History of RAF Enstone

The Airfield

The airfield at Enstone was built in 1943 as a satellite station for Moreton in Marsh. Wellington bombers were the main force based here, but the site was also used by many other aircraft. Air crews were trained here on Wellingtons  and on completion of their training were either moved onto the Lancaster, Halifax and other heavy bomber squadrons or remained flying Wellingtons around the UK and overseas. Most of these pilots were too young to hold a driving licence yet they were trained and sent to fly bombers deep into occupied Europe. Following the Allied victory in Europe, Enstone airfield was officially closed at the beginning of 1946. Our old building and two others on the site remain from wartime, when they were used for the fusing of the bombs. The rally track was the former bomb dump and the 4x4 course runs around the old bomb sangars. Naturally, the site is now completely safe, though we remain proud of the airfield's past. We have even been visited by several of the pilots based here during the War any WW2 pilots who flew here in the past will always be warmly welcomed and given honorary membership to the club. 

Enstone History

Vickers Wellingon

The Wellington was the backbone of Bomber Command 1939-1943 and was also used in large numbers by Coastal Command. It was produced in greater numbers than any other multi-engined aircraft built in Britain. It also served in every major war theatre and did not retire from RAF Service until 1953.Developed to meet Air Ministry Specification B9/32 the prototype first flew at Weybridge on 15th June 1936 with 2 hp Bristol Pegasus X engines and a Supermarine Stranraer fin and rudder assembly. On 15th August 1936 the Air Ministry placed an order for 18 Wellington Mk 1s to a revised Specification B29/36 requiring a redesigned fuselage a revised tail unit and hydraulically operated nose, ventral and tail turrets. The first production Mk1 was flown on 23rd December 1937 and the first production aircraft were delivered to 99 Squadron at Mildenhall in October 1938. 

By September 1939 six bomber Squadrons were fully equipped. During the first months of war un-escorted Wellingtons attempted daylight raids on German Shipping in the North Sea but were heavily outfought by German defenders. Wellingtons made the first attack on Berlin on 25/26 August 1940 and on 1st April 1941 a Wellington of 150 Squadron dropped the first 4000lb 'blockbuster' on Emden. Of the 1046 aircraft that took part in the 1000 Bomber raid on Cologne during the night of 30th May 1942, 599 were Wellingtons. The last operational flight by Bomber Command Wellingtons was made on 8/9th October 1943. From late 1940 they became long range bombers for the desert air forces in North Africa and from early 1942 commenced similar operations in India. They were used as submarine hunters in Coastal Command and at scores of Operational Training Units. After the war they were used as navigational and general bomber trainers. The Wellington proved astonishingly versatile in many diverse roles while its ability to absorb heavy damage and still fly was due to its geodetic construction, the design idea of Sir Barnes Wallis

The 'R' for Robert Wellington Bomber recovered from Loch Ness, Brooklands Museum, Weybridge. UK Geodetic detail in bomb doors


12th April - After almost 18 months as Moreton's satellite Station Edgehill has handed over to 12 OTU at Chipping Warden. The 466 personnel moved quickly to their new satellite Station at Enstone 12 miles East-South-East of Moreton.
Once again Enstone had been built by George Wimpey and Co for £591,000. The main runway had been built to heavy bomber standards and was longer then Moreton or Edgehill's equivalent.

15th April.  - Just 3 days after the detachment to Enstone the bigger runway did not help , when wellington Z1142 swung off the runway on takeoff , hit the windsock and crashed in flames, killing three of the crew.

More fortunate was the crew of Sgt Burke, while on a night exercise in April a sudden thump and rending sound was heard. The branch of a tree had penetrated the skin and embedded itself into the geodetic structure! After nursing the aircraft back to Moreton the crew marked their escape by breaking off a small piece of twig as a good luck charm.When the rear gunner, Sgt Bill Whittaker,was married at the end of the course he wore his lucky twig in his breast pocket. The near disaster was caused by the pilots sudden development of defective vision, and the crew was then broken up.

30th April  - 4241 AA Flight arrived at Enstone to provide guard duties for the Station.

8th May - 6 Wellingtons from 21 OTU make a flypast at the opening of the Chipping Norton "Wings" week. The Station Band Played and Grp Capt Cole spoke to the citizens of the town, fund raising efforts became part of the overall campaign.

13th May - Enstone village organised a concert for thier part of the "Wings for Victory" appeals, Moreton's band were busy!

17th May - 'X' Flight, Commanded by Flt Lt K. H. Wallis, with Lysanders and Martinets for target towing and Wellingtons for air gunnery, moved from Moreton to Enstone

"X" (gunnery) Flight 21 OTU

The gunnery, "X" Flight of 21 OTU at Enstone in front of a Martinete. 

