Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier

Hard on the heels of Pearl Harbor, US forces flooded into Britain to join the Allied nations, ready to turn the tables in Europe. A staggering number of airfields became USAAF bases. We take you on a journey across the length and breadth of the UK to chart his astounding heritage, base-by-base.

Hard on the heels of Pearl Harbor, US forces flooded into Britain to join the Allied nations, ready to turn the tables in Europe. A staggering number of airfields became USAAF bases. We take you on a journey across the length and breadth of the UK to chart his astounding heritage

About the Airfield Tables

Station: The vast majority of the USAAF airfields were given administrative numbers. These are often referred to in texts, on memorials, etc.

Location: Present-day counties and road numbers are given, where applicable.

Previously: Avery brief indication of what use the airfield was put to (where applicable) before US forces arrived.

Major Units: These are confined to units operating aircraft and in general are given only if their period of residence lasted more than three months. Details given include the airforce command (Eighth, Ninth and, rarely, Twelfth), group, aircraft types flown, plus constituent squadrons and, where applicable, code letters worn. Please remember that most disused airfields have reverted to farmland or other usage. The attitudes of landowners regarding access will vary and readers are urged to seek permission before entering private property. The joy of discovering former airfields is what can be seen, or deduced, from public roads and footpaths!

Afterwards: Again, very brief indication of what use, if any, the airfield was put to after US forces left.

FOR MOST airfields a narrative follows expanding upon the data presented. This also includes details of any museums or other visitor attraction of relevance close by. Occasionally, some venues are dropped in that have no immediate relevance to the USAAF or USAF, but contain subjects of an American ‘flavour’. This special edition is based upon a totally revised and expanded version of the series ‘Over Here’ published in FlyPast between 2002 and 2005.

Alconbury, Cambridgeshire

Station: 102

Location: North west of Huntingdon, at the junction of the A604 and A1

Previously: RAF from 1938. To USAAF Aug 1942

Major Units: Eighth Air Force, 93rd Bomb Group -«Ted’s Travelling Circus’ — B-24s

Group markings: B in a circle Codes letters: 328th Bomb Sqn ‘GO-‘, 329th BS ‘RE-‘, 330th BS ‘AG-‘, 409th BS ‘YM-‘Eighth Air Force, 482nd Bomb Group -B-17s and B-24s

Group markings: None

Code letters: 812th Bomb Sqn ‘MI-‘, 813th BS ‘PC-‘, 814th BS ‘SI-‘

Afterwards: To RAF, 264 Maintenance Unit, Jun 1945, care and maintenance 1948. For USAF use from Jun 1953, see below

THE BASE saw extensive operational use by the RAF until transferring to the USAAF and briefly it was known as Alconbury Hill. Consolidated B-24D Liberators of the 93rd BG were the first to occupy the base, during August to December 1942, followed by the mixed Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 equipped 482nd BG — Pathfinder specialists. The 482nd became all B-17 by March 1944. Throughout this time the north-east perimeter of the base — Abbots Ripton — was home to the 35th Air Depot Group, a large maintenance and modification centre.

From June 1953, Alconbury was re-activated as a major USAF base. First aircraft based were the North American B-45 Tornados of the 47th Bomb Wing’s 86th Bomb Sqn. The unit later converted to Douglas B-66B Destroyers before moving out in August 1959.

The following month, the 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (TRW) arrived with RB-66s. The 10th eventually encompassed three units, the 1st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (TRS), the 30th and the 32nd. In 1965 the 1 st started conversion to the McDonnell Douglas RF-4C Phantom II. By May 1987, there was only the 1 st TRS left when the role changed dramatically. From 1966 to 1972 there was a detachment of the 40th Air (later Aerospace) Rescue and Recovery Wing with Kaman HH-43F Huskie helicopters.

From April 1976 Alconbury became home to the 527th Tactical Fighter Training Aggressor Squadron equipped with Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs for dissimilar air combat training. The unit was ‘shortened’ to the 527th Aggressor Squadron in 1983 and it left in mid-1988.

In early 1983 the 95th Reconnaissance Squadron, part of the 17th RW, moved in with its Lockheed TR-1 strategic ‘spyplanes’. The last of these left in March 1995. From January 1988 the 10th TRW transformed into the 10th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) when the 509th and 511th TFSs took delivery of Fairchild A-10A Thunderbolt IIs. From February 1992 the 39th Special Operations Wing arrived with three units, the 6th, 7th and 21 st SOSs, equipped with Sikorsky MH-53J Stallions and Lockheed MC-130 Hercules for clandestine operations and long-range rescues. It moved out in September 1994 bound for Mildenhall, Suffolk. The base still has a non-flying USAF enclave, headquartered by Molesworth, but the bulk is used for industrial and storage purposes.


