Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier — part 2

BEAULIEU, Hampshire

Station: 408

Location: East of Brockenhurst, between the B3055 and B3054

Previously: RAF from Aug 1942

Major Units: Ninth Air Force, 365th Fighter Group — P-47s

Code letters: 38th Fighter Sqn ‘D5-‘, 387th FS ‘B4-‘, 388th FS ‘C4-‘

Afterwards: To RAF Sep 1944 and a base for the Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment until 1950.

See also below. Returned to heath land 1959

ESTABLISHED ON Hatchet Moor in the New Forest, the P-47Ds of the 365th were followed for a month by the Martin B-26 Marauders of the 323rd BG before the airfield was returned to the RAF. In April 1953 the airfield was reserved for the USAF as a stand-by base, but was never used, returning to the RAF in 1955.

BENTWATERS, Suffolk

Station: 151

Location: North east of Woodbridge, south of the A1152

Previously: Built for the USAAF from late 1942. Not taken on, RAF from Dec 1944 until 1950. USAF from Mar 1951

Major Units: See below for the main unit — the 81 st FIG/FBW/ TFW. 7554th Target Tow Flight, Douglas TB-26 Invaders Mar to Nov 1952. 87th FIS North American F-86D Sabres Dec 1954 to Sep 1955. 527th TFTW General Dynamics F-16C Fighting Falcons 1988-1990

Afterwards: Withdrawn as frontline airfield May 1993 but used for exercises. Sold off in 1999 now an industrial estate

INTENDED TO be a USAAF bomber base, Bentwaters had to wait until 1951 to serve the US and from then on became a major base. From September 1951 it was HQ for the 81 st Fighter Interceptor Group, with the North American F-86A Sabres of the 91st Fighter Interceptor Squadron resident. In 1952 the nearby airfield of Woodbridge came under the control of Bentwaters and in 1958 the two bases were operated in a unique ‘twinned’ fashion. In 1953 the 81st converted to F-86Fs and in April 1954 was redesignated as the 81st Fighter Bomber Wing, and converted to nuclear-capable — referred to at the time as ‘Special Weapons’ — Republic F-84F Thunderstreak in the process. The constituent units were with the 78th, 91 st and 92nd Fighter Bomber Squadrons. In September 1958 the unit became the 81 st Tactical Fighter Wing and late that year began to receive the superb McDonnell F-101A Voodoo — also a nuclear strike machine. In October 1965 the 81st TFW re-equipped with the McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II, exchanging these for F-4Ds in 1975. Final equipment came in August 1978 with the arrival of the Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II (or ‘Warthog’) tank-buster, and the 81 st was expanded to become a six-squadron wing with the addition of the 509th, 510th and 511 th Squadrons. A-10s were to be found at Woodbridge as well and at a series of Forward Operating Locations within West Germany. Bentwaters ‘Warthogs’ took part in the First Iraqi War in 1991-1992 but in May 1993 the last machines left to return to the USA. Apart from some exercises run by USAFE and the RAF, all went quiet.

The Bentwaters Aviation Society has developed the Bentwaters Cold War Museum. Centred on the Wing Command Post, the incredible displays include the ‘Battle Cabin’ and the War Operations rooms, which were manned in 1986 during Operation el dorado canyon when UK-based F-111s bombed Libya. Open the first and third Sunday of each month, Easter to October. More details on 07588 877020 or www.bcwm.org.uk

BIRCH, Essex

Station: 149

Location: South west of Colchester, south of the B1022

Previously: USAAF from operational, Apr 1944

Major Units: Ninth Air Force, storage

Afterwards: To RAF Jul 1944 — no aviation use. Site now largely gravel pits

THE DISCOVERY of subsidence put paid to Birch’s potential career as an operational base. Instead, it was used briefly as a CG-4 glider store with attendant C-47s.

BISTERNE, Hampshire

Station: 415

Location: South of Ringwood, east of the B3347, east of Kingston, Hampshire

Previously: Advanced Landing Ground from Sep 1943, but not used

Major Units: Ninth Air Force, 371st Fighter Group — P-47s

Code letters: 40th Fighter Sqn ‘9Q-‘, 40th FS ‘8N-‘, 406th FS ‘4W-‘

Afterwards: Closed Jul 1944

TROUBLES WITH the pierced steel planking-runways at the Advanced Landing Ground meant that Ibsley, Hants, took the P-47s of the 371st for operations April-May 1944, although maintenance was still carried out from the site. The 371st moved on to Beuzeville, France, in June 1944 and the strip was quickly returned to farmland.

