A brief history of RAF Langham

Langham Collage by David Jacklin

Langham was opened at the beginning of WW2 as a second satellite airfield for Bircham Newton. However, it was not used very much during its first two years of operation, although target towing and air-sea rescue operations were conducted together with some anti-shipping operations performed by a detachment of Fleet Air Arm Swordfish aircraft. The target-towing operations were performed by an anti-aircraft co-operation unit, No. 1 AACU, which was divided into several flights. 'K' Flight arrived at Bircham Newton in September 1940, and 'M' Flight was formed soon afterwards, moving to Langham in the following month; 'K' Flight also moved to Langham at the end of 1941. These flights performed target-towing duties for the anti-aircraft practice ranges at nearby Weybourne and Stiffkey, flying a number of different aircraft types, including Hawker Henleys and Tiger Moths. An air-sea rescue squadron, No. 280 Squadron was based at Langham in 1942 flying Avro Anson aircraft, but this moved to Bircham Newton towards the end of the year when the airfield was closed for redevelopment (see below).

It was clear that the Air Ministry had bigger plans for Langham when its status was raised to that of an independent station during 1942, but these plans were put on hold for 16 months while the station closed for a major expansion, including the laying of concrete runways, perimeter tracks and dispersals. Langham did not re-open until early 1944, at the start of a very busy year. During 1943 and 1944 new tactics were developed around the Beaufighter aircraft and its torpedo-carrying variant, called the Torbeau. No. 455 Australian Squadron and No. 489 New Zealand Squadron were formed into a Beaufighter Wing, which became known as the Anzac Wing. The Anzac Wing moved to Langham in April 1944, taking part in many strikes against enemy shipping in the Dutch coastal waters and against the well-defended anchorage at Den Helder. Later, the Wing conducted operations to keep German vessels clear of the Channel during the build up and conduct of the D-Day landings. When the allied position in France was secure, in October 1944, the Wing moved to Dallachy in Scotland to join a bigger wing and continue anti-shipping operations until the end of the war.

Langham

To replace the strike wing, No. 524 Squadron with its Wellington aircraft moved in from Docking, which was suffering from water drainage problems. Also No. 521 Met Squadron moved in from Docking to begin operations using the Fortress aircraft. These Met operations continued at Langham until 1946, when flying operations were run down. Since it was not possible to conduct training in the war-ravaged Netherlands at the end of the war, the Royal Netherlands Air Force set up a technical training school at Langham in 1946, staying until 1947, when the school moved to Arnhem, and Langham was put on care and maintenance. The airfield had a new lease of life during the RAF preparations for the Korean War, and it was later used as an emergency landing strip by RAF Sculthorpe, a large United States Air Force (USAFE) base nearby, but it was eventually closed in the early 1960s.

The former airfield at Langham was eventually sold to Bernard Matthews Farms Ltd for use as a turkey farm, and the former Control Tower was restored for use as the farm office.

One of the most striking legacies of Langham's military past is the Langham Dome, a former training facility for anti-aircraft gunners, which still stands near the airfield. A local group known as the Friends of Langham Dome (FOLD) and the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust worked in partnership to restore the building with financial assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other generous donors. The Langham Dome was officially opened as a visitor attraction in July 2014, by Dr Bert Osborne DFC, who was based at Langham in 1944, and by Air Marshal Dick Garwood CB CBE DFC. It is now opened to the public on a regular basis.


© D. Jacklin 2017. This website is owned by the RAF Bircham Newton Memorial Project.