DUXFORD
Station crest


Second World War (1939-1945)
 
Royal Air Force 1939-1942

Training on the new Spitfire continued into 1939 and as the summer of that year wore on, tension again mounted. 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force arrived early in August for its annual summer camp, bringing its Spitfires. All 3 squadrons went to half-hour readiness on 24 August, and personnel away from the Station were recalled. Perimeter security was stepped up, and on 29 August all reservists were called up. 1 September, the day Hitler's forces invaded Poland, saw the general mobilisation of the RAF, and two days later, on Sunday 3 September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Duxford records show that "....Signal A34 received, announcing war has broken out with GERMANY only." Security became even tighter, and work began on modification of the barracks and other buildings in readiness for WAAF personnel. Camouflage paint was applied to the hangars, no civilian clothing was allowed on the Station and air raids or an invasion, or both, were expected at any minute. As autumn arrived training and evaluation flights carried on, with 66 Squadron working on experiments with VHF radio. These proved to be successful, but it was found that production problems delayed bulk delivery, severely hampering the RAF's plans to ensure that its pilots had the best equipment available. 19 Squadron tested cannon-firing Spitfires, but the cannons had a tendency to jam and the trials were deemed unsuccessful. Both squadrons flew daily patrols from at Horsham St. Faith in Norfolk, from where they patrolled the North Sea in connection with shipping and fishing fleet protection. Having found itself mobilised whilst on summer camp, 611 Squadron departed in October and was replaced by the newly-formed 222 Squadron. 222 Squadron became operational in December, flying Bristol Blenheim Mk IFs over the North Sea in the shipping protection role.
 
19 Squadron Spitfires, 1939 A line-up of twelve 19 Squadron Spitfires on show to the press at Duxford on 4 May 1939. Note the two-blade "Watts" propellers fitted to these early types
 
By the outbreak of war, King George VI was on the throne and on 25 December the first of the King's wartime Christmas Day broadcasts was preceded by a unique greeting from the air from the pilot of a 66 Squadron Spitfire flying over Duxford.

On 11 January 1940, Duxford-based squadrons were involved in their first action of the war. 66 Squadron, while on duty at Horsham St. Faith, was scrambled to catch a Heinkel He111 which had attacked a trawler. Three Spitfires intercepted it, damaging the port engine. The Heinkel was then lost in cloud and the Spitfires returned to base, but the enemy aircraft was later reported to have crashed in Denmark. On 7 February, 19 Squadron welcomed back Douglas Bader. At the outbreak of war, Bader had argued his way back into the RAF and was now posted to 19 Squadron to fly Spitfires. 19 Squadron were in a spell at Horsham St. Faith and Bader had some problems getting used to the aircraft, suffering an accident whilst taking off. The Spitfire cartwheeled and was a write-off, as were Bader's artificial legs, but he acquired a new pair and carried on flying. In April, 19 Squadron moved to Horsham St. Faith on a semi-permanent basis and 222 Squadron exchanged its Blenheims for Spitfires. As in all RAF squadrons, the aircraft were quickly marked on their fuselages with their new identification codes, the pre-war codes having been comprehensively revised. Bold block letters were normally place in front of the roundels, thus QV, LZ and GZ would distinguish 19, 66 and 611 Spitfire squadrons respectively throughout the war; 222 Squadron was allocated ZD.
 
19 Squadron Spitfire MkI being re-armed at Duxford in 1940
19 Squadron Spitfire, 1940
 
May 1940 was an eventful month. On 10 May, Hitler's forces invaded Holland and in London Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. Douglas Bader was promoted to Flight Commander with 222 Squadron and left Duxford when 222 Squadron moved to Digby, also on 10 May. 222 Squadron was replaced by 264 Squadron, which flew Boulton Paul Defiants. Encounters with the enemy were now a regular feature and on 11 May Flt. Lt. W G Clouston claimed 19 Squadron's first victory, a Junkers Ju88. More movements took place on 16 May, when 19 Squadron returned to Duxford, 66 Squadron taking its place at Horsham St. Faith. On 25 May, 19 Squadron was moved to Hornchurch for 10 days to carry out covering patrols for the British Expeditionary Force, which was ordered to evacuate Dunkirk the following day. 264 Squadron went to Manston for the same task. Cover at Duxford for this period was in the form of 92 Squadron, which bought in their Spitfires from Hornchurch. During this 10-day period 19 Squadron met the Luftwaffe on 5 occasions, claiming 28 victories with 9 probables. But this was not without cost; three pilots were missing, including the CO, Sqn. Ldr. G D Stephenson, who was taken prisoner. 19 Squadron returned to Duxford on 5 June and 92 Squadron left for Northolt. 264 Squadron suffered considerably in May, claiming 56 victories but losing 14 aircraft. The turreted Defiant was no longer a surprise to an expectant enemy and the squadron was stood down at Duxford on 31 May.
 