Station: 467

Location: East of Newbury, south east of the village

Previously: USAAF from operational, Aug 1942

Major Units: Twelfth Air Force, 60th Troop Carrier Group (10th, 11th, 12th, 28th Troop Carrier Sqns) — C-47s Ninth Air Force, 315th Troop Carrier Group, 34th (‘NM-‘) and 43rd (‘UA-‘) TCSs Dec 1942 to Nov 1943 434th Troop Carrier Group, 71 st (CJ-), 72nd (CU-), 73rd (CN-) and 74th (ID-) TCSs, Mar 1944 to Feb 1945

Afterwards: To civilian use 1946, AWRE from 1949

THE C-47s of the 60th TCG were the first USAAF paratroop aircraft to fly in UK skies, from August 1942. They moved on to North Africa in October 1942. The two Ninth Air Force TCGs that followed were equipped with a mixture of C-47 Skytrains and C-53 Skytroopers, plus CG-4A Hadrian assault gliders. Post-war Aldermaston came to fame as the home of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (now the Atomic Weapons Establishment).

ANDOVER, Hampshire

Station: 406

Location: West of Andover, south of the A303

Previously: Built for the RFC, opened August 1917

Major Units: Ninth Air Force, 370th Fighter Group — P-38s

Code letters: 401 st Fighter Sqn ‘9D-‘, 402nd FS ‘E6-‘, 485th FS ‘7F-‘

Afterwards: Returned to RAF Jul 1944. RAF use to 1976. Army Air Corps from 1977, and still in use as an occasional satellite for Middle Wallop

ANDOVER HAS had a long and almost uninterrupted service connection and has remained all grass throughout. It was the USAAF that gave the station its only spell as an operational airfield with the Lockheed P-38 Lightnings of the 370th Fighter Group, from February 1944. Its pilots worked up for D-Day becoming specialists against radar sites and flak towers. The unit moved with the fighting to Cardonville, France, in July 1944 and the airfield returned to the RAF.


Station 485

Location: West of Braintree, north of the A120 — also known as Great Saling

Previously: USAAF from operational, Apr 12, 1943

Major Units: Ninth Air Force, 322nd Bomb Group — B-26s

Code letters: 449th Bomb Sqn ‘PN-‘, 450th BS ‘ER-‘, 451 st BS ‘SS-‘, 452nd BS ‘DR-‘ 1st Pathfinder


Afterwards: To RAF Oct 1944, extensive use to Feb 1946

WHILE COMMONPLACE in the Continental USA, Andrews Field was the only US air base to be named after aircrew — in this case Lt Gen Frank M Andrews, Commanding General European Theater of Operations, who had been killed in a B-24 Liberator on 3rd May 1943 during a tour of inspection of US forces in Iceland. Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland was also named after him. As with much of Essex, Andrews Field became a base for intensive B-26 Marauder operations, including a Pathfinder unit. The 322nd left for Beauvais-Tille in September 1944. Andrewsfield (these days one word) remains operational as a delightful general aviation aerodrome.


Station: 417

Location: South west of Ashford, south of the A28 and north of Shadoxhurst — also known as Great Chart

Previously: Established as an ALG from Mar 1943 with little use until USAAF arrived.

Major Units: Ninth Air Force, 406th Fighter Group — P-47s

Code letters: 512th Fighter Sqn ‘L3-‘, 513th FS ‘4P-‘, 515th FS ‘O7-‘

Afterwards: Closed by Sep 1944

THE ADVANCED Landing Ground saw some use by the RCAF before the 406th arrived in May 1944, after which it followed the pattern of many such temporary airfields — intense activity then a hasty return to agriculture. The 406th moved out to Tour-en-Bessin, France in July 1944. The post-war car ferry airfield called Ashford has no geographic connection with the ALG.

ATCHAM, Shropshire

Station: 342

Location: South east of Shrewsbury, north of the village and the B4380

Previously: RAF. Transferred to USAAF Jun 1942

Major Units: Eighth Air Force, 31st Fighter Group — 307th and 308th Fighter Squadrons Combat Crew Replacement Center — 6th Fighter Wing Eighth Air Force, 495th Fighter Training Group

Afterwards: Returned to the RAF Jul 1945. Closed as airfield Apr 1946

ATCHAM MADE its name in the history of the newly-founded US Eighth Air Force in the worst possible way. On June 29, 1942, Lt A W Giacomini became the first of its pilots to perish in the UK when his Supermarine Spitfire crashed on approach. That month, the 31st FG established itself with Spitfire Vs and a variety of support types (with its 309th Fighter Squadron co-located at High Ercall — see below). Major use was by the 6th FW’s CCRC and, from October 1943, the 495th FTR — both were tasked with preparing pilots for the demanding conditions of UK’s airspace and climate. Main types employed were the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, which joined the fleet in August 1944. Much of the airfield is now unrecognisable.


