RAF Ludham - HMS Flycatcher

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


The land which was to become the flying field of RAF Ludham once belonged to Fritton Farm. In the 1920s, the farm had been purchased by the government with the intention of splitting up the land and to make it available for soldiers returning from WW1. There were seven smallholdings, each with a wooden house, to the north, and four larger holdings to the south of what then was called Slipper's Loke (named after the then owner of Fritton Farm) and today is known as Fritton Road. With the construction of the airfield the seven smallholdings were cleared.

Ludham aerodrome was built by Richard Costain Ltd in November 1941 as a satellite to RAF Coltishall, to be used as a forward base for Fighter Command; the first Spitfires of 152 Squadron landed in November of the same year. The main gate was in Malthouse Lane near the Watch office and the concreted road is still in place. The entrance at Fritton Road was used by petrol bowsers. The airfield was defended by four Bofors guns, one on each side and located about halfway along.

During the following two years, Nos. 19, 91, 152, 167, 602, 603, 610 and 611 squadrons, all flying Spitfires, and No. 195 Squadron, flying Typhoons, were based there at different times, some only for a couple of months. Brian Lane, the author of the book "Spitfire!" was the supernumerary squadron leader of No. 167 Squadron at Ludham when his Spitfire was shot down over the North Sea on his first operational flight with the squadron. No. 610 Squadron - one of the most celebrated Auxiliary Squadrons - was involved in flying cover for Operation Jubilee, the Dieppe Raid. The flying ace JE "Johnnie" Johnson was based here, leading No 610 Squadron, for a couple of months in the summer of 1942. No. 195 Squadron flew offensive sweeps and armed reconnaissance missions across northern France and the No. 603 Squadron's operations included dive-bombing attacks on German V-weapons sites in Holland.

Compared with other WW2 airfields however, Ludham would seem to have had a relatively quiet time despite being used by a number of fighter squadrons. The airfield's history is described, albeit briefly, in the (online) Ludham Community Archive > LinkExternal link but there is no memorial to commemorate the personnel based here during the war. There used to be a propeller on display in the garden of a private property in Horsefen Road but it has since been removed.


TG4019 : Common poppy (Papaver rhoeas) by Evelyn Simak TG3918 : Propeller, Ludham by Katy Walters


In August 1943, the airfield was allocated to the United States Army Air Forces and given the USAAF station number 177, but no American units were ever based here. Work was then begun to upgrade the runways and the airfield was closed for the duration, which lasted a year. In August 1944, the station was reopened by a skeleton duty crew providing emergency recovery facilities for USAAF bombers returning from missions on the continent.

Ludham was the first airfield on the flight path home to Norfolk and eleven aircraft are recorded to have either crashed in the vicinity or to have made emergency landings on the airfield. Major John B "Jack" Kidd's aircraft was damaged during a raid on Regensburg and crash-landed at Ludham; the Blakely crew, also from the 100th Bomb Group, crash-landed on the airfield in October 1944, after their bomber was damaged during a raid on Bremen. The crew of a damaged fighter aircraft of the 352nd squadron landed at the first aerodrome they saw in England, which was Ludham. A B-17G Flying Fortress bomber of the 388th Bomb Group was damaged over Kiel and crash-landed near Laurel Farm.

The airfield had three concreted and tarmacked runways, with the main runway being 1400 metres long. A perimeter track, 12 metres wide, connected all the runways. There were also 12 dispersal pens and 9 hardstandings, and 18 single and 17 double (USAAF-type) hardstandings of pierced steel. A T2 hangar stood on the Technical site and four blister hangars were also erected.

Accommodation was in temporary buildings which provided housing for 190 officers and 1519 personnel. The Sick bay was located at one of the campsites situated to the west of the airfield. Training facilities, workshops and accommodation for squadrons were not available, except for those provided in 1944 by the MONAB, the Mobile Naval Air Base.

When after the forming of the Mobile Naval Airfields Organisation (MNAO) in 1943 the Admiralty were looking for a station suitable for establishing a formation and assembly base they turned to the RAF, and the Air Ministry proposed Ludham, the only location available at the time. The airfield was accordingly transferred from RAF No 12 Group to the Admiralty in August 1944 and it became the headquarters of MONAB. In September, the station was commissioned as HMS Flycatcher, RNAS (Royal Naval Air Station).

