If the MOD leaves St Georges Barracks, our heritage is at risk as it is bulldozed. This blog aims to document some of the extraordinary history of RAF North Luffenham and RAF Woolfox Lodge (the satellite airfield for the station). Woolfox may also be developed. So here is my research and views on our heritage and how we could honour the fallen. The site is a battlefield and should be recognised as such. Lest we forget. All views are my own and are not attributed to any group or organisation. I am an amatuer historian, so please accept my apology if any detail is inaccurate or you detect errors. If you have knowledge, views, questions or can help you are welcome to contact me by hitting the button on the menu 'Contact me or volunteer'. Thank you. Per Ardua
I was recently doing some work near Lincoln and called in to what was RAF Swinderby. The station was a pre-war station of substantial buildings. Not much remains and I was greeted with a view of a ‘familiar’ RAF station tree lined road, but with just a moonscape! It was just an endless vista of processed brick. I was in shock.
This has made me appreciate what could happen at North Luffenham/St Georges Barracks. It could be reduced to brick dust. I have mixed feelings – as development seems inevitable, unless an alternate campus use is found. Woolfox Lodge is also a proposed site for a town.
So facing brutal destruction I have a strong sense of loss for some reason, perhaps it is a feeling on no control. For me it is hard to explain, but I know that brave people did amazing things here and at Woolfox – particularly in 1941 and 1942 – flying day bombers at night without the right meteorological information or night flying training or radio aids. Young men sent off 600 miles to the east with just a compass, stopwatch, map and airspeed indicator to fight. No wonder many failed to return. In an 8 month period in late 41 to spring 42 over 180 allied airmen were lost and a significant proportion have no known grave.
I will be doing more thinking and feel we need to work harder to define what our heritage at North Luffenham and Woolfox Lodge is? What we can do before, during and after development, should it occur, to respect the deeds done from and at this battlefield?
The Thor site is now Grade 2 listed but the rest of the station – which is a very well preserved bomber station, due to the it usage post war, is not much changed from when it was built. What is it’s significance? What are we suggesting we destroy and how should we view this? How do we ensure ‘heritage’ is recognised and in particular, the amazing things that the people did to add to the war effort.
More to follow – if you have a story to add – or would like to help – please contact me. I am in need of the help of a medals expert to uncover the citations – do you know one? – please connect me. Many thanks.
A major event in the Battle of the Atlantic took place on the 12 February 1942. An account from the bomber command perspective is recorded that the Bomber Command War diaries for 1939 to 45.
the story is taken up as follows… The ‘Channel Dash’ took place where the German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the light cruiser Prinz Eugen set sail from Brest to move to Germany through the English Channel in a carefully prepared and well executed operation. Though the move had been anticipated the Germans gained surprise using bad weather. Despite best efforts of the Allies, the Germans suceeded and it was a national embarrasment that this had been achieved in ‘home waters’. The full story is recounted elsewhere. It was however, a significant tipping point as these ships did not sail again into the Atlantic and destroy shipping bringing supplies to the beleagured Great Britain.
Aircraft from North Luffenham were sent to the attack, although their departure was delayed until the afternoon as they had been on standby with armoured piercing bombs, which needed some height to use. Since the cloudbase was about 600 feet in the channel, the bomb load was switched to high explosive bombs, and this took time and I am sure a lot of groundcrew sweat powered by expletives.
My story links to this is when I served at RAF North Luffenham. When the station closed in 1998 I was present when a veteran called Jock Kennedy presented a painting to the last Station Commander, Group Capt Benstead. The painting had been hung in a corridor and showed Hampdens attacking battleships.
We gathered around for the presentation in the corridor leading into the dining room. The presentation was made and the veteran described why the presentation was in the corridor.
On 12 February 1942, 61 Squadron and 144 Squadron launched sorties (I do not know how many but this will be recorded in the operational record books) and that day 144 Squadron lost 2 aircraft. He said after having breakfast in the dining room with everyone, at the evening meal he had lost some friends and there were some empty seats at the table.
This stuck with me, having walked through that door many times. It is not easy to capture an event in time and space when the witnesses have gone or unless you were there. How can you capture these moments without witness testimony? Also also these events fade in time do people really care?
In the recent past I took the now ex chief executive of Rutland County Council to that spot and explained what had happened. Unfortunately, it seemed to me that she did not ‘get it’. It is highly likely that if MOD leave then the Officers Mess will be levelled and turned into houses.
