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Heroes Of Our Time

Airfield Information

 

Name

Royal Air Force Station Foulsham / RAF Foulsham / Foulsham Aerodrome

Opened

May 1942

Closed

1945 Military Use 1962 Civilian Use

Runways

3 x Tarmac and Woodchip

Hangers

1 x B1 and 9 x T2

Location

8 miles NE of Dereham, situated in the parishes of Folusham and Wood Norton

OS Ref

TG029265

Current Usage

Farmland / Industry

Notes

Closed for flying in June 1946 although used for storage of Mosquito's until late 1940's

Links

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

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

http://www.controltowers.co.uk/F/Foulsham.htm

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

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

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

 

 

Introduction

 

Having spent much of my youth in Hindolveston, Foulsham and its surrounding areas hold very special memories for me.

 

I was very keen from an early age to start working and providing for myself, and like my late father I had a passion for motorbikes.  That was my first ambition to buy my own motorbike.  I was fortunate enough to find local employment with a couple who were both very inspirational and supportive in helping me develop all the skills I needed for the future.  For that I will always be truly thankful to them and although they will never know this, they will always hold a very special place in my heart, I simply would not be where I am today without them.

 

After achieving the dream of buying my first motorbike I then spent many hours travelling round the local roads heading backwards and forwards to work, those same roads that many years ago I know now were a hive of activity in the quest to help save our country.  Little did I know the secrets it would also hold and that many years later I would be researching into its entire history.

 

I was always aware of there being an airfield in Foulsham, and fondly recall my father taking me for driving lessons on the old base, so now it’s time to unravel its secrets and the forgotten heroes that form its historic past…

 

 

Foulsham airbase, the beginnings

 

Construction of the airbase started in 1941.  The village of Foulsham would soon start to see activity as tipper trucks arriving in convoy carrying sand and gravel were passing through.  Loads were counted in at Brick Yard crossroads.

 

At that time, we still had local railway stations located at Hindolveston, Melton Constable, Guestwick and Foulsham and many materials came in via this route.   I personally cannot recall the railway stations in operation but can recall as a child exploring the remains of the old Hindolvestion station.  According to Len Batram’s writings there was also a searchlight near Hindolveston railway station which helped guide planes back into Foulsham.

 

The airfield itself was situated about one and half miles north of Foulsham alongside the Hindolveston road that I travelled upon for so much of my early life.  Initially two T2 hangers were built but this was increased to nine and one B1 type making it one of the biggest airfields at that time.

 

I always think that pictures speak a thousand words so it is easier to depict the layout of the base itself using the late Len Bartram’s sketches of the base with the kind permission of Evelyn his very supportive wife.  Like myself Len grew up in Hindolveston and he monitored the various coming and goings of the base as it developed.

 

Click to open

Click to open

 

© Len Bartram (used with permission from his wife Evelyn Bartram)

 

You can quite clearly see that the base was laid out in the ‘A’ plan design which was quite common for the time.  The main runway was 2000 yards in length positioned directly north to south.  The north end approach was in line with the tower of the old Hindolveston church tower ruins.  Again, this is somewhere I spent many years of my youth exploring all the ruins.  Apparently, a red warning light was placed on top on the tower but according to Len’s original writings if the plans to extend the main runway would have gone ahead the tower itself would have been demolished.  From my vague memory I can also recall an old stone building in front of the ruins (or very close by) which I believe to have been a pillbox.  I can recall being intrigued and wanted to explore it but was very frustrated as the entrance was blocked off.  This is just from my memories so excuse me if I am wrong.

 

RAF Foulsham was also one of only a few bases to use F.I.D.O. (Fog Investigation And Dispersal Operation).

 

 

Airbase defences

 

Remarkably considering what we now know about the importance of the airbase (and those of the entire 100 group) defences were light.  4261 Flight for air and ground defence were formed at Foulsham on the 22nd November 1942.  It consisted of 4 Corporals and 31 airmen, and 3 Lewis guns to equip the 3 gun pits.

 

Later Browning machine guns arrived but it is believed they were never used.  Then on the 1st March all personnel visited the firing range (depicted on Len’s drawing) to test fire the Garand rifle.

 

At the end of June 1943 4261 Flight moved on and the defences were reportedly the responsibility of the RAF regiment which may have included light ack ack guns but again it is thought that these were never used.

