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Lashenden (Headcorn) Airfield
Royal Air Force Station Lashenden
USAAF Station AAF-410

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Patch9thusaaf.png

Lashden-aug1947.jpg
Lashenden ALG airfield, August 1947 about two years after being closed. The reclamation by farmland is well underway with almost the entire airfield being restored to agriculture.
IATA: noneICAO: EGKH
Summary
Airport type Private
Operator Mr. J.P.A. Freeman
Location Ashford
Elevation AMSL 70 ft / 21 m
Coordinates 51°09′24″N 000°38′33″E / 51.15667°N 0.6425°E / 51.15667; 0.6425 (Lashenden (Headcorn) Airfield)Coordinates: 51°09′24″N 000°38′33″E / 51.15667°N 0.6425°E / 51.15667; 0.6425 (Lashenden (Headcorn) Airfield)
Runways
Direction Length Surface
m ft
11/29 840 2,756 Grass
03/21
Unlicensed
N/A N/A N/A
Sources: UK AIP at NATS[1]

Lashenden (Headcorn) Airfield (IATA: N/AICAO: EGKH) is a private airfield in Kent, England. The airfield is located approximately 8 miles (13 km) south of Maidstone; about 32 miles (51 km) southeast of London

Opened in 1943 during World War II, RAF Station Lashenden became a prototype for the type of temporary Advanced Landing Ground type airfield which would be built in France after D-Day, when the need advanced landing fields would become urgent as the Allied forces moved east across France and Germany. It was used by the British Royal Air Force, Canadian and the United States Army Air Forces. It was closed in September 1945.

After the war, the airfield was reverted to farmland. With the resurgence of interest in civil aviation in the 1950s the current private grass airfield was opened.

Contents

Overview

Headcorn Aerodrome was first used for general aviation in 1927 when the local land owner flew with a group of friends.

Following the outbreak of World War II the airfield was requisitioned by the Airfields Board in 1942 and prepared for operational service. The USAAF Ninth Air Force required several temporary Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) along the channel coast prior to the June 1944 Normandy Landings to provide tactical air support for the ground forces landing in France. Lashenden airfield was one of the first ALGs to he constructed in Kent, the site chosen being considered sufficiently extensive and stable to be earmarked for use by light bombers. Lashenden was to have bomb storage facilities constructed in an adjacent forested area.

Lashenden was a prototype for the type of temporary airfield which would be built in France after D-Day, when the need advanced landing fields would become urgent as the Allied forces moved east across France and Germany. It was originally planned to support light bombers and thereby would need a bomb store near the site. However, in a review of airfield building plans, this original requirement was dropped so Lashenden was of similar specification to other ALGs in the district.

The airfield site was to the east of the A274, about 1½ miles (2.4 km) southeast of Headcorn. Although originally scheduled for completion by 1 March 1943, delays set back construction to the winter and early spring of 1943. The airfield was built by RAF 511013 and 511014 Airfield Construction Squadrons. One runway was approximately 4,200 ft (1,280 m) long and aligned 11/29, while the other was of 4,800 ft (1,463 m) aligned 01/19.

Runways, perimeter track and the 70 aircraft hardstands were all constructed of a steel wire surface on grass, although some areas were later reinforced with steel Marsden Matting. Tents were used for billeting and also for support facilities; an access road was built to the existing road infrastructure; a dump for supplies, ammunition, and gasoline drums, along with a drinkable water and minimal electrical grid for communications and station lighting. Several local farmhouses and barns were impressed into wartime duty as offices and warehouses.

Royal Canadian Air Force usage

421 and 403 Squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) arrived with Supermarine Spitfire IXs in August 1943 but stayed barely two weeks. Their task was to test the runways before transferring 3 mi (4.8 km) for a similar evaluation of RAF Headcorn.

USAAF usage

Lashenden was known as USAAF Station AAF-410 for security reasons by the USAAF during the war, and by which it was referred to instead of location.

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354th Fighter Group

353d Fighter Group North American P-51B-1-NA Mustang 43-12457

On 17 April 1944 the 354th Fighter Group arrived at Lashenden from RAF Boxted, from where the group had already achieved fame for introducing the Rolls-Royce Merlin-engined North American Aviation P-51 Mustang into combat. Its combat squadrons were:

The group was assigned to the XIX Tactical Air Command 100th Fighter Wing.

