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Heroes Of Our Time

Airfield Information

 

Name

RAF Sculthorpe / Sculthorpe Training Area

Opened

15 January 1943

Closed

2 October 1992

Runways

3 x Concrete, later bitumen based asphalt

Hangers

4 x T2

Location

5 miles W of Fakenham

OS Ref

TF860315

Current Usage

Housing / Industry / MoD training area

Notes

Constructed in 1942 as a satellite for West Raynham. Like many bomber airfields in 1943/44 Sculthorpe was used for storage of Horsa troop carrying gliders. It passed over to the 100 Group in January 1944. Not much activity was seen here after mid 1944 other than storing the Horsa gliders. In the Autumn of 1944 work began to convert the airfield into a very heavy bomber base, runways were lengthened and strengthened, many new buildings and fuel storage area erected. The idea was that if the war continued then B29 Super Fortresses would operate from here, this never happened as the war ended in May 1945.  After the war the base was used by USAAF until around 1952. In July 1964 the base was no longer required by the USAF and was returned to the RAF. In April 1967 it returned to the USAF as a fully equipped standby airfield that could be ready in 24 hours.  From 1971 it was used by various USAF units, this continued until 1983.  A small team of technicians were based here from 1975 to 1982 to receive and scrap aircraft flown from France, Belgium and Denmark.  In 1977 the runways were resurfaced using bitumen based asphalt and used from 1978 - 1983 by the RAF and USAF when other airfields were undergoing runway repairs.  After some years of uncertainty Sculthorpe was officially closed on 2nd October 1992.  As of 1997 it was in the hands of the MOD and used for military training.

Links

http://www.ukairfields.org.uk/sculthorpe.html

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

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

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

 

 

Introduction

 

I have touched upon it before but Fakenham and it’s surrounding areas were a big part of my youth and as such has helped me in writing about all the local bases situated in that region.

 

I reflect now being much older on all my earlier experiences and wish that I had the interest then on this subject that I do now.

 

RAF Sculthorpe can be found alongside the A148 heading towards Kings Lynn.  One part of this road features a long straight originally a diversion road that was built in connection with the base in 1944.  I particularly remember this stretch of road, partly with fear, but also trepidation in simply still being alive to tell this tale.  My Mother had just passed her test and was keen to set off on her first voyage to Kings Lynn taking me and my life long best friend along for the ride.  Jolly decent of her to offer but I truly thought this trip would be my last.  

 

Trundling along this straight bit of road behind a slow lorry my Mother seized the opportunity to hit the throttle and overtake, I remember thinking to myself OK Mother hit the pedal to the floor but oh no there was hesitation and time truly stood still as we tried to overtake, oncoming traffic heading closer and closer.  Well we finally made it past and I remember glancing back at my friend, white as a sheet she was, but I am still here so I will say no more on the subject and will swiftly move on.

 

RAF Sculthorpe is in a unique position compared to the other airbases we have discussed because its early introduction into electronic warfare carried over many more years than the rest, spilling over into the cold war years as the base remained active longer than most.  So, I believe it is fair to say that the base is steeped in both mystery and secrecy.

 

Early history

 

Work began on the base in spring 1942 as a much needed second satellite base to RAF West Raynham.  The first being RAF Great Massingham.

 

Like many other bases it was in the form of the familiar triangular or ‘A’ plan design in this case with three concrete runways.  The construction works initially undertaken by Constable Hart & Co and later Bovis involved the development of the runways, roads, dispersal areas, accommodation, mess areas and a firing range.

 

Squadrons

 

342 Lorraine Squadron

 

Originally formed at West Raynham on the 7th April 1943 with personnel from the Free French Air Forces the Squadron was part of No.2 Group of RAF Bomber Command and moved to Sculthorpe in May.

 

Equipped with Boston’s the squadron flew its first operational mission on June 12th when it joined 107 Squadron with sorties over Rouen.  In July the Squadron moved to Massingham after completing 40 missions.

 

487 Squadron RNZAF

 

Formed in August 1942 by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, this was a light bomber squadron.  Originally equipped with the Lockheed Ventura aircraft.  This plane proved too slow for daylight operations especially in comparison to the Mosquito.  

 

The performance of the Ventura was to end in tragedy, aircraft technology was advancing quickly, and this aircraft was now lagging behind.  For this Squadron in particular the results would become most devastating.  

 

Operation Ramrod 16 was possibly the breaking point for the Ventura.  3rd May 1943, 12 aircraft and many brave crews set off for what would regrettably be their final mission, a mission that would see bravery, commitment, dedication to the cause and ultimately the final sacrifice for many brave souls.  