 

 

Airbase transport

 

Transport around the site generally was by means of cycle but in February 1943 both a Hillman van and a motor cycle (of which I would be interested to know the details given my interest) were obtained.  Unfortunately, a collision involving the both put them both out of action.

 

 

Squadrons

 

It is important to note the whole history of the airfield so I have briefly covered the important work of the squadrons that visited before 100 group, helped again by the original writings of Len Bartram, and Janine Harrington’s adaptations of his work.

 

No 98 Squadron

 

Was the first RAF Mitchell squadron at Foulsham under the command of W/Cdr L.E.G  Lewer.   The squadron itself had quite a history.

 

•        After establishing in 1917, it gained congratulations in 1918 from the General Officer Commanding relating to their work in blocking the German retreat in 1918 hence their reputation and motto of ‘Never Failing’

•        1936 – From a Reconnaissance day bomber unit reformed with Hawker Hind light bombers

•        1940 - it sadly lost many of its personnel when the ship SS ‘Lancastria’ in which they were embarked sunk.  

•        Iceland - Later the surviving squadron members formed the first ever RAF squadron to be based in Iceland.  

 

No. 180 Squadron

 

This brand-new unit was the second Mitchell Squadron to be based at Foulsham.  

 

Motto: ‘Agreeable in Manner.  Forcible in Act’.

 

Squadron Commander was W\Cdr C.C. Hodder AFC, and one of the Flight Commanders was the Norfolk County and England cricketer S/Ldr Bill Edrich DFC.

 

Early October 1942 saw both the squadrons and aircraft arriving and by the end of that same month training was well underway.

 

Mitchell Squadrons first Op

 

Date: 22nd January 1943

 

Target: Oil refinery \ storage facilities – Ternuezen canal near Gwent, Belguim

 

Twelve Mitchells, six from each squadron left Foulsham for the first ever Mitchell bombing raid.  However unfortunately this turned out to be a very tragic day with the loss of three brave souls including the CO W\C Hodder, and P/O Cappleman from No.180 and P/O Woods from No.98.

 

It was deemed that the altitude that the attack was made from had a factor in the losses and was therefore later decided that such missions would be carried out at a higher altitude therefore out of the range of the ack ack guns (light AA guns)

 

Training and operations continued at Foulsham, until the 18th August 1943 when both squadrons moved to Dunsfold.

 

No.320 (Netherlands) Squadron

 

Motto: ‘We are guided by the mind of liberty’

 

This squadron after being re-equipped with Mitchells moved to RAF Attlebridge on the 30th March 1943.  Attlebridge was a satellite of Foulsham which meant that there were numerous flight activities from Foulsham itself as listed below:

 

•        Exercise Erics – 5th, 17th, 26th July

•        A mock battle on Dereham – 29th July

•        Circus Op – 4th August

•        ASR Searches – 26th July, 23rd August

•        First 320 Squadron Mitchell bombing railyards Calais – 17th August – all aircraft suffered damage after encountering heavy flak

•        Poix airfield – 19th August

•        Final operation Donier factory at Flushing, heavy flak encountered. 20th August. FR147 ditched in the North Sea but all crew were picked up by an ASR Walrus

 

On the 31st August they had their final parade before moving to Lasham, Hampshire, and then to Dunsfold on the 18th February 1944 with the other Mitchell squadrons to carry out valuable work ahead of D-Day.

 

No.12 Glider Maintenance Squadron

 

The base itself was home to around 40 Airspeed Horsa Gliders which arrived in April 1943.  These were eventually moved to bases in the South West and also took part in the D-Day landings.

 

 

Leading up to the arrival of RAF No.100 (Bomber Support) Group

 

September saw changes to the base, with new lighting systems being installed on the approaches to the runways plus a new station Commander.  This was because the airfield was now under the control of No.3 Group RAF Heavy Night Bombers.

 

No. 514 Squadron

 

This was another new squadron formed at the base.  

 

Motto: ‘Nothing Can Withdraw’

 

You can sense the build up to changes as this Squadron utilised the technology of Gee on Lancaster Mark Two planes.  These particular Lancaster’s were powered by Bristol Hercules engines rather than what we later are more familiar with the Roll’s Royce Merlin inline Engines.

 

The first operational flight saw involvement in the force to bomb Dusseldorf on the 3rd November 1943 but the squadron were also involved in other activities including ‘Gardening’ missions, basically laying mines.