The first Mobile Naval Air Base (MONAB) began assembling within days of the commissioning and despite shortfalls in both equipment and manpower availability, a second MONAB followed in October. Soon the total number of personnel based at Ludham rose to an unacceptable level and in order to prevent overcrowding it was decided to split MONAB II by sending the technical components elsewhere. Another problem was caused by the fact that the various associated sites were dispersed over a fairly wide area and quite some distance away from the headquarters. Furthermore, Ludham had poor road and rail links and was too far distant from the port of embarkation. Negotiations were therefore resumed to find an alternative site and the Air Ministry's offer to swap RAF Middle Wallop for Ludham was accepted.

HMS Flycatcher left Ludham in mid-February 1945 and the airfield returned to RAF Fighter Command. For the following three months, the airfield was used by Nos. 91, 602, 603 and by No. 1 Squadron.

The airfield was closed in 1946 and in 1961 the Air Ministry land was sold to the Norfolk County Council, and soon returned to agriculture. The Home Office stores had already closed two years earlier. The southern part of the flying field was for many years used by crop-spraying aircraft and the remaining section of the E/W runway currently serves as a private airstrip. What remains of the perimeter track, greatly reduced in width, is used by farmers to get to their fields.


TG4019 : Ludham airfield by Evelyn Simak TG4019 : Access track to Ludham airfield by Evelyn Simak

TG4019 : Wheat crop on Ludham airfield by Evelyn Simak TG4019 : Footpath to Market Road, Ludham by Evelyn Simak TG4019 : Part of the perimeter track on Ludham airfield by Evelyn Simak TG4019 : View along the perimeter of Ludham airfield by Evelyn Simak TG4019 : Broken up perimeter track by Evelyn Simak


RAF Ludham had two Watch offices (control towers), both situated near the north-western edge of the airfield to the west of Malthouse Lane. A Watch Office for Fighter Satellite stations, with the later (1942) addition of a Switch room, had been constructed in 1941. In 1943 it was replaced by a Watch Office for all Commands, which is the larger building adjoining it. Both were restored in 2000/1 with the intention of opening an airfield museum but nothing would seem to have come of this plan and the buildings remained empty. In 2012 it was reported in the news that the local Council had sold them to a private owner who intended to restore and convert the larger structure for use as a holiday home. This plan would seem to also have stalled.


TG3919 : Control towers at Ludham airfield by Evelyn Simak

TG3919 : The old control tower on Ludham airfield by Evelyn Simak TG3919 : The Watch office for Fighter Satellite stations by Evelyn Simak TG3919 : The Watch office for Fighter Satellite stations by Evelyn Simak TG3919 : The Watch office for Fighter Satellite stations by Evelyn Simak TG3919 : The Watch office for Fighter Satellite stations by Evelyn Simak

TG3919 : Nissen hut by the old Control tower by Evelyn Simak TG3919 : The Watch office for all Commands - detail by Evelyn Simak TG3919 : The remains of a Nissen hut by Evelyn Simak

TG3919 : The Watch office for all Commands - from the south by Evelyn Simak TG3919 : The Watch office for all Commands - detail by Evelyn Simak TG3919 : The Watch office for all Commands by Evelyn Simak TG3919 : The Watch office for all Commands - from the west by Evelyn Simak TG3919 : The Watch office for all Commands - from the NE by Evelyn Simak


The fenced-in compound where the two Watch offices and the remains of a Nissen hut are still standing was adjoined by the Technical site, where the airfield's only T2 hangar was located. This area has reverted to agriculture and the Watch office compound is surrounded by fields.


TG3919 : Wheat crop field east of Malthouse Lane by Evelyn Simak TG3919 : Wheat crop field south of Starkings Farm by Evelyn Simak


About one kilometre further south, near the south-western corner of the airfield, a handful of prefabricated concrete buildings of the former M/T (motor transport) section can still be found in a small area by the junction of Fritton Road, Malthouse Lane and Grange Road. These were later used by the Air Ministry Works Department (AMWD) and comprised a Canteen and Rest room and the AMWD Mechanical plant store. There are also two Contractors' huts which are currently very overgrown. The AMWD Works services hut has been converted into a dwelling house. A single prefabricated concrete hut is situated in a field east of Malthouse Lane, about 100 metres further to the north from here. This building served as the Small Arms and Ammunitions store.