264 Squadron's Boulton Paul Defiants
Boulton Paul Defiant

The Boulton Paul Defiant was designed and built in Norwich, the only East Anglian "local" aircraft. The prototype flew in August 1937, and it was the first fighter to have a heavy power-driven turret, with four .303 Browning machine-guns, rather than conventional forward firing armament, which of course demanded a two-man crew. Powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin III engine, the aircraft was capable of just over 300 mph at 17,000ft, and entered service in December 1939 with 264 Squadron. Defiant crews fought valiantly over the Dunkirk beaches with some success, but losses were high. Whilst the squadron operated form Duxford (and Fowlmere) the Defiant was mainly engaged in night patrols; indeed it ultimately became a useful stop-gap night-fighter. 

 Boulton Paul Defiants of 264 Squadron (left).

 
By June 1940, Holland, Belgium and France had fallen to Hitler's forces and an attack on Britain seemed imminent. The night of 5 June saw the first night bombing raid on England, and the very next night raiders came into the Cambridge and Duxford area, dropping one incendiary bomb in a field at Thriplow, 1.5 miles north-west of the airfield. 19 Squadron began to fly night patrols to ward off the raiders, but this met with little success. However, on the night of 18 June the Luftwaffe lost 5 Heinkel He111s  to the combined defences of the area. Towards the end of the month the night raids diminished, but the night patrols continued. On 25 June, 19 Squadron, now under the command of Sqn. Ldr. P C Pinkham, moved to Fowlmere, Duxford's main satellite airfield, 3 miles away toward Royston. The squadron carried out more experiments with Mk Ib Hispano cannon-equipped Spitfires, in addition to the normal routine of patrol flying. Progress was made, but problems remained with overheating and jamming of their drum feeds. However 19 Squadron persevered as, in theory at least, the two 20 mm cannons were a superior weapon to the eight .303 Browning machine-guns. Part of the reason for 19 Squadron's re-deployment at Fowlmere was to make room at Duxford, and on 10 July another new squadron, 310, was formed. 310 Squadron was composed mainly of Czechoslovakian pilots, but a "double-banking" system was operated with English-speaking officers. For example, whilst the Czech CO was Sqn. Ldr. Sasha Hess, his British counterpart was Sqn. Ldr. G D M Blackwood. 310 Squadron was the first such unit in Fighter Command. The Czech pilots had been members of that country's air force, and when Hitler's troops had invaded their country in March 1939 they had fled and joined the French L'Armeé d'Air. With the fall of France, they had little choice but to come to England and join the RAF. 310 Squadron was equipped with Hawker Hurricane's, another new type for Duxford.
 
Czechoslovakian pilots of 310 Squadron, the first Czech unit in Fighter Command. 310 Squadron at Duxford
 
310 Squadron dispersal 310 Squadron's dispersal at Duxford, 1940. Note the flowerbeds arranged as a Czech pilot's flying badge and Czechoslovakia itself.
 
The German High Command held the view that if an invasion of Britain was to succeed, the Luftwaffe needed air supremacy. To achieve this, the RAF had to be destroyed. The essential strategy was to bomb the RAF airfields, if there was any retaliation the Luftwaffe's fighters would deal with it. The period of intense air fighting that followed has become known as the Battle of Britain. Raids on the airfields in south-east England had already started; gradually they neared Duxford and by the end of July enemy air activity became almost constant.

