RAF Broadwell was one of the major glider launch sites for the DDay and Arnhem landings. It’s a place that’s pivotal in the history of the country. 515 and 575 squadron were based here.
This is one of the many stories I’ve read about Broadwell:
Harry Lingard’s story, like many of his war time colleagues, has remained untold. He was in the 1st Airborne Air Landing Light Reg. R.A and was a Dispatch rider and Signaler. On 18th September 1944 along with four other men, a jeep, a motor bike and ammunition he was loaded into a Horsa glider at R.A.F. Broadwell and towed off behind a Dakota to Arnhem where they had a perfect landing in the dropping zone.
On about the third day at Arnhem Harry witnessed the Dakota that was being used to drop the provisions was on fire, nevertheless continued to carry out its mission until the damage was so great it crashed. Harry later learned that for this completed mission the pilot, Flt Lt Lord, was awarded a posthumous V.C. for his bravery.
The bravery of the pilots flying out of Broadwell was quite incredible:
Here’s a pic of the man himself:
So, as a major historical site, at Broadwell today there must be plaques, memorials, signs, that sort of stuff? So I thought I go and take a look.
No. Here’s the site of the old Broadwell barrack buildings:
That’s it. It’s a feckin housing estate. Now that’s fine, but wouldn’t some recognition for men like Harry Lingard and the thousands of other men who flew as pilots, aircrew and troops from there be appropriate?
Anyway… The irony of this sign at the north of the site won’t be lost on anyone:
It’s by one of the old guardhouses and barracks. This is where men left, in vast numbers, in ricketty wooden gliders to get shot at. Kind of hazardous. But nowadays it seems a few tipper trucks pose more of a threat to life and limb. Bit of perspective, anyone?
Trespassers will be, yeah, whatever.
This is one of the remaining barrack buildings on the north side of the site:
It’s now used as a dump for the haulage firm behind that wire gate and HSE notices, but it’s interesting inside and, like Windrush, phenomenally atmospheric:
Wonder if this is genuine or someone later faking:
I imagine this would have come in for a fair bit of use:
One of the old generator buildings – it’s right by the side of the road:
On the south side of the airfield (it’s a biiig site, even now) some of the runway areas are still intact. Looking south…
It’s a big old site, as you can see from this grab from Googlemaps:
The runway in the pics above is the one running north-south on the satellite pic. In fact, the road that runs east/west through the site runs along the edge of the old east-west runway, intersecting the N-S runway.
And that’s where I parked my bike – right at the heart of the site. Not a good idea as it turned out.
On the image you can clearly see the peri track and dispersals too.
The control tower is in quite a state though:
Hard to believe this is where we launched the most crucial attack of WWII.
Tension rose quickly at the end of May for the invasion of the continent was not far off. Orders were given to seal the station and impound all mail as of 14.00 on June 2, for Broadwell was hosting over 1,000 troops for the Normandy landing. Upon receipt of the executive order on July 5 a final briefing for those taking part was arranged for 20.00. Fifty-nine crews attended, including six spare crews, for Operation [i]Tonga. Present al. the briefing was the AOC, 46 Group, who stressed the vital importance of the venture before the crews and troops boarded their aircraft.
Leading Broadwell’s contingent was Wing Commander Coventry of 512 Squadron who took off at 23:14. His 32 aircraft were away in 15 minutes, then came Wing Commander Jefferson with the first of 575 squadron’s crews. The whole force was airborne by 23:36, and the Para drop went well and without loss. On to the two dropping zones 952 troops had parachuted.
Now the control tower just stands in the middle of a field while it falls down. Bloody gets in the way of the ploughing – got to go round it, haven’t you?
This would have been the view over the principal runway – now a field:
Here’s the top storey of the control tower today:
The lime in the mortar is leeching out, creating stalactites:
…and calcifying the windowledges too:
But the RAF still have a few tricks up their gold-braided sleeves, and it’s a brave (stupid) man who wilfully rides a German bike right onto the heart of one of their key airfields…