WW2 SHORT STIRLING BOMBER GEARBOX COMES TO REST AT RAF LEEMING

News from the RAF Leeming Historical Training Facility

An exciting opportunity arose in late 2020 for the RAF Leeming Historical Training Facility (HTF) to formally become the custodians of an engine reduction gearbox from a downed WW2 Short Stirling Bomber. The Short Stirling was the first four-engined bomber to be introduced into service with the RAF and was praised for its handling characteristics in out-turning enemy night fighters. Although it was relegated to second line duties by 1943, replaced by the more capable Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster, the Stirling was later used for mining German ports, and some were converted into glider tugs and supply aircraft during the Allied Invasion of Europe in 1944-45. 

RAF Leeming played a pivotal role in this part of history: the task fell to 7 Sqn, based at RAF Leeming in 1940, to introduce the Short Stirling Bombers into RAF service. 

The gearbox came from R9313 of 218 Sqn, unfortunately shot down over Sussex by ‘friendly fire’ when it was mistaken for a German aircraft in May1942. The Stirling crew had been returning to RAF Marham from a nickel raid (dropping of propaganda leaflets) over France. Sqn Ldr Ashworth DFC and his crew were able to safely escape the aircraft before it crashed.

The gearbox laid at rest for some 70 years, before being unearthed in 2012 by a team of archaeoligists. Having been stored at RAF Waddington since the find, the HTF Committee all agreed that the gearbox would be an excellent artefact to have on display at RAF Leeming. Not only was there a strong historical link to 7 Sqn, it provided a brilliant opportunity to undertake a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) project. 

Aircraft engineering technicians from the RAF Leeming Visiting Aircraft Section (VAS) kindly agreed to carry out some sympathetic restoration and preservation work on the gearbox. Their first task was to carefully remove any excess mud and grime. Aside from the damage caused during the crash, the gearbox was remarkably well preserved. Thanks to the VAS Team, its intricate internal workings are now being showcased. 

The next task was to approach Station Workshops to investigate the feasibility of producing a bespoke, mobile, heavy-duty, stand for the gearbox to be mounted. This posed no problem to the team and an aesthically superb and robust stand was produced, which now attractively displays the gearbox to HTF visitors.  

All those involved were cordially invited to the unveiling ceremony in July with the Stn Cdr, who praised the team effort of getting this important artefact proudly on display.

Additionally, due to the closure of RAF Linton-on-Ouse, some of the artefacts from their History Room have been transferred into the care of the RAF Leeming HTF. These include other components from Halifax aircraft to compliment the new reduction gearbox exhibit. RAF Leeming played another role in history with the Bristol Hercules engines fitted to the Halifax aircraft at RAF Leeming, operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Squadrons and surrounding 6 Group units during WW2.

The RAF Leeming HTF is normally open every Tuesday for visitors. Other times can be arranged by appointment through the Committee members.