Defford Airfield – and the Silent Weapon which Won the War
by Dr Bob Shaw
Thursday 30th January 2014
The secret but massively important roll of the local RAF airfield at Defford was revealed in a fascinating talk given by historian and author, Doctor Bob Shaw, in the third of the winter series of talks given to the Society, at the Friends’ Meeting House in Evesham in January. By 1945 the base supported 3,000 RAF, RN, US and civilian staff operating many different types of aircraft in use at that time, including Wellingtons, Lancasters and Mosquitoes. The very secret scientific and experimental work was to support the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE), based in Malvern and later renamed RSRE under the Ministry of Defence, and now privatised as QinetiQ, one of the worlds leading defence technology and security companies.
Both organisations had been moved, in 1942, to rural Worcestershire, from various locations in southern England, to make them more secure and safe from enemy bombing and the prying eyes of reconnaissance aircraft. The move had a massive impact on the Croome Park Estate as it occupied almost half the eastern part with all the buildings placed, for camouflage, in the woodland. The airfield itself was built on Defford Common. Much later, the M5 motorway severed the western part of the estate. The Croome Park House and the remaining estate are now owned and being restored by, the National Trust who are working closely with The Defford Airfield Heritage Group.
The Heritage Group are researching all aspects of the activities, buildings and personalities involved, and has plans, supported by funds from Severn Waste, through the Landfill Community Fund and others, to create a museum as a permanent tribute to those involved. Over 70 people, including civilian staff, lost their lives on airborne radar research flying from Defford. It is expected the museum will open sometime in 2014 and will display the nose section of an RAF Canberra that used to fly from Defford, among many other things. The Heritage Group will be hosting a Defford Airfield Heritage Day, on Saturday July 12th, 10.00 to 17.00, at Croome Park – a date for your diary.
Many of the scientific developments were created under the pressured atmosphere of a World War with the need to keep ahead of the enemies, both Germany and Japan, who were working on similar developments. The lead of our UK scientists and the exigencies of war were such that Winston Churchill insisted the technology was shared openly with the USA, first because they had the capacity to mass produce the amount of equipment need and secondly to encourage them to join the war on our side.
Many of the things created then are now in everyday use throughout the world in their developed form. Radar, which played such a significant part in the Battle of Britain for ground control interception GCI, is used for air traffic control, IFF (indication friend or foe), for identifying aircraft on radars controlling air traffic, H2S ground mapping radar, AI Mk10 (air interception) now used for airborne anti collision radar, ASV (air to surface vessel) used to locate U-boats, now used for maritime surveillance and air sea rescue. Even the resonant cavity magnetron, used in connection with 10cm wavelengths, is to be found in most kitchens in the microwave. It is an interesting question, could all these things be discovered and developed over so few short years, 1940 to 1945, these days?
Least known, but perhaps most significant, is the first automated landing by an aircraft on 11th January 1945. A Boeing 247, a 1930s civilian passenger aircraft, donated by the USA and Canada, when they had fitted the first production 10cm radar, was flown from Defford on many scientific missions, as it was an ideal test bed. It was an early member of the Boeing fleet. The landing system, designed to help RAF aircraft land safely in poor visibility, is now used by most aircraft worldwide, including, of course, the 747. The automated landing system was first used commercially in the BEA Trident aircraft in the late 1960s.
The evening ended with questions and comments from a packed audience, several of whom had worked at Defford or Croome Park. Bob Shaw also signed copies of his book “Top Secret Boeing”, which provides insight into the story of the RAF Defford, the secret Airfield in Croome Park.
Updates & news
Opening the meeting, Historical Society Chairman, John Kyte, greeted new members and guests, and explained that with the expanding activities of the Society there was an opportunity for all with a historical interest to get involved in a hands-on way. The Church Conservation Trust had invited the Society to consider ways of making use of the redundant church, St Lawrence, alongside, All Saints in Evesham town, possibly with some temporary displays. A World War 1 display was being arranged in the Riverside Shopping Centre, and work in sorting and cataloguing artefacts in the Almonry Museum continued. Social history studies and archaeological activity were available to all.