August was also a busy month, with constant day light and night time patrols. Duxford was a Sector station in 12 Group, tasked with defending the Midlands, and was called in to help 11 Group at times of maximum effort. 11 Group, defending London and the south-east of England, bore the brunt of the fighting and it was thought that some sort of reserve should exist to help when times were hardest. On 28 August, Sqn. Ldr. McComb led 611 Squadron on the 30 minute flight from Digby to Duxford where the unit thereafter remained at Readiness throughout the day, returning to Digby in the evening (611 Squadron had mobilised at Duxford a year before). This made three squadrons in the Duxford Sector, 19, 310 and 611, available and ready to assist 11 Group if requested. The scale of fighting over Kent and Surrey on 30 August was such that the AOC of 12 Group, Air Vice Marshall Trafford Leigh-Mallory, decided that an additional squadron should be on Readiness at Duxford. The task was given to Sqn. Ldr. Douglas Bader, who then brought down his Hurricane squadron, 242, from Coltishall to join 19 and 310 Squadrons on daily standby. Bader had been promoted to take over this somewhat demoralised squadron mainly manned by Canadian airmen, which had suffered heavy losses whilst serving in France. Some time later on the same day (30 August), 242 Squadron led by Bader was ordered to cover North Weald, an 11 Group Sector station about 30 miles south of Duxford. An attacking force of Heinkel He111s and Messerschmitt Me110s appeared from the east and flew towards their target, the north London suburb of Enfield. Unseen by the enemy pilots, 242 Squadron attacked down sun, claiming 12 victories and 3 probables. As a leading proponent of the "Big Wing" concept, Bader was convinced that the most effective fighter tactic was to use several squadrons as one combined strike force (e.g. 19, 601 and 242 Squadrons). Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, strongly supported him, though Leigh-Mallory's counterpart at 11 Group, Air Vice Marshall Keith R Park, did not agree, essentially arguing that too much valuable combat time would be lost in assembling a "Big Wing". The "Big Wing" controversy caused a serious rift between the two commanders.

On August 31 the Luftwaffe made attacks on the Duxford Sector and 19 Squadron's base at Fowlmere was bombed. 19 Squadron intercepted the raiders, Dornier Do17s escorted by Messerschmitt Me110s. Two enemy aircraft were destroyed for the loss of two Spitfires, but both of these pilots baled out to safety. However, 19- year old Pilot Officer Ray Aeberhardt was killed trying to land his damaged Spitfire back at Fowlmere. While 19 Squadron was in action, Bader's 242 Squadron was brought from Coltishall to protect the Duxford Sector but did not see action. 310 Squadron went up from Duxford but was too late to engage. All three squadrons were still acting under individual orders and later on the same day 310 Squadron saw its first action. The squadron attacked a formation of Dornier Do215s escorted by Messerschmitt Me110s and Bf109s east of Hornchurch, and claimed four Do215s and one Bf109 destroyed together with two damaged. Two Hurricanes were lost, one of the pilots being saved. Also on 31 August, 611 Squadron had again flown down to Duxford from Digby. By the time of it's return to Digby that evening, the squadron had flown three patrols, including one over Duxford, but like 242 it made no interception. During the action on 31 August, 19 Squadron had again suffered problems with the experimental Hispano cannon. Ft. Lt. Brian Lane made representation on behalf of the pilots to the CO, Sqn. Ldr. Pinkham, and on 1 September Pinkham wrote to the Station CO, Wg. Cdr. Woodhall, requesting that the cannon Spitfires be replaced with standard eight .303 Browning machine-guns. Also on 1 September, 611 Squadron's 'A' Flight were moved to North Shropshire, leaving only the 'B' Flight at Digby and 310 Squadron had a possible move to North Weald cancelled. 242 Squadron patrolled from Duxford and saw no combat.
 
Douglas Bader and 242 Squadron pilots 242 Squadron pilots, with Sqn. Ldr. Douglas Bader (standing, centre). Bader is flanked by his two flight commanders, Ft. Lt. Stan Turner (Canadian, third from left) and Eric Ball (third from right).
 
On 2 September, 242 Squadron recorded a nil result operating over London, as did 310 Squadron over Debden. 19 Squadron undertook four patrols, including three orbiting Duxford, and encountered no enemy aircraft. Although the Station CO had given support to Sqn. Ldr. Pinkham's request that the cannon-armed Spitfires be replaced, it was decided that the squadron should move out of the battle area to Digby, and it's place at Fowlmere be taken by the machine-gun equipped Spitfires of 611 Squadron. On morning of 3 September, 19 and 310 Squadrons intercepted a large Luftwaffe force that had bombed North Weald and claimed eight enemy aircraft destroyed, with one probable. One of 310 Squadron's Hurricanes was lost though the pilot saved, and 19 Squadrons CO, Sqn. Ldr. Pinkham suffered from a jammed cannon. In the afternoon, 19 Squadron was informed that it would after-all receive machine-gun equipped Spitfires and 611 Squadron's 'A' and 'B' Flights were ordered to Fowlmere to cover for 19 Squadron whilst the changeover took place. 611 Squadron patrolled Mildenhall and Hornchurch and saw no action. When it arrived back at Fowlmere the Head of Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshall Dowding, was visiting. He had flown in to Duxford without warning in order to talk to 19 Squadron about the problems with the cannon, and the Station CO had driven him over to Fowlmere. As a result of the AOC-in-C's visit, that very same evening pilot instructors from Hawarden training school flew their eight-gun Spitfires to Fowlmere and returned with the cannon Spitfires. Throughout this day, 242 Squadron remained at Coltishall, from where it flew fruitless patrols.