In the front row is the Commander, Flt Lt (later Wg Cdr) K.H. Wallis, (legs crossed)who later became famous as a designer, builder and pilot of Gyrocopters, and well known for his flying in a 007 James Bond Movie.
(Wg Cdr K.H. Wallis CEng FRAeS FRSA RAF{Ret'd}) 

Aerial gunnery training was conducted over land , and gunners were prohibited from firing downward. If a 'drogue' target was lost and its whereabouts known, it was not unusual for Flt Lt Wallis to jump on a service motor cycle and go and retrieve it. A risky operation, as some locals were quick to point out misdemeanours such as rows of bullet holes across barn doors!

7th July -  A Wellington was descending through cloud returning to Enstone, just as it broke cloud it collided with an Oxford that was underneath it, both aircraft and crews were lost.

16th November -  R1293 crashed at Enstone when its port engine cut on take off, the aircraft was destroyed by fire but again the crew all escaped with only slight injuries.

17th November, - DV918 from Enstone came down at Little Tew after over shooting the runway, 4 died.

J.A Longs story

Having been in the RAF for two years already and undergone Navigation training in Southern Rhodesia and the bomb aiming course in Staverton, now came the time to "crew up". He was directed to one of the hangers where the completely random process was taking place. Everyone milled around introducing themselves to one another, Mr Long was approached by a soft spoken Welsh Pilot, Flg Off Norman Thomas, who turned out to have several hundred flying hours as a flying instructor. They seemed to "hit it off" and the basis of a crew was established!

"Tommy" Thomas then put together the rest of the crew,Sgt Bill Neal (ex London policeman) as Navigator, Sgt Doug Phipps (formerly a barber from Brisbane, Australia) as Wireless Operator,and Plt Off Geoff Wood as Rear Gunner.

Through July and into September they all got to know each others qualities and characteristics, flew cross country missions all over England. Fighter affiliation exercises, dinghy drill, gunnery practices and communications exercises ensured each member became proficient in his own "trade". Mr Long also spent 13 hrs in the left hand seat learning enough about flying the Wellington to be able to do so if "Tommy" Thomas was put out of action.

Two days before training was complete Tommy was told to fly their first operational mission over France, their baptism by fire, ready or not! The target was an important ammunition and supply concentration in the Foret de Mormal.

At 19.50 hrs on 2nd Sept they took off in Wellington L7888 and crossed the English Coast at Beachy Head and the French at Pointe au Banc. Then came the first experience of real flak and the concentrated flash of bombs exploding on the ground far beneath them, the fires that were started , the cold clammy hands on his bombsight and the fear in his gut as he lay prostrate in the bombing hatch. Running up to the target was when the aircraft was most vulnerable to attack, as no evasive action could be taken, the searchlights could zero in and the night fighters attack.

John dropped the 6, 500lb (225Kg) bombs and Tommy turned the aircraft back towards base post-haste, they crossed the French coast at Neuport and the English at Clackton, Nearly 100 mi off course, but a wonderful sight none the less.

L7888 was one of 6 aircraft from 21 OTU that night, five were considered to have succeeded, though cloud cover was "total" only one returned after "navigational difficulties" and abandoned its sortie.


24th February  - Gunnery 'X' Flight returned from Enstone to Moreton, they were replaced by 1682 (Bomber) Defence Training Flight, who had arrived 2 days earlier from Stanton Harcourt, with their 5 P40 Tomahawks (who then re-equipped with Hurricanes later in April).

1st August - 1682 (B) DT Flight disbanded at Enstone and its Hurricanes were absorbed by 21 OTU.

16th September  - LN771 with an Instructor pilot and student crew was waiting for take off at Enstone and was given the signal to do so, at the same time another Wellington LN429 was given permission to land. The collision occurred and only the WOp/AG from LN771 managed to escape as both aircraft caught fire. Disciplinary action was taken against the airfield controller for allowing the situation to happen.

26th September - AVM J.A.Grey CBE DFC GM (the 91 group AOC) made an inspection, firstly of the drawn up ranks of airmen then the other sections, a parade then marched past before he left to inspect the administrative and domestic buildings at Enstone.

Enstone Detatchment

We got to OTU - Operational Training Unit - around March 1944, and it was there we got "crewed-up".The way they did this was they assembled at the hangar equal numbers of Pilots, Bomb-Aimers, Navigators and Wireless Operators, plus double the number of Air Gunners, and we were told to sort ourselves out with one of each plus two gunners.

I finished up with "Bunny" Hare as Pilot; Harold (Smudge) Smith as Navigator; a Welshman known as Taffy Davis as Bomb-Aimer (I never did know his first name); me as Wireless Operator; and two gunners who'd already paired up, Ken Wheeler and Ivor Saunders. In fact, they'd already decided which one was going where, with Ken at the back and Ivor in the mid-upper turret.

