View Full Version : Airfield Defence from'Fighting with the Commandos'

Richard Drew
06-02-2009, 20:26
from'Fighting with the Commandos' by Neil Barber ISBN 978-1-84415-732-7

A very good book and worth reading, it starts as a boy in London, then the army in many units, Dunkirk and all the way to D-day and Germ,any after the war. This is about his airfield defence duties and may fill in a few historical facts.

After finishing my time with the training group I then joined 'F' Company which was immediately sent to Nacton Aerodrome to relieve a Company of the 70th Essex Young Soldier's Battalion. This aerodrome was sometimes used as an emergency strip for planes such as Blenheims and Hurricanes. It had just suffered several days of bombing, and trees still lay across the road. The guardroom, administrative buildings and hangars had all been severely damŽaged. There was a factory across the road that built tank engines, radiators and similar items, so the area was a wonderful target for the Germans; if they missed one, they hit the other. Each platoon moved into an area around the 'drome and ours was in a slight valley on the western side of the perimeter. All aircraft were dispersed and we had a short-nosed Blenheim, J for Jane of Daily Mirror fame, as our local aircraft. The Company duties were to mount guard at the main gate, patrol the perimeter and provide night guards on two side gates, east and west. The patrols were continuous, twenty-four hours a day. The main gate guard was mounted as per Drill Book, all Blanco, Brasso, Kiwi, the stint of duty being over twenty-four hours, two on, four off. The side gate guards were mounted evening to morning, replaced at 0800 hours by a standing picket, again two hours on, four off. There would always be one more guard than was required so that a stick orderly could be chosen, this being the best presented man of that group. To be successful, attention to detail was important, because it could be decided by the inspection of the studs on the soles of your boots. The 'winner' would be given a little black walking out stick with a ferrule at one end and a silver knob at the other to signify his status, and his duty was to perform odd jobs for the Orderly Room or the Colonel, in other words act as a runner. The incentives were not having to do 'STAG' and a twenty-four hour pass.
We found the aerodrome defences to be minimal. There was an ack-ack crew with four Lewis guns and one anti-tank gun, an old French 75 mm Field piece without any ammunition. We also came across flame-thrower vehicles called Cockatrice and Heavy Cockatrice made by Lagonda Limited. These comprised a concrete pillbox mounted on either a Bedford QL 4 x 4 or AEC 6 x 6 solid-tyred chassis from former RAF fuel tender and crane lorries, strengthened with railway sleepers.5

5 Sixty were built for aerodrome and harbour defence

These lumbering nightmares could do about five miles per hour if that, but could throw a flame a certain distance into the air vertically against dive-bombers and horizontally against ground troops.
Another defensive idea employed was to lift the tails of the aircraft and align their Browning or Vickers K guns along a road adjacent to the aerodrome.
The south side of the field was open to the Orwell River. This was covered by double apron rolls of barbed and Danet wire, all over grown with grass and weeds. Only the rabbit runs were visible. Dawn was the time to see these animals, indeed many snares were laid to trap them. During one dawn patrol, there was myself with a P14 rifle, bayonet and five rounds and a mate with a Thompson that had a straight sixteen-round magazine (it had been found that the round ones fell off!). He was leading through the mist and suddenly began firing, so I doubled up to his side expecting trouble, but no, he was blazing away at rabbits. As .45 ammo was very scarce, he was put on a charge for negligence with a weapon. To top it all he never hit a single rabbit!
One night a badly damaged Wellington bomber with engines spluttering limped towards the airfield and passed directly over the administrative buildings. The ack-ack promptly shot it up. However, it managed to land, and the following morning we all marveled at how the crew had survived considering the amount bullet holes it possessed.
We went on to do aerodrome defence at Wattisham and Martlesham bomber bases.

O/S Ref. TM 215 405 Nacton Aerodrome ??? http://wikimapia.org/beta/#lat=52.023214&lon=1.1859226&z=16&l=0&m=h&v=1&search=Orwell%20River
A Cockatrice (http://www.google.com/images?q=tbn:qaz5hN7ol6MYYM::www.ochogames.com/store/images/products/Cockatrice_400.jpg

Can anybody else add to this??

07-02-2009, 09:09
I doubt that the 'flame thrower Cockatrice vehicle' would have had the range to deal with dive bombers LOL

Arcade Al
07-02-2009, 13:12
The Lagonda Cockatrice is a new one on me, sounds like a Bison with a flame thrower bolted on!
Very interesting info.

I wonder how long the guy mentioned had to live down the fact that he "couldn't hit a rabbit with a machine gun"? Probably worse than being put on a charge! :lol:

07-02-2009, 15:10
A cockatrice is the emblem on 3 Sqns badge.

Arcade Al
08-02-2009, 02:12

Badge: On a monolith, a cockatrice - approved by King George VI in September 1937. The cockatrice was chosen because in mythology it was the first creature to fly.
Motto: Tertius primus erit - The third shall be the first. This is a reference to the fact that No 3 Squadron, RFC, was the first to be equipped with heavier-than-air machines.
Source: http://www.raf.mod.uk/organisation/3squadron.cfm

Richard Drew
08-02-2009, 12:33
I think the name used Cockatrice had nothing to do with No. 3 Sdn and more to do with a dragon breathing fire??



The other think still bafalling me is RAF Nacton, does anybody know where this airfield (Aerodrome in his words) is and has it changed name?? He does state a administration site & hangars??

I have searched Nacton in all my books nothing seems to be coming up?? I did find a Nacton on Wikimapia but could not identify an airfiled http://wikimapia.org/beta/#lat=52.0293138&lon=1.190815&z=15&l=0&m=h&v=1??



Nacton Airfield, Suffolk

This airfield should be reopen for civl flying and again we do not want any industrial or eco development on this airfield site.

Richard Flagg
08-02-2009, 12:55
Wasn't Nacton a pre war civil airfield? I could be wrong but thats what I thought. I have it in my head that a hangar survives but has been relocated locally and is used as a garage. Can anyone confirm?

Richard Drew
08-02-2009, 13:00
I have just added a bit more to my last post.

It could have been Naval not RAF????

The Crunchy Nutter
08-02-2009, 13:40
This link suggests it was used as a decoy airfield:
http://www.suffolkwildlife.co.uk/nr/sit ... artime.htm (http://www.suffolkwildlife.co.uk/nr/sites/sandlings/wartime.htm)

I notice that the former Ipswich Airport is located close to Nacton Road, is there a connection? The following quote from the BBC link posted above by Richard Drew suggests that Ipswich and Nacton were interchangeable. I may be barking up the wrong tree though.

Arcade Al
08-02-2009, 13:40
I think the name used Cockatrice had nothing to do with No. 3 Sdn and more to do with a dragon breathing fire??
Indeed yes Richard, I think I may have been guilty of some digression from the original topic... :oops:

Richard Drew
08-02-2009, 14:20
Al it all adds to the discussions I had no idea it was also 3 sqdns emblem.

Arcade Al
08-02-2009, 15:11
Al it all adds to the discussions I had no idea it was also 3 sqdns emblem.

Absolutely, and the history of why is rather interesting.
Perhaps it could be split off into a separate thread by a mod?