A Fighter Airfield built as a sattelite to North Weald. Drem lighting and Angle Of Approach indicator system were installed.
With 16 Blister Hangars,18 Hardstands,1 Bellman Hangar,2 Aviation fuel stores,one of 24000 Gallons and another of 36000 Gallons. Main runway 270/090 @ 1450 yards later extended to the East to a length of 1750 yards. Secondary runway 210/030 @ 1250 yards extended to the south by 200 yards. Eight dispersed sites within a mile of the airfield for accomodation, ablutions and catering.
The Air Ministry surveyed the land for an airfield in 1938. Hunsdon airfield was built on a natural plateau about 240 feet above sea level. The land once formed part of a hunting estate. This being part of the estate of nearby Hunsdon House. King Henry VIII had the original building, that was built by Edward V11, enlarged. The hunting lodge for the estate partially exists on the airfield as Hunsdon Lodge Farm.
Work began in October 1940 and the airfield was to be a sattelite of nearby North Weald under RAF Fighter Command. Work was overseen by Wing Commander Pike. The runways and perimeter track were built by George Wimpey and Sons. The width of the perimeter track was 35 feet, and the runways were of the standard 150 foot. Most of the airfield buildings were constructed by HC Janes of Luton. After some problems regarding the pace and quality of building work, Kent & Co took over the building of the rest of the airfield and dispersed site buildings.
With the completion of the runways and perimeter track in March 1941, most of the accomadation was complete and could house 100 Officers,140 NCO's and 200 other ranks of airmen. The WAAF contingent could house 5 Officers,3 NCO's and 268 other ranks. The WAAF site was mostly concentrated at Hunsdonbury, one of the large requisitioned houses that incorporated Site 8 in the grounds.
On May the 4th1941,RAF Hunsdon opened for Operational flying, although some building work would be ongoing until as late as 1943. 'A' and 'B' flights of 85 Squadron were posted in to become the first operational squadron to be stationed there flying Douglas Havoc twin engined light bombers converted to nightfighters by the addition of AI or airborne interception. This was the first form of airborne RADAR. 85 Squadron had recently converted from their Hawker Hurricanes, and were led by Group Captain Peter Townsend. They were the first night fighter squadron based here at Hunsdon, a role the airfield was to become second nature to. Over the course of the war, many varied and notable squadrons served here, most stayed for only a few months, some less than weeks. The following list of squadrons and the type of aircraft flown have been included to show the trend for twin engined aircraft in the role as intruders and nightfighters. Although it has to be noted that 3(F) squadron were flying Hawker Hurricanes on some of the very first Intruder flights into enemy occupied territory at night.
Rearming a 3 Squadron Hurricane IIb
At Hunsdon 1941
Squadrons that operated from Hunsdon were:
85 Squadron,( Hawker Hurricane, Boulton-Paul Defiant, Douglas Boston/Havoc) 287 Squadron (Boulton Paul Defiant 2's) 1451 flight (Turbinlite flight, Douglas Boston/Havoc) 29 Squadron (Mosquito's) 3 Squadron(F) (Hawker Hurricane 2c's) 1530 flight (Airspeed Oxford's) 157 Squadron (Mosquito's) 515 Squadron (Bristol Beaufighters and Boulton-Paul Defiant's) 409 RCAF Squadron (Mosquito's), 410(Cougar) Squadron RCAF (Mosquito's) 418 RCAF Squadron (Mosquito's)442 RCAF Squadron (Spitfire's)
21(City of Norwich) Squadron, 464 (Australia), and 487 (New Zealand) Squadrons all equipped with Mosquito's and forming 140 wing of the 2nd Tactical Air Force.