TG3918 : Old RAF building in Ludham by Evelyn Simak TG3918 : Mechanical plant store building - detail by Evelyn Simak TG3918 : Relics of RAF Ludham by Evelyn Simak TG3918 : Relics of RAF Ludham by Evelyn Simak TG3918 : RAF hut in sugar beet crop by Evelyn Simak


There were seven dispersed sites, all located to the west of the airfield. Site 2 was situated between Catfield Road and Wateringpiece Lane. It was a Communal site. The Sick quarters and dental surgery adjoined it in the east, spread out along Catfield Road and bounded in the south by a track connecting Wateringpiece Lane and Catfield Road. Today this location is occupied by a small business park and no buildings have survived. Part of the Sergeants' Mess (building 169 on the airfield site plan), including a boiler house with its water tower and the water tank still in place, has however survived on the Communal Site 2 which was situated along Wateringpiece Lane. The camp's Braithwaite water tank, a short distance further to the south and beside Wateringpiece Lane, has since been replaced by a larger and more modern structure.


TG3819 : Business units in Catfield Road by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : Water tower and reservoir beside Wateringpiece Lane by Evelyn Simak

TG3819 : Remains of the Sergeants' Mess by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : Water tower of a boiler house by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : Door into the boiler house by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : Boiler house on the former hospital site by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : Remains of the Sergeants' Mess on the Communal Site 2 by Evelyn Simak

TG3819 : Part of the Sergeants' Mess on the Communal Site 2 by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : Door into the Sergeants' Mess by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : Remains of the Sergeants' Mess on the Communal Site 2 by Evelyn Simak

TG3819 : The Sergeants' Mess (interior) by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : The Sergeants' Mess (interior) by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : The Sergeants' Mess (interior) by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : The Sergeants' Mess (interior) by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : The Sergeants' Mess (interior) by Evelyn Simak


Site 3, an Accommodation site, was situated by the junction of Catfield Road and Loke Way, leading to Walton Hall Farm. Site 4 was located to the east of Catfield Road. It was a Communal site with air raid shelters. There was also a VHF radio facility. Site 5, the Sergeants' quarters, was strung out along Wateringpiece Lane. Another large camp was located a short distance further east, along a farm track called Gipsies Lane, to the south of Elderbush Lane. This camp was situated to the north of Walton Hall and the old concreted road leading to it from Catfield Road is still in place. Only crop fields can be seen here today. A large hutted camp can be seen in a 1946 aerial view to have been situated in a field to the north of Sharp Street. The public footpath leading north from Sharp Street to Miles Loke traverses the area occupied by this site (Site 7, the WAAF quarters) of which no trace remains.


TG3820 : Wheat crop field north of Sharp Street by Evelyn Simak TG3920 : View along Gipsies Lane by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : Concrete track to Gipsies Lane by Evelyn Simak


Site 8 was the sewage works, now the sewage works for Ludham village. The site was constructed to serve the Army camp (at Ludham Manor) and the aerodrome, and after the war new houses were built in this area. Whereas these new properties had sewers, the rest of the village had to wait until 1973 when it too was connected to the sewage works using ex-RAF airfield facilities and land.


TG3819 : Sewage works by Evelyn Simak


Until a few years ago a massive brick wall stood in a field roughly 300 metres to the south-east of the entrance to two fenced-in depots, to the west of Market Road, which currently occupy part of the area in the vicinity of the north-eastern edge of the airfield where several E-shaped fighter pens used to be located. This wall (also called the shooting-in butt) was used for Spitfire firing practice and gun testing. According to information gleaned from the Ludham Community Archive, the aircraft were jacked up at the rear and then they fired their guns at targets marked on the wall. Sadly, the wall was demolished in 2012.


