By George Gosney (Hangar 4, Sheet Metal)
Transcribed from BAD NEWS, Journal of the BAD 2 Association, Vol. 17, No.2, April 1994
© 1994 BAD 2 Association
I have often sat and wondered why the Luftwaffe never hit us while we were at Warton, in WWII days. We were certainly a prime target and vulnerable to attack from aircraft or even from submarines that might have lobbed shells at us from the Irish Sea.
About 11 p.m., on clear nights, one could hear a recon plane above us. After clearing Warton it would fly south east, perhaps for a look at Burtonwood.
Earlier in the War there had been much activity. German planes bombed dock areas and factories in Liverpool, then dropped any “leftovers” in the Lytham area. Lancashire had scores of greenhouses and the moon light shining on the glass would give off reflections resembling factories. Several bomb craters remained which eventually got filled with water and became EWS holes.
Some of these planes were brought down by RAF fighters and anti-aircraft guns. One crashed on the beach at Lytham St Annes and another was said to have come down in the Ribble estuary. (Ed. – These “two” incidents are in fact just one incident. A JU-88 was shot down by a Defiant over the Ribble on the 7th of April 1941.) The worse of the Liverpool bombing was in 1940, before Warton or Burtonwood became real threats to the Nazis. After the war ended, the British found aerial photos in German archives, some taken before the War, when Warton was in the planning stage (to become an RAF base). At least one of them may have been taken from a German dirigible around 1936-37. Another, photo made in January 1943 was probably taken from a recon plane, using magnesium flares to light up the ground.
In December 1943, an exercise was held to test defences at Warton against possible ground attack or parachute landings. The local Home Guard acted as the attacking force. The men on Site 13 “defended” the Base along the road running east to west, parallel to the side of the camp. Hidden in the hedge rows with our carbines, and given paper cylinders which when pulled sounded like a firecracker going off, we awaited the eventual “attack”.
Suddenly, we spotted about 24 Home Guards, north of us, coming over a rise, out in the open and all bunched up. Off to our right was a farm house and I saw a chance to become a Sgt. Alvin York. I could cut around the farm house, get behind this force and “capture” the whole bloody lot! I dashed toward the farm house, came upon a low stone wall that I easily leaped over in good Commando style, only to land in a pig sty. The pigs went squealing in terror in all directions. There I stood, knee deep in black muck… the sole Site 9 casualty! I had to go to the mess hall for a hosing down before I could return to barracks.
During the summer of ’44 about 6:00 a.m., the air raid sirens went off. We went into the shelters, from where we could hear planes flying over. In about 15 minutes the “all clear” sounded. In the direction of Liverpool we could see heavy plumes of smoke. Then the sirens sounded again and we could hear the planes returning. No action was taken against us.
Prior to all of this, anti-aircraft guns had ringed the base. One was located (with sheep grazing all about) just east of Site 13. Another was up near the apron, out from Hangar 2. In the dead of night they had pulled out, no doubt to protect the invasion build-up in the south.
Just before the invasion there was such an influx of aircraft of all types that there was no place to put them all. They were parked on the runways not in use. In March a B-26 bellied in on the main east-west runway, damaging it. It took most of the day to clear the wreckage. That made it necessary to tow all the parked aircraft from a shorter runway, just west of Flight Test. The short runway made problems. Two B-24s ran off the end. A P-51D ended up stalling and “landed” upside down. We ran from Hangar, to help him but before we could get there we saw the pilot crawl out and run like hell… all the while beating out non-existent flames! Next day I saw the unfortunate pilot in Flight Test, with only a Band-Aid on his head, but still visibly shaken.
BAD-1 (Burtonwood) was also spared, though the Germans bombed Manchester and Warrington, nearby. In the latter part of the war, it was said, that some V-1 “buzz bombs” came down in the general area but some distance away from Burtonwood.
If a concerted effort had been made by the Luftwaffe against the hangars and shops at the two Air Depots the Germans could have dealt a serious blow to the Allied war effort. Even a strafing run could have damaged or destroyed dozens of aircraft as they were so tightly packed together on the airfields. One has to believe that the “round the clock” bombing program of the RAF and the US 8th Air Force forced the Germans to pass up a lot of opportunities!