 

With German fighters taking the planes out one by one, only one plane remained in the air reaching the target led by Squadron Leader Leonard Trent.  Although he narrowly missed the target, he had bravely battled on despite experiencing and seeing the loss of almost his entire squadron.   In fact, only two of the aircraft returned, one early in the mission due to equipment failure, the other badly damaged managed to limp home.

 

Squadron Leader Leonard Trent’s aircraft was also shot down and he was taken as a POW, later to become part of the Great Escape.  It seems quite deserved that he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

 

The Squadron arrived at Sculthorpe in July, and August 21st, 1943 saw the arrival of the much-needed Mosquito.  

 

Followings it’s move to RAF Hudson in December 1943, the Squadron went on to be involved in raids on the Amiens prison as part of ‘Operation Jericho’ and many other raids including the Gestapo headquarters.

 

464 Squadron RAAF

 

The Squadron was formed in September 1942 at RAF Feltwell, and despite its name being Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), its personnel originally came from many countries including Australia, Canada, Britain, New Zealand, South Africa and the Netherlands.  

 

The role of the Squadron was light bomber duties and first became operational on the 6th December with its involvement in ‘Operation Oyster’.

 

The Squadron moved to RAF Methwold in April 1943 carrying out various raids over France, but like 487 Squadron it was equipped with the Lockheed Ventura aircraft which was in desperate need of replacement.

 

Joining RAF Bomber Command and arriving at Sculthorpe 21st July 1943 it was re-equipped with the Mosquito at the same time as 487 Squadron.  On October 3rd both 464 and 487 Squadron undertook their first operation to bomb power stations in France.

 

Like 487 Squadron after leaving Sculthorpe in December 1943 it was to move to RAF Hudson where they were also involved in such operations as bombing the V1 rocket sites, ‘Operation Jericho’, and raids on Gestapo complexes.

 

21 Squadron RAF

 

Motto: “By Strength we conquer”

 

Originally formed on the 23rd July 1915 at Netheravon as part of the Royal Flying Corps, it had duties ranging from reconnaissance to bombing during the Battle of the Somme, before eventually being disbanded on the 1st October 1919.

 

The Squadron was reformed again on the 3rd December 1935 at RAF Bircham Newton taking on light bomber duties with the Hawker Hind bi-plane.  The Squadron then moved many times and was equipped with Bristol Blenheims, and the Ventura’s before converting to the Mosquito when it arrived at Sculthorpe on September 9th.

 

Unofficially named ‘Norwich’s own Squadron’ the Commanding Officer was Group Captain Percy Pickard.  It is worth noting the merits of Percy Charles Pickard as he was one of the only officers to be awarded the DSO three times in the Second World War.  In 1941 he appeared in the wartime file ‘Target for Tonight’ which can be viewed below.

 

He flew over 100 sorties and by all accounts was very respected.  So much so that in December 1943 the newly appointed CO of 617 Squadron - Dambusters Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire visited Sculthorpe to see Pickard who was an expert on low level pinpoint bombing.

 

Like 487 and 464 squadron it moved on from Sculthorpe to RAF Methwold and was to become involved in the same missions including ‘Operation Jericho’, the attacks on the Amiens Prison led by Pickard where sadly he was to lose his life.    By all accounts this seemed such a sad loss of a most remarkable, brave and heroic man.

 

The Mosquito Era

 

I will define the period when Squadron’s 487, 464 and 21 arrived at Sculthorpe as the ‘Mosquito Era’.  It was a time in which the squadrons were struggling with their existing aircraft and as a result suffered great loss.  

 

The introduction of the Mosquito must have been a very pivotal moment for not only the squadrons concerned but to the overall outcome of the war itself.  You only have to consider the operations the squadrons then went on to be involved in, to see how vital and important this change and period of time was.

 

RAF Sculthorpe during this time was very busy with almost 70 Mosquito’s being based their and of course this didn’t come without incident.  

 

Overshot landings, engine failure on take-off, bomb hang ups, aircraft returning damaged with crew having to bail out, were unfortunately all too common incidents and generally part of life on an active base during war time.

 

The dawn of heroism, technology and counter measures

 

January 17th, 1944, 214 Squadron was to arrive at Sculthorpe shortly followed on the 20th by the B-17 Fortress.

 

The base was now under control of 100 Group and 214 Squadron were to familiarise themselves with the B-17, eventually they would be renamed to No.214 (BS) Squadron, BS being the abbreviation for Bomber Support.  

 

Reports suggest that the Fortress was much easier to control on take-off and landing even with its four feet additional wing span over the Sterling which 214 had been accustomed to.  In the main Americans had used the Fortress for daylight raids whereas RAF were converting it for night operations.  

 

It was a time when precision bombing would be examined.  It should be remembered that bombing was often hampered by either cloud or the enemy obscuring what they thought was going to be the target with smoke.  Americans overcame this with a variant of H2S then used a timed method to blind bomb the target.

