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Unit History: RAF Tempsford

RAF Tempsford

Added on 09/09/2010

RAF tempsford info from MODs own site.
In a shallow valley straddling the Hertfordshire/Bedfordshire county border, RAF Tempsford was located largely in the parish of Everton. Some 500 acres 41/z miles due south of St Neots and a mile from the A1 trunk road and Tempsford village, was taken over in late 1940 for airfield construction. Built to Class A standard as a satellite for Bassingbourn, the three concrete runways were Ol-19 at 1,200 yards long, 07-25 at 1,580 yards and 13-31 at 1,333 yards. The usual 36 pan hardstandings were put down round the perimeter track. The technical site lay to the south between runway heads O1 and 31 and the bomb stores on the north side between runway heads 19 and 25 and close to Woodbury Logde Farm and Woodbury Low Farm.
Although the station was far from complete, in December 1941 Wellingtons from No. 11 OTU at Bassingbourn commenced using the runways while work was in progress on those at the home station. But Tempsford had been selected as a base for the special duty units, which mostly operated under No. 3 Group. In January 1942, No. 109 Squadron arrived with Wellingtons engaged in experiments with new radio equipment. They were soon joined by the Wellingtons of No. 1418 Flight also engaged in radio developments although both units were soon to move to other airfields.
In March 1942, No. 138 Squadron arrived flying Whitleys, Halifaxes and Lysanders joined the following month by No. 161 Squadron with Whitleys and Lysanders, both units tasked with the air support of the Special Operations Executive. Tempsford had now become the main centre for this most secret of activities: the despatch of agents and material aid to resistance forces in occupied countries.
To meet the expanding requirements of SOE, Tempsford was further developed. In 1942 runways O1-19 and 07-25 were extended on their northern ends to comprise overall lengths of 1,610 and 2,000 yards respectively. Perimeter track extensions were added to the ends of the runway extensions and the number of pan hardstandings raised to 50. Hangar building now involved four Type T2s on the technical site while a B1 was erected near Biggingwood Spinney, not far from the Everton crossing gates on the LNER main line, which paralleled the west side of the airfield. The following year two more T2s were added on the east side of the technical site, south of runway head 31. Three pan standings were lost to this and other work, three loop standings being constructed elsewhere on the airfield as replacements. In addition to the large hangars Blister types were put up on four of the pan standings to provide shelter for Lysanders. The seven domestic, two communal and sick quarters site were dispersed in fields mostly on the south side of the Tempsford-Everton road, while the combined WAAF communal and domestic site was sited in Everton village. Total camp accommodation was put at 1,722 male and 240 female.
Whitleys were gradually withdrawn from the Tempsford squadrons and replaced with Halifaxes although several other types, principally Stirlings, Albermarles, Liberators, Hudsons and Havocs, were employed during the 39 months the station supported SOE activities. Operations with Lysanders were mostly flown from forward airfields to reduce the range. During the winter of 194344, over 40 aircraft were often present at Tempsford but by the following year activity had dropped off to a point where the work could be handled by one squadron. Early in March 1945, No. 138 Squadron was transferred to Tuddenham for bombing operations, being rebuilt with Lancaster crews and aircraft. At this time, No. 3 Group relinquished control of No. 161 to No. 38 Group of Transport Command. During SOE and other operations flown directly from Tempsford, a total of 126 aircraft failed to return or were lost in crashes. This total was made up of 16 Whitleys, 80 Halifaxes, 18 Stirlings, 4 Hudsons, 5 Lysanders, 2 Lancasters and a Liberator.
No. 161 Squadron was disbanded in early June 1945, Tempsford then becoming a base and modification centre for Liberators employed by Transport Command. This lasted for a year after which the airfield passed to Maintenance Command. The RAF had withdrawn by 1950s and early in the following decade the hangars and land were sold. The majority of airfield concrete was removed for hard core apart from strips used as farm access roads. All the T2 hangars were removed but the solitary B1 still survives.
When the airfield was constructed, the buildings of Gibraltar Farm on the eastern side of the site came to be isolated within the perimeter track but were not demolished and the farm barn was used as the holding point for SOE agents before they were taken to the aircraft that was to delmer them. This building has been preserved and carries an appropriate plaque acknowledging its historic past.
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