RAF-base Downham Market




RAF Bomber Command used The Royal Air Force (RAF) base RAF Downham Market during World War Two. Bomber Command executed many bombing missions during World War Two. These missions were aimed at cities and military targets in Germany, Italy and several other occupied countries. RAF Downham Market functioned from its opening in July, 1942 as an auxiliary base for RAF Marham. RAF Marham, which had its origins in the Great War, had become too busy because of the increasing flying movements. RAF Downham Market served as a back-up for the increasing bomber movements so that they could safely land. A fully equipped squadron was transferred from RAF Marham to RAF Downham Market. Two months before the airfield was opened, the first aircraft had landed.

On 30 May 1942, during the famous "1,000 Bomber Raid" (Operation Millennium) on Cologne, the landing strips on RAF Downham Market were used. Because of the busy circumstances on RAF Marham by the simultaneous returning of the many bombers, three bombers stationed at RAF Marham were diverted to RAF Downham Market. This happened again two days later, during the second "1,000 Bomber Raid", this time on the city of Essen. In this case the bombers were diverted to RAF Downham Market because the landing strips at RAF Marham were blocked by damaged bombers. The bombardment on Cologne was, as a matter of fact, the baptism of fire for RAF Downham Market, because it was the first time that flight movements took place from the airfield.

Like many British air force bases, the name was derived from the nearby village, in this case Downham Market in Norfolk. The village owes its name to the market function it had since the Middle Ages. RAF Downham Market was equipped with concrete runways and landing grounds. These were equipped in September, 1943 with Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation (FIDO), a system that made the landing strip better visible from the air. Because of this, the airfield was up to the newest standards of that time.

Layout of the airfield

In 1942, the construction of RAF Downham Market began. The construction was in the hands of construction company W & C French Ltd., that delivered the airfield in the summer of 1942. Three concrete runways and landing strips were constructed. The horizontal runway, Runway A, was 1,740 meters long and ran parallel to the base. The two diagonal runways, Runway B and C, were 1,290 meters each. Downham Market was the second airfield that was equipped with the FIDO-system and remained one of the few until the end of the war. The system was capable of reducing the fog so that landing aircraft had a better view of the landing ground. The system was constructed in September and the first tests were conducted in October. Sometime later it became operational and until the end of the war 161 airplanes on their return to Downham Market were aided by the FIDO-system.

The operation of FIDO was fairly simple. Along the landing strip, two tubes with burners on top were installed, they were connected by a transverse tube at the end. Petrol was pumped through these tubes. The petrol was subsequently ignited in which illuminated lines parallel to the landing strips were created. The heat of the burners ensured that the landing strip was visible from an altitude of 1,000 meters, even during particularly bad weather and fog. The consumption of petrol was huge: it consumed approximately 450,000 litres per hour. Landing with FIDO was, for many pilots, a frightening experience. The turbulence caused by the heat and the possibility of leaking fuel from the often damaged bombers could obviously cause dangerous situations.

On the base, a number of hangars was built. Between 1942 and 1943, six hangars were built of the type T2 and later one of the type B1, both types being rectangular with a pointed roof. Three of these hangars were used for the storage of Gliders (sailplanes), that were used in operation Market Garden. The remainder of the hangar served for parking and reparation of aircraft. The hangars of the types T2 and B1 were spread out over the airbase. On the terrain, 36 parking lots were constructed for the aircraft, two of which were later removed because of the construction of the B1 hangar in the north-western corner of the terrain. Further, the airfield consisted of a number of auxiliary buildings among which was a bomb store, a concrete building that was used as a stockroom of bombs. This bomb store lay in a safe distance of the base. On the base, a total of nine accommodations for lodging 1,719 men and 326 women was present.


Bomber Command
RAF unit which controlled strategic and sometimes tactical bombing (as in Normandy)
High-explosive anti-tank warhead. Shaped charge projectile to punch through armour. Used in e.g. bazooka or in the Panzerfaust.
Royal Air Force. British air force
Fast military raid in enemy territory
A military unit in the Belgian navy usually six to eight small ships operating together under one command. The smallest military unit in the Dutch air force of about 350 men. In most countries is the designation of a military unit thesize of a company. It is either an independent unit, such as a battery, or part of a bigger Calvary unit. In the air force it is the designation of a unit of aircrafts.

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Map of the airfield.
(Source: Paul Moerenhout)

Satelite picture with the map of the early airfield drawn.
(Source: Google Maps)

This building is outside the base and was part of a large number of buildings build south of the base.They served as shelter for the staff, dorms and if first aid center.
(Source: www.geograph.org.uk)

A barn that belonged to the airfield.
(Source: www.geograph.org.uk)

Bekijk video
Bekijk video

Newsreel about Fog Investigation And Dispersal Operation (FIDO).
(Source: YouTube)


Translated by:
Peter ter Haar
Article by:
Paul Moerenhout
Published on:
Last edit on:
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