Air crews from RAF Bomber Command went into action against German warships on 4th September 1939 - the second day of the war. Blenheims and Wellingtons flying from Wattisham and Honington in Suffolk carried out the first RAF offensive action of the conflict at a cost of seven aircraft, from which only two crewmen survived as PoWs.
Wellington taking off from Bassingborne
From this first punitive strike, until the last bombing raid in the six-year air war on 2-3 May 1945 against Kiel, RAF Bomber Command fought one of the hardest and bloodiest campaigns in the history of warfare. From start to finish, some 12,330 aircraft were shot down, wrecked in crashes in the UK or written off due to damage, many of them flying from bases in East Anglia. It was felt to be only fitting, therefore, that a museum exhibition building should be added to the Flixton Air Museum's already impressive complex, dedicated to the memory of the men and women who served in RAF Bomber Command in World War 2.
In terms of loss of life, Bomber Command's casualties were nothing less than horrific. During the costly Battle of France, in one raid by Blenheims on 17 May 1940, eleven out of twelve aircraft from No. 82 Squadron were shot down in daylight raids on German armoured units. The one Blenheim which survived the debacle crash-landed on return to RAF Watton and was damaged beyond repair. As late as May 1943, the German defences continued to take their toll of locally based RAF bombers in daylight, ten out of twelve Ventura aircraft being destroyed over Holland by a swarm of enemy fighters. A Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award for bravery, was awarded to Squadron Leader Len Trent, DFC RNZAF, for his part in this raid. A special exhibition in the new building relates to Bomber Command VCs, particularly those with a local connection.
The remains of Wellington L4288
More than 11,400 Wellington bombers were produced by Britain in WW 2, more than any other bomber ever built in this country. Only two examples remain in museums. In 1982/3 the museum recovered considerable remains from Wellington I L4288 from marshland near the village of Sapiston, Suffolk (above). The wreckage held by the museum is thought to be the largest Wellington I remains in existence. The fuselage centre section, nacelles and wing spars make this an extremely substantial wreck. A complete Pegasus XVII radial engine and propeller were also recovered and have been stripped down and restored by museum staff. The L4288 remains now form the centrepiece of the new RAF Bomber Command display building at Flixton. L4288 was one of two Wellington aircraft from No.9 Squadron which crashed following a mid-air collision near RAF Honington on 30th October 1939. All nine crewmen were killed, and the graves of five can be seen at Honington Churchyard.