Crash of 180 Sqdn. B-25 August 25th 1944

An enquiry came into the Society for information about a B-25 that ditched in the sea off Beachy Head in 1944.  Flight Officer Hodder had survived being shot down and his family were researching the details.  There were no known pictures of his aircraft Daily Delivery.

We managed to trace Daily Delivery (photo below) but the crew was not F/O Hodder’s crew.  This photo was taken a few weeks before the crash, but further research by colleagues of DAHS determined that the 180 Squadron crews rotated aircraft as operational restrictions dictated.  So the question was which aircraft was ditched in the sea? F/O Hodder’s later memoirs of the event are written below, with the Squadron ORB recording the official account.

D – Daily Delivery at Dunsfold. Informal group portrait of RAF ground staff with RAAF and Royal New Zealand Air Force air crew of a Mitchell bomber squadron, 180 Squadron RAF with the Second Tactical Air Force. Left to right: two RAF ground crew, Jock (Fitter) and Alf (Rigger); 422248 Flying Officer (FO) Jack B O’Halloran, pilot of Sydney, NSW, (later Flight Lieutenant and DFC); 417379 Pilot Officer James Crosby (Jim) Jennison (later Flying Officer and DFC) of Adelaide, SA; 422175 FO Reg J Hansen of Sydney, NSW; FO Harry M Hawthorn, RNZAF of Hastings, NZ

Continue reading “Crash of 180 Sqdn. B-25 August 25th 1944”

Open Day for VC10 at Dunsfold

On Saturday 15th July we will be holding an Open Day at Dunsfold Aerodrome for our VC10 ZA150, which lives there. This was the very last VC10 of 54 built at Brooklands in the 1960s and was one of the last two to fly with the RAF from Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. On its retirement in September 2013 it was acquired by Brooklands Museum and flew in to Dunsfold, where a team of dedicated volunteers maintain it in running order.

Entry is by pre-purchased ticket only and the timetable is as follows:

  • 12.00-14.00 Pre-booked visitors will arrive via Stovolds Hill
  • 13.00-13.15 Taxi run
  • 13.45-15.30 Visits on board in small groups
  • Last entry to Dunsfold will be 14.00

More info at Brooklands site.

Willards Farm Spitfire Crash

A Spitfire Mk XIV of the Flying Training Wing crashed at Willards Farm Dunsfold on 19th January 1945. The pilot – Flying Officer Fisher – bailed out and was injured.

Has anyone further information and about the cause of the crash and what became of the aircraft?

Spitfire Mk XIV similar to that involved in the crash at Willards Farm Dunsfold

Mystery Mitchell Crash Summer 1944

Bill Allom has asked for some more information on a number of incidents at Dunsfold during 1944 that don’t appear in our limited records.  Bills father was stationed at Dunsfold with 180 Sqdn.

1 – The first is about a Mitchell FL 217 that crashed on landing on 20/6/1944. Bill states: I think this date is correct my ORB copy is poor and hard to read”

2 – The second query:   Bill says:  ” My father returned on a mission with the hydraulics shot out. While the ORB does not indicate the plane crashed on landing it appears to never fly again.   This occurred on 24/7/1944 in Mitchell FW 185.  Dad records 40 hits a/c badly holed, hydraulics shot up. Could the undercarriage still be lowered with damaged hydraulics?   I am unable to confirm if this aircraft returned to service or was written off.  I hope you can help solve these mysteries.”

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CONSERVATION AREA STATUS TURNED DOWN

Press Release:

Waverley Borough Council’s Executive decided at its meeting on Tuesday 6th June that it was ‘not suitable’ to establish a Conservation Area at the historic Dunsfold WW2 Airfield site, the birthplace of the Harrier Jump Jet, and now used among other things for filming TV’s Top Gear.

The proposal to consider the site for conservation on the basis of its heritage value and the history associated with it, had come from local residents in late 2016 and the Council carried out a public consultation which ended in April this year.

87 responses were received, including support from 3 Parish Councils, and a letter from Historic England. The report presented to the Council on Tuesday explained that 84 were in favour and only 1 response was against the proposal, but went on to summarise that objection and agreed with several of its assertions.

