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Heroes Of Our Time

 

Airfield Information

Name

Royal Air Force Station Swanton Morley / RAF Swanton Morley

Opened

1940

Closed

1995

Runways

3 x Grass

Hangers

1 x J, 4 x Blister and 4 x T2

Location

4 miles N of East Dereham

OS Ref

TG010185

Current Usage

Robertson Barracks

Notes

Built in 1939/40 as a basic pre-war style bomber base; concrete runways were never laid due to the excellent, very long, well drained grass airfield.

It was part of No. 2 Group in Bomber Command until December 1944 when it was given over to 100 Group as they needed another airfield close to HQ at Bylaugh Hall.

On 4 July 1942 British and American airmen took off from here as part of the first combined bombing raid of WW2. Both Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower were at RAF Swanton Morley for this mission.

The station closed on 6 September 1995. Control was transferred to the British Army and the station was renamed Robertson Barracks.

For many years Swanton Morley was home to No 1 Gliding School for ATC cadet training.  The Norfolk and Norwich Aero Club has also operated from here since the 1960's.

Links

http://www.ukairfields.org.uk/swanton-morley.html

http://www.ukairfieldguide.net/airfields/Swanton-Morley

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

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

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

 

Squadron Information

105 Squadron

 

Code: GB

Dates

October 1940 - December 1941

Planes

Bristol Blenheim Mk IV

de Havilland Mosquito B.IV

Information

A 2 Group light bomber squadron which flew mainly low level attacks against ports, shipping and coastal targets over Holland, Belgium and Northern France.

On 4th July 1941 Australian Wing Commander Hughie Edwards lead a squadron in an attack against the dockyard at Bremen, Germany. Flying at about 50 feet the Blenheims met a hail of gunfire as well as a large number of barrage balloons. Four aircraft were downed, but undaunted Edwards led the remainder and successfully hit the target.  All aircraft damaged but due to great skill and determination he withdrew without further loss. He was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The squadron returned to Swanton in late November to re-equip with the bomber version of the Mosquito.

This squadron was the first RAF squadron to be equipped with the "Mossie", W4064 being the first to arrive, delivered personally by Geoffrey de Havilland.

When fully equipped the squadron moved to Horsham St Faiths to begin intensive training

88 Squadron

 

Code: RH

Dates

July 1941 - August 1941

Planes

Bristol Blenheim Mk IV

Douglas Boston Mk III

Information

This squadron came to join 2 Group and re-equip with Blenheims and almost immediately Bostons.  The Blenheims were used for operations until the full compliment of Bostons arrived. Moved to Attlebridge to commence operations on August 1st.

152 Squadron

 

Code: UI

Dates

August 1941 - December 1941

Planes

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IIA

Information

A day fighter squadron providing escorts for 2 Group's light bombers. Moved to Coltishall on December 1st 1941.

15 / 1515 B.A.T. Flight

Dates

September 1941 - May 1942

Planes

Airspeed Oxford Mk I

Information

This unit, a Blind Approach Training Flight provided blind landing training, using radio beams and instrument flying for 2 Group's aircrews. The flight was formed at Swanton Morley and in November 1941 was renumbered as 1515.  They moved out in May 1942.

226 Squadron

 

Code: MQ

Dates

December 1941 - February 1944

Planes

Douglas Boston Mk III

Douglas Boston Mk IIIA

North American Mitchell Mk II

Information

Arrived from Wattisham, Suffolk with new Boston's and carried out operations against shipping, ports and coastal targets in Holland and North West Germany.

In February 1944 as part of 2nd Tactical Air Force they moved to Hartford Bridge, Hants to start operations in preparation of the D-Day landings in France.

15th Bomb Squadron

Dates

June 1942 - July 1942

Planes

Douglas Boston Mk III

Information

USAAF light bomber squadron came here to train and operate with 226 squadron.  It carried out its first operation off the Dutch coast, flying alongside 226.

The 15th was the first American unit to carry out operations in Europe, and started what was to become over the next three years a devastating armada against Nazi Germany.