29 Squadron Mosquito landing at Hunsdon.
264 Squadron ( Mosquito's) 488 (New Zealand) Squadron (Mosquito's)151 Squadron (Mosquito's)501 (county of Gloucester) Squadron (Hawker Tempest's) 530 Squadron (Turbinlight) formed from 1451 flight, Boston/Havoc) 611(Mustang 4's) and 154 (Mustang 4's and Spitfire Mk6) Squadrons forming the Hunsdon Wing. 442(RCAF) using the now disbanded 154 Squadrons aircraft.
Several other Squadrons paid brief visits lasting only a few days, these included, 242, 56, 2, 605 , 4 (B flight only), and 219 (Belgium) Squadrons.
Several aircraft types operated from Hunsdon, but by far the most numerous were the Mosquito's of the Royal Canadian Air Force, initially as Nightfighter squadrons and then on "Intruder" operations. This type of operation involved aircraft to orbit at a small distance, from known German nightfighter airfields on the continent, and then engage enemy aircraft as they either took off, or landed. The RCAF squadrons were also involved in the defence of Southern England against the V1 flying bomb menace, 409 Sqdn downing 10 of these, and 418 Sqdn is quoted as having destroyed a staggering 82 V1 flying bombs.
Hunsdon was one of the airfields that hosted a new type of nightfighter under trials in early 1941. Shrouded in secrecy, the Turbinlite equipped aircraft of 1451 flight were kept away from the other squadrons and posted to the other side of the airfield at Tuck Spring Wood dispersals.
The author J Rickard wrote:
The Douglas Havoc was an impromptu conversion of lower powered French DB7's which achieved a certain amount of success as a night fighter and intruder in 1941 and 1942.
It may seem odd that the DB-7, having been rejected as a bomber because of its short range, would then be used as a night intruder, but with its bomb load reduced to 1,000lb the Havoc I (Intruder) could reach German air bases in northern France, Belgium and Holland. No.23 Squadron was the first to receive the Havoc. From March 1941 until August 1942 it flew low level night time missions, harassing the Germans while suffered very low losses. The Havoc was joined by the Boston III (Intruder) in July 1942, before converting to the Mosquito in August 1942. The Havocs moved on to No.605 Squadron, which operated the Havoc (Intruder) from 14 July 1942, before replacing them with the Boston in October and the Mosquito in August 1943.
No.85 Squadron was the only squadron to use the Havoc I (Night Fighter)and Havoc II (Night Fighter) exclusively, receiving its first aircraft in February 1941. The Havoc I (Night Fighter) replaced the Boulton-Paul Defiant, with which it had achieved a single night time victory. The Havoc went operational on 7 April, and only two days later the squadron scored one confirmed, one probable and one damaged.
The Havoc I remained in use to the end of 1941, while the Havoc II (Night Fighter), with twice the firepower, arrived in July 1941. The squadron operated the Havoc for eighteen months, before replacing them with the Mosquito in September 1942. No.25 Squadron also operated a number of Havocs alongside its Bristol Beaufighters. The Beaufighter IF was more heavily armed and had twice the range of the Havoc I, although the Havoc was slightly faster.
Numerically the largest group of squadrons to operate the Havoc were the ten Turbinlite squadrons that had a brief existence from September 1942 to January 1943, when the entire idea was abandoned. The Turbinlite was a massive spotlight (2.7 million candlepower) that was installed in the nose of a Havoc or Boston. A total of 21 Havoc I (Turbinlites), 39 Havoc II (Turbinlites) and at least three Boston III (Turbinlites) were produced.
The idea was that the Havoc would use its radar to find a German aircraft, then catch it in the spotlight and let a normal day fighter attack it. At first the Havocs operated in Turbinlite flights, starting with No.1422 Flight (Air Illumination Unit) working alongside Hurricane squadrons, but the two aircraft rarely met up, and so in September 1942 ten Turbinlite squadrons were formed, operating a mix of Havocs, Bostons and Hurricanes. This improved the cooperation between the two types of aircraft, but successes were still rare. As better radar equipped night fighters began to appear the Turbinlite concept was abandoned, and all ten squadrons were disbanded early in 1943.
