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Heroes Of Our Time

Airfield Information

 

Name

Royal Air Force Little Snoring / RAF Little Snoring / Little Snoring Airfield

Opened

July 1943

Closed

March 1953 Military Use

Runways

3 x Paved (Concrete)

Hangers

1 x B1 and 4 x T2

Location

4 miles NE of Fakenham

OS Ref

TF960335

Current Usage

Aviation / Farmland / Industry / Public road / Limited flying

Notes

Initially built as a satellite for Foulsham, but became an RAF station in its own right shortly afterwards. Transferred to 100 (Bomber Support) Group in December 1943. From September 1945 surplus Mosquito's stored here until 1947/48.  Part of the main runway remains and has been used for light aircraft since mid 1950s.

Prominent People

Elwyn McAully

Links

http://www.ukairfields.org.uk/little-snoring.html

http://www.ukairfieldguide.net/airfields/Little-Snoring

http://www.controltowers.co.uk/L/Little_Snoring.htm

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

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

http://www.geograph.org.uk/article/RAF-Little-Snoring

 

 

Introduction

 

Ironically, I have left writing about this particular RAF 100 Group airbase until last, but the strange thing is that for me this is probably where my story began.  It is undoubtedly where my interest and admiration for those that honourably gave their lives all those years ago first started, but I just did not realise it at that time.

 

Life takes us in circles, in directions that takes us all upon a path, mine has centred around an iconic plane, the Lancaster, the story of the 617 Squadron and of course the famous Dambusters raid.  A path my late father has taken me upon leading us to discover and write about all the heroes of our time and to be a part of ensuring they are never forgotten.

 

My memories take me back to an early stage in my life, valuable time spent with my late grandmother.  I recall sitting in an auditorium, the lights dimmed, the chatter ceased and on screen out of the darkness a black and white film appeared, the image with crackles and white specks.  

 

In the background I could hear the iconic music of the Dambusters, something I will never forget, this time it was different played in the sound of the most distinguishable notes of the Wurlitzer played by Robert Wolfe.  Carefully timed interludes captured the voices of the pilots during their radio communications, whilst the rest of their heroic feats were evident to see on the black and white screen, it truly captured me, from this day on and forward.  Of course, I was sitting by my Nan’s side who had endured those terrible years so it probably meant more to her than I could have ever imagined.

 

This took place at the Thursford Collection with its historical roots centring around the Cushing family.  A family that has strong connections to RAF Little Snoring, not only being involved in the construction of the airfield but also in the support of the aircrew themselves.  The hospitality given by the local community was something I imagine was so important to all crew members, having a sense of belonging and release from the horrors they faced in the air.
 
Construction of the Airfield

 

The airfield itself was based between the two villages, Little and Great Snoring near Fakenham.

 

Construction started in September 1942, the original intention for the base to be used by heavy bombers for which it was equipped with three runways and 36 concrete hard standings.

 

The camp itself was dispersed around Little Snoring consisting of 8 domestic, 2 messes and 1 communal site for 1807 men and 361 women.

 

By the summer of 1943 RAF Little Snoring was ready for operational duties although originally intended for No 2 Group the plans had now changed and as such at the beginning of August Lancaster IIs began to arrive with 115 Squadron from No 3 Group.  On the 16th August they were joined by No 1678 Flight.

 

However, the war was changing, a new direction was being formed and electronic warfare was at the forefront of the plans; and Norfolk airfields were chosen to be the driving force in this new directive.  This meant that the stay was short for 115 Squadron their last sortie being flown from the airfield on the 26th November 1943.  Although the squadrons stay was short, in total from the operations flown from the base it sadly lost 18 Lancaster’s, plus another from a training flight.

 

Click to open

Click to open

 

© Janine Harrington

 
RAF No 100 (Bomber Support) Group

 

On the 7th December 1943 Little Snoring was transferred to the 100 Group, Bomber Support.  Initially it would see the arrival of 169 Squadron with Beaufighters intended for training, who would also be joined by 1692 Flight with Defiant IIs.

