield-finder/great-massingham/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Great_Massingham

http://www.geograph.org.uk/article/RAF-Great-Massingham

 

 

Introduction

 

I have always loved Norfolk, the countryside, the green fields, woods, wildlife and nature all around.  Having grown up in a typical country village, it is the people that also make this area special.  I fondly recall in my youth the most loveliest of neighbours who lived across the road, they would always be there to help and on Christmas Dolly would make the best sausage rolls I have ever tasted and Harrold would let me have a tiny drop of his Irish Whisky, each year I got older the glass became bigger.  Those memories are very special and yes despite the whisky I remember them all so clearly.

 

At around the age of 22 I had the opportunity to move and work in London, but I was always drawn to my home area and could never leave.  Driving back late each Friday night after enduring the M25, the Elveden War Memorial alongside the A11 was always a significant landmark, at that time it was a sign I was heading home, now it means much more.  

 

Many young airman and crew from around the globe were to experience Norfolk life.  It was the local comradery and spirit that seemed to be so evident at Great Massingham.  There were no fences, no security, no gates and personnel were initially billeted to families in the local community and surrounding areas.

 

The local pubs, one of which being the Royal Oak, another being the Fox and Pheasant were a hive of activity, packed with young men carrying out different roles.  There was those that carried out the special duties of Bomber Command and those that accompanied them in the fast Mosquito’s but all were fighting for the same cause and danger was ever present, so any down time was certainly lived to the full, and who can blame them.

 

Click to open

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© Peter Gunn

 

The Fox and Pheasant with personnel from 107 Squadron

 

Airfield Developments

 

After RAF West Raynham was established in the grounds of Raynham Hall Estate it was decided that the base would require two satellite bases, Sculthorpe and Massingham.

 

The Air Ministry purchased land from the nearby Weasenham Hall Estate and its close proximity to Raynham (approximately 2 miles) meant that some of the crew could stay at Raynham and were in cycling distance of Massingham.  

 

By September 1940 RAF Massingham was fully operational.   Initially it had grass runways but 1944 saw a radical change to the base and it was fully upgraded and now included concrete runways, hangers, technical site, watch tower, bomb and ammunition stores, firing range, sick quarters and communal site, mess and NAAFI.  There were also communal and domestic sites for the WAAF.  In total the upgraded facility allowed accommodation for 1778 males and 431 females.

 

 

Click to open

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© Peter Gunn

 
Squadrons

 

No.18 Squadron

 

Motto: With Courage and Faith

 

Formed on the 11th May 1915 at Northolt as part of the Royal Flying Corps.  During 1916 it became heavily involved in the Battle of Somme.  During 1917 to September 1919 when the squadron was eventually disbanded, they were involved in many operations to make a stand against the German attacks of that time.  Reportedly claiming 200 victories in the air.

 

The Squadron reformed on the 20th October 1931 at RAF Upper Heyford.  It performed in air shows including the Royal Review of the Air Force by King George V at RAF Mildenhall in July 1935.

 

It was to form part of the Air Component of the British Expeditionary forces, being deployed to France late September 1939.  By 1940 it was re-equipped with Blenheim IVs, but following Germany’s invasion of France it was forced to evacuate back to the UK in May of that same year.

 

The Squadron were based at Massingham from September 1940 to mid-April 1941 before moving to RAF Oulton.

 

On the 19th August 1941 they were involved in the famous “Leg Operation” in which a bomber dropped a package by parachute over St Omer.  The package was in fact a new prosthetic leg for the well-known POW at the time, Wing Commander Douglas Bader.  The mission was given the green light by the Germans in fact by Hermann Goring.        

 

No.107 Squadron

 
Motto: We shall be there

 

The Squadron was originally formed on the 8th October 1917 but was not equipped with aircraft until the 15th May 1918 at Lake Down in Salisbury.  Equipped with Airco DH.9s it was to operate as a day bomber unit.  During this time, its most successful raid was on Saponay on the 21st July 1918 hitting an ammunition dump and, on the 1st October 1918, a raid was made on the Aulnoye railway station.  The Squadron returned to Hounslow Heath before disbanding on the 30th June 1919.

