SOE Airfield???

Discussion in 'SOE & OSS' started by von Poop, Sep 7, 2006.

  1. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Query from a good mate:

    "Anyone know anything about a possible temporary grass-track airfield possibly used by the SOE. The National Trust own an estate in Norfolk and claim that it includes the site of a former secret WW2 airfield. The estate is centered on the hamlet of Horsey, in the parish of the same name, just to the north-west of Somerton. I have drawn a blank so far with the usual sources and think it unlikely to show up on OS mapping or aerial photography."

    Any suggestions or information would be very much appreciated.

    Cheers,
    Adam.
     
  2. the_historian

    the_historian Pillboxologist

    Adam,
    There was an airfield used for Lysander operations into Occupied Europe, but I can't remember where it was.
    If they were using Lysanders for SOE drops, all they would have needed was a clear grass field; these planes were famous for their short take-off abilities. You might even find that flights took off from Emergency Landing Grounds already set up for existing airfields, that way an extra flight wouldn't necessarily have attracted attention.
    If you go to the ww2 network forums and ask Martin Bull, he'll know for sure.
     
  3. lancesergeant

    lancesergeant Senior Member

    I think you might mean Tempsford. The Wartime Memories Project - RAF Tempsford

    Apparently there are still traces of the airfield if you know where to look. There is an old shed(don't know if it is still there, which was the last building remanining on the site. Even the locals didn't know what it was being used for!! I know it's not in Norfolk, before anyone comments!!!
     
  4. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    I think Tempsford would be too far away from Horsey. The nearest listed airfields to Horsey were, Great Yarmouth, Ludham, Coltishall and Bacton. Horsey being about half way between Great Yarmouth and Bacton, on the coast.
     
  5. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Cheers chaps, good tip about MB, I'll post it over there too.
    This one has to be in that specific area I'm afraid (if it was there at all) but the Tempsford one may have some clues to identifying it on the ground.
    Cheers again.
    Adam.
     
  6. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    The principal SOE airfields were Newmarket, (early in the war),Tempsford and
    Tangmere.

    Tempsford which was a dedicated SOE airfield housed the only special operations squadrons, No 138 and 161 Squadrons which flew a variety of multi engined aircraft such as the Halifax,Whitley, Hudson etc.Tempsford was their home for the better of the last three years of the war.

    For some operations Bomber Lancasters along with their crews were seconded to special operations.This tended to be at their hight in 1944 to cover the intense operational activities that were put on these two squadrons.Nevertheless,secondment was only agreed after direct requests to Churchill were made by the SOE.

    Both Nos 138 and 161 Squadrons were equipped with the Lysander Mark 111 which operated as far south as Perigueux and east as the Jura. All outbound and inbound operations were at Tangmere for France.These aircraft were used to ferry to and fro,in and out of France, the individual special agents of SOE as well as Free French representatives.

    Both these squadrons were derived from No 1419 Flight which was based at Stradishall near Nermarket which flew and dropped Polish agents near to Warsaw in 1940as a the first special operation.A remarkable feat in moonlight for they overflew the breadth of Germany.The first flights to Denmark were made from here to drop the first Danish Resistance agents.


    Flight No 1419 was relocated later to Newmarket (racecourse) and reformed as No 138 Squadron and in turn formed the nucleus of the newly formed No 161 Squadron which absorbed the King's Flight.By December 1941,No 138 Squadron had found its wartime dedicated airfield at Tempsford.No 161 Squadron followed them from Newmarket to Tempsford in February 1942
     
    Shannon Taylor likes this.
  7. spidge

    spidge RAAF RESEARCHER

    Well done Harry.

    Very informative.
     
  8. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Cheers again, I've got a feeling that he's following something more 'ethereal', if a Lysander just needs a strip of grass then I can't see there being any real evidence of that??? I'll pass the replies on and see if he can give me a little more info on what he's looking for...and why.
     
  9. jacobtowne

    jacobtowne Senior Member

    Wing Commander John Nesbitt-Dufort of the 'Moon Squadron,' one of the first of the "pick-up pilots," (so named for their mission of extracting SOE agents from occupied countries) mentions flying Westland Lysanders out of Tangmere.