 

Soon it would also see the arrival of several Mosquito IIs which would assist with the training and introduce the pilots to new electronic counter measures that would be deployed against the enemy.

 

On the 15th December, 515 Squadron arrived initially with Beaufighters until February the following year when they were to receive their own Mosquitoes.  

 

On the 20th January 1944 169 Squadron began offensive duties, protecting the bomber streams by intercepting the German night fighters, a most vital role.  28 operations were carried out in February, 59 in March.

 

In April 1944 515 Squadron began their first operations from the base, but the fight against the intruders would come closer to home when German night fighters started deploying the tactic of following the squadrons home, with the intention of remaining undetected and then attacking the returning planes when they were most vulnerable.  As a result, Little Snoring airfield was hit with anti-personnel bombs along its runway.

 

In June 1944 23 Squadron would arrive at the base, and both 169 Squadron and 1692 Flight would transfer to Massingham.

 

Squadrons

 

23 Squadron

 

Motto: Always on the attack

 

Originally formed at Fort Grange Gosport on the 1st September 1915 the squadron is steeped in history, not only for the various types of aircraft it has flown but also for the number of aces it has had in its ranks over the years.

 

Its battle honours ranged from home defence, from the Western front through to the Somme amongst many others before the squadron was disbanded in December 1919.

 

The squadron reformed in July 1925 at RAF Henlow and again it would be equipped with a range of aircraft from the Sopwith Snipe, Gloster Gamecocks, and British Bulldogs, before being chosen to evaluate a two-seater version of the Hawker Hart.

 

The squadron moved to Biggin Hill in September 1932 and by April 1933 they were fully equipped with Hart fighters which were then known as Hawker Demons.  Eventually the aging biplanes were replaced with Bristol Blenheims.

 

With the outbreak of war again and still equipped with Bristol Blenheims the Squadron were to take on a Night-Fighter role scoring its first victory on the 18th June 1940 when a German Heinkel He 111 was shot down over the North Norfolk Coast.  In December of the same year the squadron would take on a night intruder role and by March 1941 the Blenheims were replaced by the Douglas Havoc.

 

July 1942 would see the arrival of the de Havilland Mosquito and later that year the squadron were transferred for overseas duties in the Mediterranean.  Their intruder missions would involve attacking targets in Sicily, Italy and Tunisia before eventually transferring to Sardinia in December 1943.

 

The squadron returned to England in June 1944 taking on a completely new directive as part of 100 Group based at RAF Little Snoring.  Their goal being to disrupt the Luftwaffe’s attacks on our bomber streams using the latest technical electronic warfare techniques available them as part of intruder missions against the German night fighters.

 

The Squadron remained at Little Snoring until the end of the war being disbanded on the 25th September 1945.  It was later to reform again in fact twice before finally being disbanded in March 1994.

 

Throughout its history the squadron was made up of the most notable aircrew, 19 aces during world war one alone.  During World War II Douglas Bader was also a member of the Squadron.  After losing both his legs in a flying accident he remarkedly went on to become one of the highest scoring aces of the RAF during the conflict.    

 

The squadron also had a remarkably history in respect of the number of aircraft it had flown, in later years being joined by Venom night Fighters, Javelin, Phantoms, and Tornados.

 

515 Squadron

 

Motto: Strike quickly to kill the enemy

 

Formed during the second World War principally with Radio Counter Measure work in mind the squadron became active in 1942, later being joined by other squadrons to form part of the No.100 Group.

 

515 Squadron had a history early on in using electronic counter measures such as Moonshine and Mandrel.  Formed from the Special Duties Flight which was itself a secretive division it was equipped with Boulton Paul Defiant Mk. IIs and was originally based at RAF Northolt before moving to RAF Heston.

 

May 1943 saw the squadron being equipped with Bristol Beaufighters before moving to RAF Little Snoring in December 1943 where it was transferred to No.100 Group.  In March 1944 the squadron were re-equipped with the de Havilland Mosquito.  The squadron carried out 1,366 operational sorties with the loss of 21 aircraft.

