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Declassified: What Happened To These RAF Bases Since WW2? | Forces TV

July 29, 2019



eighty years ago Britain was on the cusp of a second world war during the 30s it was clear that the Germans were launching a major rearmament program and so the RAF had to respond new airfields were built across the country from Cornwall to the Highlands of Scotland but after the war many of them became surplus to requirements others thrived well into the Cold War these are their stories RAF Hethel in Norfolk was home to an American bomb group in the 1940s but 80 years later it's got a very different use today RAF Hethel at its heart the old runway the launch pad for vital missions during World War two a different kind of the original runway is now part of the test track the latest sports car hundreds of planes took off from here and now hundreds of cars are tested on this track every year American airpower I made a daring but costly attack upon the Romanian refineries RAF Hethel was home to an American bomb group the three hundred and eighty ninth known as the sky scorpions they were part of dangerous missions like this one attacking Romania's oil fields which supplied much of Germany's fuel eight months later this attack was followed up by a systematic campaign of destruction from Italian bases from the air you really get a sense of how big this place is the site is 55 acres and that excludes the land taken up by the test track so now that we know what the old runway is used for just how much of our EF vessel is left here in 2018 let's take a look around next to the racetrack is the original control tower back in the 1940s it was a key hub for the base now it's been refurbished and lives on as the company's driving academy fondly referred to as the clubhouse so what about the old hangars just yards from the former runway the buildings that used to house war planes are still in use and while they might look similar outside they couldn't be more different inside around 2000 vehicles are built by hand here each year the founder of the company the legendary engineer Colin Chapman was an ex RAF pilot it's easy to see why he was so keen to get his hands on the base he knew there were a number of F air bases in East Anglia which were needed to be repurposed for other activities at the time Lotus was based in North London and put out gurus facilities so in 1966 we moved to here to heckle having all the facilities and the building is already there when we moved here we were able to quickly start assembling cars and designing cars in the former hangars I think the people who would have worked at this Air Force Base during in the war would actually be very interested in what we're doing with it now back at the track one of the experts shows us how it's done but then RAF Hethel has always played host to those who weren't afraid to take a risk or to [Applause] thousands of air crews were risking their lives throughout World War Two and its RAF Elving tton in Yorkshire many of the personnel serving there were French forming a significant part of this Bomber Command station it was the nerve center of RAF Elving tindora and today the original control tower remains peaceful now and part of the Yorkshire air museum but scroll back to 1944 and things couldn't have been more different thousands of air crews were risking their lives day in and day out including many French personnel who formed a significant part of this Bomber Command station the footage taken from this documentary made by the French in 1944 has allowed the museum to recreate the control tower almost exactly as it was although the personnel aren't quite as animated as they were back then the level of detail is impressive from the radio operators waiting for planes to come back to the chalkboard timetable of planes leaving and deriving many of the items here are also originals Elving to meticulous was involved in the pre d-day attacks in order to soften up the beaches before of the Allied landings it was part of the bombing offensive in order to cripple German war production there were young men in old age they often tell me if we they knew what they knew then they would never have stepped in an aeroplane the seven-man crew of the Halifax were brothers in arms very much so they lived together they fought together and in many cases 50% on us they died together ian is giving me a tour of the site and he's dusted off his armored ferret vehicle especially once I've got comfortable in the gunnery seat it's time to head over to explore one of the jewels in the crown of the collection here and its height RAF Elberton was home to more than 2,500 personnel during World War two and of those more than 2,000 were French many of those crews were flying Halifax's just like the one Ian is about to show me Friday the 13th is the only complete example of a Halifax mark 3 in the world so why is it called Friday the 13th I think it the the idea is that you do the opposite of what you hope for and hopefully it doesn't happen to you so you'll see that there's an upside-down horse's hoof and all sorts of unlucky symbols based on the fact that if you have if you put across too much unluck you know the the opposite will will rain getting in it is not the easiest and especially when you consider that they were wearing their Mae West lifejackets there are big boots you know it got down to minus 40 degrees those three layers of clothing