RAF Swanton Morley 1940 to 1995

 

Situated 2.5 miles north-north-east of East Dereham, overlooking the south side of the Wensum valley, Royal Air Force Swanton Morley was an expansion scheme airfield  started early in 1939 but was never completed to the usual standard Bomber Command Layout of 5 C Type Hangars or concrete runways. Initially only 1 J Type Hangar and a Control Tower was constructed and the Airfield was opened in September 1940 at the time the Battle of Britain was being fought over South East England.

 

RAF Swanton Morley was part of Bomber Command No. 2 Group and No. 100 Group with the HQ at nearby Bylaugh Hall

 

No.2 Group  was allocated mostly light bomber squadrons at first totally Bristol Blenheim Squadrons.

No. 100 Group was a specialist organisation formed on November 11, 1943 to counter enemy defences against Bomber Command operations.

The Operational Stations were - Attlebridge - Bodney - Foulsham - Great Massingham - Horsham St Faith - Little Snoring - North Creake - Oulton - Sculthorpe - Swannington - Swanton Morley - Wattisham - Watton - West Raynham
 

Eventually during the Second World War, Swanton Morley operated Bristol Blenheims, De Havilland Mosquitos, Douglas Bostons and North American B25 Mitchells.

 

The Group's Communications Flight was also based at Swanton

 

1940

Swanton Morley  airfield was first occupied by No. 105 Squadron Bristol Blenheim Mk5 on October 30 1940 moving in from nearby RAF Watton.

The enemy were soon to know and on the 5th November 1940 the first bombs fell on the airfield

Over the following months a number of tarmac hard standings were put down round the airfield but it always remained as a purely grass runway airfield with a notorious dome shape meaning at ground level standing on the concrete perimeter track you could not see from one side of the airfield to the other.

The  grass runway layout was  NE/SW = 4950 ft NNW/SSE = 4800 ft NW/SE = 4050 ft 
 

On the 27th November 1940 the Blenheims of 105 Squadron were attacking targets in Boulogne and Cologne. One crew returned early to find ten/tenths cloud over the airfield and finally as fuel ran out baled out safely with the aircraft crashing near Manchester another crew completed the raid and arriving back at 23.25 hrs were given clearance to land but then flew towards the airfield beacon at Foxley Wood some three and half miles readying for approach on the 23 runway (230 degree heading)  whereupon  the Blenheim crashed into Foxley Wood and burst into flames killing the three crew.

 

1941

As with most Blenheim squadrons, No. 105 took heavy losses during 1940-41 but its CO, Wing Commander Hughie Edwards, was awarded a VC for his conduct in leading an attack on Bremen on July 4. 1941.

Some aircraft survived the battle only to return and crash land on the airfield.

No. 88 Squadron which began the war as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force, making it one of the first squadrons to be sent to France. Like all of the Fairey Battle squadrons, No. 88 suffered very heavy losses during the Battle of France. After deployment in Northern Ireland in July 1941 the squadron moved to Swanton Morley , where it converted fully to the Boston III and IIIA. From there it carried out attacks on German coastal shipping and targets on the coast of occupied Europe.

 

In August 1941 Supermarine Spitfires of 152 Squadron (Hyderabad) were utilised from Swanton Morley escorting 2 Group Blenheims on anti shipping patrols before they moved to nearby Coltishall .

 

In November 1941, Geoffrey De Havilland brought to the station the first Mosquito Bomber for a demonstration flight. No. 105 Squadron Wellingtons  remained at Swanton Morley until December 1941 when they transferred to Horsham St Faith and became the first squadron to convert to the Mosquito IV bomber.

Their first two Mosquitos were received before the move to Horsham. No. 105's replacement was No. 226 Squadron with Blenheims, which it soon shed in favour of Bostons.

1942

At some time between 1941 and 1943, four T2 hangars and four Blister Hangars were erected on the airfield (plan view), 31 loop hard standings and a perimeter track put down. Other work involved utility buildings for barracks with the station's total accommodation raised to 1,968 males and 390 females.
 

226 squadron's first use of the Douglas Boston as a bomber was on March 8, 1942 when it flew from a forward airfield in the south to raid a factory near Paris. In the Spring of 1942 No. 226 Squadron tutored the USAAF's l5th Bomb Squadron.

 

Monday 27th/Tuesday 28th April 1942 was the first "Baedeker" Raid of nearby Norwich (Bombing policy of historic cities) with the enemy using their advanced knowledge of radio navigation aids in this case using Knickebein 

 

The first combined bombing raid with British and American personnel was launched from Swanton Morley on 29th June 1942, with both Churchill and Eisenhower present for the occasion

 

No 1515 Beam (or Blind) Approach Training Flt  were based at RAF Swanton Morley from Oct 1941 to Nov 1943.

Beam approach (sometimes written as Blind approach) was essential training for bomber pilots who would have to return to their Bases in the dark in often less than ideal conditions, where visibility could be marginal.
No 1515 Beam Approach Training Flight were equipped with Airspeed Oxford aircraft and on 24 March 1942 two of the Oxford aircraft collided over Foxley Wood, Foxley Nr. Bawdeswell on a training flight. All four aircrew were killed.