Source: Rickard, J (5 September 2008), Douglas Havoc in RAF Service , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_douglas_havoc_raf.html
The original turbilite idea was the brainchild of Group Captain Helmore. The first unit was formed at Heston Middlesex from a nucleus of aircrew from 85 Squadron, two notable pilots F/O Rabone and F/O Raphael being among them. Later 219 squadron donated aircrew to the turbinlite flights. At Hunsdon, secrecy was paramount and the armed guards were doubled up on the dispersals at Tuck Spring Wood. Orders noted in the flights Operational Record Book in the National Archives state that 'where practical, no more than one aircraft of the flight should be visible from the perimeter track'
On the 4/7/1942, 1451 flight had Six turbinlte Havocs with one Douglas Boston and a sole Tiger moth on strength. 530 Squadron officially formed from the flight at Hunsdon on the 2/8 1942 with Squadron Leader Miller as Commanding Officer, the squadron operated until 25th June 1943, when it was disbanded, the end of the road for the Turbilite experiment.
The 2nd TAF and the Amiens Gaol Raid.
On the 31st December 1943 It was decided to post 140 wing of the newly formed Second Tactical Air force into Hunsdon from Sculthorpe in Norfolk. 2 TAF as it was known, was formed to amalgamate varius light and medium Bomber units of 2 Group, together with fighter aircraft as the principle air echelon for the planned invasion of the continent. 140 wing comprised of 21 Squadron RAF with, 464(Australian) and 487(New Zealand) Squadrons.The Wing had recently re-equipped with Mosquito FBIV's from Lockheed Ventura light bombers, a not very proficient aircraft by any means. The Wing was led by one of the most charismatic figures of the RAF of that time, Group Captain Percy Charles Pickard DSO DFC and two Bars
140 Wing had not been at Hunsdon for long when it became tasked to attack the gaol on the Rue de Albert, Amiens in northern France.
This prison held 700 French prisoners that included common criminals, political prisoners and some resistance workers from the area Northern France. With the plans being made for the invasion of mainland europe in 'Overlord' it is suspected that some of those held may have been privy to sensitive information and would be tortured and shot, but the Gestapo had not carried out the tactic of mass executions before and certainly not in Amiens. Back in Britain plans were being drawn up to mount a daring low level raid that would have to be flown with utmost precision. It was decided to skip bomb the walls of this formidable prison using Mosquitos of 140 Wing. The walls would have to be breached but without causing a huge loss of life among those incarcerated in the Gaol. There would only be one attempt at this task, and it was placed with the squadrons from Hunsdon that had current experience with low level operations against the German V1 flying bomb launch sites throughout the Pais de Calais area.
Loading 500lb bombs on a 464 Squadron Mosquito at Hunsdon 1944
The raid was planned with meticulous detail, the navigation being prepared by then P/O Edward Sismore, Basil Embry's own Navigator, who was navigator leader for the Wing, (he later rose to the rank of Air Commodore)
It was intended for Air Vice Marshall Basil Embry to lead the raid on Amiens. He had considerable experience of operations of this nature, but due to having been shot down in France, and successfully escaping under the Germans noses,and with his involvement with the planning side of the forthcoming invasion of Europe, it was felt that he could not be allowed to fly the Amiens raid in case he was brought down again. He had continued to fly operations under the name of Wing commander Smith, a false name, as his own was known to the German authorities. Embry passed leadership of the raid to G/C Pickard, although a highly experienced Officer, who had hundreds of flying hours after flying Bombers on daylight and night operations. It is thought that Embry did not think Pickard had enough time on low level operations, but he knew Pickard was an exceptionally good capable leader who would give the task in hand his utmost dedication.
