RAF 1943-1944

August 1943 – October 1944: Royal Air Force

During this period, Dunsfold Aerodrome was HQ for the Medium Bomber No 139 Wing, RAF, comprising 98, 180, 320 (Netherlands) Squadrons, part of the Second Tactical Airforce.

No. 98 Squadron RAF

Dunsfold, Surrey  between 18 Aug 43  –  26 Mar 44
Dunsfold, Surrey between  10 Apr 44 –  16 Oct 44

Commanding Officers No. 98 Squadron:

Wg Cdr A. M. Phillips             18 Aug 43
Wg Cdr R. K. F. Bell-Irving    9 Apr 44
Wg Cdr J. G. C. Paul, DFC    15 May 44
Wg Cdr L. G. Hamer 16 Sep 44

Squadrons 98 and 180 arrived in August 1943, and 320 arrived six months later. All three squadrons flew Mitchell bombers; “They took part in a large number of bombing missions over Europe, attacking a wide variety of targets and establishing a reputation for highly accurate attacks”. (12) They were at the forefront of the Allied offensive against the V-1 sites in northern France, and. 13 (The V-1s – also called “buzz bombs” or “doodlebugs” – were flying bombs, and could be described as early guided or cruise missiles, and were aimed from the continent towards London. (14)

No. 320 (Netherlands) Squadron RAF

In 1940 no. 320 (Netherlands) Squadron RAF was formed by members of the Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service, who had flown from the Netherlands when it was invaded. On 12 June 1944 Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands visited Dunsfold to award medals  (15). In all, 320 Squadron were awarded the Dutch Military Order of William four times and the Dutch Airman’s Cross, 176 times. (16)

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
ROYAL AIR FORCE: 2ND TACTICAL AIR FORCE, 1943-1945. (CH 13734) Ground personnel of No. 98 Squadron RAF, who serviced North American Mitchell Mark III, HD372 ‘VO-B’ Grumpy, during its record operational career, gather at the aircraft’s nose at Dunsfold, Surrey, as Corporal V Feast paints the 102nd bomb symbol onto its tally of operations. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210585
AMERICAN AIRCRAFT IN RAF SERVICE 1939-1945: NORTH AMERICAN NA-82 MITCHELL. (CH 20592) Mitchell Mark II, FV985 ?VO-S?, of No. 98 Squadron RAF based at Dunsfold, Surrey, approaches the English Channel south of Etaples while returning from a ‘Noball’ operation over northern France. Note the deployed ventral turret. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210536

ROYAL AIR FORCE: 2ND TACTICAL AIR FORCE, 1943-1945. (CH 12862) North American Mitchell Mark IIs of No. 98 Squadron RAF taxying along the perimeter track at Dunsfold, Surrey, for a morning raid on targets in northern France. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210539

ROYAL AIR FORCE: 2ND TACTICAL AIR FORCE, 1943-1945. (CH 11991) North American Mitchell Mark II, FV929 ‘VO-D’, of No. 98 Squadron RAF landing at Dunsfold, Surrey, after a daylight raid over northern France. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210480
19 July 1944: 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. Named ‘Daily Delivery’ https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C263114

 


The RAF 320 (Dutch) Squadron October 1943 – flying Mitchells from the UK

General Eisenhower addressing Airmen of 320 Squadron prior to D-Day in 1943 in the T2 Hangar at Dunsfold

Shortly before D-Day, on 18 April 1944, General Eisenhower, then Allied Supreme Commander, visited Dunsfold, presumably to give a pre-D-Day morale talk. (17)   The D-Day orders for Dunsfold were issued on 3 June: “to cause maximum delay to the movement by road and rail, by enemy forces at night”. 18The action started early in the morning of 6 June when all three Squadrons were in action to support the D-Day landing.