Many references are made in aircraft log books of "ZZ landing practice was carried out" and a brief history of this is compiled here from various references.

 

1943

In May 1943, No. 226 converted to Mitchells, shortly before No. 2 Group left Bomber Command.

Unlike most other No. 2 Group squadrons, No. 226 was not moved south during the summer and autumn of 1943 but remained at Swanton Morley until February 1944.

 

Another squadron equipped with Mitchells at Swanton Morley was the Polish-manned No. 305, which cast off its Wellingtons at Ingham in September 1943 only to leave Swanton two months later for Lasham to retrain yet again, this time on Mosquitos.

1944

During March 1944, No. 98 Squadron Mitchells moved back to Norfolk from Dunsfold and carried out operations until October that year when it moved to liberated Belgium. In fact, Swanton Morley was the only Norfolk airfield retained by No. 2 Group, which at the beginning of April 1944, formed No. 2 Group Support Unit at the station. This body was primarily a holding unit for aircrew and other personnel to make good losses in No. 2 Group's squadrons during the forthcoming cross-Channel invasion.

In response to No. 100 Group's need of an additional airfield near its HQ, in December 1944 No. 2 Group had finally to relinquish Swanton Morley. The support unit moved to Fersfield, an airfield in south Norfolk just vacated by the USAAF.

100 Group established its Bomber Support Development Unit on the airfield equipped with Bristol Beaufighter, Avro Lancaster, Supermarine Spitfire and De Havilland Mosquito aircraft  , carrying out a number of experimental operational flights.

 

Bomber Support Development unit was also known as "100 (Bomber Support) Group, they were the "clandestine" side of Bomber Command. Their trade was electronic warfare, radio countermeasures, radar jamming, and night-fighter activities. They flew a wide and varied assortment of aircraft, predominantly from airfields in East Anglia. From the fast twin-engined Mosquito to the four-engined "Heavies", 100 Group sent them all up, and by the end of the war had played a huge part in reducing the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe night-fighters and ground defences. although disbanded in December 1945 with the same Commander as it has started out with (Air Vice-Marshall Addison), it had played a large part in giving credibility to the new form of conflict - electronic warfare.

SERRATE was a British radar device designed to detect German night fighter radar transmissions from their Lichtenstein aircraft interception radar (AI). At that time, Luftwaffe fighters were causing increasing number of losses amongst RAF bombers attacking targets in Germany and Occupied Europe

 

Operations launched from Swanton Morley while under Bomber Command incurred a loss of 39 aircraft - 21 Blenheims and 18 Bostons together with the inevitable training flight accidents from the airfield.

Some of the crews were buried in the churchyard of Swanton Morley village.

 

In November 1944 a De Havilland Mosquito but from 608 Squadron RAF Downham Market  crashed into nearby Bawdeswell Church killing both crew members.

1946

With the demise of No. 100 Group in the summer of 1945, little use was made of the station until December 1946 when No. 4 Radio School moved in. using Percival Proctors, Percival Prentices and Avro Ansons, the school changed its name to No. 1 Air Signallers, then Air Electronic School, remaining in residence until late 1957.

 

 

1953

Gliding by the Air Training Corps ceased at RAF Horsham St. Faiths on 7th June 1953 and the 102 Gliding School moved to RAF Swanton Morley

Various Air Training Corps Squadrons visited for Summer Camps and gave ATC Cadets many Air Experience flights on the No 4 Radio School aircraft in the 1950's.

 

1954

During October 1954 in the early hours of the morning a ground crew airman who had never flown an aircraft but was aware of the starting procedures decided to fly a Percival Prentice to Paris. His 200 mile flight took him across the North sea but into Belgium where he landed successfully on a main road

No disciplinary action was taken as he was found to be suffering a mental health condition probably bi-polar disorder


1955

Reorganisation of the various RAF reserves in October 1955, resulted in the 102 Gliding School being absorbed into No 61 Group and reclassified as No 611 Gliding School using the splendid barge (Slingsby T21 Sedbergh).

 

1958

The Central Servicing Development Establishment was based here from 1958 to 1995 greatly expanding until the station closed. Despite this vast increase in what was just a paperwork empire, the RAF somehow managed to remain effective in all its operational units by not taking much notice of it.


1978 to 1995

 

The airfield layout was unchanged but was little used by the RAF apart from Gliding acitivities.

 

RAF Swanton Morley saw the first Venture Self-Launch Gliders (XZ560 and XZ561) arrive on Wednesday 12th July 1978.
The last day of flying at RAF Swanton Morley was 26th August 1995, with the CFI having the last flight in ZE682.

 

The airfield itself was little used by the RAF apart from Air Training Corps Gliding activities but it was home to the Norfolk and Norwich Aero Club with acres of space to get the landings just right in the Cessna 152 .

 

In 1995 the RAF relinquished the site as shown to the Army after a closing down ceremony with the only flying example of a Blenheim doing a fly past as the last post was played.

