Gransden Lodge Airfield History

Mosquito at Gransden Lodge

Mosquito at Gransden Lodge

When Gransden Lodge first became operational in 1942, the two units that were initially assigned to the new station were both involved in top-secret work related to radar. The first of these, No. 1418 Flight (later the Bombing Development Unit), carried out trials of some of the inventions that were constantly being produced to assist the R.A.F., including new radar equipment that was to be vital to the success of the Allied bombing campaign against the Axis. The other, No. 1474 Flight (later No.192 Squadron), flew many hazardous missions across Europe, attempting to unlock the secrets of Germany’s radar systems.

One of these operations was of such importance, and carried out against such odds, that it is mentioned in the memoirs of Sir Winston Churchill. During this period the work being carried out meant that Gransden Lodge was visited by some of the country’s leading scientists, such as Bernard Lovell, later to become famous as a radio astronomer, and Sir Henry Tizard, one of the driving forces behind the creation of the country’s wartime radar defences.

Planning a sortie in No. 142 Squadron's Briefing Room.

Planning a sortie in No. 142 Squadron’s Briefing Room.

Within a year these units had moved away to carry on their work at new bases, and the station became the home of No. 405 Squadron, the only Canadian squadron in the R.A.F.’s élite Pathfinder Force. Initially flying the Halifax, the squadron soon converted onto the famous Lancaster, and this aircraft became the workhorse of the squadron.

While at Gransden Lodge the squadron was commanded, in turn, by the two most famous Canadian bomber pilots of World War Two, Johnny Fauquier and Reg Lane. The first Canadian-built Lancaster, the ‘Ruhr Express’, was collected from Canada by Lane and it was from Gransden Lodge that it took off for its first missions in November 1943.

While based at the station, No. 405 Squadron took part in many operations that have, for various reasons, become famous or infamous. These included the raids that caused such huge devastation in Hamburg and Dresden, the attack on the German rocket research facility at Peenemünde, the gruelling campaign of the Battle of Berlin with its high casualty rate, and many others.

Map of Gransden Lodge Airfield during World War II

Map of Gransden Lodge Airfield during World War II

Despite the grim business of the war being waged, there was also a lighter side to life at Gransden Lodge, with many sporting events, parties, concerts and film shows being organised, along with the inevitable pranks carried out by the boisterous Canadians. In late 1944, No. 405 Squadron was joined by another squadron of the Pathfinder Force, No. 142 Squadron. This squadron was part of the Light Night Striking Force that frequently, and in all weathers, flew missions against Berlin using the Mosquito.

Other units, non-operational but still of great value to the war effort, were also based on the station; their roles included training in navigation (the Path Finder Force Navigation Training Unit); blind-landing training (No.1507 B.A.T. Flight); and providing fighter aircraft to allow bomber crews to train in techniques for self-defence (No. 1696 B.D.T. Flight).

After the war’s end, Gransden Lodge was used until February 1946 by a unit pioneering radar-assisted airborne mapping and as a base for transport aircraft (No. 53 Squadron). It was subsequently the venue for the first post-war motor races in the U.K., and for many years was earmarked as a possible Cold War base for British and American forces.

The first day's flying at Gransden Lodge by the Cambridge University Gliding Club, 16th September 1990.

The first day of flying at Gransden Lodge by the Cambridge University Gliding Club, 16th September 1990.

By the late 1960s the airfield had been decommissioned, and the roar of Merlin engines had been replaced by the song of hovering skylarks. Finally, in the early 1990s the wheel came full circle and flying began again, when Gransden Lodge became the home of the Cambridge University Gliding Club, now the Cambridge Gliding Club.

This text is based on the book:
‘TRIALS AND TRIBULATION: The Story of R.A.F. Gransden Lodge’
by Cambridge Gliding Club member – Chris Sullivan.

Chris’ book is available in paperback at troubador.co.uk and Amazon.

Club History

A History of the Club Fleet

Click on the sections below to view documents on the history of the club fleet created by Iain Baker:-

Part 1 – Pre World War 2 : Starting in 1935, CUGC members flew a variety of interesting gliders and even designed and built their own Granta glider.
Part 2 – Post War until the Sixties : The gliders involved in the most classic CUGC adventures, such as the Olympia that was ditched in the sea twice.
Part 3 – The Wooden Era : Charting the development and growth of the CUGC fleet in the ’70s and ’80s.
Part 4 – The Glassfibre Era : From the club’s first glassfibre glider in the ’90s to today’s modern fleet.
Part 5 – Tugs and Motorgliders : Tiger Moths, Supercubs, Robins and more.

Footage of CUGC activity in 1959

Comments from Andrew Hulme:

“I have a vague recollection that the filming was somehow organised by Alex,
but why I am not sure, given his occupation as a barrister for HMRC and
given I was only 14 or so at the time.

The winch was the Brute, (ex military Canadian Ford) . Note the Cambridge
registration JER 188 on the Brute (so it could drive to the Mynd). I never
drove that.

The winch driver is, I think, Paul Bethel-Fox launching on 06 with Smokey
Joe in the background, despite the shot of Bluebell taking off across the
runway (on 31?)