The 2 aircraft lost were Hampdens AE141 and AT 175. With the loss of these two aircraft six men were killed including Wing Commander Simond (MID) the Officer Commanding 144 Squadron. Whilst AT 175 was lost without trace, with five crew members, AE141 was hit with flak managed to make an emergency landing at Norwich. Sgt Nightingale brought it home and died in hospital. Sgt Ivo Nightingale was from Kenya. He was awarded the distinguished flying medal (DFM) and is buried in Norwich cemetery. Further information on Sgt Nightingale is at Aircrew Remembered http://aircrewremembered.com/nightingale-ernest.html
I’m not sure how we can commemorate the sacrifice but perhaps by naming the main road within the Officers Mess complex Simond Road and Nightingale Road we might just forge a tenuous link to the past, the Channel Dash and commemorate their sacrifice.
On 12 February Bomber Command had dispatched 242 aircraft comprising 92 Wellingtons, 64 Hampdens, 37 Blenheims, 15 Manchesters, 13 Halifaxes, 11 Stirling’s and 10 Boston bombers. A large percentage of the aircraft crews never sighted the battleships due to the weather. 16 aircraft failed to return with the loss of 68 aircrew and five aircrew being captured becoming prisoners of war. You can read more about the Dash in wikepedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Channel_Dash
It may be that the mine laying by 61 and 144 Sqaudron prior to the breakout may have contributed to the damage sustained by the battleships entering German waters. Later missions were also launched to bomb them in harbour. At this time of the war, once again the nation’s food supply was being sunk by German U Boats. Due to the mine and bomb damage and on going bomb damage the battelships stayed in port.
RAF North Luffenham and RAF Woolfox Lodge are battlefields. When a development takes place we will need to name significant buildings, roads (roadsigns to have QR codes telling the story) and areas. See the St Georges master plan https://www.stgeorgesrutland.co.uk/the-masterplan/ Further research is required on medals and awards made.
So Names will all be related to the history of the battlefield. This is my rolling list. The list is far from finished.
Malin. Airman representing the other ranks of groundcrew and support staff – aged 20 killed by a Hampden landing back at base after ops hitting the airfield control cabin. Resting in North Luffenham churchyard
In early 1945 the Luffwaffe had lost air battle over German soil. However, the application of air power can result in local impacts. On the night of 3/4 March (the 2000th night of the war) approximately 200 Junkers JU88 night fighters were sent to follow the bombers back to England. This offensive action took the British defences by surprise and 20 bombers were shot down, including 5 training aircraft. The 5 training aircraft had been on a diversion flight consisiting of 95 aircraft on a ‘diversionary’ sweep. This was a mock raid designed to deceive the German air defences and increase the mission success of the main force attack. Wikepedia catalogues the British and German losses (see link in references).
Two of the losses were 1651 Operational Conversion Unit’s (OCU) Lancasters flying from RAF Woolfox Lodge. So whilst still in training to become operational crews, they were shot down by a JU88 nightfighter.
Of the 2 crews of 7 men, there was only one survivor only Sgt Thompson. Lancaster ND387 was shot down at 0115 and crashed at Stretton and Lancaster JB699 was shot down at 0135 and crashed near Cottesmore. It is clear that the RAF were not expecting the attack as RAF aircraft were flying with navigation lights on, until warnings were received over the radio. Also airfield lights were on and only doused when warning was received.
The conversion unit had 13 Lancasters on strength in March 1945 and to lose 2 crews within sight of the airfield must have been devastating to the unit. It is difficult to imagine the impact. The risk of being shot down on operations must have been known, but to see your fellow crews being shot down as they close the base circuit, must have been tough for those left behind.
In addition to the Woolfox casualties, 1654 OCU flying from RAF Wigsley, (Nottinghamshire) lost 2 Lancasters (losing 8 killed out of 14 crew) and 1664 OCU flying from RAF Dishforth (Yorkshire) lost 1 Lancaster and all 7 crew were killed.
This all happenend when perhaps the end of the war in Europe was in sight? The Allies had been on German soil since September 1944, the Battle of the Bulge was over, and the Allies were on the way to cross the Rhine. Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945.
The Woolfox casualties were buried at various cemeteries, 6 in Cambridge City Cemetery, others in Scotland and Bradford. It is not known where the 2 New Zealanders and the Australian from the crews are buried. The casualties are listed in Bomber Command Losses 1945 – see below and more detail is provided in Volume 8 – see lower down the page:
That night the Bomber Command effort was split between 3 missions:
Kamen. 234 aircraft (201 Halifaxes, 21 Lancasters and 12 Mosquitos) to attack the synthetic oil refinery at Bergkamen. The target was destroyed and no aircraft were lost over Germany.
