Historical tour of RAF Linton on Ouse for HOP special agents
The other week a contingent of Special Agents from the HOP archaeology club were given a VIP tour of RAF Linton on Ouse airbase and what a treat lay in store. Flight Lieutenant David Williams was our guide for the evening who, after having greeted us, hitched a ride on the community minibus as we navigated our way around the maze of kerbed roads and manicured lawns. Having squeezed and sneaked past the Air Cadets on parade drill without causing too much of a distraction, we pulled up on the edge of the main runway. Hopes were raised when the Agents were asked if they had a head for heights. Looking around for and failing to find a Tucano, they were directed to and instructed to climb a spiral staircase leading to the roof of the WW2 control tower. What a view lay in store - a beautiful panorama of the airfield. The Agents were introduced to the main components of the base and were surprised to hear how much of it dated back to its late 1930′s construction. As we stood there looking down over the runways, it wasn’t hard to imagine the roar of the radial engines as the second world war bombers taxied out. This glimpse of its WW2 history was reinforced as we were then lead through one of massive hangars that had been originally been built to shelter the Stirling, Halifax and Lancaster aircraft that were based here. Its echoey emptiness was eerie and the little agents were dwarfed as they made their way through it looking around, up and down as if they were passing through a canyon on a mission.
Following safe passage through the hangar, we were led to its north west corner where Flt Lt Williams pointed out a small hole that perforated an iron stanchion towering above the agents’ heads (see image). This, together with other dents and scrapes on the 1/2 inch thick steelwork, had been inflicted during a Luftwaffe bombing raid and straining of the airfield. The forensic skills of our team of Agents was called to hand when they were given the challenge of working out what ordinance had punctured the metalwork and in what direction the projectile had been heading. The problem was soon solved but just what sort of Luftwaffe aircraft was fitted with 20mm canon? “Giant Joe” thought he had the answer: a Messerschmidt Bf 110 night fighter which may have shadowed one of the allied bombers back to base before attacking?
The casualties inflicted on the ground crew during that raid reached double figures and included the station commander. This sacrifice was shocking but nothing could prepare the Agents for the statistics that awaited them in the Memorial Room, where the enormity of the sacrifice made by British and Canadian airmen was learned, over 2000 young men lost their lives flying out of RAF Linton on Ouse during the second world war - a staggering number that was almost impossible for the Agents to comprehend. The memorabilia, photos, correspondence and fragments of mangled airframe and wreckage that surrounded soon reinforced this statistic. ” Giant Joe”, whose own grandad had flown in the bombers of Coastal Command during the war, found a ladder belonging a Lancaster and pondered who had climbed the rungs and had they all returned to safely climb back down them.
Having recently researched the crash of the DH95 Flamingo, the Agents were no strangers to piecing together threads of evidence to build a story and all of them loved the quiz challenge set by Flt Lt Williams. It was an inspiring evening and our young team did us proud. Thanks go to all at RAF Linton on Ouse for making this memorable evening possible.