ROYAL AIR FORCE: 2ND TACTICAL AIR FORCE, 1943-1945. (CH 13809) Squadron Leader K Eager (centre), an experienced flight commander of No. 98 Squadron RAF, discusses a model of a flying bomb launch site with two newcomers to the unit at Dunsfold, Surrey; Squadron Leader R Wood (left) and a Canadian pilot, Pilot Officer Freeman (right). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212762

News correspondents had been frequent visitors to Dunsfold in the build up to D-Day and Ronald Walker from the News Chronicle flew in one of the Mitchell bombers from Dunsfold, his report appearing in the newspaper the next day. He wrote:

“The crews of three Mitchell bomber squadrons of this station who were sent on bombing missions to France in the early hours of this morning did not know that they were taking part in the invasion of Europe.” (19)

The next night, 60 Mitchell bombers were dispatched against the enemy. (20)

Following D-Day, in September 1944, all three squadrons of Dunsfold bombers were also involved in the unsuccessful Operation Market Garden, best known for the bitter battle for the bridge at Arnhem. 139 Wing lost several aircraft to enemy flak and fighters in these operations. (21)

By the end of the war “at least 1/3 of all crew lost their lives, and 40% of all Mitchells were lost” (22). During the six months 320 Squadron was at Dunsfold, it is reported that 156 members died and 57 were lost. (23) The casualty rate amongst airmen was generally very high: “Half of all aircrew were lost before they had even completed ten missions”. (24) Not all losses were due to enemy action and there were many accidents).
Link to record of crashes.

The three squadrons — 98, 180 and 320 — departed for the continent in October 1944 (25)

There are two plaques in Dunsfold commemorating the presence:

For 98 Squadron: on Rose Cottage (now Canada House):

  • “From its wartime headquarters in this cottage in 1944. No.98 Squadron, RAF was launched the invasion of Europe led by Wg Cdr G J C Paul”.

For 320 Squadron: a plaque in Dunsfold church along with its colours. (26)


 

Operation Exodus

Operation Exodus was the repatriation of British Prisoners of War (POWs) from the continent. Dunsfold Aerodrome was designated an “Air Arrival Centre” where No. 2 Hangar was decorated with flowers to welcome the troops home and a medical inspection tent was set up. Between the 15 April 1945 and 25 June 1945, 47,529 ex POWs passed through Dunsfold Aerodrome. This accounted for 85% of the POWs repatriated by the RAF. On one day alone – 9 May – 160 aircraft delivered 3,953 personnel: just 24 per aircraft, in accordance with Bomber Commands’ Operation instructions. But the daily count was often over 100 flights. As can easily be imagined, there were emotional scenes, with men falling to their knees to kiss the ground.(27)


References:


10 Delve, 1985: p81; McCue, 1991: p289. But the details given differ. 11 McCue, 1991: pp33-62.
12 Delve, 1985: p79.
13 McCue, 1991: p73.
14 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-1_flying_bomb
15 Manschot, 2016: p27.; McCue, 1991: pp128-129.
16 Wings & Wheels, 2016. For a film of Squadron 320 at Dunsfold in 1944, see Imperial war Museum: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060021111 [Accessed 31 January 2017].
17 Wings & Wheels, 2016; Delve, 2005: p79.; McCue, 10992: p107. There is film of his visit in the Imperial War Museum: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060019799 .
18 McCue, 1991: p117.
19 McCue, 1991: p121-125.
20 Ashworth, 1985: p83. McCue, 1991: pp125-126. For other details of action from Dunsfold, see Jacobs, 2009: pp195-198.
21 Jacobs, 2009: p198. McCue, 1991: pp160-169.
22 Manschot, 2016: p27.
23 Wings & Wheels, 2016. 24 BBC, 2011.
25 Delve, 2005, p79.
26 Delve, 2005: p81.
27 Clutton-Brock, 2003: pp 149-150; McCue, 1991: pp 190-194; Ashworth, 1985: p83.

 

 

RCAF 1942-1943

December 1942 – August 1943: Royal Canadian Air Force Dunsfold

Aerodrome was HQ for four squadrons of RCAF: 168, 400, 414, 430, together known as No.39 (RCAF) Wing. They were flying Tomahawks initially, superseded by Mustangs.

Their activities were largely training and reconnaissance. But Dunsfold also acted as an emergency landing place for damaged aircraft returning from the continent (11). There were many accidents ( see Appendices).

