RAF Melksham Me 163B

RAF Melksham was the home of No.12 School of Technical Training from 1940 until 1965. After the war, the School trained instrument and electrical mechanics. RAF Melksham had no runway, and never was an operational flying base. At least in 1955-1956, the School did not have older aircraft for training purposes (although a Meteor is reported). Possibly it had some instructional airframes earlier.

The school had two German WWII aircraft: a Messerschmitt 163 and a Heinkel 162. They were not used for training, at least not in 1955-1956, but may have been used for training earlier. Both aircraft were stored in a large (Standard) hangar, and they were accessible to the personnel and trainees of RAF Melksham, but the cockpit were closed. The aircraft still had German markings, as far as is remembered.

An unofficial RAF Melksham website reports the stories of the RAF trainees there. The Melksham town web site also has details listed under 'Places of Interest in Melksham'.

Komet identity

The identity of this Komet has not been established yet. It is not reported in the number one reference on this subject, Phil Butler's "War Prizes". Nigel Moore put together the following analysis using "War Prizes" data.

No less than 24 Komets arrived in the UK after the war. Of these 24, there are 15 conceivable possibilities of which only 3 are most unlikely. Of the 12 remaining, eight are known for certain to have been scrapped at No. 6 MU in August 1947, but their exact identities are unknown. We can knock out seven aircraft as believed to have been scrapped (based on their having been at No. 6 MU at some point). So we are left with five remaining possibilities:

There are, however, some extra clues scattered through Phil Butler’s comments. In connection with Komet AM216 he states "Allocated for transfer to No. 23 Group of RAF Flying Training Command at Little Rissington or South Cerney on 16th July 1946 with a number of other ex-Luftwaffe aircraft, presumably for display purposes." For Komet AM213 he gives "despatched to the Central Flying School at Little Rissington on 19th February, 1947." Then in regard to He 162 AM66 there is the statement "Although most of the other exhibits in the Science Museum display then seem to have gone to RAF South Cerney, there is no record of the He 162 having done so and its final fate is not known."

Based on this admittedly very sketchy base the hypothesis I would offer is this: Around the middle of 1946 someone had the bright idea of putting to work some of the exciting but very unflyable captured German aircraft by allocating them to RAF schools. At about the same time the RAF had the task of reallocating the materials that had been on loan to the Science Museum for display during February/May 1946. The decision was that RAF Training Commands would be the most appropriate beneficiaries, and in mid-1946 RAF Flying Training Command was allocated two Komets. Accordingly in early 1947 Komet AM213 went to the CFE at Little Rissington, and Komet AM216 to RAF South Cerney (probably). In the same exercise RAF Technical Training Command was also allocated two aircraft, in this case a He 162 and a Me 163, their bequest being the two aircraft that had been displayed at the Science Museum. All physical transfers to the Training Command bases probably took place during the first half of 1947.

So my suggestions are that the most probable identities for the 162 and 163 at RAF Melksham are He 162 AM66 (W.Nr. 120091) and Me 163 AM208 (W.Nr. 191912), and that these were also 'permanent' equipment assignments to the school.

Melksham memories

In 2011, Chez Watts kindly sent the following interesting report, that could shine a new light on the fate of the RAF Melksham Komet:

I was born in 1945 and my father was a 'lifer' in the RAF, an electronics specialist. From 1949 to 1952, when he was a Warrant Officer, and then again from 1954 to 1957, when he was a Flight Lieutenant, we were stationed at RAF Melksham.

We lived on the camp site and in my school holidays I wandered all over the camp, into all the hangars, the gym, into the aero-modelling club workshops. I played in the air raid shelters and pill boxes, in the water tanks and disused operating theatres. I collected bullets and cartridge cases from the rifle range, visited the pig houses where pigs were fattened on the waste food from the camp and crawled under the wire to visit the radioactive site where radium paint had been painted on aircraft instrument dials during the war, contaminated after a fire and explosion in a paint store there.

I played in the Lancaster, Halifax and Beaufort bombers, sitting in the seats of each of the aircrew and operating the manual override cranks eg to point the rear gun turret of the Lancaster. I also played in the fully operational link trainers. I sat in the cockpit of Neville Duke's red painted Hawker Hunter near the camp entrance, the aircraft that broke the world airspeed record in 1953, and operated all the battery powered controls like the tailplane trim and the cockpit cover closure.

I remember seeing a number of captured German planes in the hangers, though I don't now remember which ones they were. I do remember seeing the Me 163B in the hangars, but I never got into it.

Every year, on VE day, the camp had an open day with typical 'village fete' type attractions. There were tug-o-wars, hoopla and hot dogs and a competition which involved dropping 'bombs' (regular pub darts) from a model bomber 'flying' on a wire onto a target by remote control, prizes for the most accurate.

Part of the celebration was a simulated battle which was held on the open ground used as a combat training and obstacle course to the west of the hangars. Typically on these occasions one of the captured German planes would be burnt in a piece of theatre representing the downing of an enemy plane followed by the capture of the crew. I do not remember the Me 163B being burnt, but the burning aircraft were usually so far away from the 'audience' that I am not sure that I would have known.

This is to confirm that, according to my memory, there was an Me 163B and several other German aircraft at Melksham - I think about six altogether, originally. The fate of most of these aircraft was to be burnt as part of VE day commemorations.

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