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During the summer of 1943 Bomber Command increase in size and destructive capabilities, 218 (Gold coast) Squadron lost one of its three flights to form a new squadron, which became No. 623 Squadron. Formed on August 10th 1943 this new squadron would operate alongside its parent squadron throughout the summer and winter of 1943 attacking some of the most highly defended targets in Germany and Italy. It was during this time that the Short Stirlings effectiveness as a main force bomber was put under the microscope, recent heavy losses had effectively seen its steady withdrawal from operations over Germany. On 6th December 1943 No. 623 Squadron was officially disbanded, its place being taken by another Short Stirling equipped squadron No. 214 (Federated Malay States) Squadron who arrived at RAF Downham Market on 10th December 1943. Both squadrons would over the Christmas and New Year become heavily involved in the early attacks on the V1 Rocket launch sites in France. No 214 (Federated Malay States) short stay would come to an end on 24th January 1944, within a matter of months it would be No. 218 (Gold coast) Squadron moving out after a twenty one month stay which witnessed the Victoria Cross being posthumously awarded to Flight Sergeant Arthur Aaron DFM for his bravery on the night of 12/13th August 1943 whilst attacking Turin. October 1943 saw RAF Downham Market become the second airfield to have the F.I.D.O. the revolutionary fog dispersal system installed and become operational.
In March 1944 RAF Downham Market, became the home of the recently formed Avro Lancaster equipped No. 635 Squadron under the control of the No. 8 Path Finger Group. The squadron would over the next few months, be instrumental in the success of the Invasion of France on 5th June 1944 flying operation after operation against coastal gun positions, railways and troop concentrations on each operation the squadron accurately identified and marked targets for the main force. It was a role in which the squadron excelled and would continue to do so until VE Day.
History Of RAF Downham Market
Opened in July 1942, RAF Downham Market was built to a Class A specification, serving initially as a satellite airfield to nearby RAF Marham a pre-war grassed station. The new airfield was situated between the A10 and A1122 roads as they existed at that time, north-east of Downham Market at that time a small town. The technical and operational buildings were adjacent to the A10. The public road from Wimbotsham to Crimplesham which crossed to the north of the site was closed. Messrs W & C French were the main contractors, the airfield would be equipped with three concrete runways and 36 pan dispersals two of which were lost with the building of a B1 hangar at the north-west corner of the airfield. The dispersed camp consisted of seven domestic and two communal sites for 1,719men and 326 women was situated to the south of Bexwell Hall which was requisitioned as the Officers Mess.
Due to the size and weight of the Stirling it had rapidly become apparent the grass runways at Marham could not cope, the decision was made to move the resident Stirling 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron from Marham which was the first operational squadron to be stationed at RAF Downham Market in July 1942 and continued to operate from the airfield until March 1944. The arrival of 218 (Gold coast) Squadron to RAF Downham Market along with the thousands of personnel required to run it resulted in a dramatic change to the way of life to the local community. Soon the unfamiliar accents of Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Americans and South Africans could be heard in the pubs and restaurants. Initially the locals found it strange, but soon warmed to the base personnel that were to call Downham Market their home.
Squadron Leader Ian W. Bazelgette of No. 635 Squadron would also be the recipient of a Victoria Cross. Whilst attacking Trossy St. Maximin, France on 4th August 1944. Squadron Leader Bazalgette’s Avro Lancaster was badly damaged by flak, Bazalgette courageously stayed at the controls making sure the target was marked before attempting to crash land. Sadly, the Lancaster exploded killing him and two of his crew. On 1st August 1944 No. 608 (North riding) Squadron joined No. 635 Squadron at RAF Downham Market, equipped with the sleek and graceful twin engine De Havilland Mosquito the squadron was part of the Light Night Strike Force (LNSF) used so effectively to harass and bewilder both the German civilians and high command. Both squadrons would operate from RAF Downham Market until the end of the War.
RAF Downham Market closed as an operational airfield in 1946 and in 1957 farming reclaimed the land and the technical site was to become an industrial estate which included a heavy goods vehicle testing centre and depots for Anglian Water and Norfolk Highways.
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