464 Squadron aircraft being prepared for another 'Noball' mission Hunsdon 1944
The raid was planned for the period after the 10th of February 1944, but bad weather including heavy snow again at RAF Hunsdon postponed the attack on the 17th of the month, time was now critical and under the request supposed to have been made by the French resistance, it is alledged in the RAF version of the story, that the coded message 'strike now or never, executions imminent' was also received on the 17th of February. No evidence has ever been found to support this claim. No executions were carried out at the prison before or after the raid, this leaves the whole origin of the raid a mystery.
February the 18th faired little better with snow and gusting wind, by any normal reason the mission would have been scrubbed, but the raid had to go. The nineteen mosquitos of 21, 464 and 487, including the film Mosquito B IV variant of the RAF Film and Photographic Unit, took off from Hunsdons main runway at 11:00 AM and climbed out to the west. The formation was due to meet an escort of Hawker Typhoons from 198 Squadron, but due to bad weather in the channel some of the escort failed to find 140 wing. The Wing pressed on as weather conditions for the next few days were forecast to be even worse.
Ted Sismore's route to the target took them away from the known gun positions and luftwaffe airfields, but one German airfield was very near the target. It was hoped that surprise being the key element woud enable the Mosquitos to get in and away before heavy luftwaffe reaction took place to the raid. Following the long Albert-Amiens road, and flying at a height of around 60 feet to avoid the tall popular trees that lined it, the aircraft of the three squadrons bore down on the Gaol. The plan was to breach the outer walls of the prison and the walls of the main prison building itself. The outer wall would be bombed by 487 squadron who flew in from a different angle to make their attack while 464 squadron were detailed to breach the main building, 21 Squadron were to bomb the whole prison if there was no success at breaching and orbited close by.
One of the repaired breaches in Amiens gaol wall still visible in 2010
Prisoners were seen escaping across the frozen fields, . G/C Pickard was to have sent 21 squadron home if their services were not needed, But new research has shown that Pickards aircraft was hit on the run into target whilst flying in the twelth position, he chose to lead the raid from the end of the second wave to assess the situation and either call in 21 squadron or send them home, he did not bomb the prison. Pickard himself was bounced by two Focke-Wulf 190's from II/JG26 that had come from the nearby airfield. Lt Mayer of JG26 shot the tail of Pickards Mosquito off and the aircraft fell near an apple orchard near St Gratien, both Pickard and Broadley were killed. It is said that a french girl cut the wings and medal ribbons from Pickards tunic and sent them to Pickards wife Dorothy at the end of the war.
The photographic Mosquito pilot was instructed at the briefing to give the recall to 21 Squadron if Pickards message was not heard. That call from G/C Pickard himself never came.The photographic flight sent this themselves by calling 'Red Red Red' when it become apparent that enough damage had been done. They had the better view of events from their loftier position above the prison. The other Mosquito lost on the raid was flown by S/ldr Ian McRitchie and his navigator Flt/Lt Richard Sampson. This was hit by flak on the route away from the target and bellied in.
McRitchie survived the crash landing of his Mosquito and taken prisoner of war, but his New Zealand navigator Flt/Lt Richard Webb Sampson was killed instantly by the light flak hits on the aircraft. He is buried in St Denis Eglise cemetery at Poix de Picardie about 25 kilometeres south west of Amiens. Pickard and Broadley are buried in St Pierre cemetary, just 300 metres away from the Amiens gaol on the Rue de Albert.
Recent new evidence and research has been made public regarding the Amiens Gaol raid and the events surrounding it and the reasons behind it and can be found in a new book called 'The Amiens Raid-secrets revealed' The author being JP Ducellier, editor Simon Parry. ISBN Number 780955473524
Whatever the real reasons behind the raid, it cannot, and does not, reflect on the bravery of the crews of 140 wing who were tasked with the raid, and who carried out the requirements asked of them at the briefing.