Once equipped and bloodied in battle they moved to Molesworth, Northants on July 14th 1942.

88 Squadron

 

Code: RH

Dates

March 1943 - August 1943

Planes

Douglas Boston Mk IIIA

Information

Having left in August 1941 the squadron returned, they carried out mainly daylight attacks against a variety of targets in Western Europe.  In August 1943 they moved to Hartford Bridge, Hants but returned for short periods throughout 1943/44 to take part in special operations.

2 Group Communications Flight

 

Code: XR

Dates

May 1943 - June 1944

Planes

Airspeed Oxford Mk I

Avro Anson Mk I and Mk X

Percival Proctor Mk I

Information

Provided transport services for senior staff and light equipment.

1508 B.A.T. Flight

 

Code: UQ

Dates

August 1943 - June 1944

Planes

Airspeed Oxford Mk I and Mk II

Information

Trained aircrews in blind approach and landing techniques.  Moved to Ouston, Durham in June 1944.

305 Squadron

 

Code: SM

Dates

September 1943 - November 1943

Planes

North American Mitchell Mk II

Information

A Polish squadron arrived to re-equip with Mitchells having previously flown Wellingtons in Bomber Command.  They trained on the new aircraft before moving to Lasham, Hants to join the 2nd Tactical Air Force.

1482 Bombing and Gunnery Training Flight

Dates

December 1943 - April 1944

Planes

Douglas Boston Mk IIIA

North American Mitchell Mk II

Lockheed Ventura Mk II

Hawker Hurrican Mk IV

Miles Martinet T.T. III

de Havilland Mosquito T. III

Information

Moved in from West Raynham at beginning of December 1943 to provide target towing and gunnery practice.  Disbanded in April 1944 and re-formed as part of 2 Group Support Unit.

3 Squadron

 

Dates

December 1943 - February 1944

Planes

Hawker Typhoon Mk IB

Information

A fighter squadron arrived from Manston, Kent to take part in shipping strikes off the coast of Holland.  Also flew escorts to Coastal Command.  Returned to Manston in mid February 1944.

98 Squadron

 

Code: VO

Dates

March 1944 - April 1944

Planes

North American Mitchell Mk II

Information

Medium bomber squadron which arrived from Dunsfold, Surrey for special training prior to the D-Day landings in France.

613 Squadron

 

Code: SY

Dates

April 1944

Planes

de Havilland Mosquito FB VI

Information

A tactical air force fighter bomber squadron which came to Swanton Morley for two weeks to take part in a special operation which was a precision, low level attack on the Kleizkamp Art Galleries in the Hague, Holland.  This house the archives of the Gestapo, consisting of records of thousands of the Dutch resistance workers.  It was important to destroy these records as information received in Britain indicated that many of the resistance members were likely to be executed in the near future.  The operation by 613 squadron took place on April 11th 1944 in daylight at a very low level.  It was an extremely precise attack to avoid damaging surrounding properties and killing civilians.  The attack was carried out with six Mosquitos and completely destroyed the building and its records.  The squadron returned to Lasham, Hants on April 24th.

2 Group Support Unit

Dates

April 1944 - December 1944

Planes

Douglas Boston Mk IIIA

de Havilland Mosquito T.III

Hawker Hurricane Mk IV

Miles Martinet T.T. III

Avro Anson Ml I

Information

Formed from 1482 Bombing and Gunnery Flight.  As well as providing target towing and gunnery practice, the unit supplied replacement aircraft and crews for 2 Group's squadrons during and after the D-Day landings in France.

100 Group Bomber Support Development Unit

 

Code: O5

Dates

December 1944 - July 1945

Planes

de Havilland Mosquito Mk NF II, XVI, XX and FB VI

Handley Page Halifax Mk III and XI

Avro Lancaster Mk I and III

Supermarine Spitfire Mk V

Bristol Beaufighter NF I

Percival Proctor

Avro Anson Mk I

Information

Moved in from Foulsham when Swanton Morley was transferred to 100 Group in December 1944.  The primary job was to develop new equipment to be used in the group's various aircraft.  This equipment was mainly radio and radar jamming systems and various interception devices, at that time of a highly secret nature.

