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Royal Air Force Station Chilbolton
USAAF Station AAF-404

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Patch9thusaaf.png

Located Near Chilbolton, Hampshire, England
Chilbolton-20apr44.jpg
Aerial Photo of Chilbolton Airfield - 20 April 1944
Type Military airfield
Coordinates 51°08′36″N 001°26′23″W / 51.14333°N 1.43972°W / 51.14333; -1.43972
Location code CB ?
Built 1940
In use 1940-1946
Controlled by Royal Air Force
United States Army Air Forces
Garrison RAF Fighter Command
Ninth Air Force
Occupants No. 238 Squadron
368th Fighter Group
442d Troop Carrier Group
Battles/wars European Theatre of World War II
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945
RAF Chilbolton is located in Hampshire
RAF Chilbolton, shown within Hampshire
Republic P-47D-30-RE Thunderbolt Serial 44-20456 of the 397th Fighter Squadron on an escort mission over the German Alps.
Chilbolton loaded with CG-4As and C-47s to use in Operation "Market", September 1944.
Closeup of CG-4As marshalled at Chilbolton in early September 1944 ready to be used in Operation "Market". Many of these gliders had been used in the 6 June D-Day invasion.

RAF Station Chilbolton is a former World War II airfield in Hampshire, England. The airfield is located approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) south-southeast of Andover; about 62 miles (100 km) southwest of London

Opened in 1940, it was used by both the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force. During the war it was used primarily as a troop carrier airfield for parachutists. After the war it was used for jet aircraft testing before being closed in 1946.

Today the remains of the airfield are located on private property being used as agricultural fields.

Contents

RAF Fighter Command use

Chilbolton airfield was opened in September 1940 as a satellite of RAF Middle Wallop and was used as a relief landing ground for Hurricane squadron, No. 238. It was developed piecemeal with the addition of the necessary facilities that gradually took it towards existence as an independent base. Like many other airfields in the area once the threat of invasion had passed and the major Luftwaffe raids ceased, Chilbolton played host to Army Co-operation Command units.

Overview

The airfield consisted of free draining grass landing runways however when allocated for USAAF use in 1942. Once turned over to the Americans hardened runways were scheduled, but work did not commence until the spring of 1943. Construction was to the Class A airfield standard, 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.

The three concrete runways were 5,400 ft (12/30), 4,814 ft (02/20) and 4,200 ft (07/25). The existing tarmac perimeter track was extended and strengthened and 48 loop hardslandings built connecting to an enclosing perimeter track, of a 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; 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. Air depot personnel performed depot-level maintenance on aircraft as well as performed major structural repair on aircraft severely damaged in combat. The Ammunition dump was located on the south side of the airfield, outside of the perimeter track surrounded by large dirt mounds and concrete storage pens.

Various 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 2.841 personnel, including communal and a sick quarters.

During airborne operations, when large numbers of airborne parachutists were moved to the airfield, tents would be pitched on the interior grass regions of the airfield, or wherever space could be found to accommodate the airborne forces for the short time they would be bivouacked at the station prior to the operation.

USAAF use

Chilbolton was known as USAAF Station AAF-404 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 "CB".

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5th Tactical Air Depot

During the course of this construction. Chilbolton was selected for the site of an aircraft maintenance depot and this was established on the north-east side with large Nissen and Romney buildings erected for workshops.

It was determined that the USAAF would operate six tactical air depots in the UK and the locations had already been decided before the Ninth Air Force was established in the UK. However, the conditions at one was found to be unsatisfactory for the operation of Republic P-47 Thunderbolts and it was decided to shift this depot to Chilhollun. The first USAAF personnel arrived in December 1943 and by January the 5th Tactical Air Depot, and its 10th and 86th Air Depot Groups, were in residence, although construction of the depot was still in progress in many areas.

During the early months of 1944, the P-47 Thunderbolt became a very common sight in the vicinity of Chilbolton as the 5th TAD prepared new P-47s for operational units, made theatre modifications and carried out major maintenance on the type for Ninth Air Force units.

