RAF Ludford Magna, Lincolnshire
Satellite view of the old airfield as it is today with Ludford village partially visible top left. The path of the perimeter track is discernible. Also the remains of the 3 Thor launching pads in the centre.
Eighteen months after Ludford Magna opened station commander G/C Patrick King commented “ Ludford is not the most delightful of health resorts. In fact it might be described as a joke in very bad taste by the Air Ministry at our expence. It was not a good site for an airfield being high of the Lincolnshire Wolds and prone to flooding. “ If I had been building an airfield at Ludford I would not have put it here!” was another amusing comment. However with 35 airfields in Lincolnshire there was very little suitable space left anyway so there it was.
Ludford Magna was typical war time airfield with 3 concrete runways and 6 T2 and one B1 hangars were eventually erected on the airfield. It was constructed adjacent to the village of Ludford in 1942/43 by George Wimpey and became part of 1 Group Bomber Command. 101 Squadron arrived on 15th June 1943 from RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor and the airfield and Squadron were declared operational 18th June. Accommodation sites were situated north of the village with the technical site located on the north western edge of the station. The airfield's bombs were stored widely spaced along the edge of Caistor High Street north west of the airfield. Its two satellite airfields were RAF Wickenby and RAF Faldingworth and the 3 airfields made up 14 Base.
It was planned that the airfield be home to 576 Squadron with crews drawn from 101 Squadron and 103 Squadron but that idea was abandoned and 576 were formed at RAF Elsham Wolds and remained their till the end of October 1944.
Several experienced 101 crews were transferred to 576 on its formation at RAF Elsham Woldsat the end of November 1943 including those of Roy Whalley and Alan Bodger.
The first operation from Ludford Magna was was on the night of 21/22 June 1943, with a raid on Krefeld in North Rhine.
Ludford Magna was the first airfield in 1 Group to be equipped with the experimental Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation (FIDO) dispersal system which was used for the first time 10 March 1944. The only other airfields in Lincolnshire fitted with FIDO systems were RAF Fiskerton, RAF Metheringham and RAF Sturgate. There were only 15 FIDO stations in the UK, mostly on the east coast.
Ludford Magna with plenty of mud and wellies in evidence. Runway control prominent on the right. The pipe running across the photo is the FIDO feed pipe which was thought handy for airmen to prop up their bikes. Middle left is a trolley acc. - World War Photos
101 Squadron were equipped with electronic jamming equipment for raids over Germany using Monica from July 1943 then Airborne Cigar (ABC) later in 1943. ABC involved German-speaking operators to confuse the Luftwaffe night fighters by transmitting Merlin-engine noise on three relevant Luftwaffe communication radio frequencies simultaneously over a distance of 50 miles.
It was first used on the night of 7 October 1943 over Stuttgart in a raid with 343 Lancasters.
In the autumn of 1944 101 Squadron was the first in the RAF to use the Village Inn Automatic Gun-Laying Turret.
From October 1944 No. 100 Group RAF, stationed in Norfolk, took over most of the electronic jamming role. On the 4 March 1945 the airfield was subjected to its first and last attack from enemy intruders during the futile German attempt to disrupt night bomber operations late in WW2 - Operation Gisella.
Jimmy Havers DFC a former 103 Squadron pilot pre war and in the Battle of France who became a Flight Commander with 101 Squadron at RAF Ludford Magna late in the war.
Post-war use - After the war the buildings on the site were used to house 800 Polish displaced persons from 1948 to 1956.
In January 1956 RAF Hemswell established as an RAF Bomber Command missile unit, maintaining and operating nine PGM-17 Thor Intermediate Range Ballistic Nuclear Missile launchers of 97(Strategic Missile) Squadron RAF. See photo below.
Thor - Wikipedia
In 1959 Hemswell became the headquarters for the "No. 5 (Lincolnshire) Missile Dispersal Sites" located at RAF Bardney, RAF Caistor, RAF Coleby Grange and RAF Ludford Magna. The missiles at Ludford Magna were maintained and operated by 104 Squadron RAF. The Thors were decommissioned and the site vacated by the RAF in 1963.
Thor ready for launch - Imperial War Museum
The brick built accommodation buildings were sold in July 1964. On 19 October 1965, the remaining 505 acres were sold to local farmers. As far as I can see most of the buildings have been demolished but there are several still in existence on private land which is inaccessible to the public. See Youtube video at the bottom of the page. Parts of the runway perimeter track still remain but little else as far as I could gather from my short visit and cursory inspection from the road
There is a small memorial to 101 Squadron at the side of the road in Ludford village. See photo below.
Ludford Magna - FIDO
Because of the specialist nature of 101 squadron and their ABC duties it was decided to install Fido at Ludford to ensure they were able to operate in borderline weather conditions. The main contractors were A Monk & Co and Strongarc Welding of Lincoln carried out the on site construction. Almost 2000 yards of the north south runway and approach box were lined up with burners. The last 650 yards were covered by staggered burners. Four petrol storage tanks holding 500,000 gallons were built at the north east corner of the airfield next to the road and petrol was delivered by road tanker from Market Rasen and Louth.
It was hoped that the installation would be complete by by the 20th November 1943. On the 5th November Denys Fox the senior Petroleum Warfare Dpt engineer visited the site and found it nowhere near ready. . On the 26th November work was held up because of flooding. To add to the delays welders were withdrawn to complete the nearby Fiskerton installation. Work continued however with the contractors having to keep a careful watch for incoming and outgoing aircraft. The work was also complicated by the muddy conditions
Even before Fido was tested doubts were expressed concerning the likelihood of successful operation at Ludford. The system was chiefly designed to cope with normal radiation fog at inland airfields. Ludford being near the coast was mainly effected like other airfields near the coast with low stratus and advection fog rolling in from the sea faster than the burners could deal with it
Be that as it may the system was ready and handed over on the 15th January 1944. The first trial took place on the 16th January in very bad visibility of 100 yards and damp conditions The results were disappointing. The results achieved were a clearance of 400 yards on the runway which would not justify attempted landings.
The first landing was a diverted Lancaster of 50 Squadron. With visibility at 900 yards Fido was lit although the system was only partly serviceable as the left hand burner line was in need of some repair resulting from a crashed aircraft. However the aircraft made a successful landing and the pilot, who had no experience of Fido landings, was quite impressed.
A further trial was held on the 28th March 1944 with visibility down to 90 yards due to low stratus drifting across the airfield at 15/20 mph from SSW. G/C Blucke reported he considered that he did not consider that the main runway was sited across the prevailing wind and it will never be practical to clear fog if there is a wind of more that 5 mph. He did not recommend the extension of the system because he did not think it would result in any improvement.
Not till the 30th June 1944 was the installation handed over to the RAF.
In spite of its troubles Fido was used at Ludford with some success for the rest of the war the war. It is thought the system was used for 16 take offs and 96 landings – 122 in total but it is quite possibly more.
A hangar still remains on the west side of the airfield across the B1225 road
View across the old airfield from the B1225
Side plaque with WW1 and post war battle honours
Side plaque with WW2 battle honours
Jay has produced an excellent little video showing the buildings which still exist on private land at the airfield with some good drone footage. See link below
Tour of Ludford Magna - Adventures with Jay
Compiled by David Fell with particular acknowledgement to Flying Through Fire by Geoffrey Williams. Photos from my archive apart from the WWPhoto and Imperial war Museum pics.