One of the key supporters of the idea of a Conservation Area is the Dunsfold Airfield History Society (DAHS). A spokesperson for DAHS said; ‘This decision by Waverley is hugely disappointing and clearly flies against the overwhelming views of the local population, and people interested in the proper conservation and celebration of the heritage of this unique site’.
While the Council pointed out that there are no set criteria for assessing the merits of a Conservation Area, they did cite the extensive guidance provided by Historic England. In their report, Council Officers agreed that the site is of historic importance and that it is already an Undesignated Heritage Asset. ‘The problem with that’, said the DAHS spokesperson, ‘ is that it adds absolutely no level of protection.

We asked that question of the Executive in writing but our question was not read out and no answer given at the meeting’. Council Officers had visited the site for one day to assess the heritage assets, and concluded that the condition of the majority of them was ‘poor’.

Historic England has recently listed Primemeads Farm within the site and is still separately assessing several other structures for potential listing. According to Historic England ‘another mechanism by which the significance of an airfield can be highlighted, as a historic landscape, is through conservation area status’.

Making former military airfields into conservation areas does not stop development and change but adds a level of protection and control for the local authority when changes happen.  There are 9 other former military airfields across the country that do have conservation area status, and DAHS said ‘It seems a no brainer that Dunsfold, now under threat of complete demolition, should be afforded at least the same level of protection that these other airfields have’.

Detail of DAHS proposal for designation

History:
Dunsfold Aerodrome was built in 1942 by the First Canadian Army as a temporary airfield for use by the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII. The site was completed in just 20 weeks. The layout of the airfield consisted of three standard runways (one 2,000 yards and the other two 1,400 yards), laid out in a triangular pattern with a perimeter track surrounding it. Dispersal sites clustered off to the south and east and a main technical area was located to the north. The airfield was opened on 16 October 1942 by Lieutenant General A.G.L McNaughton of the First Canadian Army with a commemorative stone placed in front of the control tower that still exists. The first arrivals were three Mustang squadrons from the RCAF in December 1942. They mainly carried out reconnaissance as part of the army cooperation.In June 1943, Army Co-operation command was disbanded and the airfield became a fighter station allocated to the new 2nd Tactical Air Force.

Dunsfold was one of five airfields used by No.2 group and was home to three Mitchell II squadrons. These squadrons were part of bombing missions aimed at the Germans’ long range weapons sites, and, in the months prior to D-Day, aimed at sites which could reinforce German positions after the invasion. By the end of October 1944, the Mitchell squadrons had left and Dunsfold was placed on care and maintenance.

After the war when the airfield was used as a landing ground for DC3 Dakotas bringing back over 47,000 prisoners of war. In August 1946, the Aerodrome was declared inactive and the airfield was leased to Skyways Ltd, a charter airline. Skyways used the airfield to refurbish, test fly and deliver Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft for the Portuguese Air Force, it also played a Major part in the Berlin Airlift between 1948 and 1949, making 2,730 of the total 21,785 flights to Berlin.

Following the liquidation of Skyways in 1950, the lease was acquired by the Hawker Siddeley Group. The company used the airfield for final assembly work and flight testing of its Sea Hawks, Hunters, Sea Furies, Gnats, Harriers and Hawks. From the 1960s, the company became involved in developing Vertical/Short Take-off and Landing (VSTOL) planes (Harriers). Much of the work was carried out at Dunsfold and some of the engine testing bays still survive. It is around this time that the runways were lengthened/widened to allow for testing. On 21 October 1960, the first P1127 (the forerunner of the Harrier Jump jet) made its first tethered flight at Dunsfold, which led to its first conventional flight in November of the same year.

In 1969, the Harrier was introduced into the RAF Service with the ground training phase taking place at Dunsfold. Until 2000, when BAe Systems ceased activity at the aerodrome, all derivatives of the Harrier family of aircraft evolved from Dunsfold. The airfield was also used by the Royal Observer Corps (ROC). A monitoring post was constructed in 1961, in the south western corner of the airfield for nuclear reporting during the Cold War. The post was closed in 1991 following the break-up of the Communist Bloc.

