‘Story of wartime RAF base needs to be told’
It has been interesting to read the recent articles and letters remembering those who died in plane crashes in the Melton area during the Second World War and the memorials which are being suggested. Alongside those acts of remembrance I feel we should very specifically be remembering those who died locally and across the world carrying out the mission which RAF Melton Mowbray was tasked with in the war.
Very few people seem to know about the contribution that the local airfield made to the war effort. I have been researching the work of the local airfield in the war with the support of the Civic Society and Melton Heritage Forum in order to tell the story of the crucial part this airfield played as aircraft made the journey from manufacture to combat.
The RAF units at Melton Mowbray worked together, and with a network of 160 Staging Post airfields across the world, to supply the aircraft needed for combat wherever the need was greatest and the fighting was fiercest.
By the end of the war, No. 12 Ferry Unit at RAF Melton Mowbray was one of only three units in Britain with the expertise to do this job. More than 2,000 people were based there and they worked to send out a wide range of aircraft including:- Bristol Beaufort, Bristol Beaufighter, Vickers Wellington, Douglas Boston, De Havilland Mosquito, Short Stirling, Martin Marauder, Douglas Dakota, Handley Page Halifax, Avro Lancaster, Hawker Hurricane, Avro York, Westland Lysander, Supermarine Spitfire, Avro Anson, North American Harvard, De Havilland Dominie, Vultee Vengeance, Consolidated Liberator, Vickers Warwick, Chance Vought Corsair, Grumman Hellcat and North American Mustang.
Aircraft arrived at Melton Mowbray from manufacturers in Britain and the USA. Some of those aircraft from the USA had already crossed the Atlantic on ships but many had been flown across. The RAF units then prepared the aircraft for long distance flights, trained the crews in long range flying, forced landing procedures and navigation and briefed them on enemy activity along the route.
The aircraft were then despatched from Melton Mowbray on the first leg of the long journey overseas. Until December 1944 this often meant flying to Rabat in Morocco where aircraft would be redirected on journeys which could end in Italy, Russia, India or on the decks of aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of Japan.
After January 1945 it was possible for single engine aircraft to fly, step by step, in short stages across France to North Africa.
The longest journeys were undertaken by more than 100 American Hellcat carrier fighters. They were brought across the Atlantic on the decks of aircraft carriers, prepared at Melton Mowbray and despatched across France to North Africa, along the coast to Cairo, through the Middle East to Basra in Iraq, down the Persian Gulf to Karachi, South India and Sri Lanka.
Having reached the Indian Ocean, many of the aircraft were embarked on aircraft carriers of the East Indies Fleet and were in combat off the coasts of Burma and Malaya. Some were taken further, by sea, and joined the British Pacific Fleet in operations off the coast of Japan. From manufacture in New York State to combat with the Fleet, they had made a journey of over 17,000 miles.
Ferrying aircraft overseas from Britain was a very important activity. Thousands of aircraft needed to be delivered by air from Britain to the various theatres of the war to keep the combat squadrons up to strength.
This was part of the rapid growth in air transport of all kinds which helped the Allies win the war but these long and dangerous flights also prepared the way for the development of civil aviation after the war.
There was, of course, a human cost. Pilots and crews died in the area around the airfield as they tested the aircraft, often fully loaded to assess fuel consumption: a Beaufighter at Kirby Bellars, a Mosquito Night Fighter on the airfield itself, a Beaufighter near Little Dalby. But many others died flying across England, on the long flight over the sea to Morocco, and taking off and landing at the different Staging Posts across the world.
We hope to produce a booklet soon to tell this story and anyone with memories of the work of the airfield in the war can contact me through the Melton Times.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Melton
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 10 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North