Tangmere Military Aviation Museum and Carpetbagger Aviation Museum

By Richard Moss

Right: Jiminy Cricket's Moonlit Rendezvous by Douglas Littlejohn. In 1943 the Lysanders of 161 Squadron were commanded by Squadron Leader Hugh Verity, who flew many of the operations in his Lysander V9673, nicknamed Jiminy Cricket. Prints available from Tangmere Aviation Museum Shop. Picture courtesy Dr J. Tanner.

During World War Two, Tangmere was an important base for fighter squadrons involved in the Battle of Britain as well as a forward base for 161 Squadron flying hundreds of Lysander missions into occupied France.

Amidst the numerous exhibits, recreations and hangers of aircraft, visitors to the Museum can view a permanent exhibition that tells the base's history of involvement with wartime SOE and SIS missions.

The HQ and nerve centre for the secret pick up operations was at Tangmere Cottage. Incoming SIS agents went to nearby Bignor Manor. Here agents would report before being transferred to London for debriefing. Photographs and archives at the museum deal with the story of this forward SOE HQ and visitors can also track the course of wartime missions by studying a large map illustrating some of the locations used for collecting and delivering agents.

Left: apart from the impressive hangars of historic military aircraft Tangmere Aviation Museum is a treasure trove of artefacts illustrating the long and colourful history of the former RAF base. Picture courtesy Tangmere Military Aviation Museum.

The exhibition also features working models, dioramas and recreations as well as parachutes, escape maps and a range of specialist communication apparatus used on perilous wartime assignments.

A recent series of exciting new acquisitions means Tangmere has been able to expand its SOE section. Featured exhibits now include the Luger pistol taken by another famous SOE heroine, Odette Churchill from the Kommandant of Ravensbruck concentration camp after her dramatic liberation from there in 1945.

Another important museum for learning about covert operations during World War Two is the Carpetbagger Aviation Museum in Harrington, Northamptonshire. Based on the original site of the aerodrome the museum tells the story of the American 801st/492nd Carpetbagger Group.

Right: the Carpetbagger Museum is an important holding of unique artefacts relating to the base's role duirng World War Two. Many of the rare items have been donated by veterans.

The so-called Carpetbagger Missions were responsible for thousands of covert operations to deliver agents and supplies to resistance groups in occupied Europe.

This highly secret base flew out 29,000 containers, 10,000 packages and 995 agents (including Violette Szabo's last ill-fated mission in June 1944) during World War Two. The missions resulted in the loss of seventy aircraft with most crews being killed.

The museum is housed in the original operations building at the airfield's administration site and illustrates the story through documents, photographs, relics, recreations and uniforms.

Left: as it was: during the war the base was responsible for thousands of covert missions into Nazi occupied Europe.

Other exhibits and displays illustrate the secret work of SOE from their RAF base at Tempsford and the cold war roles of the airfield at Harrington where the intermediate range ballistic missile system or Thor rockets were based.

The museum also retains the paymaster's nissen hut, now converted into housing for the Northants Aviation Society Museum. Here visitors can examine the remains of recovered World War II aircraft and other fascinating items of equipment and memorabilia.

Right:a permanent memorial to the agents, soldiers and airmen of Harrington who lost their lives during World War Two, the site draws veterans and their families from all over the world. Picture courtesy the Carpetbagger Aviation Museum.

Offering a unique insight into covert wartime operations, the Museum serves as a memorial and place of pilgrimage for the men and women who served there during World War Two.

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