On 4 September, 242 Squadron continued to operate from Coltishall, and 611 Squadron remained at Digby. In the Duxford Sector, 310 Squadron made two patrols over base without result, whilst Sqn. Ldr. Pinkham led 19 Squadron also on fruitless patrols over Debden, North Weald and Hornchurch. On 5 September, 242 Squadron again flew locally from Coltishall, as did 611 at Digby. Sqn. Ldr. Pinkham led 19 Squadron on patrol over Hornchurch and encountered an enemy force consisting of 40 Dornier Do17s escorted by 40 Messerschmitt Bf109s. Contrary to popular legend, when attacked by fighters enemy bomber formations seldom, if ever, broke up, because of the mutual fire support achieved by retaining a cohesive formation. One such formation shot down Sqn. Ldr. Pinkham, and he was killed baling out too close to the ground. Ft. Lt. Brian Lane was promoted in his place, becoming 19 Squadron's fourth CO in 9 months. During the evening, whilst 19 Squadron mourned the loss of their CO, 310 Squadron patrolled Debden, without incident.

On 6 September, 19 Squadron was ordered to fly in a Wing with 242 and 310 Squadrons, meaning that Bader's "Big Wing" idea would become a reality. 242 Squadron flew down from Coltishall for the first time in four days to operate from Duxford along with 310 Squadron, whilst 19 Squadron remained at nearby Fowlmere. The "Duxford Wing" took to the air for the first time to patrol Hornchuch and North Weald, no enemy aircraft were seen
 
On Saturday 7 September, the Luftwaffe's first major daylight attack on London was seen and in Britain the codename CROMWELL was broadcast: invasion imminent. 11 Group had all of their 21 Squadrons airborne and were stretched to the limit. Assistance was requested from 12 Group and the Duxford Wing took off under Bader's unofficial "leadership", heading for Debden and North Weald. Fighting was fierce and by the end of the day the Wing's claims were:
 
242 Squadron: 
310 Squadron: 
19 Squadron: 

Wing total:

10 destroyed, 2 probables, 3 damaged 
5 destroyed, 3 probables, 3 damaged 
5 destroyed 

20 destroyed, 5 probables, 6 damaged                                       

 
The Wing's own losses were:
 
242 Squadron: 
310 Squadron: 
19 Squadron:
1 pilot killed, 2 Hurricanes damaged 
1 pilot badly burned, Hurricane destroyed, 1 Hurricane damaged 
 
The Luftwaffe lost a total of 40 aircraft this day, 17 of which either crashed in England or close enough to the coast for their crews to be captured or bodies recovered.
 
The Duxford Wing - 242, 310 and 19 Squadrons, with 242 Squadron in the van. The Duxford Wing
 
On 8 September, 13 Spitfires of 611 Squadron left Digby and flew down to join 19 Squadron at Fowlmere in the Duxford Sector. At this time, 611 Squadron was not absorbed into the Wing but was used instead to provide a local defensive precaution or extra reinforcement. 242 Squadron, still based at Coltishall, joined 310 Squadron at Duxford itself in anticipation of protracted future operations from Duxford. However, 12 Group's assistance was not required and the Wing stayed on the ground at Duxford.

On 9 September, whilst 611 Squadron patrolled North Weald, the Wing was again ordered into action. A formation of about 75 Dornier Do215s escorted by about 150 Messerschmitt Me110s, Bf109s and Heinkel He 112s were sighted south of the Thames Estuary heading northwest. The attack was delivered south of London and after the engagement, the Wing's claims were:
 
242 Squadron: 
310 Squadron: 
19 Squadron: 

Wing total:

10 destroyed 
3 destroyed, 3 probables, 1 damaged 
5 destroyed, 2 shared destroyed, 3 probables, 1 damaged                          

20 destroyed (& 2 shared), 6 probables, 2 damaged 

 
Two Spitfires of 19 Squadron had been damaged, two 310 Hurricanes were destroyed by collision, the pilot of one being killed, and 242 Squadron also lost two fighters with one pilot killed. The Luftwaffe lost a total of 27 aircraft during the day. After the action, which had progressed well south of Duxford, the Wing's aircraft, low on fuel, were scattered and put down at various 11 Group airfields. Until the Wing had reassembled at Duxford, and refuelled and rearmed, it could not operate as a Wing at Readiness.