 

The squadron also had very notable members, including S/L “Micky” Martin who originally had served with 617 Squadron taking part in the Dambusters raid.  He would eventually become Air Marshal Sir Harold Brownlow Morgan "Micky" Martin.

 

The squadron was disbanded on the 10th June 1945, with the majority of crew transferring to No.627 squadron.
 
The role of the Mosquito and its brave crews

 

The heavy bombers particularly the Lancaster’s were at great disadvantage to the German night fighters.  It was often easy for the night fighters to detect the position of the slower bombers due to the condensation trails they left behind. 

 

The German night fighters would infiltrate into the bomber stream and pick them off, focusing in on their weak spot under the fuselage and primarily the fuel tanks.  Some of the night fighters were fitted with upward firing guns ‘Schrage Musik’ which would have a devasting effect.  Homing in on the fuel tanks allowed them to take down the larger bombers quite quickly leaving them helpless the only option being to bail out, if of course the crew had time to do so.  In some cases, the Lancaster’s pilots would try corkscrewing out of danger but the night fighters were agile and able to keep up with their manoeuvres.

 

Once hit they were perilous and unlikely to recover.  One of the many vital roles of the Mosquito squadrons was to get in amongst these night fighters and they certainly became a nuisance to the them, with their agility and speed they could sneak up upon the enemy and aid in protecting the heavy bombers.

 

The Mosquito was fast, versatile and capable of many roles including bombing, and pathfinder operations, and this humble wooden plane became a firm favourite, both admired and respected by all.

 

The squadrons from Little Snoring (and other bases) were also tasked with the targeting and bombing of enemy airfields.   They also took down returning aircraft to bases, a tactic also deployed by the enemy.  These 'Night Ranger' operations involved targeting air and ground objectives within specified areas, essentially, they were carrying out patrol duties.  The Mosquitoes worried the enemy as they would lurk and patrol the open skies just waiting for the opportunity of the encounter and so often their task paid dividend and began to sap the moral of the enemy. 

 

The Mosquito crews were also capable of employing diversion tactics by operating missions that involved drawing the night fighters toward them, a very dangerous but effective tactic allowing the bombers to make their target.  Their role was a brave and lonely one, with the two-man crews left to their own devices in the open skies, just waiting and wondering where the next target would come from.  An enemy on their six, or artillery shells bursting up from the ground.  Whatever they faced a strong bond and most importantly trust was always the foundation of a successful Mosquito crew.

 

Window dropping was another technique used which would create the ultimate feint and then the Mosquito crews would home in as a consequence, the tactics began to work and the results became evident especially later in 1944.

 

The Germans eventually resorted to dropping window themselves called ‘duppel’ although remarkedly they had knowledge of the technique well before we had adopted to use it, they had just never chosen to use it before this point.   In fact, each side had held off using it initially with the believe that the tactic could easily be copied by the opposing side, which seems to have been the case.

 

However, it was not just the act of tracking down an enemy fighter and attacking, often the exploding planes would cause a mass of debris and burning fuel in the sky and they were also at great risk of their own aircrafts suffering as a result of this.

 

Because of the long-range tanks on the Mosquito it was advised not to spin the Mosquito aircraft but in the heat of action this thought could be lost resulting in loss of control making it hard to recover the aircraft.  During these times reaction and training took over rather than the fear, this would happen afterwards when or if control was regained.

 

So, the Mosquito could not be underestimated neither by the enemy or those flying it.  It was special and much feared by the enemy.  So much so that they had to adapt, improvise and improve their own aircraft in order to be able to compete with it.

 

Whilst we were encompassing new technologies such as ASH a radar technique originally developed by America which was an air to surface radar, the Germans were introducing new anti mossie aircraft such as the HE219A-6 and later new faster turbo jet powered aircraft such as the HE 162 Salamander, Heinkel 219 V14 and ME262.

 

Click to open

Click to open

 

23 Squadron Mosquito: YPE PZ187

(Thursford in background behind tail)

RAF Little Snoring Autumn 1944

© Janine Harrington (courtesy of Tom Cushing)
 
The end of an era

 

As the war came to a close and life at the base settled down under more peaceful times, those gone before were still remembered.