 

No.1678 HCF (Heavy Conversion Flight)

 

Also operating under the No.3 Group equipped with Lancaster Mk2s.

 

Both Squadrons were moved quite quickly on the 23rd November 1943 to make way for the now known invaluable and in the main secret operations of the 100 group.  I believe we will never know all the work done by this group and it will forever hold secrets but most importantly we must always remember that the work done saved our country, and for that reason alone we must never forget those involved.

 

 

So, the story of No.100 Group and its involvement with Foulsham begins…

 

Rumours were rife especially after the Lancaster's departure at Foulsham after such a short stay, but these rumours were in the main deliberate as a secret had to be concealed to protect the greater good.  As a country, to protect ourselves we had to take a new direction, we were initially far behind on technology and in fact our premise in the air was far less superior than our counterparts.

 

The work of many great individuals and unsung or regrettably unknown heroes collaborated together to overcome the issues.  Unfortunately, this has resulted in many people not being recognised for their work which undoubtedly saved the day…

 

No.192 Squadron

 

The squadron was based at Foulsham from 25th November 1943 – 22nd August 1945.

 

Motto: ‘Dare to Discover’

 

Squadron History

 

•        Originated from a flight of No.109 sqn in 1942

•        109 had originally taken over secret duties of the Wireless Investigation Development Unit (WIDU)

•        4th July 1942 ‘A Flight’ of 109 sqn became No 1473 Flight mainly focusing on signals investigations over friendly territory, equipped with Wellingtons based at Upper Heyford

•        10th July 1942 ‘B’ Flight 109 sqn became No 1474 also equipped with Wellingtons based at Gransden Lodge extending the range of signal hunting including enemy sea area’s

•        The role of the above was extended when it became No.192 sqn on 4th January 1943 and received its first Halifaxes and Mosquitoes

•        5th April 1943 192 sqn moved from Gransden to Feltwell Norfolk

•        1st December 1942 No 1473 Flt moved from Heyford to Finmere, then later 14th September 1943 to Feltwell to join the other half of its group

•        November 1943 192 sqn moved to Foulsham coming under the command of 100 group.

•        1473 Flight came to Foulsham via Feltwell, and Little Snoring

•        1st February 1944 most of the squad had been absorbed by 192 Squadron

 

192 Squadron’s role

 

It cannot be understated the role of this very special group and of course the work undertaken by everyone else involved in the entire 100 group operations.  192 sqn was given top priority in terms of equipment and personnel and this secrecy as we touched upon before has unfortunately resulted in those involved not receiving the deserved recognition.

 

To focus on its role from Foulsham, special radio equipment was carried on the aircraft and a special operator ‘an additional crew member’ was specifically tasked to use this equipment to search for and locate the position and frequency of German radio and radar signals.  The idea being that these transmissions could then be jammed or the information used to give misleading information to confuse the enemy.

 

Scientists at the ‘Telecommunications Research Establishment’ at Malvern where at the forefront in devising this equipment with some input from America introducing jammer techniques such as the Piperjack which was carried by 192 Mosquitoes and B-17 Fortresses.  

 

Overtime all kinds of enemy transmissions had been investigated and recorded using various techniques even ironically where images had been photographed with German made cameras.  An example of techniques used were ‘Blonde’ which enabled cathode images to be photographed and ‘Bagful’ a paper tape recorder which was used by 192 Squadron Wellingtons and Halifaxes.

 

From U-boats radio traffic to the possibility of the V-1, V-2 rockets being radio controlled everything was examined and investigated, and the Bomber command success in sinking the Tirpitz was greatly helped by the work of 192 finding gaps in radar warning coverage.  However, it was always a constant battle to keep up because as fast as ways were discovered and means found to jam them, other new technologies were then being deployed to combat them.

 

Other methods were used to confuse the enemy such as dropping Window, and there was a dedicated storage area on the base (near the bomb storage site) which held many forms of the simple but effective foil strips.

 

192 Squadron comprised of three flights:

 

•        ‘A’ Wellingtons

•        ‘B’ Halifax B3s

•        ‘C’ Mosquitoes

 

The squadron was disbanded at Foulsham on the 22nd August 1945.

 

No.462 (Royal Australian Air Force) Squadron

 

The squadron moved to Foulsham at the end of December 1944.  Prior to this it was based at Driffield, Yorkshire during August 1944 and mainly comprised of both aircraft and personnel from 466 squadron.  