Dortmund-Ems canal. 212 Lancasters and 10 Mosquitos attacked the Ladbergen viaduct, whichwas breached in 2 places and put out of action. 7 Lancasters were lost.
Support and Minor Operations. 95 aircraft in a diversionary sweep. 64 Mosquitos to Berlin and 32 to Wurzberg. 61 radio counter measure sorties. 29 Mosquito patrols. 31 Lancasters minelaying in Kattegatand Oslo fjord. 17 aircraft on resistance support missions. The Mosquito patrols I assume were doing what the Germans were doing and looking for night fighters, it is unknown what sucess they had.
Summary – 785 sorties. 8 aircraft lost over Germany and the sea, 20 aircraft shot down by intruders over England, a total casualty rate of 3.6 percent. 15 Halifaxes and 12 Lancasters (crews of 7 = 189 crew airborne). Wikepedia entry also lists 3 USAAF Flying Fortresses and an RAF Hudson shot down or damaged?
The Luffwafe lost 25 night fighters and the following night (4/5 March) a smaller effort was launched, but it was ineffective.
References: Bomber Command Losses 1945 V6 by W R Chorley. Bomber Command Losses Heavy Conversion Units V8 by W R Chorley. Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt. Wings over Rutland by John Rennison. Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Gisela
On the night of 2 September 1941 at 2030 hours Manchester L7388 lifted off on a raid to Berlin carrying a crew of 7 men. Over Berlin the aircraft was shot down by flak and crashed in the Schronefeld district of Berlin. All crew were killed and are buried in a Berlin War Cemetry. The aircraft was carrying 2 of the handful of the stations ‘executive’ senior officers, with the loss of both 61 Squadron Commander and the Station Commander.
The raid on Berlin consisted of 49 aircraft and Valentine’s Manchester was one of 5 aircraft lost that night (1 Manchester, 2 Hampdens and 2 Halifax). The overall losses that night for targets in Berlin, Frankfurt and minor operations, consisted of 12 aircraft out of the nights total of 201 sorties. This is a 6 percent loss rate. This would involve the loss from active duty of about 70 men for that night, although some of which would become POWs.
The loss of the 61 Squadron Commander and the Station Commander must have been a serious blow. The rules were changed after the loss, to ensure that squadron and station commanders could not fly operations together without special permission. It is possible that as 61 Squadron (as with other Manchester squadrons) was struggling to get reliability out of the Manchester, that the flight was intended to show leadership from the front. The Manchester was withdrawn from service in June 1942 and was replaced by the Avro Lancaster powered by 4 reliable Merlin engines.
Group Captain J F T Barrett (DSO +bar, DFC) was 43 years old at the time of his death. I will see if I can get the medal citations for both of these commanders.
On the aircraft that night 5 other men, including another airman with a DSO – Flt Lt A B Harrison. I wonder what his citation is for? The other crew members were Sgt Dowse, Sgt Nicholson, Sgt Hamer RNZAF and Fg Off Duckworth. We will remember them.
In the book Avro Manchester by Robert Kirby, there is an account by Wg Cdr Weir DFC in the Forward. Weir replaced Valentine in command. He mentions that one night he was wounded by anti aircaft fire and was on sick leave, when he was informed that the squadron commander, Wg Cdr George Valentine was missing on a trip to Berlin, taking the station commander with him. He says “I was recalled immediately to take command of 61 squadron . At this time we did not seem to be a very effective part of the war effort. Morale was at a low level”. (in March 1942 conversion to the Lancaster started). I think this would be tough command, to lead a squadron with an aircraft that increased the chance of ‘going for a Burton’. Desperate times.
There are 40 Commonwealth Wargrave headstones in North Luffenham churchyard and the graves fall into 4 time periods:
World War 1 – 2 Army Privates – Adams and Steel – details not recorded in this blog.
World War 2, RAF, RNZAF, RAAF, RCAF – 18 graves.
Cold war – Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) – 11 graves.
Remainder Other Royal Air Force and Services graves, all post war.
This post provides details about the 18 World War 2 graves: 16 aircrew. 7 RAF (including an Irishman), 6 Canadian, 4 New Zealand, 1 Australian and 2 RAF groundcrew. This is minor fraction of men killed – see post the butchers bill this blog. Also men killed in crashes – were often sent home to be buried in their home parishes. Youngest man buried in North Luffenham was F/sgt Campbell at 19 years old and oldest was Sgt Douglas at 30 years old. The average being about 23 years old.