BLACKBUSHE, Hampshire

Location: South west of Yateley, north of the A30, Hampshir

Previously: RAF from Nov 1942. Civil from 1946. US Navy use 1951 to 1962

Major Units: See below

Afterwards: Was civilian/air transport through US Navy use.

Remains thriving general aviation airfield

DURING WORLD War Two, the airfield was called Hartfordbridge Flats, but by the time the US Navy used the north-east portion, it was known only as Blackbushe. The US Navy used Blackbushe for communications flying, operating Douglas R4D-8 ‘Super’ Skytrains, but it was also the stopping-off base for a series of exotic recce and intelligence-gathering flights, using Lockheed P2V Neptunes and Martin P4M Mercators. By the late 1960s, the US Navy had moved on, with the comms unit transferring to West Malling, Kent, in 1960.

BODNEY, Norfolk

Station 140

Location: North of the B1108, west of Watton, east of the village of Bodney

Previously: Built for the RAF as a satellite of Watton -grass runways only from Mar 1940

Major Units: Eighth Air Force, 352nd Fighter Group -P-47s, P-51 s

Code letters: 328th Fighter Sqn ‘PE-‘, 486th FS ‘PZ-‘, 487th FS ‘HO-‘

Afterwards: Returned to the RAF Nov 1945 and quickly transferred to War Office/Ministry of Defence. Within a major army training area

AN EXAMINATION of a large-scale map will show an almost square-shaped farm track running north from two places off the B1108, with another running parallel to the ‘B’ road. This marks the extent of the all-grass flying field that was Bodney.

In the summer of 1943 the airfield gained pierced steel plank reinforcements in readiness for receiving the 352nd FG. This unit quickly took on the unofficial name of the ‘Blue-Nosed Bastards from Bodney’. Initially with P-47D Thunderbolts, P-51 B and ‘C Mustangs arrived from April 1944, with P-51 Ds (and some P-51 Ks) from July 1944. Working hard as bomber and tactical strike escorts and very effective target-of-opportunity takers, the bluenosed Mustangs moved into Belgium to help repulse Germany’s Ardennes offensive (the ‘Battle of the Bulge’) in December 1944, at first settling upon Asch and then Chievres. They were back at Bodney in April, flying their last mission the following month.

It was not until November that the last traces of the 352nd disappeared from Bodney.

BOREHAM, Essex

Station: 161

Location: North east of Chelmsford, north of the A12

Previously: USAAF from operational, Mar 1944

Major Units: Ninth Air Force, 394th Bomb Group — B-26s

Code letters: 584th Bomb Sqn ‘K5-‘, 585th BS ‘4T-‘, 586th BS ‘H9-‘, 587th BS ‘5W-‘

Afterwards: 394th to Holmsley South, Hants, Jul 1944. Used by USAAF Air Disarmament Branch to mid-1945. To RAF Apr 1945, closed 1947

TODAY, MUCH of the format of Boreham is visible and used for motor vehicle testing. The tower is still in use and operational with the Essex Police Air Support Unit.

BOTTESFORD, Leicestershire

Station: 481

Location: North west of Grantham, north of the village of Bottesford

Previously: RAF Bomber Command from Sep 1941

Major Units: Ninth AF, 436th Troop Carrier Group — C-47s

Code letters: 79th Troop Carrier Sqn ‘S6-‘, 80th TCS ‘ ID-‘, 81 st TCS ‘U5-‘, 82nd TCS ‘3D-‘

Afterwards: Returned tojuly 1944, closed to flying late 1945. Storage site until Mar 1960. Much of the airfield and its buildings extant, including the tower

AS A Bomber Command base, Bottesford had an illustrious career being a base for Avro Manchester and then Lancasters. As USAAF Station 481 it was used by C-47s mostly working up for the big airborne ‘ops. The 436th arrived in November 1943 and moved to Membury, Berks, and was replaced by the 440th TCG in March 1944 before it moved to Exeter, Devon, the following month.

