RAF Graveley – No.35 Squadron
In 1941 the areas between the Offord and Toseland Roads were requisitioned to form part of Graveley Airfield, mainly in Offord Darcy (Hunts.) and intensively used by bomber squadrons between 1942 and 1945. This was a Class A airfield constructed for 8 Group in 1941-42 to the west of Graveley village which itself lies 4½ miles south of Huntingdon. Most of the land used was that of Cotton Farm and the construction also involved the closure of the ancient Roman Way road. The main contractor was Messrs W & C French, Graveley would have 3 concrete runways, the main laying E-W, initially of 1,600 yds long; the No.2, NW-SE of 1,320 yds and N0.3 laying NE-SW 1,307 yds. The usual total of 36 pan-type hard standings were distributed around the perimeter track. There were 2 x T2 hangars on the technical site between runway heads 15 and 21 and a Bl and T2 in the south-east corner of the airfield between runway heads 27 and 33.
Construction started in 1941 and when complete consisted of 2 No. T2 hangars on the technical site between runway heads 15 and 21 and a Bl and T2 in the South-east corner of the airfield between runway heads 27 and 33. The bomb store was located in open country to the South-west. Dispersed camp sites lay to the north of the airfield, consisting of 9 domestic, 1 communal and sick quarters with maximum accommodation for 2,300 males and 299 females. Built as a satellite for nearby RAF Tempsford, Graveley opened in March 1942 with 161 (Special Duty) Squadron. arriving from Newmarket. Their role was to drop SOE agents in occupied France, a role 161 would undertake throughout its operational life. Equipped with Lysander IIIA, Hudson MkI and Whitley Vs, they were somewhat dwarfed by the enormity of Graveley airfield. Within a month of arriving however, they would leave and move away to their new permanent base at RAF Tempsford, leaving the open expanse of Graveley behind.
The station came into use in the spring of 1942 as part of the Tempsford clutch of airfields where `special duties’ units were concentrated in No. 3 Group. No. 161 Squadron with Lysanders and Wellingtons arrived from Newmarket in March and was moved on to Tempsford the following month. Little activity occurred at the station during the next 3 months apart from runway lengthening, the main 09-27 being extended at the 09 end to 2,000 yards; 15-33 on the 33 end to 1,420 yards; and 03-21 at the 03 end to 1,407 yards. This improvement and associated works affected 3 pans, 3 loop standings being furnished to make up their loss. During the course of this work, extensions of taxiways to the ends of the extended runways caused the destruction of 3 pan hard standings. Graveley lay operationally dormant following the immediate departure of 161 Sqn in April 1942. At the beginning of August, Graveley was re-allocated to the Pathfinder Force which brought in No. 35 Squadron and its Halifax‘s from No. 4 Group at Linton-on-Ouse. Their first operation from Graveley took place the night of August 18/19th, 1942.
The accommodation was spread around the North side of the Airfield, across the main Offord to Graveley road. These were spread over 9 accommodation sites, incorporating a separate communal and sick quarters. Dispersed campsites lay to the North of the Airfield, consisting of 9 domestic, one communal and sick quarters with maximum accommodation for 2,300 males and 299 females. As with all sites, the bomb store was well away from the accommodation to the south-west, partially enclosed by the 3 runways. The 50-ft perimeter track linked the runaways with 36 pan style hard-stands (after the extension 3 of these were replaced by loops). The main technical site lay to the north-west, where 2 of the 3 x T-2 hangars were located, the other being to the south-east next to the B-1.
The aircrew huts at Graveley were of the wood and asbestos variety like those now used for battery chickens [Laing Huts]. They were “heated” by a Tortoise multi-fuel stove (red-hot in the middle of the hut and freezing in the corners). They were nevertheless far better than the spartan Nissen huts. Each held about 16 or so Aircrew and when Crew 1st arrived they were assigned a bed in one of the arctic corners (as was the usual routine). As the losses mounted one graduated to beds nearer the centre until in the end, one had a bed with your feet towards the stove (very cosy but a responsible position to hold).
As Bomber Command developed the new Pathfinder Force (PFF) Graveley would find itself a major player. Its 1st residents, of the new 8 Group, were 35 Squadron (RAF) with Halifax IIs. These would be upgraded to MK IIIs in the following October and Lancaster I and IIIs a year later. Arriving on August 15th, 1942, they would have their 1st mission from here just 3 days later. On the night of 18th/19th August, a total of 31 PFF aircraft left to mark the target at Flensburg. Poor weather and strong winds prevented accurate marking and 2 Danish towns were accidentally bombed as a result. A rather disastrous start for 35 Squadron.