TG4019 : View towards the gun practise wall on the edge of Ludham airfield by Evelyn Simak TG4019 : Ivy-clad gun target wall on the edge of Ludham airfield by Evelyn Simak TG3920 : Depot west of Long Lane by Evelyn Simak TG3919 : Depot west of Long Lane by Evelyn Simak


A much overgrown building (Building No. 107) remains on a field margin a short distance to the south from where the shooting-in butt used to stand. The windowless hut had an entrance at each end. Inside there are a number of bays at both sides, with some wooden boards and steel brackets still in place. These are the remains of two-storey bunk beds, as the building served as a sleeping shelter, used by air and ground night fighter crews to rest in. The structure had electricity and lighting and would seem to have been well ventilated. A similar hut (Building No. 106) adjoined it immediately to the east.


TG4019 : Overgrown RAF building by Evelyn Simak TG4019 : Overgrown RAF building (interior) by Evelyn Simak TG4019 : Overgrown RAF building (interior) by Evelyn Simak TG4019 : Overgrown RAF building (interior) by Evelyn Simak TG4019 : Overgrown RAF building (interior) by Evelyn Simak


A small rectangular brick-built structure in a crop field west of Catfield Road, near the western perimeter of the airfield and a short distance to the south-west of the Sewage works, is described by NHER (Norfolk Heritage) as a unique Air Ministry design pillbox. During the war it stood on a field boundary where it was hidden beneath the trees growing here. This field boundary has since been removed. The building measures approximately 3 x 4 metres. It was sunk into the ground and is accessible via brick steps leading down to the entrance. The walls are fairly thin and hardly bullet-proof and there is no anti-ricochet barrier, and the structure hence relied entirely on its low profile for protection. Furthermore, considering the height and the position of its embrasures right under the roof, it would have been impossible to shoot out of them as there is no headroom at all. What purpose this small building served has as yet to be determined, but a pillbox it is not. It might have served as an observation post.


TG3819 : WW2 structure by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : WW2 structure by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : WW2 structure by Evelyn Simak TG3819 : WW2 structure by Evelyn Simak


A small building situated in the corner of a field about 300 metres further to the north-west can be seen on an aerial view dating from 1946. The field it stood in is now much larger and the structure no longer in place. It was the VHF/DF (direction finding) station. Its complementary stations - VHF/R (receive) and VHF/T (transmit) - were located further to the north and north-east, at Sharp Street, and beside Wateringpiece Lane on the south-western end of Site 4, respectively.

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An apparently unique Air Ministry design pillbox can still be found in the vicinity of the airfield. It is very large, with walls about one metre thick and two widely splayed embrasures on each face. The structure is situated south of Fritton House and about 150 metres south of the airfield's southern perimeter, beside a drainage ditch which runs parallel with Fritton Lane.


TG4018 : Pillbox beside Fritton Lane by Evelyn Simak TG4018 : Pillbox beside Fritton Lane (detail) by Evelyn Simak TG4018 : Pillbox beside Fritton Lane by Evelyn Simak TG4018 : Pillbox beside Fritton Lane by Evelyn Simak


A further pillbox still stands on the corner of Staithe Road and Hall Common Road and a third is situated on the northern parish boundary but it has now almost disappeared under dense vegetation.

The brick tower of the old drainage windpump to the north of Ludham Bridge was converted into a strongpoint and used as a two-storey pillbox. Embrasures were built at two levels and the entrance is protected by a blast wall. A spigot mortar emplacement adjoins.


TG3717 : Ludham Bridge mill - WWII strongpoint beside the River Ant by Evelyn Simak TG3717 : Ludham Bridge mill - WWII strongpoint beside the River Ant by Evelyn Simak TG3717 : Ludham Bridge mill - WWII strongpoint beside the River Ant by Evelyn Simak TG3717 : Spigot mortar emplacement beside Ludham Bridge Mill by Evelyn Simak

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Please note that most of the sites described above are on private land and should be accessed only by the respective owners' permission. Fritton Road, Malthouse Lane and Market Road all offer good views across the former airfield and a footpath traverses its south-eastern corner.

Some of the information used in this article was taken from the booklets titled "Ludham Farms" (published in 2008) and "Ludham Airfield" (published in 2012), both written by Mike Fuller for the Ludham Community Archive > LinkExternal link.


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