the parachutes getting in and out of Hills not easy every occasional aircraft carried a live pigeon so that after the bombs were dropped the pigeon was released so that even if the Bombers didn't get home the authorities back in England would know that the mission was successful that's right yes yeah and of course if the crash landed it was fresh food so this is where the bomb aimer would sit a lot of the early raids were very heavy on on RAF personnel and 77th squadron based here with the first one lost nearly 600 Airmen just in in a few months so it was moved out and the two French squadrons came in here in early 1944 Ellington was known as petit France really interesting that there's so many French combatants in this one place when you read their stories or you talk to them they knew exactly why they were here they were here to rid their French streets of German soldiers and they were willing to sacrifice their lives for it and many did those who served here couldn't have known that decades on their stories would be so closely followed and celebrated this museum ensures their sacrifices will never be forgotten for many of these bases the end of World War two saw a decline in their use but for RAF our / – in Oxfordshire things couldn't have been more different [Applause] RAF our behaviour during the Cold War when NATO aircraft of different types and nationalities were a familiar sight a bhai fir'd was one of the largest US Air Force bases in Europe at the time it housed the Bombers that carried NATO's intermediate-range nuclear weapons before that it had been home to American troops who had arrived in Vista in the 50s ultimately there was a US presence for more than four decades today parts of the site are protected as scheduled monuments it's one of the oldest bases in the world more than a hundred years of history and despite the secrecy surrounding it movie producers were granted special access to use it as a location for the Bond film Octopussy in the 1980s so given its links to double-oh-seven we thought we'd explore James Bond style my wingman for the day is Don Todd he's been running tours of the site for the last two decades this is one of a number of cars used for driving experiences on this private site away from public roads the old base is more than a thousand acres there's so much to explore and the first stop is a real treat Haidee eka subdue oh it's really dark in here gosh what listen to the echo you can with a light switch let me just Donnelly's opening up one of the aircraft shelters f-111s were permanently armed and located in Quick Reaction alert areas like this one this is where the blaze were kept on readiness for takeoff of the mission so they were this is where they were those doors were open and they'd be sent off yes and the artwork is great on the back there what's that that is a depiction of the squadron sewing roll of the dice they called on the 55th squadron so that's depicting the 14 55th they called on this area has continued to attract Hollywood a-listers the owners of the site gets regular requests from producers one of the latest movies filmed here was Wonder Woman it's a big fighting scene in which they use most of the quick response area this area view some of the hangars she had a massive fight defending the unsaved in the world at the very end of the movie so yes it was a save the world scene you can see why movie producers love this place it feels like stepping back in time it was once completely off limits and for those with only the highest security clearance but today the old command center is completely abandoned during the Cold War NATO began to improve the strength of aircraft shelters and battle command centers to ensure survival in the event of a Soviet strike so that they would be able to mount a counter-attack and dom has got us special access to a part of the site that's rarely opened back up the wall readiness complex complete with special decontamination areas for if there was a chemical attack take everything off so this is the war readiness room the nerve center of the base here during the Cold War and you can just imagine can't you this room being full and all these phones being manned the details on the walls tell us about where the aircraft were they were always on high alert and rumor has it that many of these phones had a direct line to the Pentagon and even the White House many businesses coexist here and some of them attract people with a special connection to its past lots of American pilots that come along that used to fly from here and are keen to drive their old runway again which is lovely just to see the expressions and what a joy it brings for them there are plans for a heritage center on the site so more can learn of its top-secret past allowing its stories to live on into the future not every RAF base was home to Halifax's and Spitfires RAF Bawdsey in Suffolk was home to a research team whose work proved vital in achieving victory in World War two no runways no control tower but this was one of the most significant RAF bases in the world it was where much of the work was done on the development of radar RAF Bawdsey and Suffolk was where Sir Robert watson-watt and his team did much of their research Ward Z Manor was built in the late 18-hundreds by sir Cuthbert quilter a wealthy businessman who went on to become an MP but he sold this entire site to the M OD in 1936 that's when the first research teams working on the development