The Spitfires were used to provide simulated targets for radar equipped Mosquitoes and to test the tail warning radars fitted in Bomber Command's Halifax and Lancaster bombers.

Ansons and Proctors provided transport and communications between the groups various airfields.

After the war the unit tested captured German airborne radars.

In July 1945 the unit was disbanded although some aircraft remained here until October 1945, eventually moving to Watton.

100 Group Communications Flight

Dates

December 1944 - June 1945

Planes

Avro Anson Mk I

Airspeed Oxford Mk II

Percival Proctor

Information

100 Group had its HQ at nearby Bylaugh Hall and Swanton Morley became the base for the flights aircraft.  Some of the Proctors and a few other small aircraft still used the strip at Bylaugh Hall.  In June 1945 the flight was disbanded.

Mosquito Servicing Section

Dates

December 1944 - June 1945

Planes

de Havilland Mosquito (various marks)

Information

Central servicing depot for all major repairs and overhauls needed for the various Mosquito squadrons in 100 Group.  In June 1945 with the rundown of 100 group the section was disbanded.

No 2 Air Navigation School

Dates

November 1945 - December 1946

Planes

Bristol Blenheim Mk V

Airspeed Oxford Mk II

Avro Anson Mk I

Vickers Wellington

Information

Under the control of Flying Training command the schools job was to train navigators, both new trainees and others, on refresher courses.

No 4 School of Signalling / No 4 Radio School

Dates

January 1947 - May 1951

Planes

Avro Anson Mk I

Avro Anson T22

de Havilland Domnie T1

Percival Proctor C4

Information

School trained signallers before being posted to operational squadrons.  Most of the course took place in ground classrooms, the aircraft being used for airborne practice.  The Proctor aircraft were used for communications duties.  In early 1951 it was renamed to No 4 Radio School

No 1 Air Signals School / No 1 Air Electronics School

Dates

May 1951 - December 1957

Planes

Avro Anson T22

Percival Proctor C4

Percival Prentice

Vickers Varsity T1

Information

The school took over from No 4 Radio School and continued to train air signallers, some of whom came from Commonwealth Air Forces.  In June 1955 the school was renamed No 1 Air Electronics School and reflected the coming of the new V-Bomber force by training Air Electronics Operators, the first of these serving in Valiant squadrons. Moved to Hullavington, Wilts in December 1957.

Central Signals Development Establishment

Dates

January 1958 - June 1958

Planes

Vickers Varsity T1

Information

This unit came here for six months to carry out the development and trials of new electronic equipment.

Central Servicing Development Establishment

Dates

January 1958 - August 1995

Planes

Meteor

Javelin

Canberra

Hunter

Harrier

etc

Information

The aircraft here were non-flying ground instructional machines, the job was developing ground servicing techniques for various RAF units, especially for new aircraft coming into service.

A variety of servicing manuals were also proposed based on its findings of modern efficient aircraft maintenance.  Within its last few years the establishment has moved into the high-technology computer age.

 

Introduction

 

My first experiences of Swanton Morley airfield came in 1992, when my father and I ventured to the base with my first ever motorbike carefully strapped onto a trailer following us closely behind.  Nervous and excited with every bump in the road in case the precious cargo suffered damage, I felt that I was about to embark on freedom.  My ultimate goal being that the journey home would be a great adventure finally riding my bike solo on public roads for the first ever time.

 

In those days we had to pass a compulsory bike training test and that happened to be held on the Swanton Morley base itself, so I was privileged to have actually been on the site, although of course I didn’t realise the relevance of it at that particular time.  I remember the instructor telling me if I was confronted by an armed guard then I was to stop immediately, as if the training didn’t make me nervous enough, this was even more unsettling, but thankfully the situation never arose.