 

RAF night attacks depended on accuracy of target marking.  The development of Oboe assisted guaranteeing marking within two or three hundred yards.  

 

Unfortunately, though the range of Oboe was limited so early methods combined H2S until Leonard Cheshire had inspiration with a completely different method.  This involved a Mosquito or Mustang which would fly at ground level dropping spot fires. 

 

Other techniques used involved 'sky marking' by path finder crews where the target indicator hung above cloud cover and served as an aiming point.

 

At this point it is worth mentioning Leonard Cheshire in greater detail.  Leonard was highly decorated and was awarded the Victoria cross, and his valiant work continued long after his service, the link below describes some of the honourable work he carried out, alongside his wife the well-known, Sue Ryder.

 

https://www.leonardcheshire.org/about-us/our-history/our-founder

 

This time was certainly a period of change.  Various modifications were done to the Fortress for night flight, removal of ball turret, high pressure oxygen system, intercom system, special traps on underside of turbo superchargers to hide blue flames, plus black paint bottom half of side windows of cockpit to assist when caught in search lights.

 

Technology was to advance further and squadrons found themselves learning even more new techniques.  Crew grew from seven to ten.  One to be a combined gunner \ window dropper.  Also included was a Special wireless operator (German speaking) using the jammer code named ABC (Airbourne Cigar).

 

No.214 (BS) Squadron moved to RAF Oulton on May 16th, 1944 and more history on the squadron can be found in that section.

 

Post War

 

With the departure of the Fortresses the base was set to be prepared as a Very Heavy Bomber (VHB) base and as such construction was started to improve and strengthen the runways.  

 

There was still much fear and uncertainty in the World especially between the Soviet Union and Western allies which was eventually to be known as the Cold War.  After so many years of anguish it seems new uncertainties were still on the horizon.

 

So, the events that followed led to the US Air Force returning to Sculthorpe in February 1949 equipped with B-29 Superfortresses, and the US were to be involved with the base and its local communities for many years to come.

 

The secret world continued at the airbase well into the 50\60s with the presence of the Boeing RB-47 Stratojet and the Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance, which were essentially spy planes, the Cold war most definitely drawing this necessity.

 

Of course, the World was also filled with fear about nuclear warfare and at this Norfolk base the locals were most likely closer to it that they could have ever imagined.  It was not only fear of war but natural disasters were also to hit the community when in 1953 the region was hit by severe gales and floods.  This not only led to loss of life for the locals but also for the families of serving American forces.  

 

It seems like many bases there have been many highs and lows, having the presence of many remarkable aircraft, that changed the both the fate and course of the war, and many heroic people that has made its place in history.

 

This passage of history was to come to end in October 1992 when the US Airforce left it behind for what would be the final time.  Since then the MOD has used the old base as a training site.

 

To conclude

 

At the beginning of this article I touched upon my early memories of life on the open road with my Mother but in stark contrast it leads me to have a real realisation that many people left those runaways, the initial thrill of the thrust and noise of the engines but with the true belief that they would never return home, and sadly that was the case for many.  They would battle in the skies, face flak and enemy fighters, many of whom had not even had the opportunity yet to experience life, only fear - they were so young.

 

We are all guilty of taking things for granted, but sometimes we should simply stop and remember, raise our heads to the sky, admire, be grateful for the clear blue skies we now see rather than dog fights, smoke, fire, fright and despair.   The sight and sound of a plane struggling to make it home, or the stricken shell of an aircraft left smouldering by the road, these were all too common sights for our elders gone before.   This must be a lasting legacy that we should never forget.

 

 

Images

 

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Click to open

 

© Royal Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Aerial photograph of Sculthorpe airfield looking north, the main runway runs diagonally, the technical and bomb dump are on the left, 31 January 1946. Photograph taken by No. 90 Squadron, sortie number RAF/3G/TUD/UK/50

 

 

Click to open

Click to open

 

© IWM (ATP 13090E)

 

Fortress B Mark III, HB796, at Prestwick, Ayrshire, after being fitted with radio counter-measures equipment by Scottish Aviation Ltd. It served with No. 214 Squadron RAF of No. 100 Bomber Group, based at Sculthorpe, Norfolk, from November 1944. Equipment fitted included American AN/APS15 radar in the large radome under the nose, Airborne Cigar (ABC) radio-jamming equipment (shown by the large aerial on top of the fuselage), and an Airborne Grocer aircraft radar jamming installation, the aerials of which can be seen on either side of the tail turret. HB796 failed to return from a bomber support mission on 9 February 1945.

 

 

Videos

 

Target for Tonight (1941)

 

Description of a Bomber Command raid on Germany, showing the general preparations beforehand, the raid itself from the viewpoint of "F For Freddie" and the mounting anxiety at the station when the plane, a Wellington, fails to return on time.

