History of RAF Winkleigh Airfield, Airbase, Devon, England. World War II | Winkleigh a Devon Village part 1V | Jackie Freeman Photography

RAF Winkleigh

The story of a WW II Air Base in Devon - Part VI




Part VI

Written by David Freeman

Adapted from his TV Series Secret Britain

Photographs by Devon Photographer - Jackie Freeman

Content: The Americans in Winkleigh - Kennedy Mission - Norwegian Air Force - POW's


USAAF at RAF Winkleigh 1943

United States Army Air force

 The first to arrive at Winkleigh 'en force' in October of 1943, was the United States Army Air force - 74 Service Gp, IX AF Service Command, who were mainly on support and pre-invasion training duties and stayed until December of the same year. But during February there was a constant stream of  USAAF Douglas C-47 Skytrain or Dakota aircraft landing at Winkleigh, fully laden with troops and personnel ready for the D day landings.



There is little written on the USAAF stationed at Winkleigh in this period so if you can contribute,

please write to us.






Operation Stay Flush:

The Kennedy Mission

Lt. Joseph Patrick 'Joe' Kennedy





The United States Air Force, were amongst the first combatants to come to the newly built RAF Winkleigh air base in Devon in October of 1943, bringing with them with over 700 men and women personnel, designated to training manoeuvres & its support along the north coast in preparation for

D Day.

 With them  came one of their most famous sons, Joe Kennedy, the elder brother of President JFK.

But Joe Kennedy was about to make himself a tragic place in history.



 Joe Kennedy spent much of the war flying from Dunkeswell Airfield near Honiton in Devon, though it is clear he was for a time at Winkleigh engaged in FYO operations and ongoing development of the mission which was to result in his death.

  Towards the end of the war British weapons experts formulated and developed a top secret operation to foil the German plans for long distance attacks on Britain's capital, with a weapons delivery plan that seemed as daunting as it was infallible.

Joe's target on August 12, 1944, was set. Mimoyecques, just south of Calais in France. The Germans base for their super secret V3 weapons system.

  Now the V3 was an extension of the V2 unmanned aerial bomb strategy - buzz bombs, which had previously targeted London. But this new threat held much more horrendous consequences and was far more sinister.

 Simply put, the V3 base at Mimoyecques was being built to house the biggest guns in the world.

 These super canons comprised of 25 enormous 150mm gun barrels, each 130 metres long,  hidden in 5 monstrous concrete tunnels deep underground.

Between them, the guns could have fired a barrage of rocket-assisted shells at a speed of 1100 meters per second, capable of reaching London, once in every 12 seconds.

Because of its target, it was known as the "London gun".

The British hatched mission was simple. Destroy them.



With an impenetrable blanket of German fighter cover to contend with, huge radar presence and ground cover to overcome, to destroy Mimoyecques seemed an almost impossible, if not suicidal task.

But the boffin's came up with a relatively simple solution.


 Take one Liberator bomber painted completely white,  modify it with  a sophisticated radio control steering system and load it with 21,170 pounds of high explosive called Torpex - a mixture of TNT, dynamite, aluminium powder and wax.

You now have a recipe for the most deadly explosive known to the Allies.

V3 on its test bed.  


Take off from somewhere way out of the way where you wouldn't arouse any suspicion and fly it to the English Channel coast until two Lockheed Ventura "mother" planes could remotely take over  radio control of the "drone" bomb and the pilots could bail out over the coast of England. 

The mother planes would then remotely fly the Liberator, minus its crew, literally on to and into its target, the secret weapon site.

It couldn't be simpler!


 American Pilot Lt. Joseph Patrick 'Joe' Kennedy  was  regarded as an extremely experienced patrol plane commander. He along with a fellow-officer and friend, Bud Willy, who was  an expert in radio control projects was a pilot with previous involvement with top secret U.S. Navy weapon projects. This had included the design of the radio control system for the Liberator flying bomb and not unexpectedly, they volunteered to fly the drone.


 At 5:55 pm, on August 12, 1944,  the Liberator bomber took off, lumbering under the incredible weight of its deadly payload, slowly into the sky.
The arming unit of the aircraft bomb explosives was primed, set and ready with its safety pin in place.


 At approximately 6:20 p.m. on the evening of August 12, 1944, for no apparent reason, two huge explosions blasted the Liberator flying bomb out of the sky, resulting in the instant deaths of its pilots.

No final conclusions as to the cause of the explosions has ever been reached.




Luftforsvaret Flygeskollen

The Royal Norwegian Air Force at RAF Winkleigh

 After the fall of Norway to the German forces, those Norwegian flyers who wanted to to join the war effort had to train in Canada which was something of an inconvenience. To amend this, an agreement was made with the British Government and Air Ministry to provide training at British bases for airmen and aircrew and RAF Winkleigh was selected to provide such a base of operation.

The first Norwegians 430 men, arriving in the winter of 1945 under the command of Commander Dieson training in Harvard's and Cornell's.


 A little known chapter in Air force history which concerns Winkleigh Airfield is that also at this time, following the capitulation of the Italians in 1943, Italian troops, 43 in total, were also stationed at Winkleigh under the command of the Norwegians.

The Scandinavian trainees of the Norwegian contingent were well liked by the people of Winkleigh and they soon established a formidable soccer team  and played against other RAF bases with a most notable win of 12 -0 against RAF Barnstaple  and a resounding 10 - 0 against Royal Engineers Bideford !

The cold winter of 1945 brought snow to Devon, much to the delight of the Norwegians, who broke out skis and embraced the opportunity, much to the amusement of the local inhabitants.

By August of the following year, the Norwegian ground crews packed  everything up and left for their homeland.





German  POW's  at RAF Winkleigh

 A small contingent of  well behaved German prisoners of war were deposited on the Winkleigh Airbase and were used as labourers on local farms, escorted by guards in the latter part of 1945.

They had played their part in a war they did not want and were pleased to give back to the community whose responsibility it was to hold them.

Though they never enjoyed complete liberty until after the surrender, the POW,s were not disliked by the Winkleigh community they mixed with and often provided toys and wood carvings in particular, which they seemed to be very good at, as gifts to local children.

In the Christmas of that year, the nativity crib set was fashioned for  Winkleigh All Saints Church as a mark of respect to the parishioners from the prisoners who celebrated as enthusiastically as the villagers did on VE Day.


Many went home to loved ones and families.  Ironically, many stayed and started new lives here.


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The War Years - 10 Group  Fighter  Command at Winkleigh 1942 - 1945

 IX USAF Serv. Comd.

   74th Serv Group

"Above All"

12th Tactical Reconnaissance

Squadron USAAF

"Know your Enemy"

          RAF 161

    Black Squadron

        " Liberate"

  RAF 286 Squadron

   "We exercise our


Free Polish Airmen

303 Squadron

RCAF 415
Swordfish Squadron

"To the mark"

RCAF 406 

Lynx Squadron

"We kill by night"

RCAF 408
Goose Squadron
"For Freedom"




A History of the Borough Town of Winkleigh, Devon & RAF Winkleigh.

Sponsored by: Jackie Freeman Photography.



The writer thanks and acknowledges the help of Steve & Shirley Leahy


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Copyright:/ 2008 | Jackie Freeman Photography - Grays Cross - Winkleigh - Devon - England. All rights reserved
Unauthorized use of the images illustrated is prohibited and protected under international laws of copyright.

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