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TEMPSFORD AIRFIELD was used by the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.); it was from here that underground agents ("Joes") and their supplies were flown or dropped into enemy occupied Europe.

The following brief summary of events uses information, gratefully acknowledged, gained from several websites and a number of other sources. One should mention particularly the web pages maintained by Steve Harris. This comprehensive website can be viewed at and offers detailed descriptions of the activities at this RAF station during WWII.

During the wartime years Tempsford Airfield became associated with a number of legendary names such as Odette and Peter Churchill, Violette Szabo, Nancy Wake and Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas (a.k.a. 'The White Rabbit'). Operations such as the destruction of the heavy water plant at Telemark were also mounted from Tempsford. There were two RAF squadrons based at Tempsford airfield from 1942 until the end of the war - No. 138 Squadron and No. 161 Squadron.

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THE VIEW FROM EVERTON (see the previous page) towards Tempsford overlooking the Ivel Valley and Everton Heath. The road to Tempsford is visible on the left. To the right of the road in the middle distance are a number buildings of which some formed part of the old Tempsford airfield.

RAF Tempsford was located largely in the parish of Everton. In 1936 the area was surveyed as a possible site for a new airfield and in July 1940 the contractors, John Laing and Balfour Beatty, started to build an airfield to RAF Class A standard on the five hundred acres of land known as Tempsford Flats. It was to serve as a satellite airfield for RAF Bassingbourn.
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Three concrete runways, each of approximately 1300 yards in length, were constructed on the site and 36 pan hard-standings were placed around the perimeter track. Although the station was far from complete, in December 1941 Wellingtons from No. 11 OTU at Bassingbourn commenced using the runways while work was in progress on those at the home station. But Tempsford had been selected as a base for the special duty units, which mostly operated under No. 3 Group.

In January 1942, No. 109 Squadron arrived with Wellingtons (later to be joined by the Wellingtons of No. 1418 Flight) and engaged in experiments with new radio equipment (OBOE).

Photographs: Tempsford Airfield in 1943. (above left) View from Everton Hill (above right)

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TO MEET the requirements of SOE, the airfield was subjected to further development in 1942. Two of the runways were extended on their northern ends to make them almost two thousand yards long. Perimeter track extensions were also added to the ends of the runway extensions together with more pan hard-standings. Hangar building ultimately reached six large Type T2 hangars on the technical site to the south of the runways and a B1 hangar was constructed on the west side of the airfield not far from the Everton level-crossing gates on the LNER main railway line.

In addition to the large hangars, Blister type hangars were put up to provide shelter for Lysanders. The airfield domestic, communal and sick quarters site was dispersed in fields alongside the Tempsford-Everton road and a WAAF communal and domestic site was placed in Everton village. Total camp personnel at its peak occupation numbered around 1,700 men and 250 women.

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On 11 March 1942 No.138 Special Duty Squadron moved into Tempsford together with their Whitley and Lysander aircraft to start its secret supply and agent delivery missions. Container packing facilities were organised at Gaynes Hall close to nearby St Neots. The first covert supply mission to Northern France was carried out on 18 March.

   In April the first Handley Page Halifax IIs modified for SOE operations, and destined eventually to replace the Whitley bombers, were delivered to 138 Squadron. These aircraft are able to carry 15 containers and begin to replace the ageing Whitley aircraft.

   Around the same time the buildings of Gibraltar Farm, on the eastern perimeter of the airfield were converted into high security SOE stores and the farmhouse into an agent reception and pre-flight preparation centre Later in 1942 (September) three US B-24 Liberator bombers were attached to 138 Squadron to be flown by Polish crews for supply missions to Polish resistance groups. And in November facilities were set up at Hazells Hall (close to the airfield), Gaynes Hall (near St Neots) and Tempsford Hall for agents waiting to be dropped into occupied Europe.

TempsfordLysander.jpg - 36111 BytesThat same month Wing Commander Pickard, commanding the recently established Lysander squadron (No 161) at Tempsford, and Flight Lieutenant Bridger fly two agents into a field near Chateauroux and return with three agents in the first double Lysander operation flown out of Tempsford.

In February of the following year Hudson aircraft, with greater capacity than the Lysanders, were established at Tempsford and flew their first assignment to Charolles that month. And in October the first double Hudson pick up was piloted by Wing Commander Hodges who brought back from France ten personnel, including Monsieur Vincent Auriol who later became a President of France. That same month the USAAF 801st (Provisional) Bomb Group special duty aircrews start training at Tempsford and fly "buddy missions" in Halifax aircraft prior to eventually moving into Harrington airfield in Northamptonshire. (Here they became known as the ‘Carpetbaggers’ and flew B24 Liberator aircraft on secret supply missions.)

In June 1944 aircraft from Tempsford were used for radar deception and other operations connected with the invasion of France. However on the night of 7 June Violet Szabo and three other agents are flown from Tempsford into France in a US "Carpetbagger" B24 Liberator.

Photographs: Old buildings at Tempsford Airfield as they are today (above and below). Westland Lysander at Tempsford (above right).

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In August 138 Squadron changes to Short Stirling Mk IV aircraft with increased capacity for pay-loads. (The aircraft were able to carry twenty containers compared with the Halifax's fifteen and were on occasion used also by 161 squadron.)

No. 138 Squadron moved to RAF Tuddenham to convert to Lancaster bombers in April 1945. Later, 161 Squadron, which had continued operations from Tempsford until the European war ended in May, was disbanded on the 2nd June.

During the years of operating from Tempsford 995 agents, 29,000 containers and 10,000 packages had been dropped into enemy occupied Europe and an even greater number of VIPs, agents and shot-down RAF aircrew had been brought out. Tempsford aircrew also "liberated" numerous cases of cognac, champagne and premier cru wines! On another occasion in 1943, a dismantled German V2 Rocket, stolen intact by the Polish resistance was flown to Tempsford.
   Over 80 aircraft were lost from Tempsford during the war together with many of their crews.
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In February 1963 many of the buildings on the site that had remained disused for nearly twenty years were sold and the land reverted to the original owners.

Photograph: Handley Page Halifax attached to 138 Squadron at Tempsford (right).

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