This is what I have found out about the men so far. Most of the information comes from the books Royal Air Force – Bomber Command Losses – 1941, 1942 and Volume 7 Operational Training Units (OTU) by W.R. Chorley. Also the Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt provide information about the wider effort on a particular day.
7.9.41 Sgt Eric HortonRAF 943238 Wireless Operator/air gunner. 144 Sqn RAF. One of four crew killed in a crash of Hampden AD936 on takeoff for Berlin at 20:52. Crashed on the Empingham to Ketton road. I don’t know where the rest of the crew is buried.
The raid that night consisted of 197 aircraft and 15 aircraft were lost – 8 Wellingtons, 2 Hampdens (including AD936), 2 Whitleys, 2 Stirlings and 1 Manchester.
20.9.41 Sgt Harold Douglas Weaver RCAF R62250 Air Observer. 144 Sqn RAF. One of four crew killed in a crash of Hampden K3030 on approach to land after an operation to Frankfurt at 22:05. Crashed into high tension cables alongside the Mortcott to Uppingham Road some 2 miles SE of the airfield. I don’t know where the rest of the crew is buried.
K3030 was one of 34 aircraft sent to Frankfurt but they were recalled because of worsening weather, some did bomb Frankfurt, no aircaft were lost but 3, including K3030 crashed in England. On the main raid to Berlin of 74 aircraft, none reached Berlin and 3 Wellingtons and 1 Whitley failed to return and 12 more aircraft crashed in the UK! Bad weather leading to many casualties, including Sgt Weaver.
9.11.41 Aircraftsman 1st Class – George Roberts RAF and Aircraftsman 2nd Class – Frederick George Malin. RAF. These 2 ground airmen were killed in the airfield control caravan by an aircaft landing which ‘swung’ into the caravan. The 2 airmen were killed and another injured.
The Hampden (AE311) had been on operations to Hamburg and crashed at 23:43. The crew were not recorded as being injured. There were 106 aircraft on the raid and 1 Welligton was lost.
25.1.42 Sgt Albert Barclay Wright RAF Wireless Operator/air gunner. 408 Sqn RCAF. One of four crew killed in a crash of Hampden AD782 on takeoff for Brest to bomb the German capital ships at 1737. Crashed after stalling at 1500 feet and eye witnesses said it dived straight into the ground near the Lyndon to Wing Road. Cause unknown. I don’t know where the rest of the crew is buried.
The Bomber Command War Diaries say that 61 aircraft were dispatched and no aircraft were lost. ( I have yet to cross check this with other records)
9.3.42 Flight Sergeant Fernand Fagan Mackinnon RCAF. Wireless Operator/air gunner. and Sgt William Douglas Morris RAF Wireless Operator/air gunner. Three crew killed in a crash of 408 Sqn RCAF Hampden AD842 on takeoff to go ‘gardening’ i.e laying an anti shipping mine at 01:52. Target area was the Friesian Islands, north Germany. The Bomber Command War Diaries say that no aircraft were lost which does not tally with this loss.
Sgt Morris’s headstone also records the loss of his brother, Thomas, lost at sea 14 Oct 41. Engine Room Artificer 4th Class – on HMS Fleur-de-Lys -Thomas Cope Morris aged 32.
Stalled after takeoff and struck an ‘armadillo’ on the airfield and burnt. The pilot escaped with injuries. (wikepedia says an Armadillo was an extemporised armoured fighting vehicle produced in Britain during the invasion crisis of 1940-1941. Based on a number of standard lorry (truck) chassis, it comprised a wooden fighting compartment protected by a layer of gravel and a driver’s cab protected by mild steel plates. Armadillos were used by the RAF Regiment to protect aerodromes and by the Home Guard.)
12.4.42 Flt Sgt David Lloyd Carnegy Liddell RNZAF. Crash of 144 Sqn Hampden AT155 on an air test at 1540 – crashed at Ridlington – 2 killed.
29.9.42 Sgt Ronald George Walters RCAF. 29 OTU training accident. Wellington DV834. Swung on take-off and crashed and burnt. It was thought that the pilot’s slender build was a contributory factor in the accident. Flt Sgt L. L Jones RCAF was killed and the other crew injured. Sgt Walters died the day after of his injuries. Flt Sgt L L Jones was born in Toronto Canada – however, after the accident he was ‘claimed’ by Cornish relatives and he is buried in St Just Cornwall.
