RAF Langham

Text © Copyright Evelyn Simak, June 2014
Images are under a separate Creative Commons Licence.

TF9941 : Airfield Dome Trainer at Langham by Evelyn Simak

Langham airfield, the most northerly of Norfolk's aerodromes, opened during 1940. It had grass airstrips and functioned as a satellite airfield for Bircham Newton (in West Norfolk). The airfield has a complex and somewhat confused history, as aircraft from RAF Bircham Newton initially dispersed at Langham, while the No. 1 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit was also based on the field until towards the end of 1942, providing target-towing facilities for the Army firing camps at Stiffkey. The No. 2 Anti-Aircraft Practice Camp (AAPC) was also associated with the airfield which, in July 1942, became an independent RAF station and was almost immediately put into Care & Maintenance in November.

During 1941/42, the RAF officers were billeted at Langham Hall which also housed the officers' mess. In 1944 and 1945, the hall served as the station's Sick quarters and in 1947 it became the Medical Reception Centre.

After having received three much lengthened concrete runways and a number of other facilities the airfield reopened in February 1944. It became a base for the famous Beaufighter Strike Wing, mounting anti-shipping operations over the North Sea from there, with its 455 Squadron taking out flagships escorting German convoys and the 489th squadron attacking larger cargo vessels. Previously based at RAF Docking (West Norfolk), the 521st Squadron arrived at Langham in August of the same year, bringing with it its meteorological reconnaissance assets. Other important coastal operations such as air-sea rescue and anti-submarine patrol flights were also undertaken from the airfield.

The RAF Y-Service helped with analysing and interpreting the Luftwaffe radio traffic, and the Bletchley Park Air Section shared with Bomber Command their information about enemy night fighter intentions.

The following squadrons were based at Langham:

455 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force (14 April 1944 - 20 October 1944)
489 Squadron Royal New Zealand Air Force (8 April 1944 - 24 October 1944)
524 Squadron RAF (17 October 1944 - 25 May 1945)
521 Squadron RAF (30 October 1944 - 3 November 1945)

Group Captain AE Clouston, a New Zealander, set up a pig, poultry and vegetable producing enterprise on the station and he also arranged regular rabbit and hare shoots, with the aim of supplementing the rations of all personnel with fresh produce.

June 1946 to June 1947 the airfield was on loan to and used by a Technical Training School for the Royal Netherlands Air Force, before being put into Care & Maintenance again in September 1947. From March 1953 until November 1958 it was used by the No. 2 Civilian Anti-Aircraft Cooperation Unit, assisting Army firing camps by towing drogues for gunners to aim at, and from October 1961 it served as an emergency landing ground for the USAF at Sculthorpe.

The airfield was eventually sold to Bernard Matthews Farms Ltd for use as a turkey farm, whereas part of the southern section of the airfield is still used by light aircraft. The land was returned to agriculture and the runways and dispersals are surrounded by crop fields. Two public footpaths take in part of the airfield, and the minor road linking Langham and Cockthorpe villages cuts right through the middle of the site.

Although the remaining runways, dispersals and taxiways are perhaps the most tangible remains of the old airfield, some of the buildings also still exist, albeit disused, the best known being the Dome trainer on the east side which is one of the best know airfield buildings in Great Britain.

In 2011, a memorial commemorating the personnel based on Langham Airfield was erected by the Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust beside the Dome trainer. A new information board was added more recently.

TF9941 : Memorial at RAF Langham by Evelyn Simak TF9941 : Information board beside the Langham dome trainer by Evelyn Simak

The Dome trainer is one of only about 40 structures of this kind which were built during WW2. Only a few of these buildings have survived and this particular one now is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It is located beside the minor road connecting Langham with the village of Cockthorpe, further to the north-west, on the east side of the former airfield. Listed as Building No. 35 on the original site plan, it was used by the Royal Air Force to train their squadrons in the operation of an anti-aircraft gun by using film projection techniques. The airfield including the dome was acquired by Bernard Matthews Farms Ltd but the building and half an acre of surrounding land was donated to the North Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust a few years ago. With the approval of Lottery Funding in March 2013, the dome has now been fully restored and was officially opened on 19 July 2014. The Trust, in cooperation with the Friends of the Langham Dome, will be opening the building which now houses a museum explaining its history to the public and to schools until the end of October, from 11am to 4 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays. Visitors can learn the secrets of this iconic building, watch the history of the dome and RAF Langham on film and test their aim with the museum's interactive training gun and one of the original target films.

TF9941 : Airfield Dome Trainer at Langham by Evelyn Simak TF9941 : The Langham Dome museum by Evelyn Simak < before and after restoration > TF9941 : The Langham Dome by Evelyn Simak TF9941 : The Langham Dome museum by Evelyn Simak

TF9941 : Picnic table by the Langham Dome by Evelyn Simak TF9941 : The Langham Dome museum by Evelyn Simak TF9941 : The Langham Dome museum by Evelyn Simak TF9941 : The Langham Dome museum by Evelyn Simak TF9941 : The Langham Dome museum by Evelyn Simak

The dispersed sites associated with the airfield were located in and around Langham, the most northerly being situated south of Morston. One of the Communal sites was located in what is now Fox Hill Plantation, a wood beside Langham Road. No original structures appear to have survived. A track off Langham Road, now used by the farmer to get to his fields, would seem to have been the old road linking the site with the airfield. No trace remains of Sites 4 and 5 to the north of this Communal site, south of the coastal village of Morston and the A149 coast road.