 

The Squadron was reformed again in August 1936, continuing as a bomber squadron.  Initially being equipped with Hawker Hinds, August 1938 saw the arrival of the Blenheim MK.I.  May 1939 the Blenheim’s were upgraded to MK.IVs and four of these planes were to take part in RAFs first bombing campaign of the war, attacking enemy ships in the port of Wilhelmshaven.   Unfortunately, only one plane returned and the mission resulted in the first British prisoner of war being captured, Sergeant George Booth.

 

https://rhodestothepast.com/2018/05/16/sgt-booth-of-horsforth-the-first-british-pow-of-ww2/

 

The Squadron was to continue attacks, initially in connection with the German invasion of both France and Norway before targeting barges and ships in the Channel ports.  It was during one of these missions that Wing Commander Basil Embry plane was shot down and he would be taken into captivity.

 

Early January 1942 based at Massingham the Squadron were to receive the Douglas Boston which is was tasked with converting to.  From March it was beginning to fly daylight operations such as Operation Oyster the raids against the Philips works in Eindhoven.

 

From February 1944 they would switch to night intruder operations using the Mosquito aircraft.

 

The Squadron has to be highly respected because of the high number of missions it flew but sadly this did result in heavy losses.  In operations from Massingham alone of which there were at least 100 raids, 11 Blenheim’s and 26 Boston’s were lost.

 

No.169 Squadron

 

Motto: Hunt and Destroy

 

The Squadron was formed on the 15th June 1942 at RAF Twinwood Farm.  It’s role primarily being tactical reconnaissance and as such took over North American Mustang Mk 1s of ‘B’ flight 613 Squadron.

 

By December 1942 the Squadron was based at Duxford carrying out coastal reconnaissance and ground attack missions.

 

30th September 1943, saw the Squadron disband at RAF Middle Wallop, however the following day, they were to reform again at RAF Ayr.  They were equipped this time with the de Havilland Mosquito, and a single Bristol Beaufighter both of which were fitted with GEE equipment, assisting with their role now of a Night Intruder Squadron.

 

For training purposes, they also had available Airspeed Oxfords.

 

December 1943 saw the Squadron joining the RAF No.100 (Bomber Support) Group at RAF Little Snoring.  The Squadron was then re-equipped with Mosquito II Night Fighters in January 1944, before commencing Night Intruder operations against German night fighters and airfields.  Which they continued until finally disbanding on the 10th August 1945 at RAF Great Massingham.

 

A notable member of 169 Squadron was Keith Ross Miller, AM, MBE, a famous Australian Cricketer and a Royal Australian Air Force pilot.  He was also a successful Australian rules footballer, although sport was put on hold during the war years.

 

169 Squadron took part in many missions including attacking V-1 and V-2 production and test launch sites.  One member of crew even reports seeing a V-2 rocket launched just underneath their aircraft.  19th April Miller took part in an operation involving an attack on the German installation at Flensburg.  His service career was not without incident though and by all accounts he had many close calls.  One significant incident in May where one of his bombs failed to release, resulted in the bomb load dangling precariously below the aircraft.  Somehow, he managed to land the plane, without the bomb detonating.  A most remarkable feat.
 
The final days

 

169 was the last Squadron of aircraft at the base, and their final sorties took place on the night of 2nd May 1945.  It was this last attack carried out on Kiel that so sadly resulted in 3 failing to return home from our local bases.  2 Halifax’s of 199 Squadron, from North Creake, and a Mosquito of 169 Squadron from Great Massingham, all from RAF No.100 Group, a very tragic end when their battle was so close to being won.  

 

A total of 52 Bomber Command aircraft were lost from the base, 11 Blenheims, 28 Bostons and 13 Mosquitos.  More than 600 men from this base alone lost their lives, 7 of whom are buried in St Andrews Church at Little Massingham.  

 

When 169 Squadron disbanded in August 1945, the airfield was transferred to 12 Group Fighter Command.  By 1985 like many of the other bases the airfield was sold and the land returned to agricultural use.   So many memories lost now in time, barely resembling the past that has once gone before, but their legacy must live on, the acts of heroism and bravery must never stand still in time and we must always look back and remember them.

 

Norfolk, a special place, with warm hearted people

 

When I first starting reading and researching into the RAF 100 Group, one of the first books I read was ‘Kindred Spirits’ by Janine Harrington, a must read for all interested in this area, a lady who writes with great passion and enthusiasm for the cause, and for whom we are very grateful and honoured to now call a dear friend.  