On 10 September, 242 Squadron remained at Coltishall and Sqn. Ldr. Bader flew to 12 Group HQ at Hucknall where he and Air Vice Marshal Leigh Mallory discussed the Wing's progress to date and considered future possibilities. The enemy largely rested and there were no major raids. 611 Squadron had again flown down to Fowlmere, where it was joined by 14 Spitfires of 74 Squadron which represented Coltishall's contribution in the absence of 242 Squadron (74 Squadron was led by Sqn. Ldr. A G "Sailor" Malan, one of the most experienced and exceptional pilots in Fighter Command). However, no squadrons in the Duxford Sector were called upon.
 
On 11 September, 242 Squadron again remained at Coltishall and Sqn. Ldr. Malan led 74 Squadron to join the Spitfires of 19 and 611 Squadrons at Fowlmere to cover Duxford Sector. One flight of 266 Squadron, which was operating from 242 Squadron's dispersal at Coltishall, also flew down to the Duxford Sector. Air Vice Marshall Leigh-Mallory's reinforcement policy continued with the arrival at Duxford of 302 Squadron, which was made up of Polish pilots flying Hurricanes. Like the Czechs of 310 Squadron, the Poles had escaped after their homeland had been invaded, and had arrived in the UK after the fall of France. As with the Czechs, the "double-banking" policy of English/Polish personnel was implemented. The Polish CO was Sqn. Ldr. Mieczyslaw Mumler, his British counterpart Sqn. Ldr. W A J Satchell. This put the equivalent of three Spitfire squadrons (19, 266/74 & 611) and two Hurricane Squadrons (302 & 310) at the disposal of Sector Control and now there were some 50-60 fighters dispersed around Duxford and Fowlmere. On the late afternoon of 11 September, Sqn. Ldr. Brian Lane led eight Spitfires of his own 19 Squadron, together with six of 266 Squadron, off from Fowlmere as the lead in an all-Spitfire Wing, the other squadrons being Malan's 74 and McComb's 611. The Wing attacked a large Luftwaffe bomber formation south-east of London and claimed 13 enemy aircraft destroyed with five damaged, for the loss of two Spitfires with one pilot killed. It is not known why neither 302 nor 310 Hurricane Squadrons flew with the Wing formation. 310 Squadron patrolled North Weald, but did not sight the enemy.
 
302 (Polish) Squadron 302 (Polish) Squadron at Leconfield, 4 September 1940, prior to its transfer to Duxford. 
 
On 12 September, 12 Group's fighters again gathered in the Duxford Sector: 611 joined 19 at Fowlmere, and 242 and 302 flew south to Duxford where they spent an uneventful day with 310 Squadron before returning home. On 13 September, the Poles of 302 Squadron became officially attached to Duxford, but did not fly, as did neither 19 nor 310 Squadrons. 242 uneventfully patrolled North Weald. On 14 September, the Duxford Wing took off twice to patrol London. Although there were five squadrons at Readiness in the Duxford Sector (19, 611, 242, 302 & 310), 611 Squadron did not join the formation on either occasion. This was the first time the Poles flew in the Wing but the enemy was not sighted.

On 15 September the reason for the lull during the preceding days became clear. Now known as Battle of Britain Day, it was on this day that the battle reached its peak. At 11:30 the Duxford Wing, comprising 19, 242, 302 and 310 Squadrons, was scrambled and it was joined one minute later by 611 Squadron, which was flying in from Digby. The Wing ran into what the CO of 19 Squadron, Sqn. Ldr. Brian Lane, later described as "the whole Luftwaffe" over London. Intense combat followed, from Dungeness in the east to Kingston-upon-Thames in the west. After the engagement, The Duxford Wing pilots returned individually, landing at various times from 15:00 onwards. The Wing's claims were high:
 
19 Squadron: 
242 Squadron: 
302 Squadron: 
310 Squadron: 
611 Squadron: 

Wing total:

12 destroyed, 2 shared, 4 probables, 1 damaged                                                                            
11 destroyed 
12 destroyed, 1 shared, 2 probables 
4 destroyed, 1 shared 
6 destroyed, 1 shared, 4 probables 

45 destroyed, 5 shared, 10 probables, 1 damaged 

 
And the losses:
 
19 Squadron: 
242 Squadron: 
302 Squadron: 
310 Squadron: 
611 Squadron: 

Wing total:

2 Spitfires damaged, 1 lost, pilot POW (pilot gave chase to France and shot down over Calais) 
2 Hurricanes damaged, 1 lost, pilot baled out injured 
1 Hurricane damaged, 1 lost, 1 pilot killed 
2 Hurricanes lost, 1 pilot wounded 
1 Spitfire damaged 

6 fighters damaged, 5 destroyed, 2 pilots wounded, 1 killed, 1 POW 

 
The Luftwaffe lost 56 aircraft in total.

