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Heroes Of Our Time

Airfield Information

 

Name

Royal Air Force Station Swannington / RAF Swannington / RAF Haveringland

Opened

1 April 1944

Closed

November 1947

Runways

3 x Concrete

Hangers

1 x B1 and 2 x T2

Location

8 miles NW of Norwich

OS Ref

TG141205

Current Usage

Farmland / Industry / Public road

Notes

Construction commenced in late 1942 but was not ready for occupation until the Spring of 1944.  It was known to local people as Haveringland, in which parish most of the airfield was sited. By the end of 1945 the airfield was no longer required for flying so was used for storage of surplus equipment until 1947/48.

Links

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

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

http://www.controltowers.co.uk/S/Swannington.htm

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

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

http://www.geograph.org.uk/article/RAF-Swannington

 

 

Introduction

 

You only need to take a look at the impressive village sign of Haveringland to gain an understanding of its past.

 

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© Darren Rose

 

A typical Norfolk village, with beauty, tranquillity and an abundance of quiet country roads, the Norfolk I have always loved.  However, like many country villages it is not without a great plethora of history, many secrets held within, those secrets that would undoubtedly change the course of a turbulent war and very troubled times.

 

Although called RAF Swannington the base itself was actually located in Haveringland being developed on the estate of Haveringland Hall when this and its surrounding parkland was taken over by the Air ministry.  It officially opened in April 1944.  The hall itself becoming the Officers mess with most of the remaining crew stationed in huts in the surrounding parkland.

 

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© Janine Harrington

 

 

The rumour and mystery surrounding the name is likely related to Winston Churchill.  Originally destined to be called RAF Haveringland, Winston Churchill’s Aunt was married to the then Lord of the Manor and in fact lived on the Haveringland Estate.  Therefore, Churchill was potentially the deciding factor in the airfield being called RAF Swannington so the enemy would not associate this base with the estate where he would regularly visit his Aunt.

 

RAF Swannington was to become the home of the Mosquito, a remarkable aircraft that was fast, agile and was certainly to become a thorn in the enemy’s side.  

 

In fact, Field Marshal Hermann Goring is said to have made the following statement.

 

“In 1940 I could at least fly as far as Glasgow in most of my aircraft, but not now!  It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito.  I turn and green and yellow with envy.  The British, who can afford aluminium better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it speed which they have now increased yet again.  What do you make of that?  There is nothing that the British do not have.  They have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops.  After the war is over I’m going to buy a British radio set – then at least I’ll own something that has always worked.”

 

In the main it was to be the home of two Mosquito squadrons, 85 and 157 operating as part of RAF 100 Group.  Both squadrons had to send detachments to West Malling late July 1944 where they were involved in the anti-driver patrols intercepting V1 flying bombs.  However, both were to return to continue the most valuable and honourable work for the 100 Group, their squadron history in brief is described below.

 

Squadrons

 

85 Squadron

 

Motto: We hunt by day and night

 

Originally formed on the 1st August 1917 at Upavon which at the time was the home to the Royal Flying Corps Central Flying School.  After a short stay it moved to Mousehold Heath, before transferring to Hounslow Heath Aerodrome in November 1917 where the squadron was to train and prepare for front line duties in France.

 

On the 1st April 1918 it was to join the new Royal Air Force and as a result of the training and preparation it was to begin ground attack sorties over the Western Front equipped with Sopwith Dolphin and later Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5.

 

The squadron was disbanded on the 3rd July 1919 but during its active period of conflict it had amassed 99 victories and had a number of highly distinguished flying aces.

 

The squadron would reform on the 1st June 1938 and were based at RAF Debden equipped with the Gloster Gladiator which was the RAFs last biplane fighter.

 

By the outbreak of WWII the squadron now operating with Hawker Hurricanes transferred to Boos as part of the Air Component of the BEF 60th Fighter Wing.  Its primary role was to support the Fairey Battle and Bristol Blenheim’s deployed in Rheim which involved sorties across the English Channel and air defence over airfields.

 

The German invasion in 1940 would be the start of intensive period of conflict with the German Luftwaffe, they were under constant attack.   Final sorties involved providing fighter cover for allied armies and despite a gallant effort eventually their airfields were overrun forcing the few remaining aircraft and squadron members to return to the UK.  The squadron sadly lost seventeen pilots, two killed, six wounded and nine were missing.

 

By June 1940 the squadron had re-equipped and over Southern Britain were taking part in the first half of the Battle of Britain.  By September the squadron had moved to Yorkshire and by October they would have a change in role commencing night fighter operations.

 

1st May 1944 the Squadron transferred to RAF No.100 (Bomber Support), taking on the important role of bomber support missions, intercepting night fighters and attacking the night fighter airfields.  

 

 

157 Squadron

 

Motto: Our cannon speak our thoughts

 

The Squadron was formed at Upper Heyford on the 14th July 1918, equipped with Sopwith Salamanders for ground support duties, however because it did not become fully operational before the end of the war it was disbanded on the 1st February 1919.

 

December 1941 the squadron were to reform at RAF Debden as a Night Fighter Unit.  In January 1942 it was to become the first Mosquito night fighter squadron now based at RAF Castle Camps.