The Brute preceded the Beast. The Beast was to be on a RR Thorneycroft ex
military chassis and was huge, and burned copious amounts of petrol – but
the club could get duty rebate in those days. It was to have two large drums
at the back with cables going forward past the cab so the driver could watch
the launch facing forwards and looking out of the windscreen. The drums
were to wobble to negate the need for pay on gear. It did not get finished
and in due course Harry Boal said enough is enough, rolled the back axle
drum mounting off the back and had the Brute winch refurbished and fitted
to the “new” RR chassis. Like the Brute the driver sat in the cab sideways
looking out of the door. John Scott later rescued the back axle and its
internal dog clutch workings from the long grass or winch hut at Cambridge
and used it for the Scott winch which was the first we used at Duxford when
we switched from Auto-owing and was our first diesel powered winch (to
benefit from tax free red diesel, the duty rebate having been removed by
then). That Scott winch preceded the Picking winch. I did a fair bit of
winching with the Beast at Cambridge in its later years, as did Alan Dibdin.
It never made it to the Mynd and we used an ex ATC Wilde winch on an ex
military Humber lorry as a standby and for the Mynd trips. John Nunn
supplied gallons of orange paint (fell off the back of a lorry?) and
resprayed it all in orange. I digress………………back to the

I think the lady on the ground radio was Barbara Alexander?

The red Eagle being rigged near what later became the Club tug hanger is the
Club Eagle, though actually owned by Stu Johnson (he also owned the Skylark
3 which broke up over Ditton Lane with Ernie Clarke aerobating it) and I
think that it is Stu Johnson (but not sure) leaning on the Skylark 2 (56)
talking after Anne Welch. AWFE would know better. That hangar was the
ATC glider hangar until 1955 when 105 Gliding School closed down. At the
time of the film I doubt that club were using it as we did not get our first
Tiger (G-AHUE) until 1960. Probably Marshall were using it for storage

The cream and red Eagle at the Mynd could be the original one sponsored by
the boys’ comic “The Eagle”. The Hulme family saw it on the IoW when we
visited the gliding club there during a family holiday. When we saw it, it
had the Eagle Comic logo on the side.

The guy briefing the pupil in Bluebell then getting in the left hand seat is
Ken Machin (CFI before Ted)

The lady towing the silver trailer off after the radio call is towing the
Eagle trailer (built by John Hulme of Rathmore Road, Cambridge – for Stu
Johnson) – that’s another story!

She then turns up with the white Skylark 2 trailer with Club name and badge
on the side which I think was work carried out when the trailer came back
from Truro after my father’s 1957 flight (the two students sent by Pringle
managed to kill a pony on Dartmoor with father’s Wolseley 6/80 and the
Skylark 2 trailer so some work was needed!) Bryce was supposed to be doing
the retrieve after work, I recollect, but two students were sent by John
Pringle and dare not argue!

The Eagle later became 58, I think, and Bluebell was 55. Was the Oly 57?

The Tiger towing the Skylark (and Bluebell) at Marshalls would have been
one of Marshall’s Tigers (before we acquired G-AHUE our first Tiger)
(G-AHUE later met its demise in a mid-air at Staffordshire (it hit the tail
of an Oly 463 the nose of which later joined up with the tail of a crashed
463 from Portmoak and became Rudolf – my first glider which I bought for
£1200 with Phil King, Roy Brown and Ken Whiteley, from a guy at Doncaster
who had re-built it!)

The T21 “Min” built by Leighton Park school from a Slingsby kit, and shown
here at Lasham, later crashed or blew over, not sure which, and my father
bought the wreck and rebuilt it and it was the first of several T21s he
owned and rented out as “courtesy gliders” while he repaired various clubs’
two seaters.”

Comments from Anthony Edwards:

“2.12 I painted 56 on the tail of the Skylark II for the 1957 Nationals, and – yes – 55 on Bluebell and 57 on the Olympia. I don’t know who is speaking next to the Skylark.

2.46 Alex of course, Lionel Alexander.

2.52 Ken Machin indeed.

7.32 Barbara Alexander (formerly Green). Sounds as if Alex has left his sandwiches behind.

I never winched with the Beast, but I have no memory of the winching I must have done with the Brute. What I do remember is at the Mynd Camp before I went solo in 1956 the paying-on gear broke so we took it in turns working the slider to and fro manually with a long pole. It never occurred to any of us that the cable might break a few feet from the drum and the flailing end cut our heads off.

Happy Days, Anthony. “


Club Roll of Honour (as at end 2016)

Silver Badge:

  • A distance flight of 50 km, a duration flight of 5 hours and a height gain of 1000 m (414 club members)

Gold Distance & Diamond Goal:

  • A distance flight of 300 km, Diamond if pre-declared and completed (136 club members)

Gold Badge:

  • A distance flight of 300 km, a duration flight of 5 hours and a height gain of 3000 m (87 club members)

Diamond Distance:

  • A distance flight of 500 km (51 club members)

All three Diamonds:

  • A distance flight of 500 km, a pre-declared and completed flight of 300 km and a height gain of 5000 m (30 club members)

750 km Flights from Gransden Lodge : Only eight so far…

Notes from Iain Baker

These pages are the first stage in creating an electronic archive of club documents and recording the history of Cambridge University Gliding Club and its successors, the Cambridge Gliding Club and the Cambridge Gliding Centre.

The Archive will eventually include committee minutes and club newsletters plus other useful reference documents, with links to the onsite libraries of gliding magazines, and also with an image library.

The hope for the History is to create a complete and interesting record of the club’s history from 1935 to the current day, with notable flights and members’ exploits and achievements and mishaps recorded for posterity. The History is intended to become a living document, with additional information to keep it accurate and up to date.

If you have any recollections, anecdotes or other information, please contact Iain Baker.