of radar arrived and then it officially became RAF board Z a team of experts have now transformed part of the old base into a museum dedicated to explaining the history of radar and what led up to it in the 30s pressure was building on the government about how to deal with the Luftwaffe all kinds of ideas for new weapons were being looked at government put forward a suggestion to try and find an idea how they could generate a death ray to take down pilots of incoming enemy aircraft and sheep were put forward as a test case if someone could kill a sheep at a hundred yards you would win 1,000 pounds at that time clearly a lot of money nobody managed to do it no sheep were harmed in that experiment so once that clearly failed it was realized that there was no way you could get enough energy to actually generate a death ray of any meaningful way so they looked at other alternatives and what some was and his team came up with this idea of detecting aircraft by reflection of those radio signals and that's the start of this story of radar employing microsecond passes from the radio transmitter with a nearby radio receiver pick up a radio echo reflected from an aircraft this formerly classified information film shade how the system worked really an effective radar system and I was interested in nothing less than an integrated system they somewhere within February 1935 much of the key work was done here in this transmitter block this is where the power was distributed to the radar transmitters we have the incoming power there and the two transmitters a and B the pulse was sent from this site this was then plotted and that information was sent to headquarters and they then alerted aircraft from other airfields and launched them we were outnumbered about four to one in the number at F we had so had we not had read the planes would have had to travel backwards and forwards searching for the enemy aircraft we would have been searching for a needle in the haystack this is one of the first sites that was built if that decision hadn't have been made be sure sprechen sie Deutsch you think it's he gives that crucial you oh yes the Germans would have won the war yes definitely nearby is a slightly less grand house with a secret to tell it was built to look like a farmhouse but beneath was a secret bunker used during the Cold War Roger worked there during that period and is keen to show me where the Bloodhound missile systems that he worked on stood guard so this what we're standing on right now was one of the launched it is yes the launcher was fastened down here and the missiles were then loaded onto it ready to fire and should the command be given by the launch control post they would then fire the missile were you always quite tenant zone alert ready for something that may or may not happen it must a bit a bit frustrated at times it was frustrating you were called in the middle of the night on exercises pretending that somebody was going to attack and you had to get everything running everything to be had to be perfect and you stayed on alert throughout the night and all of this you know completely secret what was it like not being able to talk about your day job just didn't talk didn't say a word oh yes no I worked there Oh what do you do sorry I can't say back at Bawdsey manor social life for the Cold War troops like Roger was back here it was the officers mess the main dining room off for formal nights we had but when it was home to Sir Robert watson-watt and his research team there was one room in particular that was important right this is the leather room Roger is showing me so what's and what's old office just being in this room knowing what was developed here it's incredible isn't it how important it was it was it was very very important Robert watson-watt who was the starter shall we say he had the ideas that he was the team leader there were lots of other people are involved in the actual development of the radar with such a rich history its present couldn't be more different it's now used for residential holidays for kids the whole estate that we've got is 144 acres we're operating in a small area of that and we've built 20 different activities for the children to go on and while the children are here to be active they are always encouraged to learn about the history of radar we tell them what radar is it's amazing how few children know what radar isn't luckily we've got the museum there that explains it very well very clearly and we want children to go and see that and understand what this building so important it means a lot to a lot of people so we are the latest chapter in that we want to be part of that from World War two to the Cold War RAF Bawdsey played a significant role in Britain's military history parts of it may now be derelict but the museum is a lasting legacy to the story of radar how it saved thousands of lives helping to win the war it once played its part in the fight against fascism but today this former RAF base is now playing its part in the fight against climate change welcome to the old RAF licit today it's a wind farm its mission today is to fight climate change but this wind farm in Yorkshire was once at the forefront in the fight against fascism RAF licit was built during World War two and was home to one five eight squadron Bomber Command 851 lost their lives today their names are etched on this memorial overlooking the turbines Jill's father served there and survived well