 

After a move to RAF Hudson and now equipped with new Mosquito’s Mk VIs the Squadron began intruder attacks on German fighter bases.

 

The squadron continued similar duties from RAF Predannack in Cornwall after moving there in November 1943.

 

March 1944 the squadron moved again to RAF Valley, Anglesey where it would perform defensive patrols over the Irish Sea.

 

The squadron joined RAF 100 Group in May 1944 where it would be based at RAF Swannington.   Flying the Mosquito MK XIXs and MK XXX where it would carry out the most valuable work of protecting and supporting the heavy bombers.  It was intensive work, flying above and below the bomb stream seeking out the night fighters.

 

 

Reflections of the past

 

Although one of the later airfields to become fully operational, the two squadrons based here carrying out their duties for 100 Group had amassed a total of some 71 enemy aircraft shot down by the end of the war.  They played a huge part, showing acts of heroism and bravery and were of course like the rest of the 100 Group a unique fighting force.   Armed with secret technologies which were embraced by the entire group becoming at the very forefront of the birth of electronic warfare.

 

The war would last close to the bitter end here at RAF Swannington as the base came under attack nearing the end of the war on the evening of March 16-17th 1945.  The Luftwaffe targeted and bombed the base in what proved to be one of the last attacks on a British airfield during the conflict.

 

Between February 24th – 22nd March 1945 the base would also be home to another iconic aircraft when the Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force flying various marks of the Supermarine Spitfire would make it briefly its home.

 

No.85 were to eventually move to Castle Camps in June 1945, whilst 157 were to be disbanded at RAF Swannington on the 16th August 1945.

 

From October 1945 the base would become home to No.274 Maintenance Unit where it would be the headquarters for RAF Little Snoring, RAF North Creake and RAF Oulton.  Throughout all these sites the legend of the Mosquito would live on, where various versions had been mothballed across all stations and some of the marvellous Rolls Royce engines were still in their crates in abundance just sitting waiting to burst into life.  

 

Between 1946-47 the role of the site was to service and perform modifications to various aircraft.  How many of those new Merlin engines emerged from there wooden crates to fit into the frame of those iconic aircraft we will never know, and by 1957 the history of the RAF base was to come to an end when the site was sold.

 

Stepping forward somewhat in time, on Sunday 19th May 2019, we were honoured to be able to visit the RAF 100 Group Association reunion at St Peter’s Church, Haveringland.  In our search for the church we stumbled across two huge national flags proudly raised in the sky, we knew we were close.

 

Straight away we were taken back into the past as it was evident the concrete our tyres were gently rolling across was undoubtedly the remains of an old runway.  Directly across the road the signs were even more evidence of the past where you could clearly see the layout and concrete hard standings that were definitely a part of the old base, now used for agricultural use.

 

The church itself located in a prominent position adjacent to the base must have been in the heart of the action, an onlooker to all the comings and goings and undoubtedly it holds many ghosts of the pasts held firmly and secretly within its stone walls.

 

 

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© Unknown

 

 

As we approached the church now surrounded in green fields filled with an abundance of horses and ponies, proudly prancing and playfully rolling around in the plentiful and lush green grass, 1940’s music could be heard drifting into the air.

 

Later we were to all stand quietly in awe as the unmistakable sound and sight of the ironic Tiger Moth was to circle above us in the sky.  A mark of respect and a time to honour and remember the times gone before.

 

 

Images

 

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© Mike Hillier

 

St Peters Church, Haveringland - Easter 2019

 

 

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© Mike Hillier

 

Avenue Of Remembrance, Haveringland - April 2018

 

 

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© Darren Rose

 

Memorial Plaque at RAF Swannington

 

 

 

More images taken by Richard Gray can be found here

 

 

Squadron Information

 

157 Squadron

 

Code: RS

Dates

May 1944 - August 1945

Planes

de Havilland Mosquito Mk II, XIX and XXX

Information

Part of 100 Group's intruder force, mainly flew night sorties over enemy airfields. As the war progressed the group were equipped with increasingly sophisticated electronic devices to confuse and destroy the German defenses, this had a considerable effect on the main RAF heavy bomber raids and significantly reduced their losses. 157 Squadron remained here as part of the post war RAF but was then disbanded on August 16th 1945.

85 Squadron

 

Code: VY

Dates

May 1944 - June 1945

Planes

de Havilland Mosquito Mk XIII, XVII and XXX

Information

Flew night intruder sorties like 157 squadron, as well as many operations with the RAF heavy bombers. In June 1945 a move was made to Castle Camps, Cambs.  85 Squadron has connections with Norfolk going back to 1917 when it was based at Mousehold Heath and again in the 1960 and 70's at West Raynham.

229 Squadron

 

Code: 9R

Dates

November 1944 - December 1944

Planes

Supermarine Spitfire Mk LF.XVIE

Information

A day fighter squadron which arrived from Matlaske to fly bomber escort for 100 Group's daylight operations.  Moved to Coltishall in December.

451 Squadron

 

Code: NI

Dates

February 1945 - April 1945

Planes

Supermarine Mk XVI

Information

Australian fighter squadron which flew a few escort sorties with 100 Group's bombers.  Sometimes operated from Matlaske.  Moved to Lympne, Kent one month before the end of the war.