Earls Colne Airfield: Wikis


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Earls Colne Airfield
Royal Air Force Station Earls Colne
USAAF Station AAF-358

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Patch 8thUSAAF.png Patch9thusaaf.png

Postwar RAF aerial photo of Earls Colne Airfield - 9 July 1946 just after its closure.
Airport type Public
Operator Bulldog Aviation Ltd
Serves Halstead
Location Earls Colne
Elevation AMSL 227 ft / 69 m
Coordinates 51°54′52″N 000°40′57″E / 51.91444°N 0.6825°E / 51.91444; 0.6825 (Earls Colne Airfield)
Direction Length Surface
m ft
06/24 939 3,081 Grass/Asphalt
Sources: UK AIP at NATS[1]
Earls Colne Airfield is located in Essex
Earls Colne Airfield shown within Essex (grid reference TL850270)

Earls Colne Airfield is a former World War II airfield in Essex, England. The airfield is located approximately 5 miles (8.0 km) east-northeast of Braintree; about 40 miles (64 km) north-northeast of London

Opened in 1942, it was used by both the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force. During the war it was used primarily as a combat bomber airfield. After the war it was closed in 1955 after many years of being in a reserve status.

Much of the airfield today is being used as a golf course. A flying club also operates from the old airfield.



Earls Colne airfield was built to the Class A airfield bomber standard set by the Air Ministry, the main feature of which was a set of three converging runways each containing a concrete runway for takeoffs and landings, optimally placed at 60 degree angles to each other in a triangular pattern. It had a 6,000 ft (1,829 m) main runway aligned 01/19 and two auxiliaries of 4,200 ft (1,280 m) aligned 07/25 and 12/30. Like other airfields of the same period, it was originally laid out with 36 pan type dispersal hardstands but, after Earls Colne was allocated for USAAF use on 4 June 1942, an additional 16 loop dispersal hardstands were added, one pan being eliminated in the process connecting to an enclosing perimeter track, of a standard width of 50 feet.

The ground support station was constructed largely of Nissen huts of various sizes. The support station was where the group and ground station commanders and squadron headquarters and orderly rooms were located. Also on the ground station were where the mess facilities; chapel; hospital; mission briefing and debriefing; armory and bombsite storage; life support; parachute rigging; supply warehouses; station and airfield security; motor pool and the other ground support functions necessary to support the air operations of the group. These facilities were all connected by a network of single path support roads.

The technical site, connected to the ground station and airfield consisted of at least two T-2 type hangars and various organizational, component and field maintenance shops along with the crew chiefs and other personnel necessary to keep the aircraft airworthy and to quickly repair light and moderate battle damage. Aircraft severely damaged in combat were sent to repair depots for major structural repair. The Ammunition dump was located on the southwest side of the airfield, outside of the perimeter track surrounded by large dirt mounds and concrete storage pens for storing the aerial bombs and the other munitions required by the combat aircraft.

Seven domestic accommodation sites were constructed dispersed away from the airfield, but within a mile or so of the technical support site, also using clusters of Maycrete or Nissen huts. The Huts were either connected, set up end-to-end or built singly and made of prefabricated corrugated iron with a door and two small windows at the front and back. They provided accommodation for 2,570 personnel, including communal and a sick quarters.

During construction, an American B-17F (41-24352) of the 301st Bomb Group from RAF Chelveston made an emergency landing at the unfinished field. Earls Colne was opened in August 1942 and for the first year it was operated by No. 3 Group Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force. Apart from temporary use by F-5 Lightning photographic aircraft as a forward base, and emergency landings by a variety of types returning from operations, Earls Colne remained vacant.


In May 1943 the airfield was turned over to the United States Army Air Force. USAAF groups of the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces used the airfield. It was known as USAAF Station AAF-358 for security reasons by the USAAF during the war, and by which it was referred to instead of location. It's USAAF Station Code was "EC".

From 12 June 1943 through 16 October 1943, Earls Colne (along with nearby Marks Hall) served as headquarters for the 3d Combat Bombardment Wing of the 3d Bomb Division.


94th Bombardment Group (Heavy)

The first American unit to use Earls Colne was the 94th Bombardment Group (Heavy) moved in with the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, arriving from RAF Bassingbourn on 12 May 1943. The group tail code was a "Square-A". Its operational squadrons were:

Its tenure was brief as the Eighth Air Force moved the B-17s into Suffolk on 12 June as the group was moved to RAF Bury St. Edmunds in a general exchange of bases with B-26 Marauder groups.

323d Bombardment Group (Medium)

Replacing the 94th at Earls Colne was the 323d Bombardment Group (Medium) which arrived from RAF Horham on 14 June 1943. The group was assigned to the 3d Bomb Wing and flew Martin B-26B/C Marauders with a Horizontal white tail band for its group marking. Operational squadrons of the 323d were:

  • 453d Bomb Squadron (VT)
  • 454th Bomb Squadron (RJ)
  • 455th Bomb Squadron (YU)
  • 456th Bomb Squadron (WT)

The 323rd inaugurated medium-altitude bombing missions on 16 July 1943 and during that summer its principal targets were marshalling yards, airfields, industrial plants, military installations, and other targets in France, Belgium, and Holland.

Martin B-26 Marauders of the 455th Bomb Squadron line up on the perimeter track standing ready for takeoff. Martin B-26C-15-MO Marauder Serial 41-34871 (foreground) identifiable.

In common with other Marauder units of the 3d Bomb Wing, the 323d was transferred to Ninth Air Force on 16 October 1943. Tactical missions were flown against V-weapon sites along the coast of France and attacked airfields at Leeuwarden and Venlo in conjunction with the Allied campaign against the German Air Force and aircraft industry during Big Week, 20-25 Feb 1944.

The 323d helped to prepare for the invasion of Normandy by bombing coastal defenses, marshalling yards, and airfields in France and struck roads and coastal batteries on D-Day, 6 June 1944.

On 21 July the group was moved south to RAF Beaulieu in Hampshire, a move designed to extend their range over western France.

323d round crew airmen attend to Martin B-26C-15-MO Marauder Serial 41-34969. This aircraft went on to survive the war with over 150 missions to its credit
B-26s taxing in after a mission.

Royal Air Force use

In September 1944 the airfield returned to RAF control, with No. 38 Group bomber station operating the Armstrong Whitworth Albemarles and Handley Page Halifaxes. 38 Group was used as a glider towing unit (Squadrons Nos. 296 and 297).

Both squadrons participated in Operation Varsity, the airborne part of the Rhine Crossing in March 1945.

Postwar use

These squadrons remained at Earls Colne until early in 1946, when the former was disbanded and the other moved out in March. Held on care and maintenance status for a short period, the airfield was soon abandoned and eventually put up for public auction in 1955.

When de-requisitioned in 1955 much of the airfield was returned to agricultural use. In 1965, a large part of the airfield was purchased from an investment company and all available land was initially farmed. The concrete areas were sold to St Ives Sand and Gravel, the company supplying aggregate for foundations of the A12 improvements between September 1965 and February 1967 who removed most of the runways, hardstands and perimeter track.

The T-2 hangar on the technical site - in which Glenn Miller once played was rented for storage and many technical site buildings were used for light engineering firms, the whole of the former technical site becoming an industrial area. The east side hangar has for many years afforded cover for heavy construction machinery.

The control tower was used as a house for many years, eventually being demolished in 2003.

Much of the airfield today is being used as a golf course which was built in the early 1990s that consists of two 18-hole courses, a clubhouse, restaurant and leisure facilities. A flying club also operates from the old airfield, using a grass strip that runs along the line of the former south-west/north-east runway

See also


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

External links


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