    More later - there's a photo of him at Tangmere in 1967, although I've no idea whether this bears upon the original question.

    JT
     
  10. jacobtowne

    jacobtowne Senior Member

    Here are Nesbitt-Dufort (left) and Wing Commander Roman Garby-Czerniawski at Tangmere, 1967, talking over the good old days.
    In mid-1940 Czerniawski was setting up espionage networks in France.

    JT
     
  11. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Here are Nesbitt-Dufort (left) and Wing Commander Roman Garby-Czerniawski at Tangmere, 1967, talking over the good old days.
    In mid-1940 Czerniawski was setting up espionage networks in France.

    JT

    Roman Garby Czerniawski was a Captain in the Polish Air Force,one of many who were stranded in France after the fall of France and had used his time to set up clandestine cells and networks.By this time he was known as "Armand" or "Valentine" to his controllers.He was very lucky in one aspect in that as "Armand" he was caught up in the Inter -Allie reseau betrayal by his assistant Mathilde Carre (the Cat) and lived to tell the tale.He ultimately rose to the rank of Wing Commander and in the photograph with Nesbitt-Dufort may have been reliving the first time they met on the night of 1 October 1941.

    Nesbitt- Dufort was quite a character,typical of all the Lysander pilots who flew with the "special duties" squadrons.His nickname was "Whippy" after an incident when he had to make a forced landing in Whipsnade Zoo.He was awarded the DSO for his work as a clandestine pilot with No 138 Squadron.

    I think one of his early operations was "Brick" on the night of 1/2 Ocober 1941 when he flew into France via Treport and landed at Estres-St Denis which was just west and outside the town of Compiegne.He was on the ground for less than 3 minutes to pick up no other than Czerniawski.

    Czerniawski had chosen Estres-St Denis as it was a disused strip but was less than a mile away from a German infantry unit who frequently passed by on the adjacent road.Czerniaski,however had rightly planned on no activity around midnight and along with two helpers arranged to receive the Lysander.When the Lysander appeared,three torches were illuminated and Czerniaski expected the pilot to circle but Nesbitt-Dufout executed a quarter turn,throttled back and proceded to land.Czerniawski records thinking at the time,"Amazing fellow,this pilot! What quick decision and execution".

    Czerniawski records seeing Nesbitt-Dufort looking down at him,smiling and showing his white teeth in the moonlight with his lean face adorned with dark eyes and black moustache.To Czerniawski's "OK", Nesbitt-Dufort replied "C'est la vie .Cest la guerre" and within minutes they were in the air to leave France over Dieppe.

    Passing this airfield now,it must have been risky because the airfield is so close to Compiegne and while the pick up was being enacted the German barracks were clearly in view, lit up as though it was peacetime.

    On one occasion, Nesbitt-Dufort was "received" on to a totally unsuitable field,it was too short but having got down, he turned round his passengers,took off and got back to Tangmere safely, trailing yards of telephone overhead cables from his take off.On this take off he also survived a brush with an overhead electricity line.
     
  12. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Query from a good mate:

    "Anyone know anything about a possible temporary grass-track airfield possibly used by the SOE. The National Trust own an estate in Norfolk and claim that it includes the site of a former secret WW2 airfield. The estate is centered on the hamlet of Horsey, in the parish of the same name, just to the north-west of Somerton. I have drawn a blank so far with the usual sources and think it unlikely to show up on OS mapping or aerial photography."

    Any suggestions or information would be very much appreciated.

    Cheers,
    Adam.


    I cannot find a link to this area of Norfolk involving the Special Duties Squadrons.However that does not mean it did not exist.

    The small grass airfield used for training of the Special Duties Lysanders in covert operations was at Somersham which is a village about 10 miles north east of the town of Huntingdon.This airfield simulated the continental airfields and provided excellent training in approaches and exercises in the laying out of "reception".This training was done while the Special Duties Squadrons were based at their permanent base at Tempsford.