 

 

Squadron Information

 

342 Squadron

 

Code: 0A

Dates

May 1943 - July 1943

Planes

Douglas Boston Mk IIIA

Information

A Free French Air Force squadron which spent most of its time training for future operations as a light bomber squadron.  Its first combat operation took place on 12th June 1943 with an attack on the power station at Rouen, France.  In July 1943 the squadron moved to Great Massingham.

464 / 487 Squadron

 

Code: SB / EG

Dates

July 1943 - December 1943

Planes

Lockheed Ventura Mk I and II

de Havilland Mosquito FB.VI

Information

Both squadrons worked together as light bomber units. 464 was an Australian squadron and 487 was a Royal New Zealand Air Force squadron.  Both arrived from Methwold to reequip with Mosquito's. Once fully operational they commenced day and night low level attacks against such targets as airfields, gun sites, rail yards, power stations and fuel depots.  In December 1943 the squadron moved to Hunsdon, Herts.

21 Squadron

 

Code: YH

Dates

September 1943 - November 1943

Planes

de Havilland Mosquito FB.VI

Information

Moved in from Oulton to reequip with Mosquito fighter bombers.  Frequently flew on operations with 464 and 487 squadrons against a variety of targets over Europe.

214 Squadron

 

Code: BU

Dates

January 1944 - May 1944

Planes

Boeing Fortress Mk II (B17F)

Information

Arrived from Downham Market and became under the control of 100 Group.  They used some ex USAFF B17F aircraft for training in radio countermeasure operations.  A number of American personnel assisted with the training of both air and ground crews. In May 1944 when training was complete they move to Oulton.

803rd Bomb Squadron

 

Code: R4

Dates

March 1944 - May 1944

Planes

Boeing Fortress B17F, B17G

Information

A USAAF Bomb Squadron which was formed here to assist 214 squadron to convert and train on the B17 Fortress in radio countermeasure duties. They moved with 214 squadron to Oulton in May 1944

91st Strategic Reconnaissance Group

Dates

May 1951 - March 1955

Planes

North American RB45C Tornado

Information

There duties were strategic reconnaissance over Western Europe as the Soviet Union was being most unfriendly at this time and it was vital to know what they were developing

9th / 67th Air Rescue Squadron

Dates

August 1951 - October 1953

Planes

Boeing SB.29 Superfortress

Grumman SA16A Albatross

Information

An Air-Sea rescue squadron covering a wider area around Britain and Western Europe. Moved to Manston, Kent in October 1953

60th Tactical Cargo Wing / 11th / 212th Tactical Cargo Squadrons

Dates

May 1952 - December 1954

Planes

Fairchild C119C Flying Boxcar

Information

Provided transport services for the 49th Air Division. The boxcars could carry light vehicles and field guns, and could be quickly adapted to carry paratroops.

47th Bomb Group / Bomb Wing

Dates

May 1952 - June 1962

Planes

North American B45A Tornado

Douglas B66B Destroyer

Information

A light tactical bomb group assigned to NATO

19th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron

Dates

June 1952 - February 1959

Planes

North American RB45C Tornado

Douglas RB66B Destroyer

Information

A day and night tactical reconnaissance squadron.  Moved to Germany in February 1959.

7554th Target Tow Flight

Dates

July 1952 - July 1962

Planes

Douglas TB.26C Invader

Vultee L5 Sentinal

Information

Provided towing facilities for the USAF and US Army units based in the UK.

49th Air Division Communications Flight

Dates

April 1954 - June 1956

Planes

de Havilland (Canada) L20A Beaver

Lockheed T33A

Information

Provided communications aircraft for the use of senior offices of the 49th Air Division.

47th Operations Quadron

Dates

December 1954 - February 1958

Planes

Douglas C47

Convair T29A

Lockheed T33A

de Havilland (Canada) L20A Beaver

Fairchild C119G Flying Boxcar

Information

Support squadron which took over the duties of the 60th Tactical Cargo Wing.

420th Air Refuelling Squadron

Dates

January 1956 - March 1964

Planes

Boeing KB.29P, KB.50D and KB.50J Superfortress

Information

An air-to-air refuelling squadron which provided services to USAAF fighters and bombers throughout Europe.

75th Fighter Bomber Squadron

Dates

April 1957 - September 1957

Planes

Republic F84F Thunderstreak

Information

Part of the 81st Fighter Wing normally based at Shepherds Grove, Suffolk. Operated from Sculthorpe whilst its home base was undergoing runway repairs.

28th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron

Dates

August 1962 - December 1962

Planes

Boeing WB.50D Superfortresses

Information

Carried out special reconnaissance flights over Western Europe.