Tag Archives: Stradishall

RAF Stradishall

Tuesday, 16 December 1941

Newmarket – Stradishall

Bomber Command wants to use Newmarket Heath as an emergency landing field for bombers returning damaged or otherwise lost from operations against Germany.

RAF Tempsford has already been earmarked for the Special Duties squadron, but the airfield is far from ready, so the squadron has to return to Stradishall as its base for operations. Stradishall’s runways are relatively short, so operations to distant targets will have to leave from other bases.

The security the squadron has enjoyed in near-isolation at Newmarket no longer applies, and its increasing complement of Polish and Czechoslovak crews is bound to increase speculation about the squadron’s purpose and functions by the resident bomber unit, No. 214 Squadron, and may cause resentment of 138’s comparatively cushy existence during the two non-moon weeks each month. This may have a bearing on the decision to add light bombing activities to the squadron’s repertoire. Several sorties carry small G.P. bombs for targets in eastern Europe.

Sources

TNA AIR 14/2529

Thursday, 27 November 1941

Operation DACE

P/O Gibson has recently received his commission. Whereas it is normal RAF practice to post NCO aircrew to a new unit on receiving their commission, the specialist skills of SD aircrew means that many return directly to their previous squadron and carry on as before. The only appreciable difference is that they eat and drink in a different Mess, have less disposable income, and are more senior on the ground than they had been.

This operation is the second attempt to drop Sergent-chef Bourdat. Same target, different route: in the veteran Whitley T4166, Gibson also flies via Cabourg, but heads further south to pick up the Loire at Beaugency. Pinpointing there, he tracks eastwards to re-cross the Loire at Gien (spelled Gion in Gibson’s report). Continuing eastwards to Auxerre, he finds the town but the river is again mist-covered. Nevertheless the crew finds the target and circles the area for 30 minutes, but they see no sign of the expected reception committee. They take a more direct course to Cabourg, and return to Newmarket via Tangmere (which they never see but overfly) and Stradishall. They land at 03.40, having never flown above 2,000 feet the whole time because of what Gibson calls ‘the inclement weather’.

Operation to Chimay, Belgium

The information for this sortie comes again solely from the logbooks of P/O Austin and F/O Livingstone, his Wireless Operator. Livingstone records a sortie of 7.30 hours, with the aircraft as Whitley Z6728 and the target as Chimay, whereas Austin records the Whitley as Z9288; the flight duration is the same. There is a plausible explanation for the non-recording of these two sorties by Austin. Three nights later Austin and his crew will be despatched to Malta; writing up their recent operations will not have been a priority. They will not reappear until February, so Austin is absent from the customary frenzy of report-writing at the end of the moon period.

Unknown operation

The Stradishall Operation log records three Whitley sorties taking off and landing this night: aircraft ‘J’, ‘B’, and ‘F’. Which was which is unimportant, but it indicates another unrecorded sortie, about which nothing at all is known.

Sources

DACE

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 112A

Operation to Chimay

Logbooks, S/Ldrs Austin & Livingstone

Unknown operation

TNA AIR 14/2529

Monday, 24 November 1941

RAF Stradishall

From the Stradishall Ops Officers’ log: At 16.45 the adjutant reports:

11 American congressmen Isolationists are coming to see the station & are staying the night. They are not to go to briefing, & are to know nothing about 138 Sqn.

Source

TNA AIR 14/2529

Tuesday, 29 April 1941

RAF Stradishall

Air Chief Marshal Ludlow-Hewitt visits RAF Stations Mildenhall and Stradishall in his role as Inspector-General of the RAF. Ludlow-Hewitt had been AOC-in-C Bomber Command until his sacking in April 1940 for insisting on intensive operational training in specialist units (OTUs). Without this training many of Bomber Command’s trainee crews would have been lost on operations learning ‘on the job’ in operational squadrons; Bomber Command would have been poorly trained for the night war ahead.

His report on 1419 Flight is critical of the apparent waste of the Flight’s employment during the ‘dark’ period’, approximately half of each month when to all appearances they are idle. The Flight’s Whitley strength is now three Whitleys, plus one in reserve. He recommends that the Flight be made up to eight Whitleys, with a commensurate increase in crews, so that the Flight can be available for normal bombing operations during the ‘dark period’ and released for their special duties during the moon period.

It might have helped if S/Ldr Knowles had been available; at least he could have explained (or have avoided explaining) exactly what the Flight did, and their operational differences from bomber ops. But Knowles is away on duty, and F/Lt Alan Murphy is the Flight’s senior officer when ACM Ludlow-Hewitt arrives. Murphy is yet to fly his first SD operation; if normal practice has been followed, Murphy won’t have been told much about his duties, if anything, and may appear uninformed Air Chief Marshal. The views the Inspector-General takes away with him are coloured by Stradishall’s Station Commander who, despite being informed of the approximate target before any Special Duties operation, is told nothing more.

Why not just attach the three Whitleys and crews to 214 Squadron? Ludlow-Hewitt is aware that with servicing and training the Flight would not be able to complete its commitments during the moon period. He appears unaware of the specialist skills required by SD operations but, to be fair, at this stage the requirements for SD flying are not so dissimilar from Bomber operations. Within a few months methods increasingly differ: the bombers will fly ever-higher, using astro-navigation and new technology like GEE; the SD crews will fly ever-lower, relying on accurate flying between landmarks en route to the target. Now, bombers now fly individually to the target, as do SD crews, but within two years they will form a concentrated ‘stream’ to the target.

Sources

TNA AIR 2/5203

Wednesday, 9 April 1941

RAF Stradishall

F/O Hockey takes up some agents over Stradishall for parachute practice; a French agent’s parachute doesn’t open and he is killed. On a bomber base people don’t voluntarily jump out of aeroplanes, and the attention this accident generates is unwelcome. There is likely to have been some difficulty over the very public death of the agent; he will have had a false identity, and an inquest, necessarily public by law, would jeopardise security.