 

Equipped with Halifax B3 aircraft it had been operating in the night heavy bomber role, before joining 100 Group for Bomber Support duties.

 

The main role of the squadron at Foulsham was to employ diversionary and spoof tactics such as dropping Window, flares and target markers.

 

Eleven aircraft were also fitted with jamming equipment such as ABC, Airbourne Cigar.  Interesting to note that these aircraft had a letter ‘G’ added to the serial number meaning they should be guarded at all times because of the secret weapons they carried.

 

To deploy these various techniques, an extra crew member known as the ‘Spare Bod’ or ‘Special Operator’ for ABC was required.  In the case of Window the first operations from Foulsham commenced on the 1st Jan 1945 until the end of the war.

 

The squadron’s Halifaxes were quite distinctive with vertical yellow stripes on the tail of the aircraft.

 

B.S.D.U Bomber Support Development Unit

 

The unit moved to Foulsham from West Raynham in April 1944.  Originally started with an Avro Anson the group over time started to receive more aircraft and personnel.  It received its first Mosquito on the 27th April with 3 more arriving during mid-June.    During May a Tiger Moth had also joined the unit.

 

The first operation was conducted on 4th July which saw it investigating flying bomb activity namely the V-1.  The role of the unit involved testing, installation and use of new equipment and was involved in high level escort work using techniques such as ‘Serrate’ to track down German fighters and low-level intruder operations ‘Perfectos’ aiding them to home in on night fighter radar transmissions.

 

The unit then moved to Swanton Morley on the 21st December 1944, where it was linked to the ‘Windows’ research unit.

 

7th Photo Reconnaissance Group (PRG) USAAF

 

America also had a vital part to play and helped bring much needed aircraft and personnel into the fray and were also involved in activities at Foulsham airbase.

 

4 P-38J Lightnings from the 13th Squadron PRG originally based at Mount Farm Oxfordshire were attached to 192 Squadron from August 1944 to March 1945.

 

The aircraft had been specially converted to 2 seaters carrying specialist radio equipment in the nose of the aircraft.  Operated by a ‘Special Operator’ one can only imagine how tiny this space would have been and what the conditions would have been like.  The Lockheed P-38 was nicknamed ‘Droop Snoots’ because of the aircraft itself having such an extended nose.

 

Main duties while at Foulsham involved the investigations of potential radio-controlled rockets such as the V-2 rocket.

 

Like many of the squadrons mentioned, missions were often secret and the participants often did not know the importance or the exact details of their vital role.   Admirably they still agreed to carry on regardless I suspect seeing it as their duty and sadly missions did incur losses.

 

R.W.E (Radio Warfare Establishment)

 

This was another newly formed group at Foulsham during September 1945, tasked with carrying on the most valuable duties carried out by the 100 group and gained many of the ex 100 group aircraft, from around many of the local bases.  It moved to RAF Watton, followed by Shepherds Grove taking on the squadron number 192 which eventually changed to No.51.

 

 

The final act

 

It was believed that the Germans were planning a final last ditch stand to go to Norway firstly assembling in the Kiel area.  So, on the night of the 2\3rd May 1945 the final act took place involving all available aircraft from Foulsham.  Of course, yet again sadly there were some losses.

 

From then on the base hosted a number of events from V.E night where there was a large bonfire and fireworks, to ‘Cook Tours’ (trips over German cities), and the airfield public open day on the 15th September 1945.

 

By the end of October 1945 all 100 Group flying had ceased, their work had been done, and eventually the land was sold and returned to agricultural use.

 

Considering a lot of my inspiration for writing this has come from not only my Dad’s passion for researching and the determination to continue his work, my own personal memories of Foulsham, but also from Len Bartram’s writings, I feel it fitting to summarise with words written by Len himself regarding a personal memory he wrote about Foulsham airbase.

 

“Ten years later while working on Foulsham airfield 26 June 1953 I was treated to the sound and sight of once again a Dutch Mitchell which did a low fly past it could only have been someone from 320 making their final salute”

 

Sadly, my trips past the old airbase are now few and far between, but with the knowledge I have now learned I feel if I ever pass by the old airfield again, that I will stop and simply remember those gone before.  The acts of heroism, courage and of course sad losses.  I too have my own personal memories of the area but I question would I ever have those memories without the sacrifices made before me.  