 

Anyway, somehow, I made it through and my dream of hitting the open road, on my much prized two wheels came through.   My first journey started so well but somehow ended with a sting in the tail.  Almost home, hitting the throttle hard (well as much as you can on a 50cc trial bike limited to 30-35mph), I felt an awful pain in the neck, so much so I had to cease my journey that I had so been longing for.  After removing my helmet and balaclava I discovered a large sting lodged in the side of my neck (likely from a hornet) which I proceeded to forcibly remove, I might have known that this would become the first adventure of many on my motorbikes but those tales are definitely for another day….

 

However, there is a point to my tale (somewhat literally), and this draws me back to the airbase itself, and Squadron No.105 based here being the first to receive the more desirable flying insect of all, the much-loved Mosquito.  W4064 was technically the first “Mossie” to arrive on the 15th November 1941, which was delivered personally by Geoffrey de Havilland Jnr, but due to technical hitches the second ‘Mossie’ to arrive on the 17th November W4066 was the first to enter service from the base.

 

So, in fact my trip was rather insignificant when we start to take a look back at the history of the base, the notable figures that have visited it and the bearing it had on the outcome of the war.

 

In fact, this base saw the first combined American and British air raid of WW2, overseen personally by both Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower, in this particular case flown by Boston aircraft.  Coincidentally the village itself has links back to America, with the famous Lincoln family, associated with Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.

 

During 1941-42 possibly the busiest times at the base VIPs such as Lord Trenchard ‘father of the RAF’, and Air Marshall ‘Bomber’ Harris Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief RAF Bomber Command visited several times to both Swanton Morley and the nearby headquarters at Bylaugh Hall.

 

The Duke of Kent also visited, tragically only a week before his death, and in December 1941 visits were made by Captain Garcia, the Chilean Air Attache and Captain Peluffo the Argentine Air Attache.

 

It is also important to note the presence of the legendary figure of the Australian Wing Commander Hughie I. Edwards at this base, who received the most honourable Victoria Cross.

 

Key facts

 

The base itself was regarded as the finest grass airfield, and was the longest in Europe.  It was situated near East Dereham in the close vicinity of the Wensum Valley.  Eventually its barracks were to house a total staff of 1968 male and 390 female staff.

 

It was to serve many roles, base for 100 Group Communication Flight, which involved carrying senior officers to and from other 100 Group locations, and also very importantly the home of the Window Development Section which was to become such a critical and much used deception technique during the war.  

 

In addition, the base was used by the 100 Group Mosquito Servicing Unit.  The Mosquito itself cannot be overlooked.  With its wooden frame, power and agility the legend of a plane we have much to thank for.  During my research I have found myself becoming very drawn to this plane and as such I will cover this aircraft in much more detail in a future section of our website.

 

The base itself was at the forefront of the war and did not escape attack as on the 5th November 1940 ten bombs were directly dropped on it, eight of which exploded, thankfully causing little damage, although further attacks did take place.

 

On the 17th September 1940 the base was to start its RAF life with No.2 Group Bomber Command with the Bristol Blenheim aircraft.  Then followed 105 Squadron.

 

Squadrons

 

105 Squadron

 

Motto: 'Valiant in Battle'

Nickname: ‘Hereford’s own Squadron’

 

Formed in September 1917 at RAF Waddington the squadron itself has quite a tie to Ireland as depicted in its badge with the emerald green handle of the axe.

 

After later reforming in April 1937 at RAF Harwell, as a day bomber squadron it became one of the first operational squadrons to receive the more modern aircraft of the time, the monoplane Fairy Battle.

 

The squadron then moved to France in 1939 as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force on reconnaissance duties before May 1940 when it was busy attacking advancing German troops.

 

After suffering heavy losses during vital bridge attacks over the River Meuse, the squadron returned to England (RAF Honington) where it was equipped with Bristol Blenheim’s joining number 2 Group on their attack of ports and German shipping.