BOTTISHAM, Cambridgeshire

Station: 374

Location: On the A14, south east of Bottisham and east of Little Wilbraham

Previously: RAF from April 1940. To USAAF Dec 1943

Major Units: Eighth Air Force, 361st Fighter Group -P-47s and P-51s

Code letters: 374th Fighter Sqn ‘B7-‘, 375th FS ‘E2-‘, 376th FS ‘E9-‘

Afterwards: To RAF late 1944. Closed mid-1946.

THE VERY busy A14 road ploughs right through the middle of Bottisham, which is located south east of the village. The airfield site was sold off by the Ministry of Defence in 1958, but it was not until the new road came about in the 1990s that the site was sliced up and very little survives today. After varied RAF usage, the airfield started the evolution into Station 374 in late 1943. The 361st FG initially was equipped with P-47D Thunderbolts and then took on P-51 Mustangs, eventually receiving a veritable alphabet of them: ‘Bs, ‘Cs, ‘Ds and even ‘Ks. The unit moved out to Little Walden in September 1944, and Bottisham reverted to the RAF, but with little usage.

BOVINGDON, Hertfordshire

Station: 112

Location: North of the B4505, north west of the town

Previously: USAAF from operational, Apr 1943

Major Units: Eighth Air Force, 92nd Bomb Group -‘Fame’s Favoured Few’ — B-17s

Group markings: B in a triangle

Code letters: 325th Bomb Sqn ‘NV-‘, 326th BS ‘JW-‘, 327th BS ‘UX-‘, 407th BS ‘PY-‘ 11th Combat Crew Replacement Unit — B-17s USAAF Air Transport Command

Afterwards: To RAF Apr 1946 and also used by BOAC. USAF from Mar 1951 — see below

THE 92nd BG, ‘Fame’s Favoured Few’ operated B-17Fs and some B-17Es from Bovingdon (August 1942 to January 1943) with its first combat mission being staged from the base in September 1943. From March 1951 Bovingdon became a major communications and transport base for the USAF. The base closed in 1976.

BOXTED, Essex

Station: 150

Location: North of Colchester, west of the A12 Previously: USAAF from operational, May 1943

Major Units: Eighth Air Force, 386th Bomb Group — B-26s with B-26s (May to Sep 1943) Ninth Air Force, 354th Fighter Group — P-51s

Code letters: 353rd Fighter Sqn ‘FT-‘, 355th FS ‘GQ-‘, 356th FS ‘AJ-‘ Eighth Air Force, 56th Fighter Group ‘The Wolfpack’ — P-47s

Codes letters/colours: 61st Fighter Sqn ‘HV-‘, 62nd FS ‘LM-‘, 63rd FS ‘UN-‘ 65th Fighter Wing air-sea rescue P-47s May 1944 to Jan 1945

Afterwards: To RAF Sep 1945, extensive use to Nov 1946

INITIALLY AN Eighth Air Force B-26 base, Boxted quickly switched to fighters. The 354th FG was Ninth Air Force administered and flew P-51Bs and then ‘Ds and staged the 9th’s first-ever P-51B mission on December 5, 1943. The 354th vacated to Lashenden, Kent, in April 1944 with the 8th’s flamboyant 56th FG ‘The Wolfpack’ arriving with Col Hubert A Zemke in command. The unit flew a mix of P-47D Thunderbolts and from early 1945 introduced the P-47M. It moved in September 1945 to Little Walden, before going ‘Stateside’ the following month.

The Boxted Airfield Historical Group Museum is TARDIS-like, punches way above its weight. It tells the story of the 386th Bomb Group and Gabreski’s 56th Fighter Group and much more. The group has the rear fuselage of B-26C 41-35253 on loan from the trustees of the Marks Hall Estate at Earls Colne. This is the largest piece of Marauder extant in the UK and is normally viewable on open days. Open on the last Sunday of the month (March to October) and special events. More details on 077747 082085 (museum open hours only) and www.boxted-airfield.com

BRIZE NORTON, Oxfordshire

Location: South west of Witney, south of the A40

Previously: RAF from 1937

Major Units: See below

Afterwards: To the RAF 1965 and still a major transport and tanker base

IN 1950 Brize Norton was allocated to Strategic Air Command and was given a major transformation to ready it for bombers. The first deployments of Convair B-36 Peacemakers arrived in June 1952. Other types to rotate included B-50 Superfortresses, B-47 Stratojets and B-52 Stratofortresses, plus associated tankers and transports.

