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Royal Air Force Station Bisterne
USAAF Station AAF-415

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Patch9thusaaf.png

Located Near Ringwood, Hampshire, England
Rafbisterne-22may44.jpg
Aerial Photo of Bisterne Airfield - 22 May 1944. More than 50 P-47 Thunderbolts of the 371st Fighter Group are dispersed along the perimeter loop.
Type Military airfield
Coordinates 50°49′06″N 001°46′50″W / 50.81833°N 1.78056°W / 50.81833; -1.78056
Location code BS ?
Built 1944
In use 1944
Controlled by United States Army Air Forces
Garrison Ninth Air Force
Occupants 371st Fighter Group
Battles/wars European Theatre of World War II
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945
RAF Bisterne is located in Hampshire
RAF Bisterne, shown within Hampshire
Republic P-47D-28-RE Thunderbolt Serial 44-200284 of the 404th Fighter Squadron (photo taken at Furth/Industriehafen, Germany.
Republic P-47D-28-RE Thunderbolt Serial 44-200097 of the 406th Fighter Squadron (photo taken at Furth/Industriehafen, Germany.

RAF Station Bisterne is a former World War II airfield in Hampshire, England. The airfield is located approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Ringwood; about 85 miles (137 km) southwest of London

Opened in March 1944, Bisterne was 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 United States Army Air Force as a fighter airfield. It was closed in the late summer of 1944.

Today the airfield is a mixture of agricultural fields with no recognizable remains.

Contents

Origins

Bisterne airfield was one of a group of World War II airfields established in the "New Forest" of Hampshire, first surveyed in 1942 and scheduled for construction in 1943. It was not anticipated that the airfield would be used until 1944 by which time the regrowth of grass would help to consolidate the runways. However, to accommodate USAAF Ninth Air Force fighter groups, additional aircraft hardstands, marshalling areas and perimeter track extension were required, the work being completed in January 1944.

The USAAF Ninth Air Force required several temporary Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) along the channel coast prior to the June 1944 Normandy invasion to provide tactical air support for the ground forces landing in France. Bisterne 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 Bisterne was of similar specification to other ALGs in the district.

Work on the airfield began in the spring of 1943 and two hard earth runways were laid down. The taxiways were covered with wire mesh as were the aircraft dispersal points. Four Blister hangars were erected on the east side of the main strip and facilities for fuel and ammunition storage on the west. 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.

USAAF Use

Bisterne was known as USAAF Station AAF-415 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 "BS".

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371st Fighter Group

Al the end of February 1944, US Army engineers started the erection of a large number of tents along woodland fringes and in fields adjacent to the landing ground and on 7 March the 371st Fighter Group arrived, having disembarked at Liverpool the previous day. Equipped with Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, the 347th FG arrived from Richmond AAF Virginia. Tactical squadrons of the group and squadron fuselage codes were:

  • 404th Fighter Squadron (9Q)
  • 405th Fighter Squadron (8N)
  • 406th Fighter Squadron (4W)

The 371st was a group of Ninth Air Force's 70th Fighter Wing, IX Tactical Air Command.

After a hectic period of theatre indoctrination and training, the 371st made a fighter sweep over France. A variety of missions were flown during the rest of April and May, escorts, sweeps and fighter-bombing specified targets, all with little opposition from the enemy.

The more serious problem during this period was the deteriorating state of the Bisterne runways. and the number of blown tires and bent propellers increased as the condition of the metal track became progressively bulged and rutted under the weight of the eight-ton Thunderbolts. Conditions became so bad that on 21 April, the serviceable P-47s were flown to RAF Ibsley, three miles to the north which had hard-surfaced runways. The air echelon was finally able to resume operations from Bisterne on May 14.

The 371st had their first combat with the Luftwaffe on 8 May near Le Havre resulting in two BF 109s being credited as shot down for the loss of one P-47. In another encounter on 20 June during an armed reconnaissance, four enemy aircraft were shot down without loss.

The 371st moved from Bisterne between June 17 and June 29, using both its British base and its assigned Normandy Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) at Beuzeville France (ALG A-6), until 3 July, with the rear party leaving England on 29 June.

During its sojourn at Bisterne. the 371st lost 10 P-47s on operations and three in flying accidents.

On the continent, the 371st FG used the following ALGs providing tactical air support in support of U.S. First Army:

  • A-6 Beuzeville, France 3 July 1944
  • A-65 Perthes, France 18 September 1944
  • Y-7 Dole/Tavaux, France 1 October 1944
  • Y-1 Tantonville, France 20 December 1944
  • Y-74 Frankfurt/Eschborn, Germany 7 April 1945
  • R-10 Furth/Industriehafen, Germany 5 May 1945

The 371st flew its last mission in early May 1945 then moving to Horsching, Austria then Stuttgart Germany for occupation duty in August. The group returned to the US during October and November 1945, inactivating on 10 November at Camp Shanks, New York.

Post Invasion Military Use

In view of its troubled history, and the surplus of UK airfields following the transfer of many RAF and USAAF units to the Continent during the summer of 1944, Bisterne airfield was not used by another flying unit. The facility was de-requisitioned in the late summer of 1944.

Civil Use

With the facility released from military control, it was cleared of metal tracking, hardcore and hangars. However, it proved impossible to separate the runway tracking from soil and turf so the bulldozers simply pushed it up into a long ridgeline. This was one of the few traces that remained of the airfield in 1946 and traces can still be seen today as thick ridgelines running in a north-south direction, roughly parallel to the edge of the former wartime N/S runway.

Today, the land that was once RAF Bisterne is unrecognizable as a former airfield and had returned to farm and pastureland. It is only that by comparing the local farm roads in the area and those same roads in aerial photographs of the airfield when it was active that a precise location of the airfield can be determined.

In 2004 a small memorial was dedicated on the outskirts of a Ringwood farm yard barn at the end of a dusty gravel track as a lasting memorial to the men and machines who flew from the wartime Bisterne airfield.

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
  • Freeman, Roger A. (1996) The Ninth Air Force in Colour: UK and the Continent-World War Two. After the Battle ISBN 1854092723
  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.

External links


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