7.2.43 Sgt Leonard Francis Croker 413031 Air bomber RNZAF and Sgt Tom Lindley Pilot RNZAF
Crash of Wellington N2761 From 11 OTU from RAF Westcott, Buckinghamshire on a training flight. Crashed at Fletcher Field near Ashley 5 miles WNW of Corby – 3 killed and 2 buried at North Luffeham. Luffenham must have been the closest RAF base and therefore, recovered the men.
27.2.43 Flt Sgt Richard Hubert Lewis – Air Gunner RCAF and Flt Sgt Keith Lauchlan Cambell – Navigator RCAF
Killed in Wellinton BK268 of 427 Sqn from RAF Croft. Crashed on Ops to Koln, Crashed while returning to Croft with one engine on fire. Crashed near Woolfox Lodge – 5 killed 1 injured. That night 427 aircraft were dispatched and 4 Wellingtons, 3 Lancasters, 2 Halifaxes and 1 Stirling were lost.
5.3.43 Sgt Brendan Francis Mullet RAF – Wireless operator/air gunner and Sgt Kenneth Hughes Long – Pilot RAF
Killed in 29 OTU Wellington BK390 on a training flight – took off at 0159 from North Luffenham and crashed into houses in North Coates, Cambridgeshire, 4 killed and 1 injured. Sgt Mullet was one of the Irish Volunteer Legion. One of up to 200,000 Irish Volunteers serving in armed forces in World War 2.
12.5.43 Sgt John Angus Douglas RAAF. 29 OTU from RAF North Luffenham – killed in crash of Wellington BK123. Tookoff at 1215 on training . Crashed at 1240 at Scottlethorpe – 5 miles SSW of Sunthorpe – 3 killed.
2.5.42 Flt Sgt J R Young RCAF – Pilot and Sgt H Morrison RNZAF Observer. Killed in the crash of Belnheim L9206 from 13 OTU. Took off from RAF Bicester on a navigation exercise and crashed at 11:35, 3 miles east of Billesdon – 8 miles SSE of Leicester. Dived into ground and exploded killing all 3 crew.
One of the war graves in North Luffenham churchyard is that of Squadron Leader Dickson, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). This airman clearly had an eventful career flying in the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force. His service started on October 23, 1940 and appears to have continued until his death on 26 July 1953.
Commissioned in Jun 1942. I have not verified the fact, but it appears his cause of death was polio. There were global epidemics in the 50s of polio. it seems cruel that having survived many operational sorties, night fighters, bad weather and all the other hazards associated with military operational flying that he was cut down by what we now see as preventable disease.
The citation for his Air Force cross is shown below. I have not yet been able to ascertain how many hours he had recorded in this logbook, but clearly flying Wellingtons on operations in 57 Squadron RAF and being awarded his distinguished flying medal (DFM) must be an interesting story.
Followed by the award of a distinguish flying cross (DFC) flying Halifax’s on 419 Squadron also must have many stories. He also received mention in dispatches. I’ll try and see if I can find the citations for these decorations.
it also appears that Dixon had another connection with North Luffenham on 8 October 1942 when he was piloting Wellington X3 719 which hit a power line near North Luffeham. Heavy damage was caused to the aircraft nose, both propellers and starboard main plane but he was not court-martialled.
Using the books : Bomber Command Losses 1941 and 1942 – I put togther this table and it is a source of hurt that there is a high percentage of crew with no known grave. These are recorded on the Runnymede Memorial. The Bomber Command memorial in London is a specific tribute to the members of Bomber Command. A very moving memorial.
Why so many unknown graves – the missions at this time were a mix of bombing and mine laying – mostly at night and in bad weather. Some aircraft hit by flak or nightfighter cannon fire exploded when main fuel tanks or bombs were hit and even though the wreckage was on land remains were not recovered. This was at a time when night navigation was difficult and also meterology information was rudimentary at this stage of the war. No airborne radar navigation or GPS – just maps, compass, airspeed indicator and stopwatch, so 1dead reckoning’ navigation. Also the forceast and meterology were primitive by modern standards. Flying in winter and having severe icing must have also caused many casualties. Planning and dead reckoning at night must have been extremely challenging for the young men. Some radio direction finding equipment – but not sure what was available to 61 and 144 Squadron at the time we are looking at.
There were recorded occurances of pilots and naviagtors reading the compass wrongly and compass design was changed. So a course flown 180 degrees out – meaning hundreds of miles into the Atlantic. The cross bar should be toward the red north pointer.