 

I remember becoming quite intrigued after reading about the story of what sounded like another very remarkable lady, Sister Laurence and it seems some what fitting after talking about the spirit and comradery of those living in our local Norfolk communities to mention her.

 

Sister Laurence I believe known as ‘Laurie’ certainly seems to fit into the category of a ‘Hero of our time’, and as such is someone both my late father and I would have loved to have met.  Devoting much of her later years into researching the lives of veterans in particular RAF Bomber Command stationed at Great Massingham, her research and material was of such great detail that it was to form the ‘RAF Massingham Museum’.

 

All of this information was treasured and was put on display at the local church annually by her dear friend Anthony Robinson.  It shows what great respect he had for this lady in that he wanted to ensure her legacy continued.  In Anthony’s own words documented in Janine’s publications.

 

“She faithfully recorded everything, copying Flight Log Books, Operations & Raids on the enemy, and she kept in touch with all ‘Her Lads’ over the many years.  It was in 1988 that the Roll of Honour (all hand-written by Laurie) was dedicated at St Andrews Church, Little Massingham”

 

The Sister Laurence RAF Massingham Museum can now be found at the City of Norwich Aviation Museum.

 

 

Images

 

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© Richard Humphrey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

 

Former taxiway at RAF Great Massingham

 

 

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© Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

 

T2 aircraft hangar: The hangar is situated beside the western perimeter track of RAF Great Massingham which was an active airfield during WW2. It would seem to be one of the aerodrome's four original hangars but apparently it does not stand in its original place.

 

 

Click to open

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© Peter Gunn

 

 

Squadron Information

 

18 Squadron

 

Code: WV

Dates

September 1940 - April 1941

Planes

Bristol Blenheim Mk IV

Information

Light bomber squadron which carried out low level raids against land targets and shipping.  Moved to Oulton in April 1941

107 Squadron

 

Code: OM

Dates

May 1941 - August 1943

Planes

Bristol Blenheim Mk IV

Douglas Boston Mk III and IIIA

Information

This squadron took part along with other light bomber squadron in many low level raids against shipping and land targets in Holland and Belgium.  In August 1943 the squadron moved to Hartford Bridge, Hants.

90 Squadron

 

Code: WP

Dates

June 1941 - July 1941

Planes

Boeing Fortress Mk I

Information

After operating from Bodney and West Raynham this squadron (which was the only one in Bomber Command to fly the Mk I Fortress) moved in to continue its daylight high altitude operations.  Lots of these were not successful due to severed icing problems. In July 1941 the squadron moved to Polebrook, Northants.

342 Squadron

 

Code: OA

Dates

July 1943 - September 1943

Planes

Douglas Boston Mk IIIA

Information

A Free French Air Force squadron which operated with other squadrons in the low level attacking role against a variety of targets in German occupied Belgium, Holland and France. Moved to Hartford Bridge, Hants on September 6th 1943.

1694 Bomber Defence Training Flight

Dates

April 1944 - July 1945

Planes

Miles Martinet TTI

Information

Provided target towing for gunnery practice for 100 Group squadrons. Disbanded in July 1945.

169 Squadron

 

Code: VI

Dates

June 1944 - August 1945

Planes

de Havilland Mosquito FBVI and NF.XIX

Information

This squadron moved in as part of 100 (Bomber Support) Group and operated in the night intruder role, attacking German night fighters and airfields in Holland and Belgium.  The squadron was disbanded in August 1945.

1692 Bomber Support Training Unit

 

Code: 4X

Dates

June 1944 - August 1945

Planes

de Havilland Mosquito FBVI, NF.XIX and T.III

Bristol Beaufighters Mk VF

Vickers Wellington Mk XVIII

Avro Anson Mk I

Airspeed Oxford Mk II

Information

Training unit giving aircrews experience of the various types of interception radar used by the groups squadrons.  Previously known as 1692 Flight when based at Little Snoring. Three months after the war and shortly after Japan surrendered the unit was disbanded.

Central Fighter Establishment

 

Code: MF / QE

Dates

October 1944 - November 1945

Planes

de Havilland Mosquito

Supermarine Spitfire

Hawker Tempest Mk II

Information

This units job was to test and evaluate aircraft and equipment coming into or already in service, and to develop and improve fighter tactics, and to train fighter commanders in the handling of the latest types of aircraft.  Between July 1945 and November 1945 the unit moved to West Raynham.