 

Mitchell Bomber flying over Dunsfold in 1944. Source; Public Archives Canada

Crewman’s story of flying B25’s from Dunsfold

The following story was written by my father, Ray Mitchell, in 1995, for the newsletter of 139 Wing Association. 1995 was the 50th anniversary of VE Day, and also my parents 50th wedding anniversary. Called up in 1942, Ray had met my mother whilst working in the Air Ministry. He courted her throughout the rest of the war, until marriage in June 1945, a month after D-day. Final de-mob, and my arrival, came in 1946!     2005 will be their diamond-wedding anniversary.    139 Wing Association has now disbanded; living memory of WW2 will soon pass into history and be left to historians and others to argue about. It is important that those who were there tell their story.
Fraser Mitchell – eldest son.
———————————————–
“Its May 1995, and I am lying in bed, thinking of all the urgent tasks to be performed that day, such as pruning roses, and suddenly remembering where I was fifty years ago.   Yes, its near VE Day, and I am suddenly Corporal Ray Mitchell – Radio Technician, working on those lean and hungry-looking B25 Mitchells at Achmer airbase, Germany.

I came to 180 Squadron at Dunsfold in mid-1944 after a rather soporific career in Training Command working on ancient Oxfords, and clapped-out Blenheims, installing and servicing, believe it or not, battery operated transmitter/receivers run on 120 volt batteries and 6 volt accumulators. Anyone going on leave with a ‘sparks’ badge on their uniform were always being stopped by RAF police in their search for disappearing HT batteries; there was a shortage everywhere in wartime.    Training command were always short of airfields and were constantly sending flights of aircraft around the country to odd and empty airfields so that trainee pilots could get the hours in. Ground crews followed and from main base at Grantham I was shuttled around Harlaxton, Bottesford, Balderton, Woodvale, and finally Hawarden (near Chester) where suddenly the Orderly Room announced ‘You’re posted, chum’.

To Dunsfold and 139 Wing, my first posting to a REAL Air Force; where there was pressure and tension in the air; where everything had to work 100% first time; where Form 700 was taken very seriously!    Where those B25s with their bobbing noses on tricycle undercarriages would chase you along the perimeter track if your servicing truck dawdled at 40 mph. There was no ‘scrounging’ here, everyone knew that they were an integral part of the fighting machine.  Dunsfold was a noisy place in those days. With Wright Cyclone engines and two to three ops a day, and thirty-six plus Mitchells taking off there was always urgency in the air.

ROYAL AIR FORCE: FIGHTER COMMAND, TACTICAL AIR FORCE, 1943. (CH 11040) North American Mitchell Mark IIs (FL707 ‘EV-Z’ nearest) of No. 180 Squadron RAF, taxiing along the perimeter track at Dunsford, Surrey, for take off on a cross-Channel bombing sortie in support of Operation STARKEY. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210444

D-day approaches; we are now all in tents scattered in the woods around the base. On the ‘Day’, maximum effort puts 9 boxes of 6 aircraft into the air several times. The effort continues month after month, many of us are taught to drive and a few months later we are on our way to Ostend and Brussels. To Zaventum Airbase (now Brussels Airport), and that old convent, a welcoming population and a winter of ops, opera in the Theatre Monnaie, and Pouishnoff playing Chopin one evening.

So many memories; they come flooding back. The day the Luftwaffe strafed the airfield, fortunately after our aircraft had got airborne. And the days in Spring 1945, when the war seemed won. But not quite. Flying bombs started to fall around us. A lone Luftwaffe jet suddenly drops a bomb on a dispersal – an instrument mechanic working alone is dead. I had been working on a radio in that very dispersal shortly before.   And now it is April, and in a final push, 139 Wing Mitchells are moved up into Germany to help finish the war, to Achmer near Osnabruck. I flew up with the advance ground crew party.
Memories again. We bank over the Achmer airbase. I hear the pilot say “how the HELL can we land there”. We orbited a few times. Down below was a lunar landscape of thousands of overlapping craters; all neatly inside the airfield boundaries. Precision bombing on a vast scale; it must have been the Yanks ! Many craters had, however, been filled in despite appearances from the air, and after a very bumpy landing we unloaded our tents and kit. Next day a large party of German civilians approach us. Our first glimpse of the “enemy”. We are worried. We put our clips into our Sten guns, but no problem. They are the civilian staff of the airbase, and expect to be taken on by the ‘new management’, which they are. First job, digging latrines. Second job, hairdresser.

