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Our WWII Bombing Range History

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Posted: 15/01/2015 10:14
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This week we take a fascinating look into the history of the land here at Southfield farm and the purpose it served as a bombing range during WWII before being transformed into the track used for Tank Paintball Battles.

During the early stages of WWII, late in 1939, councils across England were asked to debate a handful of locations to be considered for use as temporary bombing ranges. Remoteness and the small pockets of inhabitation were markers for the RAF to find ideal locations.

At the start of WWII, British bomb technology had not really progressed from the 1918 end of the Great War when the 20lb bomb was considered to be ‘large.’ The perceived superiority of the German Luftwaffe and the weaponry that they had at their disposal meant that there was an arms race to close the gap on. As a result, along with an area in the New Forest and principle bombing ranges off-shore in The Wash and off the north coast of North Wales, this sleepy corner of Leicestershire had a significant number of bombs dropped on it during the following 5 years.

Although little is known of the actual history of the site, a variety of specialist targets would have been placed- walls, arrows, markers, lines and abandoned vehicles for example. The aircrews of the area would then have used these targets to test their weapons and to train new pilots and bombers.

The area was under the direct control of RAF Market Harborough and RAF Husbands Bosworth. These training bases flew weary Wellington Bombers. Both 14 Operation Training Unit and 85 Operation Training Unit would certainly have used the bombing range for practice and testing. The likelihood is that other RAF bases would have used the range for training, too.

The range still has original boundary marker warning signs in situ. At the time, there would probably have been heavy-duty security fencing with access only through specific gates. Locally, little was known of what happened on the range until long after the end of the war when the area researched by local historians.

A map in the museum at Armourgeddon shows an ordinance survey depiction of the area of the bombing range with markers showing the boundaries of the land used. 

The range was originally laid out as a 60ft equilateral concrete triangle. However, during November 1944 this original site was encompassed inside a 100ft triangle, incorporating a north-facing arrow and pyramid to accommodate bombing from greater altitudes. This was in line with Bomber Command who had begun to adopt altitude missions in its offensive strategy. A chain of generator-powered electric lights was installed to facilitate night bombing exercises and 29 warning signs were erected around the perimeter of the site- as mentioned already.

One account of the time tells of a disposal site for unstable armament on the range. This again was under the control of the RAF Bosworth’s armoury unit and it would be logical to assume that this would have been located within the bombing range complex. This may explain the small-uncultivated corner of land near the boundary of the site.

An observation tower north of Armourgeddon towards Mowsley and other parts of the site remained in existence until relatively recently, but are now lost. Pictures can be found in ‘Aviation in Leicestershire and Rutland’ a book written by Roy Bonser. In his book, Roy Bonser talks of the bombing range which now acts as the track for Tank Paintball Battles here at Armourgeddon, stating that; ‘Included in the intensive training programme were navigation and fighter affiliation exercises, air firing (usually over the Wash or open sea), and practice bombing. Frequently this latter exercise was carried out on a range situated in open country near Mowsley to the north of the [Bosworth] airfield and, unfortunately, occasional bombs missed their intended target, falling outside the designated danger area. These incidents brought forth loud protests from the local inhabitants who accepted that they may be bombed by the Luftwaffe but not the RAF!’

There were numerous minor bombing ranges such as Southfields Farm, which would have been allocated to a cluster of nearby aerodromes. The principle ranges would have been the focus of long-range training missions (as indeed they still are today), whereas the in-land sites would have been used for specific precision training for pilots and bombers.

The photographs accompanying this blog are of Wellington Bombers flying over the English countryside. Additionally, the map is an original record of the area noting the proposed site for the bombing range. This map can be found, along with many other artefacts, in our museum here at Armourgeddon.

This information has been compiled with the help of Melvyn Forman, Archivist at Husbands Bosworth Historical Society who also references ‘The Best of Luck’ by Denis Conroy in which he describes his time as Station Armaments Officer at Husbands Bosworth.

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