 

 

 

Images

 

Click to open

Click to open

 

© IWM (HU 60601)

 

Handley Page Halifax B Mark III, MZ817 'DT-O', of No. 192 Squadron RAF after crash-landing while taking off from Foulsham, Norfolk, on a radar surveillance sortie in the evening of 9 December 1944

 

 

Squadron Information

 

98 Squadron

 

Code: VO

Dates

October 1942 - August 1943

Planes

Mitchell Mk II

Information

A light bomber squadron. Took part in many low level daylight raids against targets in Holland Belgium. Moved to Dunsfold, Surrey in August 1943.

180 Squadron

 

Code: EV

Dates

October 1942 - August 1943

Planes

Mitchell Mk II

Information

Operated with 98 squadron on similar missions. Moved to Dunsfold, Surrey in August 1943.

12 Glider Maintenance Section

Dates

April 1943 - March 1944

Planes

Airspeed Horsa Gliders

Information

Storage and maintenance unit for troop carrying gliders.  Although many airfields stored gliders, this unit had a considerable number which were later used in the D-Day landings.

1678 Heavy Conversion Unit

 

Code: SW

Dates

September 1943 - December 1943

Planes

Avro Lancaster Mk II

Information

In September 1943 Foulsham was transferred to 3 Group Bomber Command. This unit arrived from Little Snoring.  The aircraft were used to convert aircrews to the Lancaster before being posted to operation squadrons.  Moved to Waterbeach, Cambs in December 1943.

514 Squadron

 

Code: JI

Dates

September 1943 - November 1943

Planes

Avro Lancaster Mk II

Information

Formed at Foulsham, was one of the first squadrons to use G H (or Gee-H) blind bombing radar. Moved to Waterbeach, Cambs in December 1943.

375th Servicing Squadron

Dates

October 1943 - February 1944

Planes

de Havilland Mosquito F8

Information

American unit based here for few months modifying Canadian built Mosquito's for photo reconnaissance, many of which were to serve with the 25th Bomb Group at Watton.

192 Squadron

Dates

December 1943 - August 1945

Planes

Handley Page Halifax Mk II, III and V

de Havilland Mosquito Mk IV and XVI

Vickers Wellington Mk X

Avron Anson Mk I

Information

Arrived from Feltwell as part of the newly formed 100 (Bomber Support) Group, they soon got down to the serious business of electronic intelligence.

1473 Flight

 

Code: ZP

Dates

December 1943 - February 1944

Planes

Vickers Wellington Mk III

Information

Part of 100 Group, flying operations monitoring VHF signals from Germany.  From early 1944 the flight trained 192 Squadron crews in the use of electronic eavesdropping devices.  In February 1944 it became part of 192 Squadron.

Bomber Support Development Unit

 

Code: 05

Dates

April 1944 - December 1944

Planes

de Havilland Mosquito FB VI, NF XIX

Information

Formed at Foulsham to carry out trials and development of the electronic equipment used by the 100 Group's Mosquito Squadrons.  Much of the equipment was developed and built here in the units workshops.  Many other aircraft arrived here to be fitted and tested with gadgets including Halifaxes, Stirlings, Liberators, Fortresses and Lancasters.  Moved to Swanton Morley in December 1944.

7th Photographic Group

Dates

August 1944 - March 1945

Planes

Lockheed Lightning P38J (F5 version)

Information

An USAAF reconnaissance group which kept some of its aircraft attached to 192 Squadron for intelligence duties.  Moved to Alconbury, Hunts in March 1945.

171 Squadron

 

Code: 6Y

Dates

September 1944 - October 1944

Planes

Short Stirling Mk III

Handley Page Halifax Mk III

Information

Formed from C Flight of 199 Squadron base at North Creake.  Came to Foulsham to train in the use of jamming techniques.  Moved back to North Creake to commence operations.

462 Squadron

 

Code: Z5

Dates

December 1944 - September 1945

Planes

Handley Page Halifax Mk III

Information

A Royal Australian Air Force Squadron.  Joined 100 Group to train in radio countermeasures.  Became operational in March 1945.  Remained until September 24th 1945 testing and evaluating new equipment until it was disbanded.

199 Squadron

 

Code: EX

Dates

July 1945 - June 1946

Planes

Handley Page Halifax Mk III

Information

Moved from North Creake a few weeks after the war ended, it then became part of the RWE (Radio Warfare Establishment) based at Watton.  The squadrons job was to test and evaluate new equipment including captured German Radar.  Disbanded in June 1946.