the structure of this memorial is very significant in the viewed from one side the crew is walking away as if boarding their aircraft remission viewed from the other side they're returning home her father flew 33 missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross citation share this with you if you wish yes flight leftenant strange has been four times to Berlin once to Leipzig and twice to düsseldorf and to many of the Ruhr areas laterally he has further assisted the work of the squadron in the capacity of an assistant flight commander and has given generously of his time and knowledge in the training of crews new to operations what an incredible man wonderful is me you must be so proud I am yes yeah so I have brought along and just one thing from the plane that my father used to look through and this is a piece of perspex from what I would call the windscreen area of a Halifax that crashed in a little village outside Paris called him on say with the loss of all but one lives and many years later my father and his navigator invited to go to a ceremony to mark this and he was invited to choose a piece of wreckage and he chose this which looks like nothing at all but it's what he used to look true and why did he pick this particular piece he chose that piece after the wreckage to bring home with him because he said that that represented the many hours he spent looking through it where did he keep it did he put it on display oh no it wasn't on display I think it was just in a drawer and similarly with him with his medals because he had a he was awarded a DFC at the end of his tour and his medals were kept at the bottom of his sock drawer and you know they came out once a year for the reunion kept in his pocket until he had to put them on and then put back in his pocket the seven men in the memorial represent a bomber command crew next to it their badge which has seven links reinforcing their motto strength in unity every person in a crew representing a link being just as important as the other they also symbolize the unity of the nation that's a really tough time when everybody had to stand close together they were only together for ten months but gosh the bonds they made between them were incredible you can't tell from a distance but when you look up close the turbines each have something unique they all contain individual tributes to list its past eleven of the twelve turbines have the names of World War two planes that flew from there Russell hill from venti and energy who run the wind farm is taking me on a tour I want to learn more about their individual stories and one in particular has caught my eye so if you have a look around the side here you'll see that this is where the name Friday the 13th appears it's the same on all of the turbines throughout the wind farm named after each of the Bombers as I say with the exception of one of the turbines and this was the original aircraft which completed a hundred and twenty eight operations with one five eight squadron it defied the odds and survived the war and this replica is now on display at the Yorkshire air museum for Russell he has his own connection to this place personally myself you know I'm horses I was in the Navy my father was in the RAF he served in Aden it's a very fitting memorial we're quite close to an operational Air Base a couple of times a day you get a couple of fighter jets set up here flying around the wind farm generally chasing each other having a bit of fun but not feel maybe returning from one operation occasionally they've dip the wings I've noticed them do that and it's almost in significance to what's happened here in the past perhaps they're paying tribute this turbine is very different to all of the others that's because instead of the name of an aircraft on it it has the names of six ground crew that were tragically killed back in 1943 that's because this used to be a bomb dump seven people were working here and all of a sudden a thousand-pound bomb went off and it tells us here that remarkably one man survived Aircraftman one Daniel Owen he was an armament assistant it says his clothes were blown from his body but he walks away without any injuries there are 12 turbines on the wind farm and they produce enough energy to power around 18,000 homes but this site has another use as well the former base isn't just a wind farm in 2018 it's also part of a working farm and the old runway is used to store equipment and materials that beyond those where the turbines are and you can just see them on a clear day just going around the tips a few minutes up the road and I'm meeting the farmer who owns the whole site it's been in Jim's family for generations they had to hand part of it over during the war in 1943 so it could become RAF illicit now it's back in their hands they are proud of what happened here we're the caretakers of something until the next generation so we try to instill upon our family what you know what happened or whatever so I think it's just there as a as memories without them we wouldn't be here I don't think as the Sun sets on licit each night there is something really special about the way it highlights the memorial to one five eight squadron that painful chapter is now over but the memory of those who served here will live on the remains of these airfields give us a window into the past to the RAF finest hour each of them preserving the sacrifices made so their stories can continue to live on you

