- Contributed by
- Herts Libraries
- People in story:
- Ben French, Major Hereward de Haviland
- Location of story:
- Hatfield, Wheathampstead
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 02 December 2005
This story is by Ben French, an aircraft ground engineer at No 1 Elementary Flying Training School, Hatfield 1940.
Banquet Lights’ ‘Tiger Moth Bombers’
By June 1940 Europe had been overrun by German troops, the remnants of the British Army had been evacuated from Dunkirk and most of their arms had been left in France.
Desperate measures were required to fend off an invasion of Britain. This became so serious that it was decided to fit bomb racks to De Havilland ‘Tiger Moth’ training aircraft and an operation, code name ‘Banquet Lights’, was planned.
The proposed scheme was that the Tiger Moths would fly to an advanced landing ground near the coast where eight 20lb bombs would be loaded, then fly to the beaches and bomb the invading troops. As one can imagine this was considered a suicide mission and no one was in any doubt about it, especially the pilots.
Volunteers from among the civilian ground engineers of No 1 Elementary Flying Training School, Hatfield were asked to go on this operation to service and load the bombs at the A.L.G.
A parachute, flying suit, service gas mask, tin helmet and gas cape were issued and stored in a metal locker with the engineer’s name on the door. At home an attaché case was packed with washing equipment, tooth brush, etc ready for immediate departure, they were also reminded of the ‘Official Secrets Act’ which forbade them to mention this operation to anyone.
Instruction how to load and fuse the eight 20lb anti-personnel bombs carried on the racks was given by the flying school armourer. The pilot flew from the front cockpit and released the bombs via a Bowden cable.
It was rumoured at the time that bombs which had been used on the prototype racks in the Experimental Department were live and not dummies, it was made sure that those used for practice loading and dropping onto a mat on the hangar floor were filled with sand. Some of the flying instructors practised their low flying skills at the designated low-flying area near Wheathampstead.
Major Hereward de Havilland was very much involved in this project and could often be seen on the far side of the aerodrome flying and dropping practice bombs from the first Tiger Moth fitted with bomb racks.
How near was this operation before coming into practice?
It was at the ‘Red Alert’ stage where an engineer was given a list of names and addresses and told to contact the names and addresses on the list, he was to say “Banquet Lights” and not enter into any further conversation. If the person was not at home the engineer was to leave a message for them to phone the Chief Engineer as soon as possible.
At that time everyone was expecting an invasion, fortunately ‘Banquet Lights’ was not required and after a year all the kit was returned to the stores.
1500 bomb racks were made and distributed to Flying Schools around the country.
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