It is now known the the Wing's claims were often overstated to the degree of approximately 3:1, but even that would give the Duxford Wing 15 destroyed against 5 losses. The Station was cock-a-hoop, and Fighter Command had won the Battle for London, by day at least.
 
23-year old Sqn. Ldr. Brian Lane, CO of 19 Squadron, pictured at Fowlmere in September 1940. He did not survive the war.  19 Squadron's CO, Sqn. Ldr. Brian Lane
 
The usual fighter squadrons flew into Duxford Sector on the following two days, but there were no requests for assistance from 11 Group.

The Duxford Wing was back in action on 18 September. After two uneventful earlier sorties, the Wing, again comprising 19, 242, 302, 310 & 611 Squadrons, took to the air and intercepted two formations of 20-30 enemy aircraft each, over the Thames at Gravesend. The enemy bombers were unescorted and the Wing's claims were high:
 
19 Squadron: 
242 Squadron: 
302 Squadron: 
310 Squadron: 
611 Squadron: 

Wing total:

5 destroyed, 3 shared, 1 probable 
12 destroyed 
7 destroyed, 2 probables, 1 damaged 
1 shared 

24 destroyed, 4 shared, 3 probables, 1 damaged                                                                            

 
With no fighter escort, the Wing's losses were just two aircraft damaged.

In total, the enemy lost 8 Junkers Ju88s in this engagement and the Wing certainly had a hand in the destruction of 6. The overclaiming ratio was thus approximately 4:1. Nevertheless, this was the last day the Luftwaffe attempted to raid Britain in large formations and on the following day 611 Squadron's place was taken by 616 Squadron under the command of Sqn. Ldr. H F Burton. 616 Squadron operated from Kirton, and flew to the Duxford Sector on a daily basis, as 611 Squadron had done from Digby.
 
611 Squadron 611 Squadron check the scoreboard in 1940.
 
During the next few days the Duxford Wing took to the air on patrol, but did not encounter serious action. On 25 September, the Poles of 302 Squadron left Duxford and never again operated with the Wing. The Wing, now comprising 19, 242, 310 & 616 Squadrons, was scrambled on 26 September and again on the 27 September, which turned out to be the heaviest day of fighting for some time. The Wing's claims for engagement in the Dover-Canterbury area that day were:
 
19 Squadron: 
242 Squadron: 
310 Squadron: 
616 Squadron: 

Wing total:

7 destroyed, 1 possible 
4 destroyed, 2 probables, 1 damaged 
1 destroyed 
1 destroyed, 1 probable 

13 destroyed, 3 probables, 1 possible, 1 damaged                                                                   

 
The Wing's losses were two pilots killed and one wounded, with four aircraft lost and two damaged.

On 28 September, both 242 and 616 Squadrons returned to the Duxford Sector, but despite two Wing patrols over the Thames Estuary, the enemy was not engaged. The weather was so bad the following day that 242 Squadron remained at Coltishall. Neither 19 nor 310 Squadrons flew at all. At Kirton, 616 Squadron was notified that it was no longer required at Fowlmere. Sqn. Ldr. Burton's pilots had flown a total of eight Wing sorties but had met the enemy only once, on 27 September. The Wing now consisted of the original three squadrons, 19, 242 and 310 and, with day-light raids now dying down, essentially passed into history.
 
By the end of October, daylight raids were seldom made, though night time raids persisted. From November, Duxford squadrons flew offensive patrols over France, and shipping protection sorties returned to the daily work-load. The Hurricanes of 258 Squadron from Leconfield were also present at Duxford for a few days at the end of November.
 
The winter of 1940/1 proved to be a quiet time, at least compared to the hectic action of only two month earlier and Duxford was set to change its role again, becoming the home of some specialist units. The Air Fighting Development Unit (AFDU) had been set up at Northolt to evaluate new aircraft and systems alongside the Air Gun Mounting Unit, which concentrated on armament. Some of the work on the cannon-equipped Mk Ib Spitfires had been carried out by this unit. Both units were starting to move into Duxford in late 1940 and by the spring of 1941 had settled into a varied routine of work. Alongside them was the Naval Air Fighting Development Unit (NAFDU), 787 Squadron, which flew shipboard types such as the Fulmar and Martlet.