Station: 120

Location: North west of Norwich, south of the A1067, south of Weston Longville

Previously: Built for the RAF, Jun 1941, extensive use Major Units: Eighth Air Force, 466th Bomb Group, ‘The Flying Deck’ — B-24s

Group markings: L in a circle

Code letters: 784th Bomb Sqn ‘T9-‘, 785th BS ‘2U-‘, 786th BS ‘U8-‘, 787th BS ‘6L-‘

Afterwards: Returned to the RAF, maintenance unit usage then to agriculture. Now a major turkey ‘farm’

THE 466th was known as ‘The Flying Deck’ — the deck relating to playing cards. The unit operated B-24H, ‘J, ‘L and ‘M Liberators during its tenure at Attlebridge — March 1944 to July 1945. The 466th Bomb Group flew 232 missions and the 785th Bomb Squadron bucked all the trends by flying 55 consecutive missions without loss from going operational in March to July 25, 1944. A substantial memorial is to be found, dedicated in June 1992. At Hethel, Norwich, there is an exhibition devoted to the 446th — see later.

BALDERToN, Nottinghamshire

Station: 482

Location: South of Newark-on-Trent, south of the village and west of the A1

Previously: RAF from Jun 1941, heavy bomber training and assault glider storage

Major Units: Ninth Air Force, 439th Troop Carrier Group — C-47s, C-53 Skytroopers, Waco CG-4s Codes letters: 91st Troop Carrier Sqn ‘L4-‘, 92nd TCS ‘J8-‘, 93rd TCS ‘3B-‘, 94th TCS ‘D8-‘

Afterwards: Returned to RAF Oct 1944, Bomber Command then storage. Closed 1954.

Little remains of the airfield

IN THE 1960s, the A1 moved westwards as part of the massive work to bypass Newark. In so doing it cut the technical site off from the former airfield and much of the hardcore needed for the new road came from the former runways and perimeter tracks. With the Ninth Air Force, Balderton initially acted as a reception point for Troop Carrier Groups. The 439th TCG was based twice, working up here before moving to Upottery, Devon for overlord. Flying Douglas C-47 Skytrains and C-53 Skytroopers and towing Waco CG-4s, the 439th flew in support of market from Balderton in September before moving to Juvincourt, France, later in the month.

BARKSTON HEATH, Lincolnshire

Station: 483

Location: West of the B6403, south of Ancaster, Lines

Previously: RAF from Apr 1941, satellite to Cranwell, to the north

Major Units: Ninth Air Force, 61st Troop Carrier Group — C-47s, Waco CG-4s, Consolidated C-109s Code letters: 14th Troop Carrier Sqn ‘3I-‘, 15th TCS ‘Y9-‘, 53rd TCS ‘3A-‘, 59th TCS ‘X5-‘

Afterwards: Returned to the RAF Sep 1945 and operated as a satellite to Cranwell, with occasional gaps, from 1954. Currently the base of the Elementary Flying Training School operating Grob Tutors

OPERATING C-47s and CG-4s from February 1944 and later Consolidated C-109 Liberator tankers, the 61st TCG flew in support of overlord and market garden from Barkston. The 61st moved to Abbeville, France, in Mar 1945 and for two months, Barkston was home to the Curtiss C-46 Commandos of the 349th TCG.

BASSINGBOURN, Cambridgeshire

Station: 121

Location: On the A1198, north of Royston

Previously: RAF from March 1938. To USAAF Oct 1942

Major Units: Eighth Air Force, 91st Bomb Group, ‘The Ragged Irregulars’ — B-17s

Group markings: A in a triangle

Code letters: 322nd Bomb Sqn ‘LG-‘, 323rd BS ‘OR-‘, 324th BS ‘DF-‘, 401st BS ‘LL-‘

Afterwards: To RAF July 1945. For USAF use 1950 to 1953, see text. Closed as RAF base (non-flying) Jan 1993

DRIVE DOWN the A1198 — the Roman Ermine Street — and at the main entrance to the former RAF Bassingbourn you will find armoured fighter vehicles as ‘gate guardians’ as it is currently a major army training camp. Dispersals on the Whaddon (eastern) side of the airfield meant that B-17s could often be seen moving up and down that long, straight road — the most famous of which was B-17F Memphis Belle. The B-17Fs of the 91st arrived from Kimbolton in late 1942 and the unit later converted to ‘Gs. The 91st had an incredible war, with over 9,500 sorties. From August 1950 another, brief, American era started when Boeing B-29 Superfortresses of the 301st Bomb Group arrived, staying until mid-1951. Also in 1951 RB-50B Superfortresses of the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing took up residence, from January to May. Finally, from mid-1951 into 1952, the B-50Ds of the 97th Bomb Wing made an appearance. Bassingbourn went back to the RAF in April 1953 and became synonymous with the EE Canberra. During the summer of 2012 the Army Training Regiment staged its last parade and it is very likely that the army presence at

Bassingbourn will have gone altogether by the end of 2013.

Within the base is the Tower Museum, dedicated to all aspects of the airfield’s units and including a special exhibition on Memphis Belle. Visits to the tower are possible on the second and fourth Sundays of the month, March through to October. Further details on 01763 243500 or take a look at www.towermuseum bassingbourn.co.uk

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