BRUNTINGTHORPE, Leicestershire

Location: North east of Lutterworth, south of the village of Bruntingthorpe

Previously: RAF from Aug 1942, Bomber Command OTU and other uses until care and maintenance in 1946 Major Units: USAF Strategic Air Command, 100th Bomb Wing detachments Jan to Jun 1959; USAF Europe 19th Tactical Reconnaissance Sqn Aug 1959 to Aug 1962; also a Base Flight 1959-1962

Afterwards: Returned to the RAF and used as a reserve airfield. Airfield sold off March 1973 — see below

NOW HOME of the Cold War Jets collection and a variety of other heritage operators, Bruntingthorpe was a busy bomber Operational Training Unit during World War Two. From February 1957 massive engineering work transformed the airfield for use by the USAF’s Strategic Air Command. Under the codename reflex action, 100th Bomb Wing Boeing B-47 Stratojets were detached to the base. After this the 19th TRS of the 10th TRW (based at Alconbury, Hunts) flew Douglas RB-66 Destroyers from the base for three years.

The Cold War Jets Collection is open every Sunday and other collections on the site hold occasional events. www.bruntingthorpeaviation.com

BUNGAY, Suffolk

Station: 125

Location: On the B1062 west of Bungay — also known as Flixton

Previously: Built for the USAAF from Sep 1942.

Major Units: Eighth Air Force, 310th Bomb Group, 428th BS, B-25Cs Sep-Nov 1942 Eighth Air Force, 93rd Bomb Group, 329th BS, B-24Ds Dec 1942-Jun 1943 Eighth Air Force, 446th Bomb Group, ‘Bungay Buckeroos’ — B-24s. Group markings: H in circle.

Code letters: 704th Bomb Sqn ‘FL-‘, 705th BS ‘HN-‘, 706th BS ‘RT-‘, 707th BS ‘JU-‘,

Afterwards: To the Fleet Air Arm and RAF 1945, mostly as storage site until 1950. Disposed of in 1966

BUNGAY WAS home to transitory USAAF units before taking on the 446th BG, which became known as the ‘Bungay Buckeroos’. Part of the famed 2nd Air Division, the 446th undertook 273 missions during its stay — a 704th BS machine becoming the first B-24 to achieve 100 missions. The 446th operated B-24Hs, Js, ‘Ls and ‘Ms from November 1943 to June 1945.

A stone’s throw to the east of the former airfield is the excellent Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum with its aircraft park and extensive display halls, including much on the 446th Bomb Group and the Americans in the area. The oak gates to St Mary’s Church were installed in 1986 and presented by 446th veterans, replacing an original set given in 1945. Closed December to February but otherwise open extensively, for more details take a look at www.aviationmuseum.net

BURTONWOOD, Cheshire

Station: 590

Location: North west of Warrington, astride the M62 motorway

Previously: RAF — 37 Maintenance Unit. Transferred to USAAF Jul 1942

Major Units: 1st Base Air Depot

Afterwards: Returned to RAF Jul 1946. See below for USAF and US Army usage

WITH THE M62 motorway thundering across the middle of what was a most impressive airfield, a decreasing amount of Station 590 remains today. With the proximity to the docks of Merseyside and the Atlantic air ferry staging posts, the RAF MU became a specialist in US-built types. When the USAAF was looking for a site for its Base Air Depots, Burtonwood was therefore an obvious choice and the facility was transferred to the USAAF. Station 590, 1st BAD, was the first in operation. Vast numbers of aircraft, engines, systems and spares rotated through the base. By December 1945 it was a shadow of its former self, overseeing the logistical withdrawal of the ‘Yanks’.

