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Thread: 16 OTU / Preston Capes Bombing Range

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    Default 16 OTU / Preston Capes Bombing Range

    I am hoping someone out there may be able to help me in my research of the WW2 Practice Bombing Range at Preston Capes, Northants. It was a night bombing range used by the 16 OTU, Upper Heyford during the war and by 17 OTU, Silverstone for a year or so after and that's about all Ive been able to find about it. Has anyone come across any mention of the crews or aircraft using it? So little is known about it that any information would be greatly appreciated.

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    Pretstongirl,

    I can't find any records on the National Archives website specifically for Preston Capes, but the following records are available for 16 OTU: -

    http://discovery.nationalarchives.go...ils/r/C4100364

    http://discovery.nationalarchives.go...ils/r/C4100365

    http://discovery.nationalarchives.go...ils/r/C4100366

    and 17 OTU: -

    http://discovery.nationalarchives.go...ils/r/C4100366

    http://discovery.nationalarchives.go...ils/r/C4100368

    Although not specifically the record books for the ranges, they may give some useful information for you. Unfortunately, it looks like none f the records have been digitised, so you'll need to make a personal visit to view them, or see if anyone on the boards is able to make copies for you.

    A quick look on Google aso found this: -

    https://www.airfieldresearchgroup.or...=1488628068478

    Hope that helps,

    L/O

    Greg
    "You can take the boy out of Wales,
    But you can't take Wales out of the boy!!"

    Greg Harrison
    100 Squadron and 100 Squadron Association Historian
    100 Squadron Researcher 1917 - present day
    1 Group Researcher 1940 - 1945

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    Hello Preston Girl, and welcome to the forum. Records for OTUs are held at TNA Kew and will deal with the operational matters of the unit. References within each ORB of the exercises carried out may or may not include naming the target range used but, as you already know, the OTUs were given carefully defined areas in which to practice their tasks such as bomb aiming. It is not likely that the ranges would get regular attention in these ORBs by name but rather would be recognisable by the exercises.

    I believe you have already been told the file references of ORBs for the two OTUs you named so I will approach it from a different direction: have you found which units were responsible for the security of the range? It may have been an RAF Regiment (possible) or a Home Guard detachment (more probable) or it may have been strictly a civil matter (police and volunteers). The first two will have left a footprint in that they required rooves over their heads and feeding. This where TNA at Kew will come to the rescue. I would also expect to find a paper trail of payment to the owners of the land for either the purchase or lease of the range and, if it is anything like my past experiences, this is where the doors open onto the involvement of local squires or farmers who were well paid. Also, many such pieces of land had clauses written into their leases which required the land to be put back to the same state it was in before acquisition which produced a mass of documents going back and forth between the local council, the land owner and the WO/MOD. Much of what I have said above is based on my own research into a patch of land in use during WW2 and the subsequent return of that land to public use. There were lots of documents at Kew that told the story.
    I hope this helps. Of course you may already have done all that I suggest so please let us know what we can do to help.

    Regards,
    Bruce
    http://www.filephotoservice.co.uk/
    RESEARCH AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES & OTHER UK INSTITUTIONS

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    I have been researching all UK air related ranges for a few years now and most ORBs have little or no information about ranges let alone their names. This is despite some airfields/units actually administering them. However I have the following information base on aerial photos and wartime lists.

    One quadrant shelter (QS) is extant at SP 59011 55042. Target centre not accurately located but estimated to be in the area of SP 58355 55510. QS No.1 along with the arrow were located at SP 58233 54730 (fuzzy image on Google Earth 1945 layer). The base of the QS still survives but the tower is thought to have been removed during the 1970s. Used by 91 Group and controlled by Upper Heyford. The danger radius was 750 yds and could be used day & Night, lit electrically. A type 'A' decoy for the armament depot at Weedon was sited within the danger area at SP 585 559. Local information suggests that Lodge farm was vacated in 1939/40 as it was on the edge of the range and was so badly damaged during the war that it was eventually demolished. The range party were thought to have been billeted at Grange Farm at some time during the range's use.

    The aerial photos were only photocopies from poor quality prints and the cost of a scan of the negatives was too costly so the target, as stated has not been confirmed. It is likely to be a triangle of about 60 ft, possibly enlarged to 100 ft later in the war, but this is speculation. Also the opening date is not known.

    Hope that helps.