Although assigned to Ninth Air Force, the group was under the operational control of the VIII Fighter Command and many missions flown by the 354th in April and May were long-range escorts of Eighth Air Force heavy B-17 and B-24 bombers. It was on these occasions that the group displayed its expertise in air fighting.

On 25 April, on an escort to Mannheim, the group returned to Lashenden with claims of 18 destroyed, 5 probably destroyed and 31 damaged, all for the loss of 2 Mustangs. On 11 May, claims of 11 Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed on another long-range escort included the 354th's 100th victory. Yet another high score resulted from an air battle near Magdeburg an 28 May when 19½ enemy aircraft were credited as shot down.

An increasing number of dive-bombing missions were flown during the weeks prior to the invasion, each Mustang carrying two 250 lb (110 kg) or 500 lb (230 kg) bombs on wing racks, the targets being frequently rail installations.

When D-Day arrived, the 354th's pilots were disappointed to he kept on the ground until 21:00 hours, when they took off to escort Douglas C-47 Skytrains towing gliders for a landing on the Cotentin Peninsula near Cherbourg. Following the invasion. the group's Mustangs found their primary task was to be patrols over the battlefield areas. These were often uneventful as far as contact with enemy aircraft was concerned.

The 354th group headquarters had learned that they would probably be one of the first Ninth Air Force flying units to move to one of the advanced landing strips being prepared in the Normandy bridgehead, and the advance party left Lashenden for Cricqueville-en-Bessin, France (ALG A-2) on 13 June. The main party moved on 17 June, although the group's P-51s continued to return to Lashenden throughout the following week.

The departure of the Americans to France not only terminated Lashenden's association with Ninth Air Force flying units, but also its use as an airfield.

The facility was returned by the USAAF to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in September, although it had already had its metal matting runways removed by US Engineers who required the materiel for upgrading ALGs in France.

Legacy

During its stay at Lashenden, the 354th lost 23 aircraft but was credited with destroying 68 of the enemy. The group's operations from France assisted the Allied drive across France by flying close-support, armed-reconnaissance, fighter-sweep, dive-bombing, strafing, and escort missions.

The 354th Fighter Group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for a series of fighter sweeps in which the group destroyed a large number of enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground on 25 August. The unit flew missions to support the airborne attack on Holland in September, and it attacked and destroyed many enemy barges, locomotives, vehicles, buildings, and troops to assist the Allied assault on the Siegfried Line.

The group participated in the Battle of the Bulge by supporting ground forces and by conducting armed reconnaissance operations to destroy enemy troops, tank artillery, and rail lines. Assisted ground forces in their advance to and across the Rhine and was based at Herzogenaurach, Germany (ALG R-29) when V-E Day arrived.

After hostilities ended, the 354th Fighter Group served with United States Air Forces in Europe army of occupation until February 1946, being returned to the United States and deactivated on 31 March 1946.

Civil usage

With the facility released from military control, farming resumed in 1945 but this was not the end of the land's association with aircraft. In the late 1960s, the landowners started using part of the former wartime east-west runway site adjacent to the A274, for private flying. A grass airstrip was built aligned 10/28 with a grass parking area for light aircraft. This led to the formation of Weald Air Services Limited, a small charter company, and later a flying school was set up and the airfield that became a busy center for light flying in the area.

Additionally, a small museum of aviation relics was established on the site, the Lashenden Air Warfare Museum.

The airfield is host to Headcorn Parachute Club, the only skydiving club in Kent. The club operates seven days a week during the summer months - it is closed on Mondays in the winter. The club operates a piston Britten-Norman Islander and a Cessna Caravan and regularly flies to altitudes between 10,000 and 12,000 ft (3,000 and 3,700 m) AGL. The club welcomes experienced parachutists and also offers introductory training (tandem, static line/RAPs and AFF). The club is home to national champions and world-record holders.

Lashenden (Headcorn) Aerodrome has a CAA Ordinary Licence (Number P838) that allows flights for the public transport of passengers or for flying instruction as authorised by the licensee.[2]

See also

References

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

  • Freeman, Roger A. (1994) UK Airfields of the Ninth: Then and Now 1994. After the Battle ISBN 0900913800
  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.
  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present
  • British Automobile Association (AA), (1978), Complete Atlas of Britain, ISBN 0-86145-005-1

Further reading

External links


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