North American Mitchell II of No.180 Squadron, Rickard, J (2 October 2008), http://www.historyofwar.org/Pictures/pictures_mitchell_II_180_sqn.html

Memories Fade. Did 139 Wing carry out real ops from Achmer ? It seems that only a few days after arriving there, VE Day was announced. Where’s that photo I had of us all in front of a B25? And the one of the floods after torrential rain?

VE Day and now what? No more bombing, nothing more to “do”. Achmer soon reverts to peacetime. Almost a holiday camp now! Swimming in the Ems-Weser Canal; the Malcolm Club, sunbathing, sightseeing flights over the Ruhr to see the bomb damage, leave in Brussels – and leave back home to marry a lovely London Scottish girl. Our Golden Wedding and VE Day anniversary go together.

And finally! Worries about being transferred to the Far East are over after Hiroshima. (“If only we’d had one to drop” we all agreed, we would have been home sooner.) But the Americans want their B25s back; 139 Wing is converting to Mosquitoes. Fewer ground staff will be needed, demob is in the air and so we all return to Zaventum for dispersal. Old friends and colleagues are disappearing in all directions; 139 Wing is downsizing fast
And soon I find myself alone walking into Polebrook, a silent airbase near Norman Cross on the Great North Road, and as I go into the Airmen’s Mess for the first time, American 8th Air Force notices, signs, and insignia are everywhere. I go up to the Servery. On either side are large grey boards bearing, in proud white lettering, dates and places of bombing targets of long departed Flying Fortresses. What catches my eye is of course, the lettering “Achmer” and again “Achmer” amongst the dozens of other target names.
So now I know from where those American precision bombers of Achmer had flown. What could we British and Dutch in 139 Wing have done without them? They had provided us with those superb B25s and then took the trouble to get the Luftwaffe out of Achmer for us. This is the reason why I am still pretty pro-American, and why I have made a friend and twice visited a certain Bob Maker in Idaho, who as a captain in the US Army Air Corps, navigated and piloted B25s and other aircraft in the Pacific. But that is another story”…..
Note: –
139 Wing comprised RAF 98 and 180 Squadrons, and Royal Dutch Navy 320 Squadron. It was part of 2nd Tactical Airforce (RAF), tasked with supporting Allied troops prior to, and after 6th June 1944

Originally published: ‘WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar’

 

Harrier in private hands – XZ439

The legacy of the Dunsfold Harriers goes far and wide.   50 years on, and the Harrier is still flown in American skies.   Significantly the point is made that the Harrier was the only non-US aircraft used by the US Military since World War 1.

This story shows the passion of one man for the Harrier.    Art Nalls has had a life long dedication to flying. His addiction to the sky has lead him to an honourable military career and an even more adventurous retirement. Nalls has had the unique opportunity to purchase his own British Harrier Jump Jet. Now this retired Lt. Col test pilot uses his passion for flight to help preserve military history with the maintenance and upkeep of the last three remaining Sea Harriers. Continue reading “Harrier in private hands – XZ439”

Memories of a Dunsfold Photographer

I looked up at the gleaming red paintwork, and the black letters ‘ XX154 ‘ on the side.  I knew I was very privileged, few people outside Hawker Siddeley Aviation, and almost certainly no other twelve year old had seen this.
I’d had to duck down low in my seat as my father drove us through the lesser security gate by the Three Compasses pub, the back way into Dunsfold Aerodrome.

Dad was an assistant foreman here for Hawkers, working on famous aircraft such as the Hunter, Gnat and lately ‘ The VTO ‘ – Vertical Take Off, as the workforce called the P1127 prototypes which developed into the Harrier fighter.  He had sneaked me in after school on the evening of Tuesday the 20th August 1974.   The next day would see the first flight of the new Project 1182 Advanced jet trainer – the Hawk.

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Sea Fury

Hawker Sea Fury at Dunsfold, by Jonny White on Flickr

The Hawker Fury was designed to a RAF requirement for a ‘light Tempest’, which they had found to be very effective as a ground attack aircraft.  A lighter version, it was argued, would make a good fighter.  The Fury was built in the same general arrangement as the Hawker Tempest but with a reduced wingspan and with the Tempest II’s Bristol Centaurus engine, the first production aircraft flying in 1946.