The Americans returned in 1948, with Burtonwood and its ‘mothballed’ facilities proving ideal as a staging post and operational store, and it played a major role in the Berlin Airlift. It became a terminal for Military Air Transport Service (MATS) flights and frequently hosted deployments by Strategic Air Command. Boeing WB-29s, then WB-50D Superfortresses of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron were based from 1953 until USAF flying units moved out in April 1959. The MATS terminal transferred to Mildenhall, Suffolk, in 1958.

USAF logistics and other units stayed on until 1965, and in February 1967 the US Army moved in, establishing a massive general depot in support of operations across Europe on the southern portion of the base. The army left in July 1993 and the area has been considerably redeveloped.

The excellent RAF Burtonwood Heritage Centre flies the flag for the base’s incredible legacy. The centre, to the south of the motorway and on the former domestic Site 4, has amassed an incredible amount of artefacts and images to tell the tale of this great airfield. Open Wednesday to Sunday, follow signs for ‘Gulliver’s World’, www.burtonwoodbase.org

BURY ST EDMUNDS, Suffolk

Station: 468

Location: East of Bury St Edmunds, close to the A14 — also known as Rougham

Previously: Built for the USAAF, 1942

Major Units: Eighth Air Force, 322nd Bomb Group (450th, 451st, 452nd BSs), Douglas A-20B Havocs and later Martin B-26B Marauders, Jan 1942 to Jun 1943 Eighth Air Force, 94th Bomb Group — B-17s Group markings: A in a square

Code letters: 331st BS ‘QE-‘, 332nd BS ‘XM-‘, 333rd BS ‘TS-‘, 410th BS ‘GL-‘

Afterwards: To RAF Dec 1945. As well as an industrial estate, elements of the airfield are used by light aviation and the tower is a superb museum.

THE MARAUDERS of the 322nd Bomb Group took a pasting during their first missions out of Bury St Edmunds and it was from this that the 8th Air Force decided that the B-26 was of very limited use for its purposes, though of course it was to come into its own with the 9th Air Force. Aircrews of the B-17-equipped 94th BG (June 1943 to December 1945) earned two Distinguished Unit Citations and were to have a long association with the base.

A surprising amount of the former B-17 airfield survives, including the superbly-preserved tower run by the Rougham Tower Association: The displays are dedicated to the men as well as the memories of the 322nd and 94th Bomb Groups, and there are poignant memorials and expanding museum facilities — a great place of pilgrimage. Open Sundays, May to October — more details at www.rougham.org

CHALGROVE, Oxfordshire

Station: 465

Location: On the B480 south east of Oxford

Previously: RAF, non-flying from Nov 1943, USAAF from Jan 1944

Major Units: Ninth Air Force, 30th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, Feb 1944; then 10th Photo Group (31st, 33rd and 34th Photo Recce Sqns)

Afterwards: To RAF mid-1945 and then to Martin-Baker as test airfield

FOR MORE than four decades, Chalgrove has been the spearhead of ejector seat development as Martin-Baker’s test airfield, still operating Meteors. The PR units that used Chalgrove operated a variety of types, including photo-configured P-38s and the dedicated Douglas F-3 Havocs, F-5 Lightnings and F-6 Mustangs.

CHEDDINGTON, Buckinghamshire

Station: 113

Location: North west of Ivinghoe, to the south of the village

Previously: RAF from operational, Mar 1942. USAAF from Jul 1943

Major Units: 2nd Combat Crew Replacement Group, Aug 1943 to Jun 1944

Eighth Air Force, 858th Bomb Sqn, Jun to Aug 1944 406th Bomb Sqn, Aug 1944 to Mar 1945 36th Bomb Sqn, Aug 1944 to Feb 1945 Afterwards: To RAF (non-flying) July 1945 and closed Feb 1948

APART FROM the B-24 crew proficiency unit, the CCRG, Cheddington’s Liberators were all ‘spooks’, with the units closely associated with the famous ‘Carpetbaggers’ operating at Harrington in Northamptonshire. The Special Leaflet Squadron B-24s (858th and 406th) were involved with extensive propaganda missions and also in limited support of Special Operations Executive missions. The 36th BS was a Radar Counter Measures Squadron. Post-war the airfield lived a similar ‘cloak and dagger’ existence for unknown (non-flying) purposes, which explains why so many buildings remain today.

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