Above, the three graves of Sampson, Pickard, and Broadley. all lost on the Amiens Gaol raid 18th February 1944
One of the last squadrons at Hunsdon was 611(West Lancashire) Squadron Royal Auxilliary Air force. They were at the airfield from March to May 1945 and flew Supermarine Spitfire IX and the North American Mustang. They were used in the long range escort role, and one of their last flights from Hunsdon was to escort Lancaster bombers of 617 (Dambuster) squadron to bomb Hitlers mountain retreat of Bertchesgaten.
The airfield history had come full circle, from providing a base from which 85 Squadron started it tentative steps into the fledgling art of nightfighting. With the first airborne radar in converted Douglas Havoc light bombers. The airfield took part in the early experimental trials with 1451 flight, using powerful airborne search lights to try and find enemy aircraft with the Hellmore 'Turbinlite' . Early airborne radar in conjuction with GCI, again with 85 squadron and the new Mosquito. The advanced nightfighter and intruder ops in support of RAF night bombers by many varied Mosquito equipped squadrons. Then on to freeing French prisoners in one of the most daring low level raids mounted by the RAF, back to Canadian crewed night fighters & intruders and finally on to long range bomber escort deep into Germany itself using the Mustang, one of the most potent aircraft developed by the allies. A rich history indeed, and one that deserves to be remembered as you walk the crumbling concrete remains of RAF Hunsdon.
Former Station Commanders were:
Wing Commander Harvey DFC. W/Cdr Peter Townsend DFC, W/Cdr J R A Peel DSO. DFC. W/Cdr J S Maclean DFC. W/Cdr J Hamblin. W/Cdr John Cunningham DSO DFC. W/Cdr H M Kerr AFC. S/Ldr J G Saunders and W/Cdr A L Mortimer.
There were on average around 100 RAF officers, 140 NCO's and 2,000 other ranks, with 268 WAAF's with 5 officers and 3 NCO's, based at Hunsdon at any given time during its operational life. The airfield was defended, first of all by the Army with the Kings Royal Rifles then later by the RAF Regiment consisting of 2728 , 2727, 2734, and 2715 squadrons RAF Regiment . Pillbox type fortifications defended the airfield perimeter and village approaches, while others on the airfield defended the flying field. Of these, eight examples can still be found today and are listed structures. Ground to air defence by means of anti-aircraft guns was provided by 517 Troop of 119 Battery, Light anti aircraft (LAA) with Bofors guns. 334 Battery (LAA) and 33 Searchlight Regiment were also stationed here.
A 'Q' site existed just outside of Braughing village. This was a night time decoy using the standard airfield lighting system to attract enemy bombers away from Hunsdon itself. Another decoy airfield in use by North Weald and was situated on Nazeing Common several miles to the south of the airfield.
26 aircraft were lost in local crashes near to the airfield, some falling not far from the airfield while in the circuit or on finals. Including those lost near the airfield, 126 airmen were killed while on flying operations from Hunsdon.Two were listed as 'airscrew' incidents, that is to say they walked or fell into fast turning propellors while working in close proximity to the aircraft themselves.
The final tally of enemy aircraft shot down by Hunsdon based squadrons amounted to 143 German aircraft shot down and with 88 categorised as damaged.
Hunsdon ceased flying operations in May 1945, it was placed on care and Maintenance for a short period before being abandoned by the RAF completely. It was not until the mid 1960's that compensation for the then landowner was settled. The control tower (Watch Office) was probably the first airfield building to fall to demolition, and some sources state this happened as early as 1946. One of the last to go was a blister hangar on the southern side of the airfield
In 2005 a memorial was erected on the airfield dedicated to all those who served at Hunsdon from 1941-45. Several noted veterans who were based here,returned to the airfield for the event. In June of 2012 a Roll Of Honour was unveiled with the names of all 126 airmen lost on operational flying and accidents and is situated next to the existing memorial. Several relatives of the airmen named returned for the memorial service. A small Remembrance day service is also held on the airfield every year to which all are welcome.
'Lest We forget'