In answer to the public's call for revenge bombing for the attacks on London, and the military need for attacks on the German war industries, and despite the protest of some military leaders, an Independent Force of long-range bombers was established in June 1918. Uniquely, this Force would operate independent of the ongoing land battle. Based in the Nancy area of France, under the command of Major General Hugh Trenchard, it took the war to German cities like Frankfurt, Cologne and Manheim during the last few months of the war. It was also decided to set up a long-range group of the Independent Force in East Anglia, equipped with the new Handley Page V/1500, the first British bomber with four engines.
A survey was conducted to find the most suitable aerodrome from the Norfolk RAF stations of Pulham, Narborough, Bircham Newton and Sedgeford. It was conducted by a Canadian officer, Lt. Col. Redford 'Red' Mulock, from the Independent Force Headquarters. In his report to General Trenchard, Mulock recommended Bircham Newton for a number of reasons, not least because the aerodrome possessed a good surface and subsoil, suitable for the purpose in hand. However, the commanding officer of the resident No. 3 Fighting School was keen to remain at Bircham Newton, and did not wish to move. Despite the Fighting School's opposition, the long-range group, which was known as No. 27 Group, was subsequently established at Bircham Newton, with Mulock as its commanding officer. The Group was to include two wings, No. 86 Wing and No. 87 Wing, and the intention was that the former should operate from England and the latter, after formation, should go overseas. No. 3 Fighting School was moved to Sedgeford to accommodate them.
Under No. 27 Group, two squadrons of Handley Page V/1500s were formed at Bircham Newton in 1918 (No. 166 Squadron and No. 167 Squadron) and began to equip with the V/1500s with the express purpose of bombing Berlin. Thankfully, due to technical problems and political indecision, the war ended before the squadrons flew this mission, and the aircraft were later reassigned to No. 274 Squadron before being scrapped.
The V/1500 was known within the fledging RAF as the Super Handley. This giant aircraft had an endurance of up to 14 hours, cruising at 100 mph using its four Rolls Royce Eagle engines, which were mounted in tandem pairs on its massive wings, spanning 126 feet. Moreover, it could carry an impressive bomb load of about two tons.
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© D. Jacklin 2017. This website is owned by the RAF Bircham Newton Memorial Project.