The Squadrons based
at Tempsford Airfield (1942 - 1945).
"Special Duties" Squadrons 138 & 161
and their aircraft.

Although flights from other squadrons occasionally used RAF Tempsford, there were two RAF squadrons based at Tempsford airfield; No 138 and 161 squadrons. Both were involved in these highly secret operations, that ranged over all of enemy occupied Europe, dropping agents or supplies. Losses were very high, with up to one aircraft per week being lost at some points during the war (especially around the D-Day period in 1944). Missions were concentrated on the "moon nights" of each month, where a full moon allowed for better night vision for the pilots.
The Whitley, used for early operations proved to be slow and vulnerable.
The main aircraft used for the "heavy duty work" of dropping containers and packages, were the Halifax and Stirling bombers, because of their ability to carry heavy loads of supplies over long distances... and for the highly daring work of landing at night to pick up and drop off agents were the Hudson and the "Lizzie", (Westland Lysander) undoubtably the most famous aircraft involved in this secret work, because it was robust and could land and take off in very short distances (very useful when trying to land in a rough field....at night). The old Armstrong Whitworth Whitley was also used initially for supply drops, but was eventually replaced by the Lockheed Hudson. True accounts of these missions almost defy belief, such as the Hudson landing one night in enemy occupied France, but getting completely bogged down in a muddy field, only getting away 2 hours 40 minutes later after local oxen were used to pull it out, right under the German's noses !
Aircraft would often return, riddled with bullets, or with pieces of a French hedgerow wrapped around the undercarriage.
A halifax bomber used for supplying resistance groups in occupied Europe with containers and packages, as well as for parachute drops of agents.

A Lysander of 161 Squadron, "J for Jiminy Cricket" at Tempsford with some of the squadron pilots during 1942. This particular aircraft was flown by Squadron Leader (later Group Captain) Hugh Verity (second from the left).

It was from Tempsford airfield that these aircraft would fly, night after night (during the short "moon period") over the Channel or North Sea to occupied France, Belgium, Norway, Holland, Denmark, Poland Czechoslovakia...and no one in the local villages knew what bravery was being exercised just up the road. Nor did they realise that flights only seemed to occur on moonlit nights. Life, although often brief, was intense for the aircrew, who were the only Allied forces between 1941 - 1944 to always (...mysteriously !) have a regular supply of French champagne and perfume..... We will also not dwell on romances that occurred between the airmen and girls of the French Resistance, but suffice to say, that it's amazing what was achieved for the "entente cordiale" in just a few minutes on the ground...!
Landing in torchlit fields deep inside enemy territory, the Lysander has become synonymous with the "cloak & dagger" work of the SOE. On the right is a photo of an RAF Tempsford 161 Squadron Lysander (with long range fuel tank slung under the fuselage) and the ladder specially welded to the side for quick exit and entry.

On 14th July 2007, during one of the reunions at the airfield, the last airworthy Lysander now based at Old Warden, did an emotional flypast over Tempsford, to honour the veterans of the "Moon" squadrons and the French Resistance, who had stood in fields at night in occupied Europe, guiding the 'planes down, one of whom was also present at Tempsford for that reunion.

Taking off from Tempsford in a fully laden Halifax bomber was not without risk in itself. Half a mile to the East of the runway is Everton Hill. The trees on the hill which were in line with the flight path, were all felled to make take-off just possible, "... to give them a sporting chance...." . As you stand on the end of the runway today, looking east, the "bald patch" on the hill is still very obvious ! The luck ran out for many aircrew in the skies above many parts of Europe. Being secret missions, the Tempsford aircraft were just as likely to be attacked by allied aircraft, unaware of their missions. Sadly, this did occur.
Extremely low flying also resulted in casualties. The wreckage of one of the Tempsford Halifaxes of 138 Squadron (V9976), is still, to this day, on the (vitually inaccessible) upper slopes of a mountain in the Bavarian Alps of Germany, where it crashed in April 1942. Read about the mission of V9976 and the mystery that still surrounds it on one of the pages in this site.

F/L J.W. Menzies, Pilot, F/O K.R. Bunney, Navigator
Sgt E.M. Eliot, Airgunner, Sgt D.J. Withers, W/T
The Lockheed A28 Hudson, as used by 161 Squadron. On 5th July 1944 one such aircraft flew from Tempsford with four Dutch resistance "passengers". It never returned. In 1997, the aircraft was excavated from a bog near the Ijsselmeer, in Holland. The last of the occupants (Flight Lt. Menzies) was finally laid to rest with full military honours, as his fellow crew members had been in 1944.

The Short Stirling, although unpopular elsewhere with the RAF, proved highly successful from Tempsford, although one did mysteriously crash in early 1945 on Sandy Heath, killing all the crew.
The Germans came very close to discovering the airfield. One night, a lone bomber dropped marker flares along the main runway of the airfield, but flew off unaware of what they had found and how close they had come to locating what Hitler himself described as "The greatest menace".

A German Dornier bomber (similar to the above) was shot down near Barford, after bombing the nearby Power station at Little Barford.

In all, 1,488 agents had been dropped by parachute into enemy occupied Europe and a further 485 had actually been landed, with 575 VIPs, agents and shot-down RAF aircrew being brought out on the return trips. While they were at it, Tempsford aircrew also "liberated" numerous cases of cognac, champagne and premier cru wines. On one occasion in 1943, a dismantled German V2 Rocket, stolen intact by the Polish resistance was flown to Tempsford. 126 aircraft had been lost from Tempsford during the war, either on missions or on local accidents, with many of their crews killed.

Numerous books have now been written about secret activities at Tempsford by those who served there and / or by their relatives - some are more accurate than others......
Please visit the Links Page for more information.

In honourable memory of those Canadian airmen who served with 138 and 161 squadrons at RAF Tempsford, we are proud to be linked to the Air Force Association of Canada (formerly the Royal Canadian Air Force Association). Click on the crest to visit their website.

Other than the public footpath on the perimeter, Tempsford Airfield is a private airfield and as such not open to the public. Where possible small groups of visitors may be allowed access but only by prior arrangement. Anyone wishing to visit the airfield buildings (INCLUDING the Gibraltar Farm Barn) must to get permission to do so beforehand.

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