RAF Warboys ~ Pathfinder Force Training Unit
Satellite to RAF Wyton September 1941 – achieved Full Station Status January 1943
PFF Navigation Training Unit (Lancaster lll NT) 23-26 March 44 Pathfinder Ops RAF Warboys
As a result of experiments made over the Isle of Man, a new technique was adopted in 1942, when a Flare Force, using Radar to ensure accuracy, lit the target for the Main Force. In August 1942, the Pathfinder Force was formed from Squadrons drawn from each of the 5 operational Bomber Command Groups and now located for purposes of Administration on stations in No.3 Group, Exning but under the Operational control of the AOC in C Bomber Command.
RAF PFF NTU Warboys 23rd March 1943 to 5th April 1944 A J L Craig – PFF Training Course 2 Weeks
Being posted to Warboys did not guarantee that the Crew would be accepted into the Pathfinders. Only about 50% of the selected Crews were passed and considered good enough to join a PFF Squadron. The Course included flying 4 “mock ops” before they were accepted as a PFF Crew.
During the early years of the War, RAF Warboys was a relatively conventional Bomber Station which was supplemented with the addition of an exceptionally long main runway measuring 6,290 feet. Construction of this runway resulted in the closure of the nearby road to Huntingdon (Church Road) during the War years, necessitating the construction of a bypass road, still in use (2015) as part of the A141. The extension to the runway is still clearly visible, as crop marks between the old and new roads. The Station was allocated to No.3 Group in August 1942. RAF Warboys became one of the original Pathfinder Force Stations. The construction of Warboys began in 1940. The Airfield was built to relieve the congestion at RAF Upwood for the use of No.17 Operational Training Unit (OTU) with Bristol Blenheim’s. The completion of barbed wire around strategic areas and 3 Ack Ack gun positions with one Vickers gun were almost finished by 17 May. Located on the North side of the Site was the Battle Headquarters Bunker, defended by a pair of mushroom-shaped FC Construction type pillboxes (also known as Oakington or Fairlop type Pillboxes), one of which remains in good condition in 2009. The Airfield’s bomb stores were located to the West of the Airfield and to the North lay a Machine-gun Butt, used for testing, discharge & alignment of Aircraft machine guns. Domestic, Mess and Communal sites were dispersed to the South-east of the Airfield either side of the modern A141 on the borders of the neighbouring village of Old Hurst. At least 11 separate dispersed locations provided maximum accommodation for 1,959 male and 291 female personnel.
The Airfield is located 7 miles south-west of Chatteris and South of Warboys village. The Airfield was built in 1941-42. The runways were extended before it was completed. To achieve the required length for the 12-30 runway it was necessary to take it across the A141, so a new length of Public road was built to bypass the Airfield and the Village. The final runway lengths were 12-30 at 2,097 yards, 07-25 at 1,447 yards and 18-36 at 1,350 yards. Twenty four pan hard standings were originally constructed but 2 of these were lost to Hangar construction. With 18 loop type hard standings added, the total of Aircraft standings was 39. The hangars were a T2 type on the Technical site on the South-east side near the start of the new bypass road with another on the North side and a B1 type East of the 18-36 runway head. The Bomb Stores lay off the west side and 11 Domestic, Mess and Communal sites dispersed either side of the A141 south to Oldhurst. The maximum accommodation was given as 1,959 males and 291 females. The King & Queen Elizabeth came to visit RAF Warboys in February 1944 as a morale booster for 156 Squadron who had lost 17 Aircraft in 9 operations in January 1944.
The PFF crews thereafter found their way in the Force via varied routes; Crews or individuals could volunteer at any time while serving with Main Force Squadrons, while Aircrew who showed promise in their Training could also find themselves seconded into the Force. Some Crews in mid-tour could also be transferred into PFF when numbers were needed to be made up to strength where required. Recruits were given a 2-week course in marking techniques at Warboys before posting to a Squadron. Bennett addressed each intake personally and the Crews came to have an intense sense of Loyalty, Pride and Professionalism in their membership of 8 Group. The PFF crews were also granted a step up in Rank, and increase in Pay, but had to do a 45 trip Tour rather than the usual 30 trips, for as long as they were serving in PFF. In the end, Bomber Harris was proved wrong about PFF’s effect on morale – the coveted PFF badge allowed to be worn on their uniforms was genuinely a sought-after achievement.
It was estimated that during the winter of 1943/44 a Pathfinder bomber crew stood about a 15% chance of survival. Warboys became an operational training station with No. 8 Group’s Night Training Unit coming with Lancasters from Upwood and No. 1655 Mosquito Conversion Unit was re-formed to provide instruction on that type. This unit was absorbed by No. 16 OTU at Upper Heyford in December 1944 and the NTU continued part of the Mosquito instructional programme. A total of 99 aircraft were lost on Wartime Operations from Warboys: 16 Wellingtons and 83 Lancasters.
Following VE-Day, the training establishment was dissolved and in July No.571 Squadron with its Mosquitos arrived from Oakington only to disband in September, the Airfield closing to flying at the end of 1945. On 15th December 1945, the Airfield was no longer in use and placed under care and maintenance. The Airfield gradually reverted back to Agricultural use with the buildings becoming derelict and the runways and hard standings broken up.