The site is presently named Robertson Barracks.

As of 2009, The J Hangar has been demolished together with the adjacent T Hangar. The airfield perimeter track, a single T2 Hangar on the far side of the airfield and some blister hangars remain together with the Control Tower . Along with West Malling it is the best-preserved example of the most definably Art Deco of the Air Ministry's control tower designs with a meteorological section incorporated into the design, behind the control room. (designated Watch Office with Met Section 5845/39) A preservation order was agreed in 2005.

 

I am grateful to Richard E Flagg (http://www.airfields.fotopic.net/) for permission to use this  recent aerial view taken by him during March 2009.
 

 

RAF Abbreviations        RAF Slang        Aircraft Identity Letters        Aircraft Damage Categories


Timeline History

 

Location

County: - Norfolk

3.5 miles N of East Dereham

Lat/Long:  52:43:38N  00:58:00E

Grid Ref:  TG002187

Height above sea level: 150 ft

Main units (continued): -

No 228 Air Stores Park (15 - 27 Feb 1943, 13 Mar - 27 Apr 1943)

88 Sqn (30 Mar - 19 Aug 1943)

No 2 Group Communication Flt (5 May 1943 - 16 Jan 1944)

No 206 Maintenance Unit (26 Jun 1943 - 21 Aug 1944)

No 17 Heavy Glider Maintenance Section (16 Aug 1943 - 15 Mar 1944)

No 1508 Beam Approach Training Flt (29 Aug 1943 - 1 Mar 1944)

305 Sqn (5 Sep - 18 Nov 1943)

No 3126 Servicing Echelon (15 Oct 1943 13 Feb 1944)

No 3129 (Polish) Servicing Echelon (15 Oct 18 Nov 1943)

No 1482 (Target Towing) Flt (1 Dec 1943 - 1 Apr 1944)

3 Sqn (28 Dec 1943 - 14 Feb 1944)

No 3002 Servicing Echelon (28 Dec 1943 - 14 Feb 1944)

No 100 Group Communication Flt (9 Feb 1944 - 17 Oct 1945)

No 1508 (Gee Training) Flt (1 Mar - 24 Jun 1944)

464 Sqn (25 Mar - 9 Apr 1944)

No 6464 (RNZAF) Servicing Echelon (25 Mar 17 Apr 1944)

No 2 Group Support Unit (1 Apr - 17 Dec 1944)

180 Sqn (12 - 26 Apr 1944)

613 Sqn (12 - 24 Apr 1944)

487 Sqn (26 - 30 Apr 1944)

320 Sqn (6 - 18 May 1944)

No 6320 (Dutch) Servicing Echelon (6 18 May 1944)

No 6107 Servicing Echelon (19 25 May 1944)

Bomber Support Development Flt (23 Dec 1944 - 21 Jul 1945)

Radio Warfare Establishment (21 Jul - 27 Sep 1945)

No 10 Air Navigation School (1 Dec 1945  - 30 Sep 1946)

Pilot-Navigation Instructors Course (31 Dec 1945 - xxx xxxx)

No 4 Radio School (5 Dec 1946 - 1 May 1951)

No 1 Air Signallers' School (1 May 1951 - 1 Apr 1957)

No 102 Gliding School (Jun 1953 - 1 Sep 1955)

No 611 Volunteer Gliding School (1 Sep 1955 - 1 Jun 1995)

No 1 Air Electronics School (1 Apr - 23 Dec 1957)

Central Servicing Development Unit/Establishment (1 Jan 1958 - xxx 1995)

No 1 Gliding Centre (8 Dec 1961 - 9 Aug 1971)

No 5 Air Experience Flt (xxx 1966 - xxx 1967)

Operational Control: -

Opened - Sep 1940

No 2 Group (Sep 1940 - Dec 1944)

No 100 Group (Dec 1944 - Nov 1945)

No 27 Group (Nov 1945 - 1 Jan 1955)

No 23 Group (1 Jan 1955 - 1 Jan 1957)

No 25 Group (1 Jan 1957 - xxx xxxx)

Closed - 6 Sep 1995

Notes

From 10 Feb 1943, the station was used to store Horsa Gliders until 15 Mar 1944

Now used by the Army as Robertson Barracks

Main units: -

105 Sqn (31 Oct 1940 - 9 Dec 1941)

152 Sqn (31 Aug - 17 Dec 1941)

No 15 Blind Approach Training Flt (22 Sep - Oct 1941)

No 1515 Beam Approach Training Flt (Oct 1941 - 1 Nov 1943)

No 3040 Servicing Echelon (14 Nov 17 Dec 1941)

226 Sqn (9 Dec 1941 - 13 Feb 1944)

No 228 Maintenance Unit (4 Oct 1942 - 18 Feb 1943)

Detachments**

107 Sqn (May 1939 - Mar 1941)

110 Sqn (Jun 1939 - Mar 1942)

88 Sqn (Aug 1943 - Oct 1944)

98 Sqn (Aug 1943 - Oct 1944)

Central Gliding School (Aug 1971 - Aug 1977)