Another blow was to fall 35 Sqdn later that same year. On the night of 19th September 1942, the experienced Wing Commander J H Marks was lost when his Halifax II (W7657) ‘TL-L’ crashed at Blesme near Saarbrucken with the loss of 3 crew members. (This same identification was given to Halifax HR928 which also crashed with the loss of its crew). No.35 Sqdn would carry out a number of missions marking and attacking strategic targets deep in the heart of Germany. By the end of 1942, the new H2S system was being introduced and a small number of 35 Sqdn Aircraft were fitted with the units. Missions were on the whole successful even after the Germans developed a device able to track Aircraft using it; eventually, the whole of the PFF were fitted with H2S.
A number of other experienced Crews were to be lost from Graveley over the next few months. All news was not bad – the night of 18th/19th November saw a remarkable turn of fortune. Halifax DT488 (TL-S) Piloted by Wing Commander B V Robinson, caught fire when flares in the bomb bay ignited. He ordered the crew to bail out, but as the last man left the fire extinguished itself. Robinson decided to try to nurse the bomber home. Flying single-handed, he reached the safety of RAF Colerne, Wiltshire, where he survived a Crash Landing. The 6 crew members who had bailed out also survived but were captured and taken Prisoner by the Germans. As a result of his actions, Robinson was awarded a Bar to add to his DSO. W/C Robinson would have a 2nd lucky escape later on, after which, in May 1943, he would become the Station Commander of his home base at Graveley.
In early 1943, Graveley was to become the 1st Base to use ‘FIDO’ the Fog Dispersion system, which led to a number of successful, poor weather landings. This, in turn, led to 15 other Operational Airfields being fitted with the facility, a major step forward in allowing Bomber Command to fly or land in poor weather.
A number of major Operations were undertaken by No.35 Sqdn over the coming months, and the loss of Group Captain Robinson on the night of 23rd/24th August 1943 in a Halifax II (HR928) ‘TL-R’, brought a further blow to the Base. Following this, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris restricted flying Operations by Base Commanders as the number being lost was becoming unsustainable.
Many highly regarded Crew members were lost in Operations from Graveley, including Sqdn Ldr R Fitzgerald and Wing Commander Alec Cranswick. Graveley would have a high record of prestige losses such was the nature of the PFF.
Halifax Mark II Series 1A, HR928 ‘TL-L’, No.35 Sqdn RAF being flown by Sqn Ldr A P Cranswick, an outstanding Pathfinder Pilot who was killed on the night of 4/5 July 1944 on his 107th mission. The Cranswick coat-of-arms decorates the nose just below the Cockpit.
Group portrait of the Blind Marker Crew of 35 Squadron, RAF, No 8 Pathfinder Group, based near Graveley, England in 1944. Identified are Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt) L S M Bailey (Pilot) AFC, back row, centre; and 403675 Flt Lt Alan Raymond Marriott RAAF, front row left. Flt Lt Marriott enlisted on 3 February 1941 and following training in Canada, qualified as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner (WAG). He was promoted to the rank of Pilot Officer later in 1941 and was posted to 279 Squadron RAF early in 1942. Following a promotion to Flying Officer, he was posted to 200 Squadron RAF. In 1944 Flt Lt Marriott served with 35 Squadron RAF, flying 30 Missions in Lancasters as part of the Pathfinder Force, and was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). He was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader in January 1945.
Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshal Harris is joined by Air Vice-Marshal Don Bennett at a ceremony held at Graveley to mark the Squadron’s ties with the Anglo-Argentinian ‘Fellowship of the Bellows’. Hanging from the wall in the office of No 692 Squadron‘s CO during the last war was a pair of Bellows. A peculiar ornament to be decorating a CO’s office, one would say, at any time. Around those bellows hung an interesting story. They were presented to the Squadron to mark the occasion of a visit by members of the Fellowship of the Bellows, a movement created in Buenos Aires with the object of raising money for the purchase of Mosquito Aircraft for the RAF No.692 was adopted by the Fellowship in 1944 shortly after the squadron came into being. The 692 Squadron was formed at Graveley, Huntingdonshire, on 1st January 1944. It was equipped with Mosquito light bombers and became part of the force of fast, high-flying Night Raiders – the Light Night Striking Force of No 8 (PFF) Group. The Light Night Striking Force made a name for itself with its regular journeys to Berlin, hitting the German capital again and again with 4,000lb. “cookie” bombs.