The OTU was at a place called Enstone, about seven or eight miles outside of Oxford, which is where we used to go when we had time off. We would go down to the main road about half a mile away and hitch-hike lifts; on one occasion an ambulance stopped for us."Alright, where you going, Oxford?" asked the driver. "Oh yeah, get in the back, but sit on the left hand side".When we got in we saw why - the stretcher bit on the right hand side was covered up with a sheet, with a body underneath. Very nice!

Training in the Wellington 

The training as a crew was carried out flying on Wellingtons doing circuits-and-bumps, daylight and night-time cross countries, and bombing practice. Sometimes you had a practice bomb which just went down but didn't go off, but usually it was what they call "photos", in other words when the Bomb Aimer pressed his button it took a photo of what was underneath, from which they were able to work out where the bomb would have landed. Funnily enough all the rest of the crew had to have one go each, and we got some hilarious results. I can't remember where mine was, but I don't think the target was actually in the photograph at all, because it's very difficult to judge!

More info on The Wellington

Bomb-aimer holding an F24 aerial camera in the nose of a Blenheim (possibly of No 139 Squadron RAF) during an unescorted aerial photography mission over France

One night we were on a cross-country heading from Enstone north-west across Wales to the Irish Sea, across the sea to a point near Northern Ireland, north-east across to the north of Scotland, then south down the middle of England. We were flying on what's known as Dead Reckoning, in other words the Navigator had to rely more or less on navigating without any outside aids except timing.

As we were flying across Wales the Navigator came on the intercom and asked the Pilot if he could borrow his watch - both the Navigator and the Pilot were issued with then state-of- the-art watches such as Rotary or Omega, so they would keep good time. But the pilot came back that his had also stopped - so we had two watches that weren't going, which was a little bit worrying as we weren't allowed to go through to direction finding stations and get any fixes or anything. We could have gone miles off-course and finished up either getting shot at by the Southern Irish, or even going straight across without knowing it and finishing up somewhere in the Atlantic.

As luck would have it, about a week before I'd joined up I'd treated myself to a watch from Woolworth’s which cost half-a-crown. As mine was still going I passed it to Smudge, so they navigated on my cheap watch and we eventually got back to Enstone. Of course any incident such as that had to be reported, and we were told:

"Oh yeah, that quite often happens when you're flying over Wales, because of the magnetic influence of the mountains there!".

I thought that’s nice, they should've told us before we went not after!

The Eve of D-Day

On the night of the 5th of June 1944, us and about five other crews were appointed to do what was called a 'Window" exercise. That consisted of having the aircraft fuselage loaded up with bundles of "Window" (strips of aluminium paper in bundles), flying out to a point over the North Sea then "stooging" up one way for a certain length of time at a certain speed whilst the Wireless Operator (me) - who had the flare chute next to him -kept stuffing bundles of "Window" down the chute. Then the plane would turn round and go back the other way, turn again and go back up again, backwards and forwards until all the "Window" was used up. They issued me with two pairs of thick gloves because if you tried doing this with bare hands you would be cut to ribbons.

(Illustration of a plane’s flight path on Operation ‘Glimmer’, a similar diversionary exercise involving dropping 'window' (chaff) on the eve of D-Day)

We had used up all of our "Window" and were stooging back when we got a wireless message saying we had been diverted to nearby Moreton-in-the- Marsh. We subsequently learned this was because it was a bit misty that night, and one of the aircraft - arriving home before us - had had it's undercarriage collapse on landing and was stuck on the runway, so we couldn't land there. The mist at Moreton-in-the-Marsh wasn't too bad, and some crew vans were sent over to take us back to Enstone.

Each van could carry two crews, and we started off on the way back - not very fast, because by then it really was getting foggy. Of course we had no lights, because of the Blackout. Suddenly we heard this loud bang - we had been hit by a Sherman tank driven by some Americans who were on their way down to the south coast. The accident had completely taken the side off the van, but only one person (a member of the other crew) had been injured (he had a broken elbow). There were no problems for the rest of us, except we had to hang on tight on the way back because there was only one side left on the van!

The next morning we were told we could put it in our log books in red ink, which meant that it counted as an operation. What all us Wellingtons had been doing - stooging up and down dropping "Window" - was to create a diversion, to make sure the Germans kept their north-Germany and Holland based fighters up in that area (because they had no idea if there was a raid coming or not), thus keeping them away from where all the action was taking place in Normandy (the D-Day Landings).

We were given the rest of the day off, so that evening Ken, Ivor, Smudge and myself decided we'd go into Oxford. We hitched a lift up there, and were just deciding which pub we'd go in when we were approached by two Wrens.

"Would you like to go to a dance? Oh come on, it's free!".

