RAF Tempsford, Britain’s secret airfield during WW2.

Gibraltar Farm near Sandy Bedfordshire was considered unsuitable for any form of flying because of frequent fog and most of the land being waterlogged but was later considered ideal as a clandestine airfield because German air reconnaissance was liable to reach the same conclusion. To add to the deception lines were painted across the runway which looked like hedgerows from the air, hangers etc looked like rundown farm buildings. The farm became RAF Tempsford and the home of 138 Special Duties squadron which was responsible for transporting and supplying SOE and SIS agents in Europe. Due to the land’s unsuitability crashes were frequent.

Halifax of 138 Squadron cashed on landing due to poor ground conditions.

161 Special Duties Squadron flew single engine Lysander Aircraft and later Hudson’s to transport agents and were responsible for air landings on remote farmland. During the moon period (SD Squadrons needed moonlight to navigate) 161 along with its ground crews were relocated to the fighter station at RAF Tangmere on the south coast. Because this station was almost 200 miles closer to France than Tempsford their aircraft which were also fitted with an extra fuel tank bolted between the undercarriage could fly deeper into France with sufficient fuel to return to Tangmere or divert to another field during an emergency.

RAF Special Duties Squadrons during WW2

John Williamson continues the story of the secret RAF Special Duties Squadron based at Tempsford during WW2

Returned Halifax at RAF Tempsford

RAF No. 138 Special Duties Squadron

138 Special Duties Squadron was responsible for dropping agents, weapons, sabotage equipment and other stores by parachute inside occupied Europe and flew  as far as Poland and Yugoslavia from RAF Tempsford. There was  also a detachment serving the Middle East.

Silent film

Missions By Moonlight No. 161 Special Duties Squadron

Hugh Verity was a night fighter pilot during WWII until 1942 when he volunteered for RAF special duties and became involved in one of the most extraordinary and effective operations of the secret war. Flying a single-engine Lysander aircraft he was  landing in German occupied France delivering and collecting  SOE and SIS agents. With only the light of the moon to recognise landmarks whilst navigating hostile terrain 161 squadron had carefully selected pilots with highly developed flying and navigation skills.   

The barn on the site of former RAF Tempsford

The Barn Tempsford Airfield 2014

The barn where agents were fitted with parachutes and issued with equipment. From this barn agents who could not face the possibility of prolonged torture were given an opportunity to take with them  the   ‘L Pill’ (lethal) containing  cyanide. During their training they were informed the ‘L Pill’ would  kill them within five seconds.