The Mosquito was used highly effectively, forming its own unofficially titled Light Night Strike Force which operated virtually continuously, harassing the enemy even when weather conditions kept the ‘heavies’ on the ground. 692 Squadron RAF, would operate a variety of Mosquito types during its life the B.IV, XIV and XVI and would prove to be highly successful and instrumental in 8 Group’s ‘Light Night Striking Force’. No. 692 Squadron carried out 310 operations from Graveley losing 17 Mosquitoes in all. A total of 150 aircraft were registered either missing or crashed following operations from this station: 83 Halifaxes, 32 Lancasters and 35 Mosquitoes.
Light Night Striking Force.
On New Year’s Day 1944, No. 692 Squadron formed at Graveley to fly Mosquitoes for No. 8 Group, undertaking its 1st sorties exactly a month later, the squadron becoming part of what was known as the Light Night Striking Force. The new year brought new changes to Graveley. Mosquito B.IVs arrived with a newly formed 692 Squadron (RAF). Their 1st mission would be on the night of February 1st/2nd 1944 in which a single aircraft would attack Berlin. In March, No. 35 Squadron exchanged its Halifax‘s for Lancaster’s, which it operated until its final sorties on April 25, 1945. No. 692 Squadron Mosquitoes carried out their last raid on May 2/3, 1945 with an attack on Kiel. In 310 operations from Graveley the squadron lost 17 Mosquitoes and a total of 150 Bomber Command aircraft were missing or crashed in the UK in operations flown from this station: 83 Halifax’s, 32 Lancasters and 35 Mosquitoes.
Armourers wheel a 4,000-lb HC bomb (‘Cookie‘) for loading into a De Havilland Mosquito B Mark IV (modified) of No. 692 Squadron RAF at Graveley, Huntingdonshire. This Squadron was part of the Light Night Striking Force of No. 8 Group, (PFF) which specialised in fast, high-flying night raids on Germany, particularly Berlin. The specially-modified Mosquitoes were fitted with bulged bomb-bays in order to accommodate ‘Cookies’ the enormous 4,000 lb bomb, This was 1st used by S/Ldr. Watts in Mosquito DZ647 who took off at 20.45 hours to attack Düsseldorf. The attack took place on the night of 23rd/24th February 1944 from a height of 25,000 feet. The initial bomb was followed by 2 further bombs from Mosquitoes of the same squadron, DZ534 and DZ637.
The 1st casualties for 692 Sqdn were reported only 3 days earlier, on the night of 19th/20th February ‘44, which also proved to be the worst night of Bomber Command casualties in the war so far. Mosquito DZ612 ‘P3-N’ flown by F/L W Thomas (DFC) and F/L J Munby (DFC) took off at 01:05 to attack Berlin. The aircraft was shot down and both Crew members killed.
No.692 Squadron would have another claim to fame a year later on 1st January 1945. In an attempt to assist in the Ardennes offensive they attacked supply lines through a Tunnel, requiring the bomb to be dropped into the Mouth of the Tunnel where it would explode. These attacks were carried out between 100 and 250 feet using the ‘Cookies’ and were so successful that smoke was seen billowing from the other end of the Tunnel. The final 692 Sqdn Mission would be on the night of May 2nd/3rd 1945, and consisted of 23 Aircraft in 2 waves of 12 and 11 aircraft against Kiel; all crews would return safely.
No.35 Squadron continued to support Bomber Command in its objective of disrupting oil supplies, transportation and industry in the major German cities. Following the cessation of hostilities in May 1945 the Squadron turned its attention to providing food drops into Holland (Operation Manna), repatriating POW’s (Operations Exodus, Jink and Dodge) and showing ground staff the destruction that had been caused throughout Europe (Cook’s Tours). During Operation Dodge, the RAF airlift of troops home from Italian deployment, Avro Lancaster, ME834, coded ‘K-OG‘, of 115 Squadron, based at RAF Graveley, struck HK798, coded ‘K-OH‘, of the same squadron, and PB754, coded ‘TL-A‘, of Graveley-based 35 Squadron when it swerves off runway while taking off from Bari, Italy.