    It might well be that on the odd occasion that the site in Norfolk was used when Somersham was not available or the numbers training at Somersham were excessive.If the Norfolk site was used,then it appears that there is no official recording of its use.

    Navigation training was achieved by cross country flights at night and final training came with a real run by the pilot to a given pin point in France and return without passengers and without landing.The pilot would be debriefed and a successful candidate would be one who could give correct answers on the outbound and inbound routes.

    For operations with Lysanders,the Special Duties Squadrons were normally detached to Tangmere during full moon periods, where they used the airfield as any other flying detachment might.However the squadrons had their own little domestic and headquarter enclave off the airfield away from prying eyes for the sake of secrecy.
     
  13. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Thank you very much Harry (and everyone else of course), I'll pass that onto him now.
    Cheers,
    Adam.
     
  14. Gage

    Gage The Battle of Barking Creek MOD

  15. Coggs123

    Coggs123 Junior Member

    I was up Tempsford airfield the other day... It was bitterly cold, but we found the following.

    The runway is currently coned off with a danger sign up. If you walk a small way up from the runway the barn is still standing with the trees planted outside in memory of the agents including the White Rabbit; there are poppy wreaths and so on inside the barn and a memorial plaque on the back wall. There is fencing up around the barn which has fallen over. This is on farm land is supposedly private, although the public footpath takes you right up the barn and pass the runway. The footpath looked like the taxiing section of the airfield where the planes turned for take off/landing on the main runway straight. I'll upload some photos of the current condition this weekend. Hope this is of some help.

    Thanks

    Coggs123
     
  16. wtid45

    wtid45 Very Senior Member

    Here are Nesbitt-Dufort (left) and Wing Commander Roman Garby-Czerniawski at Tangmere, 1967, talking over the good old days.
    In mid-1940 Czerniawski was setting up espionage networks in France.

    JT
    I went to the Museum at Tangmere when I was 15 or 16 and was really impressed shame the pics are not here:(
     
  17. Gage

    Gage The Battle of Barking Creek MOD

    I was up Tempsford airfield the other day... It was bitterly cold, but we found the following.

    The runway is currently coned off with a danger sign up. If you walk a small way up from the runway the barn is still standing with the trees planted outside in memory of the agents including the White Rabbit; there are poppy wreaths and so on inside the barn and a memorial plaque on the back wall. There is fencing up around the barn which has fallen over. This is on farm land is supposedly private, although the public footpath takes you right up the barn and pass the runway. The footpath looked like the taxiing section of the airfield where the planes turned for take off/landing on the main runway straight. I'll upload some photos of the current condition this weekend. Hope this is of some help.

    Thanks

    Coggs123

    Looking forward to those pictures.
     
  18. kajwoods

    kajwoods Junior Member

    Query from a good mate:

    "Anyone know anything about a possible temporary grass-track airfield possibly used by the SOE. The National Trust own an estate in Norfolk and claim that it includes the site of a former secret WW2 airfield. The estate is centered on the hamlet of Horsey, in the parish of the same name, just to the north-west of Somerton. I have drawn a blank so far with the usual sources and think it unlikely to show up on OS mapping or aerial photography."

    Any suggestions or information would be very much appreciated.

    Cheers,
    Adam.

    Try this photo, it's from airfieldinformationexchange.org website from Sept 23rd 1944, aerial view of Heigham Holmes naer to Horsey Mere in Norfolk showing a layout of small airstrips. As far as I have got at the moment 161 Squadron used this ares on SOE operations. No further details yet. A clear comparison of the photo can be made on Google maps satellite view. You will have imagine the photo orientated anticlockwise slightly. The farm ithe centre is plainly the focal point of the airfield. Good hunting KAJ [​IMG]
     
    Paul Reed likes this.
  19. idler

    idler GeneralList Patron

    I once heard similar rumours about Minley Manor / Hawley Lake but very little to back it up. This is about it.
     
  20. Vitesse

    Vitesse Senior Member

    For those who didn't see it Heigham Holmes - including the SOE connection - was featured on the BBC1 programme "Secret Britain" tonight. BBC iPlayer is your friend ...
     

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