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Skyways

In August 1946, the Dunsfold Aerodrome was leased to air charter company Skyways Ltd, who used it as their main operating base. By 1947, Skyways was reported to be the largest air charter company in Europe. It employed “1,300 staff at Dunsfold”, mostly involved in maintaining the aircraft. “A large proportion” were accommodated on the aerodrome which operated 24 hours a day. In addition, there were about 350 aircrew. Its principal contract work was to transport oil company staff to and from Basra. A trip to Basra and back then took about 35 flying hours over our days.

Avro York Sky Courier at Dunsfold
Avro Lancastrian Sky Lane at Skyways operations at Dunsfold
Avro Lancastrian similar to those employed by Skyways. Photo from kitchener.lord
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How can you help?

Dunsfold Airfield History Society is keen to encourage you to help us preserve the valuable and unique heritage that is Dunsfold Airfield.

How can you help?

You can do so in a number of ways:

  1. You can become a free member of the Society by subscribing to this website with a simple email registration.
  2. You can add to the information on this website, via the comments sections, the forum, or by contacting us directly.
  3. You can support our recent submission for the Aerodrome to be designated a Conservation Area.  Conservation Area status is a vital step to protecting the buildings and structures from further decay.

Type T2 Hangars

T2 “Black” Hangers 1980s

By 1940 with the rapidly increasing development of large-span bomber aircraft, it became obvious that the pre-war standard RAF transportable hangar known as the Bellman Shed was rapidly becoming obsolete. As a result, the Air Ministry in collaboration with Teesside Bridge & Engineering Ltd, developed a series of end-opening hangars known as Type ‘T’. The first design was the T2 and like the others in this family it is built of a series of standard steel-fabricated lattice wall and roof units of welded-and-bolted construction. The complete framework is clad with galvanised corrugated iron, 22-gauge for the roof and 24-gauge for the walls. T2 were designed by the architect AE Cotton.

General Eisenhower addressing Airmen of 320 Squadron in 1944 in the T2 Hangar at Dunsfold

Additional knee bracing and wind loading braces appear to be contemporary modification using T2 components. The doors have six leaves either side that open the full width.

T2 Hanger with Skyways operations 1948

Folland Gnat in T2 Hangar Dunsfold possibly around 1967

T2 Hanger 2016

Top Gear Studio 2016

There are two T2 Hangers on the Dunsfold site.  The western end of the westernmost “black hangar” (that is actually green) is the current venue for the BBC Top Gear studio.

T2 Hanger 2016

T2 Hanger 2016

T2 Hanger 2016

T2 Hanger 2016

 


Please note: The aerodrome is private land and an active airfield. Access is not permitted to some of the buildings and features and we strongly discourage access without permission.

Engine running pens – Listed Grade II

The engine running or detuning pens were originally built to test the aircraft engines for the Hunter.

Three pens were arranged in a curve. One has been completely removed.

Of the two remaining; the unique example survives that was used to test all ‘jump jets’ or VTOL. The VTOL pen is lined with metal sheeting and sound absorption. Channels below ground take extract for the jets nozzles. Historical significance is for the development of the ‘jump jet’, P1127 through to the Harrier. All aircraft engines were tested and run here before being assembled and shipped worldwide.

The two engine running pens were given Grade II Listed Building status in December 2017.  Historic England’s detailed Listing report

The first P.1127, XP831, in the ground running pen at Dunsfold with Rolls-Royce representative John Vowles in the cockpit.  Photo courtesy BAE Systems via Brooklands Museum

Pen Construction 1960’s: BAE Systems via Brooklands Museum

Hawk 200 in Engine Running Pen (1980s) (courtesy Brooklands Museum archive)

Engine running pens

 

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Compass Swing Base

Circular concrete platform marked out in degree divisions accurately aligned with local magnetic north. The aircraft is placed on the pad in a series of angular positions and the reading of the aircraft’s magnetic compass is compared with the true heading on the pad. The aircraft system is then adjusted to match and any unresolvable residual errors are recorded. This process is called ‘swinging the compass’. A magnetic compass on an aircraft is influenced by the magnetic materials and components in the aircraft. Nearly all airfield had such bases, but they are now rare due to commercial pressures for space.

Compass swing base



Please note: The aerodrome is private land and an active airfield. Access is not permitted to some of the buildings and features and we strongly discourage access without permission.

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