242 Squadron left Duxford and went back to Coltishall at the end of November, leaving 19 and 310 Squadrons to carry on with defensive patrols. These included night time patrols by 19 Squadron from Fowlmere, as the flare-path lights there were far enough away from Duxford as to, in effect, act as a decoy. Night raids still occurred, and on the night of 25 February 1941 at about 23:00 eight bombs fell on the Duxford flare-path and one high explosive bomb on 310 Squadron's dispersal. This bomb ignited a fuel bowser and two Czech airmen were killed and five injured. The two Czech airmen are buried in the graveyard of nearby Whittlesford church and constitute the only deaths caused at Duxford by enemy bombing.

16 January 1941 saw Duxford used again for a Royal occasion. King George VI (who as the Duke of York had attended his father's Silver Jubilee Review at Duxford 6 years earlier) and Queen Elizabeth (now the Queen Mother) held an investiture and the medals presented included a Distinguished Flying Cross for Sqn. Ldr. Sasha Hess, CO of the Czech 310 Squadron in recognition of his squadron's contribution to the success of the Duxford Wing. In late June 1941, 310 Squadron moved out and was replaced by 56 Squadron, also flying Hurricanes. 56 Squadron had been fully engaged in the Battle of Britain, mainly from North Weald, and had been chosen to trial a new fighter operationally, the Hawker Typhoon, later on in the year. More Hurricanes arrived in August, flown by 133 Squadron, which stayed until moving to Fowlmere early in October. 19 Squadron said goodbye to Duxford in August, although it had been officially based at Fowlmere since February, bringing an 18-year association with the Station to an end.

19 Squadron was replaced almost immediately by 601 Squadron, which arrived to train on the new and unusual Bell Airacobra. 601 Squadron was the only RAF unit to be equipped with this rare American fighter. It had essentially been designed around a large T-9 cannon, which was located in the hub necessitating its Allison engine to be unusually sited amidships with the prop-shaft between the pilot's legs (!). It also had a tricycle undercarriage, a rarity at the time. The engine caused incessant problems, and although the fighter was fast and heavily armed it was not easy to fly. The Airacobra's were used on a raid on the French coast on 9 October, but the type was taken off operations in December when 601 Squadron began to convert to Spitfires. The squadron left Duxford for Acaster Malbis in Yorkshire in January 1942.
 
601 Squadron's Bell Airacobras
 
601 Squadron's Bell Airacobra's at Duxford in 1941. Note the T-9 cannon in the nose, the exhaust manifolds in the centre of the fuselage, and the squadron emblem in the tail-fin flash.
601 Squadron crest
 
On the south side of the airfield, 74 (Signals) Wing was based. Flying a variety of aircraft, including Blenheim IVs, Hornet Moths and another unusual aircraft, the Ceirva C30A autogyro, on coastal radar calibration work, the Wing's flying section became 1448 (Special) Flight in February 1942. In September 1941, 1426 (Enemy Aircraft) Flight was formed as a unit of the AFDU. 1426 Flight flew captured enemy aircraft for demonstration and evaluation purposes. Two Junkers Ju88, one Heinkel He111, one Messerschmitt Bf109 and one Messerschmitt Bf110 were flown in to Duxford and stayed until 1943. Frequent flights were made by these aircraft, and even though RAF roundels were displayed on them they were always escorted by other RAF aircraft. The Heinkel, which had been captured in February 1940, crashed at Polebrook on 13 November 1943, killing seven of the eleven on board.
 
 74 Wing's Ceirva C30A autogyro A Ceirva C30A autogyro of 74 (Signals) Wing, at Duxford in 1941. Built under license in England by Avro, 12 Ceirva C30A autogyros were delivered to the RAF in 1934/5. 
 
The Air Fighting Development Unit (AFDU)
 
At the beginning of 1942, an interesting collection of aircraft was at Duxford. In addition to the captured enemy aircraft (eg right), the AFDU had the first, and highly secret, De Havilland Mosquito undergoing trials. When they were finished, the declaration that the aircraft was faster than the Spitfire raised a few eyebrows. Also on test was the new North American Mustang MkI, fitted with an Allison engine, the North American Mitchell, the Martin Marauder, Lockheed Ventura, and several Hurricanes modified for a bombing role and later known as "Hurri-bombers". A Vickers Wellington with a huge 40 mm gun in the tail was also part of AFDU's fleet. In May 1942 an Avro Lancaster, piloted by Sqn. Ldr. John Nettleton VC, was evaluated for Bomber Command, which wanted to know how to develop evasive tactics for heavy bombers, as heavy losses had been inflicted during their daylight raids. Another exotic aircraft arrived for 1426 Flight on 5 July 1942, a Focke Wulf Fw190. 
    