On the way, they told us they'd had this dance organised for months, and that soldiers from a nearby camp were supposed to be the dancing partners. But the soldiers had all been sent away, so the Wrens had been sent out in pairs with instructions to bring back anything that had trousers on! When we got there, we found they'd picked up a mixture of Sailors, Soldiers who weren't away, Air Force, and some civilians. Just before 9 o'clock the Commanding Officer of the Wrens came out onto the stage where the little band was playing, and stopped them and announced:

"Right, now we are going to listen to the King's speech."

They brought out a little table and a radio, plugged it in and switched it on, but nothing happened. They took the plug out, looked at it, put it back in again and kicked it, switched on again, but still nothing happened. So the CO came up to the front of the stage:

"Is there anybody out there who knows anything about wireless?" he asked.

I was standing there with an "S" brevet on and "sparks" on my sleeve, so I couldn't do anything else but sort of put my hand up.

"Oh, would you mind coming and having a look at this?" he asked.

I went up on stage with my fingers crossed, because I didn't know anything at all about "domestic" radio - didn't know that much about the insides of the Air Force ones come to that! Anyway, I borrowed a nail file off one of the Wrens and managed to get the back off the radio. 

Much to my delight, I noticed a wire dangling, and I thought "Ah! That's got to go somewhere!". Then I also noticed a piece of solder ("Ah! Perhaps it'll go on there!"), so I got hold of the wire and touched it up against the solder, instructing them to switch the radio back on.

They switched it on and the sound came back.

"Oh good! Now we can hear it!"

"Well, I've got to hold this here, I can't leave it or it'll stop again ..."

"Oh carry on then! Fetch him something to sit on, somebody!"

They brought out an empty fire bucket and turned it upside down; I sat there holding the wire against the solder whilst they played God Save the King, after which he came on and did his song-and-dance act, then they played God Save the King again, and finally I could let go. The Commanding Officer came back on the stage.

"Oh well done! A round of applause!". Then he turned to me and said "Come round the back, I've got something for you!"

"Oh no, I can't - I've got three mates with me!"

"Bring them as well!"

So all four of us went round the back and were plied with doses of Navy Rum, after which we didn’t remember a great deal. We did have a vague memory of being in a car which they'd laid on to take us back to the camp, it even drove in right to the door of the hut. I thought afterwards I must have been one of the very few people who've sat through not only one but two renditions of the National Anthem in the presence of a naval Lieutenant Commander and not been, what shall we say, severely chided for it, and in fact applauded.

While we were there, Smudge kept getting paid extra money every pay parade. When he queried this, he was told "Back Pay". He never discovered why or was asked for it back. The extra went into the Post Office and helped to pay for his wedding later.

Shortly after that, we finished our course there and got posted up to a place called Topcliffe, which was HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit).

The Spring and Summer of 1945

January, 2  - Small 'bull's-eyes' with aircraft leaving from both Moreton and Enstone and a 4 day visit from a Chinese delegation to study the station's administrative arrangements start the new year.

9th April - 17 Lancasters from Spilsby have to divert and arrive at Moreton, a further 13 Lancasters from Bardney land at Enstone along with a Halifax from North Creake

18th June  - "Cooks tours" were arranged for the ground crews and interest flights were made over Germany to show the results of Bomber Commands activities.

July, 13 - "Cooks Tours" leave from Moreton and 8 leave from Enstone.

11th August  - With the exception of a holding party the 21 OTU detachment at Enstone move temporarily to Honeybourne in Worcestershire (though some reports say they went to Long Marston, its satellite). This was so the runways could be repaired.

Post War, Late 1945

6th October -  The Enstone detachment that had moved into Honeybourne while rebuilding work was in progress returned, but within a month found out about the impending closure of the airfield.

23rd November -  The last flights from Enstone took place and in the evening a farewell dance was held in the WAAF NAFFI.

24th November -  All aircrew personnel leave Enstone for Moreton, leaving only a clearing up party behind.


15th January - The 'Marching Out' took place at Enstone and its two runways were closed to flying.

17th January -  Enstone is officially closed and handed over to Maintenance Command

17th December - Ignoring the fact that Enstone had been closed down in January, a detachment of 17 Service Flying Training School with its Oxfords and Harvards arrived at Moreton, they had been flying there since arriving on 10th November! No1 Refresher School was formed and on this day records show the greatest number of aircraft ever to be based at Moreton.

Searching for Sergeant Birch RAF

Wellington bomber LP286 Mk X took off from Chipping Warden at 12.28 hrs 18 April 1945, a 12 O.T.U. aircraft flying a routine cross country navigation exercise.

We were approached by Nigel Harris to fly over the site where Sgt Birch had died during training at RAF Chipping Warden, another operational training Unit located to the NE of Enstone. Sgt Birch was a relative of Nigels and he wanted to view the site and place a memorial to his relative. Nigel has very kindly allowed us to share his journey to finding what happened to Sgt Birch.