    Edit: I haven't come across mention of guards on ranges during the war but if anyone comes across a reference I would be interested to know. Post-war range wardens were used on some ranges but the expense usually prevented or curtailed this. In some cases this was to stop the public wandering on to disused ranges before they had been cleared. Another thought on information is that a number or range plans have surfaced in local Police and ARP records. These are not normally mentioned in searches but may reside under a general WW2 heading in the Police series of files. The sheer number of ranges I am researching prevents me from tapping this source as it often requires personal visits.
    Last edited by PNK; 4th March 2017 at 13:15. Reason: Added afterthought

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    Further to the comments from PNK, my impression (not hard fact) is that the function of whatever force was responsible for security was to keep the perimiter fences, gates and signs up and to shoo away anyone silly enough to look for mushrooms on the site. Depending on the location, the site may have a roving guard posted but it would not ever have been the site of an encampment. The unit responsible would have been somewhere a safe distance away. PNK, perhaps you can correct me if any of this is wrong?

    Bruce
    http://www.filephotoservice.co.uk/
    RESEARCH AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES & OTHER UK INSTITUTIONS

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    I have seen no evidence of fences or guards on service ranges during the war. However in some respects it seems odd they weren't used. The only fence around a range that I know of, that is documented, was Ashley Walk. That was more to do with secrecy than safety. Most inland ranges had two distinct areas. The inner area, usually about 300 yards around the target, was prohibited and no unauthorised person was allowed there (the quadrants only plotted the fall of bombs within 300 yards of the target). Although this implies fencing I don't recall any mention of fences. The outer area was accessible to farmers and others who needed reasonable access when the red flags weren't raised. Grazing or crops were often carried out but the risk had to be recognised. All ranges had notice/danger boards at the normal points of entry and the notice boards in particular would warn about the danger. The quadrants would raise red flags or light red beacons for night use. Many ranges had range party accommodation, a Nissen hut and maybe a separate ablutions hut. This would be populated during periods of operation but, as far as I know vacated if the range was not used for a few days (no bookings). It may be these that give the impression of guards?

    As with most research using official documents the lack of information, in this case on fencing/guards, does not mean they didn't exist. Something I will keep an eye out for though.

    Another late recollection: I believe Berners Heath and Crichel Down may have had rabbit proof fencing installed as a pre-war requirement. I suspect such things were not bothered with in wartime but may have cropped up post-war?

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    PNK, that helps a lot, many thanks.

    Bruce
    http://www.filephotoservice.co.uk/
    RESEARCH AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES & OTHER UK INSTITUTIONS

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    Bruce, having thought about it a bit more, I think it would be wrong to say there were no fences generally as I am excluding the existing fences that the land owners already had in place. These would in many cases form part of the range boundary as would existing hedgerows and ditches. Any fences, hedges and trees in the 300 yard radius from the target and extending back to the quadrants would have been cleared to give an uninterrupted view of the target area. Some old ranges sites still exhibit gaps in the modern hedges.

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    Thanks for welcoming me to the site chaps - I must confess I'm a total novice at this type of research, even the terminology has me stumped! (What is an ORB?).
    Unfortunately trips to National Archives aren't easy for me. The local records office has nothing (that they know of) and has asked me to provide them with info!
    Your suggestions give me something to get my teeth into though Bruce. The abandoned farmhouse and at least some of the land was owned by The Merchant Venturers, the land was farmed throughout (my uncles father in law worked for the WarAg and says they were notified of the days on which they would be given access). The Home Guard manned the nearby Decoy so they probably also looked after the Bombing Range, though no-one has mentioned there being guards - the village kids would pounce with the age old question "wotcha doin mister?" whenever they spotted anyone doing anything and one of those kids (my 90 yr old neighbour) has been a good source of gossip! He hasn't mentioned the area being fenced either, only that you couldn't use the gated road which runs through the middle of the Range. The working party were billeted at Grange Farm with the Wilcox family.

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    Hello PNK! You probably don't remember, but we met on the AiX forum -you were exceedingly helpful to me, patiently explaining the workings of Ranges.
    I think you are correct re hedges - a goodly chunk of the Preston Capes range is a large former grazing meadow with a gated road running through the middle of it, the hedges north and south of it appear much younger (only 1 or 2 species, never laid, no really old trees) than those to the east/west which would have been outside the range area.

    PS I was the confused girlie on AiX (and still am confused, though less so now!)

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