A Little Off Base: For the Carpetbaggers
NORTHAMPTONSHIRE — If the Carpetbagger Aviation Museum near Harrington looks a little like a cow barn, that’s because for a number of years, it was.
Time caught up quickly with the former U.S. and Royal Air Force air base in the countryside west of Kettering after the secretive nighttime “spy and supply” aircraft left at the end of World War II.
The runways gave over to farmland and the buildings fell into decay from disuse, including the former operations center, which became a shelter for cattle kept by a local farmer.
Today, however, after years of effort by the Carpetbagger Aviation Museum Society, the place where missions were launched to drop secret agents into occupied France and deliver supplies to the resistance has been remade into a working museum.
Its location in a former working headquarters for clandestine air operations in World War II Britain is one of the most unique aspects of the Carpetbaggers museum in a country chock full of World War II memorabilia.
“[It’s] the only one of these operations blocks that’s been returned to its wartime configuration,” society chairman Ron Clarke said.
From the outside it appears utilitarian, but inside are small offices for commanders that overlook a high-ceilinged war room dominated by a vast map of Europe. It’s a setting seen in many a war film and brings a unique feel to the experience of browsing a museum.
Stuffed into each of the offices and the planning room below are troves of artifacts related to the Carpetbagger missions. Everything from signaling equipment to the gear used by the secret agents shuttled by Carpetbagger flights into the field is laid out in glass cases, including a working 1940s-era radio and navigational sight.
Also extensively chronicled is the history of the airfield and the men who flew the dangerous nighttime flights — 60 aircraft were lost in just a little over a year, Clarke said, killing 311 airmen.
Much of the Carpetbaggers’ time was spent dropping supplies to guerilla groups in France, and examples of the containers and the weapons often contained in them are on display.
The museum, in fact, has an impressive number of authentic artifacts from the war for such a small place, and packs a lot into a little space.
Open on the weekends and bank holidays, the museum takes about two hours to go through completely, said society secretary Fred West.
A tour starts with a 15-minute video about the history of the Carpetbaggers, after which visitors are led on a guided walk through the facility, which takes about 45 minutes, West said.
The museum opens for the season at the end of March. It costs 4 pounds for adults and 2 pounds for children, which also includes entry to the nearby Northants Aviation Society Museum. Weekday visits for groups of 12 or more also can be booked in advance.
Visit http://harringtonmuseum.org.uk for more information.