 

169 Squadron lost 5 crews.

515 Squadron lost 21 crews.

23 Squadron lost 10 crews.

 

There was a family and typical Norfolk style community feeling for all those involved, so these losses were never forgotten.  Eventually the last duties were undertaken to participate in the Battle of Britain Flypast on the 15th September after which aircraft were flown to maintenance units.  The squadrons departed but the airfield remained in the care of the RAF until 1953.  The airfield was eventually purchased in 1963 by the Cushing brothers.
 
To conclude

 

So, as I come to close all of my writings on the RAF 100 Group and its bases in Norfolk, I write with a better understanding and appreciation of the valued part Norfolk, the county I have always loved played in all of our futures.  The people that all came together from across the globe, to play their part directing a new initiative from our humble Norfolk fields, the pilots and their crews, the tireless work of the ground crew, the WAAF, the local communities, the list is endless but they all pulled together, everyone played their part.

 

The most important thing now in a world sadly still contemplating unrest, and a country torn apart with indecision, is that we still remember the acts of those brave souls gone before.

 

 

 

Squadron Information

 

115 Squadron

 

Code: KO

Dates

August 1943 - November 1943

Planes

Avro Lancaster Mk II

Information

Arrived from East Wretham to continue its job as part of Bomber Commands main force.  One of only a few squadrons to use the radial engined Lancaster Mk II.  Moved to Witchford, Cambs on 26th November 1943.

1678 Heavy Conversion Unit

 

Code: SW

Dates

August 1943 - September 1943

Planes

Avro Lancaster Mk II

Information

Arrived from East Wretham, its duties were to convert aircrews to using four-engined heavy bombers before they were posted to operational squadrons.

514 Squadron

 

Code: JI

Dates

September 1943 - November 1943

Planes

Avro Lancaster Mk II

Information

Formed at Little Snoring, worked up to operational readiness and then moved to Waterbeach, Cambs on November 23rd.

169 Squadron

 

Code: VI

Dates

December 1943 - June 1944

Planes

de Havilland Mosquito Mk II

Information

A night fighter intruder squadron.  Moved to Great Massingham in June 1944.

1692 Flight

 

Code: 4X

Dates

December 1943 - June 1944

Planes

Boulton Paul Defiant Mk I

Bristol Beaufighter Mk II

Avro Anson Mk I

Airspeed Oxford Mk II

de Havilland Mosquito FB.VI

Information

Training Mosquito crews in the use of "Serrate", a homing device and in Airborne Interception radar (AI). This equipment became obsolete my mid 1944 and was replaced by more advanced methods.  Flight moved to Great Massingham in June 1944.

515 Squadron

 

Code: 3P

Dates

December 1943 - June 1945

Planes

Bristol Beaufighter Mk IIF

de Havilland Mosquito Mk II and FB.VI

Information

The Beaufighters were used for radar calibration.  From the spring of 1944 they mainly flew intruder sorties over airfields in France with occasional bomber escorts.

American Intruder Detachment

Dates

March 1944 - April 1944

Planes

Lockheed P38 Lightning

Information

An USAAF trial unit which tested feasibility of flying as long range escorts to 515 squadron.  Trials were not successful and aircraft returned to normal fighter duties.

23 Squadron

 

Code: YP

Dates

June 1944 - September 1945

Planes

de Havilland Mosquito FB.VI and NF.30

Information

Flew bomber support operations similar to 515 squadron as well as escort sorties with the night bombers.  Disbanded on 25th September 1945.

141 Squadron

 

Code: TW

Dates

July 1945 - September 1945

Planes

de Havilland Mosquito NF.30

Information

Night fighter squadron moved from West Raynham on standby to move into the Far East.  However when Japan surrendered in August 1945 they were not required so disbanded on 7th September.

No 2 Civilian Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit

Dates

June 1950 - April 1953

Planes

Supermarine Spitfire MK XVI

Information

Civilian operated unit, its main duties were target towing for the RAF and Army gunnery practice.  Unit moved to Langham in April 1953.