33 Comments

  • Reply ROL G Songwriter - No ads in here ! July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Blackbushe aerodrome 1978 Bob Dylan Eric Clapton

  • Reply Stewart Ritchey July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    The Brits are probably raising Brussels sprouts on them, which smell terrible in the field and in the pot, but are actually quite tasty to eat!

  • Reply TYAU Gurung July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    I love her leather jackets.

  • Reply Mos Kito July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    the English always kissed the ass of the USAmericans, they know exactly they are nothing without the BIG BROTHER overseas.
    Someone should fix a huge engine on this island and ship it over to the USofA …. leave the Scots, Irish, and Welsh to EUROPE, they are by far better people

  • Reply Richard Kennedy July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Go and see wonderful RAF Castle Archdale in County Fermanagh! It is now a substancial country park but, happily, there is much to see WW2 relics-wise including a fine RAF museum in the renovated courtyard buildings. Quite a story – around 3,000 personnel there in 1944.

  • Reply Matthew Taylor July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    I need to know this chick

  • Reply wEt SpOnGe July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    I live near RAF Errol and there is the Derelict Hulk of Fairey Gannet XG882, feel free to look it up.

  • Reply Lee Smith July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Joined the RAF in 1971, and base closures seemed to follow me for 22years. Colerne, Lyneham, Wildenrath (RAF Germany), Kinloss, all bases where I served. Some are now Army Units, so they live on. I also live in a house on the site of RAF Skellingthorpe, of WW2 fame. Such a shame to lose all that heritage, but I suppose priorities must change. I still have my memories. Ex Nimrod Crew Chief.

  • Reply Robert Fogden July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    lived in RAF Faldingworth when i was 5-7ish 60 years ago) , going up and down funny shaped hills on my sled, did glow a bit in the dark, guess what was under them?

  • Reply Mark O'nee 1 July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Not an RAF station but the former Rossington Colliery nr Doncaster ( just been demolished for housing ) was used in WW1 to develop the first bombs as the mine shaft was the deepest so they could move in on a Saturday afternoon to drop different designs and idea's for bombs and fin styles down the shaft after the workers had gone home for the weekend .

  • Reply Roger Hudson July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    During WW2 the government took 600 airfield sized bits out of UK farming, how much was given back? Most bases were just left to decay and the land never cleared and returned.

  • Reply dennis thompson July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    supposed to be documentary on what has happened SINCE end of WW2 but is more about the wartime deeds So all the old WW2 favorites get re-mentioned. and the plot is lost. Boring!. What about RAF Fanborough (Hants) , RAF Swanton Morley, (Norfolk) , RAF Faldingworth (Norfolk), RAF Winthorpe (Notts), RAF Wyton, Weeton, Wattisham and many more. I think it's great that the vast tracts of land are returned to farming , industry and housing. The few die hards who want to see resurrection of "the good old days" can club together and rent/buy the location and, of course, pay for the maintenance. Not another noose around the tax-payers' neck.

  • Reply Jamie Innes July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Pilots salute, left and right wobble. A respect to what once was.

  • Reply Northy July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Sexy presenter that Sian Scrabblename .
    .
    Carnaby… Retail.
    Catfoss.. Industrial
    Pocklington .. Glider school

    RAF Patrington was a radar station is now a caravan holiday park.

  • Reply Joe Boyd July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    This was interesting. Thanks for uploading.

  • Reply Canaryville Kid July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Americans saved Britain from being the northern most German State two times in the last 100 years. Thought we had a close friendship, yet UK and AU spy agencies supplied dirt and SPIED on a US Presidential Candidate? REALLY? And that campaign still goes on (i.e. the orange parade float and designed protests of UK visits). PEOPLE NEED TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE and they better drag it out in the open so we know you're serious. Who authorized that… WHO is responsible. WHY ARE THEY NOT IN PRISON YET?