One of the AFDU's captured Junkers Ju88 displaying RAF roundels and flying over the Duxford area (right).
The AFDU's captured Junkers Ju88
 
September 1941 also saw the arrival at Duxford of the first Hawker Typhoon, for trials with 56 Squadron. Like the Hurricane, this aircraft had been designed by Sidney Camm and had first flown in February 1940. It was large and powered by a Napier Sabre engine, heavily armed with twelve .303 machine-guns, and had a top speed of over 400 mph. Some serious problems soon became apparent. There were instances of structural failure around the tail plane, undercarriages had a tendency to collapse, all-round visibility was poor, and the cockpit leaked carbon monoxide; one of the squadron's pilots died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The engine proved somewhat temperamental, on occasions cutting out at high speeds, and the aircraft was very heavy and not easy to control causing a high proportion of training accidents. In January 1942, 266 (Rhodesian) Squadron arrived to re-equip with Typhoons, but as the production of Typhoons had been delayed because of the various problems, it retained its Spitfire MkVbs. In March, 56 and 266 Squadrons were joined by 609 Squadron - with the objective the establishment of a Typhoon Wing at Duxford. By April it had become a reality and was commanded by Wg. Cdr. Denys Gillam. By June, the Typhoon's problems seemed to have been solved a the Wing flew for the first time on 9 June, as a demonstration for the Duke of Kent, followed the next day by one for the chiefs of Fighter Command and 12 Group. The Wing's first operation, an offensive sweep over Northern France, took place on 20 June 1942. On of those who took participated was the Station Commander, Group Captain (later Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir) John Grandy. Later on in the summer the three squadron commanders accepted that the Wing had proved a failure, but proposed that the speed and firepower of the aircraft could be better employed by operating Typhoon squadrons independently at airfields closer to the coast to counter the Luftwaffe's low level "tip-and-run" raids. In the autumn the Wing was disbanded, and the three squadrons moved away to forward bases. On 1 September, a new Typhoon squadron - No 181, was formed at Duxford, commanded by Sqn. Ldr. D Crowley-Milling. Just two years earlier he had been a Pilot Officer in Bader's 242 Squadron at Duxford. After training had been completed, the squadron left for Snailwell in December.
 
Hawker Typhoon and John Grandy, 1942 Group Captain (now Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir) John Grandy stands in front of a Hawker Typhoon at Duxford in 1942.

On 12 August 1942, 1st Lt. J A Glenn of the 1st Fighter Group, United States Army Air Corps, became the first American pilot to arrive at Duxford when he flew a Lockheed P-38 Lightening in from Goxhill on tactical trials. He turned out to be the harbinger of things to come because by September 1942 Duxford had been selected as one of the RAF bases to be handed over to the USAAF, in the form of the US 8th Air Force. Before plans could reach fruition however another priority appeared, the invasion of North Africa - Operation Torch. For this a 12th Air Force was formed in Britain, under the command of Major General James Doolittle. As part of this force a new US Fighter Group, 350th FG, which had been formed at Bushey Hall, Watford on 1 October under the command of Major R F Klocko, was transferred to Duxford and arrived later that October. The Group comprised three Fighter Squadron, the 345th, 346th and 347th, with the American pilots largely coming from RAF and Royal Canadian Air Force units already serving in Britain. Because of the activity at Duxford, only the Group HQ and the 345th stayed at Duxford, the 346th being detached to Coltishall and the 347th to Snailwell. By January 1943 the Group was at full strength with Bell Airacobras (the P-400 model that the RAF had rejected) and between 3 January and 28 February some 61 tan-painted aircraft began the journey to North Africa to join the US 12th Air Force.

In just about the last activity of the year, North American Mustangs were based at Duxford from December when 169 Squadron arrived from Clifton and settled down to a programme of shipping reconnaissance and ground-attack missions.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Top


Back                                                                                                                                                                               Next  
  • Home
  • First World War
  • Between the wars
  • Second World War
  • Royal Air Force
  • American Period
  • Post-war 
  • Battle of Britain
  • Imperial War Museum*
  • References and acknowledgements 
     
    (1914-1918) 
    (1919-1938) 
    (1939-1945)  
    (1939-42) 
    (1943-45) 
    (1946-1974) 
    (1968) 
    (1975-present) 
     
     
    *in association with Duxford Aviation Society and Cambridgeshire County Council. The contents of this UNOFFICIAL website does not in any way reflect the opinions or ideas of any owner or operator present or past involved with the location popularly known as Duxford Airfield.