The Handley Page HALIFAX
What we know to be Tempsford airfield, actually lies in the parish boundries of nearby Everton, but as the base was accessed from Tempsford station, the staff and pilots named it Tempsford airfield, although any reference to the airfield as RAF TEMPSFORD is inaccurate. The airfield became part of what was known as the 'Bedford Triangle', a secret network for war intelligence, the other points were made up from Harrington Airfield to the north and a communications site to the west, famously known as Bletchley Park Manor.
Work on he airfield started in 1940 by John Laing & Sons Ltd. and the three runways were completed by the summer of 1941. The main runway was 6000ft long, the other two being 4800ft & 4200ft long respectively. The control tower faced the main runway and behind this were six 'T2' type hangers, one of which now stands at Duxford museum (Junction 10, M11). A remaining hanger, a 'B2' type, was used by 161 Squadron.
The buildings were mostly brick built and covered in wood to give the impression that the airfield was a working farm. The roof tiles of nearby Gibralter Farm were removed and cattle were allowed to graze on the airfield. Apparently this fooled the German reconnaisance into believing the airfield was used for agricultural purposes.
The airfield was finally finished in the spring of 1942 and handed over to Bomber Command. The recently established Special Duties Squadron, which was based at Newmarket, was offered the use of Tempsford. In March 1941, 419 Squadron, based at Newmarket, became first 1419 Flight, and then 138 Squadron in August. On Valentines Day, February 14th, 161 Squadron was formed.
The original plan for 138 Squadron was to used by SOE and for the Military to use 161 Squadron. This idea was soon changed and 138 Squadron became responsible for parachuting duties whilst 161 Squadron had the responsiblity off-loading and pick-up duties. Although sharing the same base, the two units were seperated, 138 Sqn being near to Gibralter Farm, 161 Sqn near to the railway.
Each Squadron had at their disposal 20 Halifaxes, along with a collection of 12 Lysanders and 2 Lockheed Hudsons. The main purpose of the base was to supply resistance fighters across Europe. Apart from agent drops and pick-ups, the resistance was supplied with anything it needed. As well as the things that we would expect a resistance fighter to need, sten guns, revolvers, ammunition, explosives & detonators, etc., such things like cosmetics were also supplied.
Metal containers were used for dropping the supplies and they were made to look like bombs. So good was the deception, some workers at the airfield believed that the operations were for Bomber Command. Packages were also dropped at the same time as 'window', small metal strips to disrupt and confuse German radar. Another diversion was the use of 'Gingerbread Men'. These were a dummy parachutists, filled with hessian and supplied with a 'rifle-fire simulator' attached. (see photos).
Between 1942 and 1945, it is reported that over 1,000 agents were flown from Tempsford along with 20,000 containers and 10,000 packages for the resistance. They were approx. 5,500 dropping points in Europe with 5,600 sorties made to France alone.
What remains of the airfield can be seen by following the signposts for 'Everton' just off the A1 near to Little Barford/Tempsford. After going over a level-crossing, 'Airfield No.2 Farm' is on the left, and although some buildings can still be see, this is 'Private Property' and access is not allowed. Further down the road, at the first lay-by, a sign points left, which if followed, takes you to a barn, (about 1 mile). Here is where SOE agents, etc. assembled prior to departing on their missions. This can be visited at any time.
(Information and photos supplied with many thanks to David Orton)