  • Reply Belgarth100 July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Royal Signals, mobile communications centre. Took 48 hrs to reach our designated location. Every time we stopped we were fed Fish and Chips. Netherlands were not taking part – didn't want to upset the Russians – but massive traffic jams in Belgium meant we had to hide a regimental convoy over the border for 12 hours and hope no Dutch civilians found us. As usual German schoolkids located us in the woods within hours of arrival. If it had been the real thing all Spetsnaz had to do was follow the kids.

  • Reply Iain Botham July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Who exactly benefited from WW2? Germany was destroyed, the UK lost its empire and the end of the war signaled the beginning of multiculturalism. The (((you know who))) got Israel, the Soviets got Eastern Europe and the bankers got rich. What's more, MILLIONS lost their lives

    Germany didn't declare war on France & the UK. It was the other way round

  • Reply Tom Burton July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    At 4:40 there’s a fake section taken from the Memphis Belle film and monochromed & fuzzed-up to make out it’s original?

  • Reply brian keay July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    i worked on old R A F property in the 70s it is still there and holds a large quantity of MUSTARD GAS from the first world war apparently from a newspaper report it is harmless > this gas is buried underground i worked at this place for 10 years did not see much wild life and this place is on the norfolk / suffolk border near R A F BARNHAM

  • Reply Rat King July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Can we stop turning the entire country into a museum? i mean i would like to have some adaptable country left please.

  • Reply Soulware3D July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    I live on an old raf base.

  • Reply Steven stott July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    You just know that China and ISIS are watching this.

  • Reply Marc McFarland July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    anyone remember the Lotus from the James Bond movie that turned into a submarine?

  • Reply Newton July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    360 airfields in Lincolnshire not one talked about, what about Would Newton , where the rockets where fueld up and ready to go , For the third world War, in the Cuban Missile scare,

  • Reply Tommy D July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Anyone can see that the UK has little interest in preserving it's history, as if we should be ashamed of it. The Ark Royal going for scrap, along with the Illustrious for two million pounds in Turkey instead of keeping one for a fantastic floating museum including aircraft. London and other towns ripped apart by the developers, the same boring shops and office blocks everywhere, there is hardly a trace of what was there before, and what with the closure of so many former RAF bases no one in future will have any idea of what this country went through during the war.

  • Reply edd summat July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Most possibly all raf bases can't be sold off for housing cis the raf spilt so mutch fuel cos of heat expansion and fuel leaking onto runways, and only way to makesafe was to wash into gras.

  • Reply Ross Hutchison July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    i think it was lovely bit of reporting. i really like her style.

  • Reply Carlos Rodriguez Von-Samosa de Aquas July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Way to many ex RAF bases to even scratch the surface and that doesn't even begin to look at the aux bases. My local RAF Manston soon to be a housing estate, with the obligatory memorial, of course.

    The real problem is that what I see as just yesterday, anyone under 20 sees as history, and with the current left wing political culture not even something we should be proud of.

  • Reply Ed Stoutenburg July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Good documentary on 'HMS U.K.'-The Worlds Biggest Aircraft Carrier! (Kept afloat by all the Barrage Balloons.) Im a Military history fan so it caught my attention as' After The Battle then and Now' has been a great UK magazine to pick up if your really interested in the massive scope of WW2. Unfortunately I can only afford the budget trip to see these places-Google Earth! 'Flying' over the UK-its amazing as you start to pick out all thr old Wartime Bases still visible -usually by the triangle type runway layouts. And GE-ing over many a site from other theatres of War or even WW1 really adds a depth to a History book to bring out the Scale of such battles. The massive losses that Bomber Command suffered in the War is a testament to the Crews and the effort required for Victory.

  • Reply Saintinkz July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Was stationed At RAF Alconbury 85-88 and worked a bit at RAFMolesworth aswell

  • Reply Glenn Roberts July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    GREAT presentation!!!

  • Reply loganinkosovo July 29, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    How many of these bases are haunted as hell? Military Bases are some of the most haunted places on earth. I say this is from personal experience.

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