In June 1945, No. 692 Squadron was moved to Gransden Lodge and No. 227 Squadron with Lancaster‘s joined No. 35 at Graveley to prepare for movement to the Far East as part of Tiger Force. Cancellation of this venture brought disbandment of 227 Squadron in September with No. 115 Squadron being moved in from Witchford to replace it. The Lancaster’s of Nos. 35 and 115 remained at Graveley for a year before being transferred to Stradishall with its permanent camp. During this time, No.35 Squadron took its Lancasters on a Goodwill Tour to the USA.
Although Graveley was put on care and maintenance in September 1945, and no more RAF units were based there, this wartime airfield was kept as a reserve for the next 12 years. During this time the main runway was maintained in good condition and regularly used by training aircraft for `circuits and bumps‘. Graveley was closed at the end of 1968 and was eventually reclaimed by Cotton Farm. The eastern end of the main runway still survived in the late `90’s and a reduced perimeter track is used as a farm road. Graveley sits to the south of Huntingdon, a few miles east of St. Neots. It takes its name from the village that lays close by to its eastern side. It would see a range of changes, upgrades and improvements and be home to many different residents during its wartime life. It was under the command of:
- 8 Group, PFF, Bomber Command
- 3 Group, Bomber Command (December 1945)
It was in WW2 designated as part of the Pathfinder Force tasked with “finding, illuminating and/or marking the target so that the remainder of the bombing force could accurately bomb the aiming point”.
It had an HQ and 2 Flights of 8 Lancasters (A and B) and was commanded by:
Wing Commander A J L Craig DSO DFC 15/09/45 to 17/09/1946
Wing Commander J N D Chapple (24/10/1946)
Other units to grace the skies over Graveley would include detachments of No.97, 115 & 227 Sqdns all with Lancaster I and IIIs, many prior to disbandment toward the war’s end. As one of the many Pathfinder Stations in this part of the country, Graveley is linked by the long ‘Pathfinder Walk’ that leads all the way to RAF Warboys in the north. Using this walk allows you to visit a number of Pathfinder Bases linking each one by open cross-country footpaths and is worth a visit if time allows. The walk was inaugurated in 1997 by Sqn Ldr Gavin Sugden, to commemorate the Pathfinder Force which operated out of the RAF Stations at Wyton, Gravely, Oakington, Warboys (and their satellite bases) from 1942 to 1945. Flying Halifaxes, Lancasters, Mosquitoes, Stirlings and Wellingtons (the latter 2 replaced by Lancasters and Mosquitoes), the Force had 20 Squadrons and Flights in the 3 years of its existence. Of the Force, only 2 Squadrons are still flying in operational service today; 7 Sqn, RAF (one of the original 5 squadrons) and 405 Sqdn, Canadian Forces Air Command.
Alan J Laird Craig DSO DFC
RAF Graveley 15th September 1945 to 17th September 1946
35 Sqdn ‘Operation Lancaster‘ Goodwill Tour of USA 1946 ~ Aircrews
The Airfield closed in 1946 but was again used in the late 1950s as a relief landing ground for Oakington. After 1967 the buildings were mostly removed and the land was sold for farming.
Station Commander Group Captain Richard C M Collard, Fl Lt M J Beetham, W/C Alan J L Craig, and WF/O (Shorty) Harris
3rd July 1946. OC -W/C A J L Craig, Commander In Chief Air Marshall Sir N Bottomley, Grp/Capt Collard, S/L M J Beetham, W/C (Shorty) Harris.
TL-R John Robinson’s crew: W/O Sparling, F/O Wilson, F/S Angel, F/O Robinson, F/L Bullen, F/S Watson, W/O Vaughan.
Warming Up – F/Lt Peter Stockwell
V-J Day Fly-past over London
Graveley Control Tower
During 1946 No.35 Squadron participated in a ‘Goodwill Tour‘ of the United States, later being transferred to RAF Stradishall, on 18th September 1946 due to Graveley’s closure After the War Graveley was put on care and maintenance in September 1945, and no more RAF units were based there, this Wartime Airfield was kept as a reserve for the next 12 years. During this time the Main runway was maintained in good condition and regularly used by De Haviland Vampire training Aircraft from Oakington for `circuits and bumps’. Graveley was closed at the end of 1968 and was eventually reclaimed by Cotton Farm. The eastern end of the Main runway still survived in the late 90’s and a reduced perimeter track is used as a farm road.