 

Part of the squadron was deployed to Malta.  During the months to follow the remaining 105 squadron was involved in many enemy airbase attacks which led to its first losses in November.  Unfortunately, whilst these attacks took place our country was suffering greatly with the darkest days of the war which saw our cities suffering the greatest turmoil and in particular Coventry was set ablaze as result of heavy bombing.  Streets engulfed in fire, families torn apart, communities ripped apart, this soon started to become all to common across the entire Country.

 

After a return from duties in Malta the squadron returned to Swanton Morley in late November, being re-equipped with the Mosquito and the squadron would then move onto to Horsham St Faith to continue training.

 

88 Squadron

 

Motto: 'Be on your guard'

 

Shortly before 105 Squadron departed for Malta, 88 Squadron arrived at Swanton Morley in July 1941.  The squadron was associated to the French Air Service.

 

Originally operating Blenheim Mk IVs the move to the base also brought about a change to a new aircraft the Douglas DB-7B Boston III.  The arrival of the first new aircraft caused quite a stir when it was taxied in by a young lady who reportedly said “It’s the first time I have ever flown one”.   The aircraft was well received.

 

It is important to note that many planes were delivered by ladies as part of the Airport Transport Auxiliary Service one of their vital roles during the conflict was to deliver planes around the various airbases in the country.

 

More Boston’s were to arrive at the base in August at 88 squadron moved to the satellite airfield of Attlebridge remaining under the operation control of Swanton Morley.

 

At various points the squadron returned to take part in special operations against targets in Holland and Belgium.

 

Timeline of other important squadron developments

 

August 1941 - Swanton Morley received its first Fighter Unit with 152 squadron arriving with the Supermarine Spitfire Mk IIAs.  Their missions including escorting the Blenheims from other local bases on daylight raids on the Dutch coast.

 

September 1941 – formation of a new Flying Unit.

 

No.15 Blind Approach Training (BAFT)

 

6 Airspeed Oxford used to train pilots in Blind Approach Techniques (BAT)

 

The above used a technique with radio beams for directing aircraft.  Beam approach sometimes known as Blind Approach was essentially training to help pilots return to bases in the dark when there was poor visibility.

 

Mid October No.105 Squadron return from Malta in ready for the new top-secret plane – the Mosquito.

 

November - Squadron observers begin conversion training on new Wireless Telegraphy – Morse transmissions between aircraft and ground stations, and Gunners took a navigation course.

 
 

After the war

 

Unlike over bases I have covered so far, this one has so far continued as an active base.

 

After WW2 the base become home to No 1 Air Signaller’s School, and then the Central Servicing Development Establishment (CSDE) and the Maintenance Analysis and Computing Establishment (MACE).

 

From June 1953 – 1995 the base was also used by 611 Volunteer Gliding School, the station also held several airshows during the 1980’s.

 

The RAF base closed on the 6th September 1995, and was transferred to the British Army and renamed Robertson Barracks, which is the current home of the 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards, who’s mascot is a Welsh Mountain pony called ‘Trooper Jones’.

 

In conclusion

 

So, to conclude I touch upon how I felt on my first visit to the base.  Selfishly I was yearning for my own freedom, to experience life on the open road, young and carefree.   Now I find I reflect back on that feeling, with my thoughts somewhat wandering, steering to the direction of how those young pilots must have felt fighting for that very freedom that I and many have been so lucky to have.  Their battles were in the sky, yearning for adventure, but finding themselves plunged into a world beyond their anticipation.   The horrors of war are inconceivable, and scar many for life.  

 

I can only thank them for our freedom.

 

 

 

Images

 

Click to open

Click to open

 

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

 

A Douglas Boston Mk. III of No. 88 Squadron, Royal Air Force, about 1942. The first Boston.IIIs were delivered from the United States in the summer of 1941, and the first squadron to receive them was No. 88 Sqn. based at Swanton Morley, Norfolk (UK). This squadron flew the type until it was replaced in April 1945.

 

Click to open

Click to open

 

© Darren Rose

 

More pictures of the Swanton Morley Church Memorial Window can be found here