The Second World War
When Professor Fussell edited Robert Loder’s Farm Accounts in 1936, he wrote in his preface that the village, with the exception of a few modern bungalows, must have looked much the same as in Robert Loder’s time, but that if the proposed aerodrome was built, great changes could be anticipated. The aerodrome was duly built, not in the village but on Horn Down, which before had been farmed, and a new era began for the peaceful rural parish.
Royal Air Force Station, Harwell opened as a bomber station in February 1937, with Hawker Audax and Hawker Hind aircraft, later replaced by Fairey Battles and Bristol Blenheims. As war broke out they departed to France, and a subsequent mauling, to be replaced here by Vickers Wellingtons and Avro Ansons to form No.l5 Operational Training Unit, which remained until March 1944. During this time 7,200 aircrew (1200 Wellington crews) were trained, and most were dispatched via Gibraltar and Malta to Egypt. As part of their training, crews dropped leaflets over occupied France, and took part in the first few thousand bomber raids in 1941. King George VI inspected the station in May 1938 and July 1940. Other visitors in 1940 were the Duke of Kent and King Haakon of Norway.
Seven German attacks were made on Harwell, the first on 16th August 1940, when two airmen were killed and five more injured. Ten days later seven civilians died and a further nine were injured. The last attack was in August 1944 by a V1, known as a doodlebug, causing some damage but no casualties.
April 1944 saw Albermarles and gliders training for the Normandy landings, and at 11 p.m. on 5th June six of these combinations took off to spearhead the operation. A plaque set at the end of the old runway commemorates the event. Airlifting of troops and supplies continued until the bridgehead had been secured. Stirlings replaced the Albermarles for the dropping of troops and supplies to Arnhem on 17th September 1944. For six days Stirlings continued to tow in troop-carrying gliders and supplies, but the enemy was too strong to continue the battle.
The next to arrive were No.13 O.T.U. training Mosquito fighter-bomber crews, and in March they absorbed No. 60 O.T.U. which brought Bostons, Mitchells and a Spitfire flight. They departed in July, and August saw Transport Command Development Flight and the School of Air Efficiency arrive. They moved out in December, and on 1st January 1946, the-site was taken over by the Ministry of Supply.