However, with the end of the Second World War, the RAF decided that they would not proceed with this aircraft in favour of waiting to re-equip with jets.  At that time the Royal Navy felt that the operation of jet aircraft from ships flight decks was still something of an unknown quantity and instead specified a Naval variant of the Fury.

Re-designed with a strong point for a catapult strop, an arrester hook, folding wings and high energy absorption undercarriage the Sea Fury entered Naval service in 1947 as the Sea Fury F.10 (Fighters).  Like many aircraft of the day it could employ Rocket Assisted Take Off Gear to help a heavily laden aircraft achieve flying speed from the restricted length of a flight deck.

The Sea Fury was the Fleet Air Arm’s last piston-engined fighter to serve in front-line Squadrons.  The prototype Sea Fury first flew on 21 February 1945 and carried out deck landing trials in HMS Ocean in October of that year.  The first production aircraft (Mk.F.10) flew on 15 August 1946 and the first Squadron, No.807 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), re-equipped with F.10s at the Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in late 1947.  The first Squadron to fly with the FB.11 variant, 802 NAS, re-formed in May 1948.  In all, fifty Sea Fury F.10s were built, followed by 615 Sea Fury FB.11s (Fighter Bombers), the last of which came off the production line in November 1952.

A 2-seat weapons trainer variant, the T.20, was also produced with the prototype flying in January 1948.  Quite apart from the obvious addition of the rear cockpit fitted with duplicated controls, the T.20 differed from its F.10 and FB.11 brethren in a number of ways: not being intended for carrier operations the arrester hook was removed, as was the retractable tailwheel unit – presumably the removal of the associated hydraulic jacks and piping going some way to help redress the centre of gravity issue caused by adding the second cockpit.

Training for carrier landings were carried out at Culdrose and often at nearby Predannack in what were termed Aerodrome Dummy Deck Landings (ADDLs) prior to aircrew getting to try the real thing.  Mounted between the front and rear cockpits a tripod periscope arrangement developed by Hawker enabled the instructor in the rear cockpit to see what the student in the front seat was viewing through his gyro gunsight.

This was probably all the instructor could see as those who have flown in the back seat will probably testify that visibility is, to say the least, dire!  Two of the Hispano Mk.5 20mm canon were deleted from the centre mainplanes in order to provide additional space to house equipment displaced from the fuselage by the addition of the rear cockpit.  A total of 60 of these aircraft were built.

When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the Sea Fury was the Fleet Air Arm’s leading single-seat fighter, and it fought with great distinction during the conflict.  The Sea Fury squadrons involved in Korea were 802 NAS (HMS Ocean), 807 NAS (HMS Theseus), 801 NAS and 804 NAS (HMS Glory) and 805 NAS and 808 NAS (HMAS Sydney).

The aircraft were used in the ground attack role armed with bombs and rockets and were also engaged in air-to-air combat with the much faster MiG-15.  On 9 August 1952 a Flight of Sea Furies from 802 NAS flown by Lieutenants Carmichael and Davis, and Sub-Lieutenants Haines and Ellis, were on an armed reconnaissance flight in an area just North of Chinimpo when they were attacked by eight enemy MiG-15s.

Despite the enemy’s superiority in numbers and a 200 mph speed advantage, the Sea Fury pilots shot down one MiG and badly damaged two others without incurring serious damage to their own aircraft.  As Flight leader, Lieutenant Carmichael was officially accredited with the ‘kill’ and was subsequently awarded the DSC for his heroism, but all of the other pilots officially claimed their quarter share.

With the advent of the introduction into Fleet Air Arm service of jet aircraft such as the Sea Hawk, the Sea Fury was relegated to second-line duties, with many being employed by the Air Branch of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR).  After the axing of the RNVR units in 1957 the majority of Sea Furies were scrapped.  Happily a handful survived to see service with the civilian-run Fleet Requirements Unit, used as ‘flying targets’ for the training of Royal Navy ship crews, until finally being retired in 1962 – the final piston-engined, fighter-type aircraft to see service in Royal Navy markings.