TG0042 : Gated entrance to nowhere by Evelyn Simak TG0042 : North towards Morston on North Street/Langham Road by Evelyn Simak TG0042 : Track leading towards Langham airfield by Evelyn Simak

A second Communal site, incorporating a NAAFI club, was situated to the north of Binham Road by its junction with the minor road leading to Cockthorpe. This area has since been built over and is covered by new housing. When the runways were extended southwards during 1944/45, the road leading to Cockthorpe traversed two of the airfield's runways and it was hence closed for the duration of activities.

The WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) arrived in 1942 and personnel were at first billeted at Cockthorpe Hall, about three kilometres further to the north-west, until their camp was ready. It was situated in the heart of Langham village to the north of Holt Road, near the Bluebell Inn and the church of SS Andrew and Mary. In May 1945, a Wellington aircraft crashed into the canteen there and came to a stop in the middle of the WAAF site's entrance beside it.

Site 6 was in what is now a crop field south of Wiveton Road; Site 7 was located just to the south of Langham church, west of Field Dalling Road, and the W/T (wireless/telegraphy) unit was based a little further to the south along the same road. Another site, unnumbered on the site plan, was situated a short distance further to the west, south of Holt Road. Nothing remains of Site 8, now a crop field a short distance further along Binham Road. Site 9, on the other side of the road, is now a wood. The Sewage works, however, can still be found beside the road a little further to the south-west.

TF9941 : Gated track off Binham Road by Evelyn Simak TF9941 : Sewage works in Binham Road by Evelyn Simak

A small group of buildings has survived on the former Technical site, a short distance further to the north of the Dome trainer. These are the Control tower (Building 25); a Fire tender shed (Building 28); a Floodlight trailer and tractor shed (Building 28); a Night flying equipment store (Building 26), and a small brick hut which was used for filling weather balloons. The remains of Building 39, the Link trainer, can be found in a small woodland. Only the brick base remains. The T2 and blister hangars also on this site have long since been dismantled.

TF9942 : The former Control tower by Evelyn Simak TF9942 : Buildings on the former Technical site by Evelyn Simak TF9942 : The old Floodlight trailer and tractor shed by Evelyn Simak TF9942 : The Night flying equipment store by Evelyn Simak TF9942 : Buildings on the former Technical site by Evelyn Simak

The buildings are surrounded by crop fields, and the old runways and dispersals are occupied by poultry houses. The bomb storage area was to the north of the northern perimeter track, well away from the flight path.

TF9942 : View towards the Technical site by Evelyn Simak TF9942 : Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)  and crop fields by Evelyn Simak TF9942 : View across the NW/SE runway by Evelyn Simak TF9942 : View along the NW/SE runway by Evelyn Simak TF9842 : Barley crop on the old airfield by Evelyn Simak

The building once housing RAF Langham's base chapel can today be found at Little Snoring airfield, where it is being used as the McAully Flying Group's club house.

TF9632 : McAully Flying Club - the club house by Evelyn Simak TF9632 : McAully Flying Club - the club house by Evelyn Simak

The Battle Headquarters (BHQ) of the airfield is located near the eastern edge. It is in good condition and was restored in 2011.

Most WW2 aerodromes had such a structure - all built to a similar design and commonly situated on the edge of the airfield - which could be used to co-ordinate the defence of the airfield in the event of a land or air attack. The BHQ at RAF Langham is of exactly the same design as the BHQ at RAF Thorpe Abbotts, comprising several small brick-built rooms, some with small windows for passing information between the plotting and communications rooms. There is an above-ground observation post with all-around viewing apertures and a bomb-proof concrete cap. The escape hatch, reached via a short ladder, emerges beside it.

TF9941 : Entrance to the Battle Headquarters by Evelyn Simak TF9941 : Toilet in WW2 Battle Headquarters by Evelyn Simak TF9941 : Artefacts found in the WW2 Battle Headquarters by Evelyn Simak TF9941 : Rooms in the WW2 Battle Headquarters by Evelyn Simak TF9941 : Rooms in the WW2 Battle Headquarters by Evelyn Simak

A public footpath leading to Morston Chase, further to the north-east, follows a section of the old perimeter track skirting the north-western edge of the airfield.

TF9842 : Poultry sheds by Evelyn Simak TF9842 : Transmission mast viewed across field by Evelyn Simak TF9842 : Public footpath to Morston by Evelyn Simak TF9842 : Left for Morston by Evelyn Simak TF9842 : This way to Morston by Evelyn Simak


Please note that the airfield is privately owned and should only be accessed with the respective owners' permission.

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