368th Fighter Group

On 1 March 1944 the 12th and 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadrons from the 67th Reconnaissance Wing, flying Spitfires and Mustangs, moved in from RAF Aldermaston to make way for a C-47 group, only to he ejected two weeks later when a new fighter group arrived, The numbers of P-47s increased dramatically on 15 March when Colonel Gil Meyers brought his 368th Fighter Group in from RAF Greenham Common which was also required for transports. At times there were more than 150 P-47s at Chilbolton, the 368th's three squadrons having a combined total of more than 70. The 368th had the following fighter squadrons and fuselage codes:

  • 395th Fighter Squadron (A7)
  • 396th Fighter Squadron (C2)
  • 397th Fighter Squadron (D3)

The 368th was a group of Ninth Air Force's 71st Fighter Wing, IX Tactical Air Command. Recipient of the Presidential Unit Citation, the 368th was the highest scoring Ninth Air Force P-47 only unit with 149 victories. It was the first unit to attack V-1 buzz-bomb sites, the first use Napalm bombs, and pioneered the role of pilots as forward air controllers.

The group had flown its first combat mission the day before the move to Chilbolton and armed patrols, escort and fighter-bombing missions followed, although ground attack was their primary duty. Before the launch of Operation 'Overlord' losses were light, but intensive action in early June brought an increase in the numbers of P-47s failing to return to Chilbolton. Even so, the total 12 missing in action during the 368th's stay was considerably lower than the losses of many other P-47 groups. A total of 15 enemy aircraft were credited shot down while flying from Chilbolton, the most extraordinary combat being that of Major Randall Hendricks of 397th Fighter Squadron who, in quick succession, shot down four Focke-Wulf Fw 190s he had surprised on 12 June. His fifth victory came 10 days later, making him the first post-invasion Allied ace. The Group produced two other aces: Lt. Col. Paul P. Douglas of the 396th FS (8), and Captain William Garry of the 395th FS (6).

Chilbolton was one of the two Thunderbolt bases furthest removed from the battle-front consequently, these were the groups that the Ninth Air Force earmarked for early movement to the Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) being carved out of farmland on the Normandy bridgehead. On 16 June the 397th FS started to use the A-3 ALG at Cardonville, thus becoming the first Ninth Air Force unit to transfer to the Continent to provide tactical air support in support of U.S. First Army. The main party of the group took up residence on 20 June, although Chilbolton was still used as a reserve base for a few days.

The 368th moved across the continent, finally winding up at Frankfurt am Main (Y-73), Germany on VE-Day. The group served with the army of occupation, being assigned to United States Air Forces in Europe. It was inactivated in Germany on 20 August 1946at Straubing, Germany.

Meanwhile, the 5th Tactical Air Depot continued to operate from Chilbolton, although its 10th ADG transferring to France in late July. The 86th ADG followed in September with most of the other units.

442nd Troop Carrier Group

Following the departure of the 368th FG to the continent, C-47s from various troop carrier groups used Chilbolton as an air evacuation station, ferrying in casualties from Normandy and taking supplies out on the flight from Chilbolton. From early September, personnel of the 442d Troop Carrier Group based at RAF Weston Zoyland moved in support equipment to Chilbolton as the airfield had been selected as an advance base for the group's participation in the airborne landings in Holland.

On 11 September the group's C-47s arrived. Carrying parachutists of the 101st Airborne Division two flights of 442nd C-47s took off for drop-zones near Veghel and Son respectively on 17 September. Both formations met heavy flak and just after the drop had been made two of the first flight's aircraft were shot down. The second flight also met fierce AAA fire with two aircraft being lost and seven others badly damaged.

The next day, two flights of 40 C-47s, each towing CG-4A Waco gliders took off, this time faring better, with only one aircraft lost in a ditching. Things did not go smoothly on the 19th when another 40 C-47s towing 40 gliders experienced considerable difficulty in bad weather and only 28 of the latter were delivered to the landing zone. Seven gliders went into the sea and two C-47s were lost. A second flight of 41 C-47s with gliders met still more problems with none of the gliders reaching the Son DZ and two C-47s lost to flak.

There was reduced effort on 20 September when 20 planes, operating from RAF Greenham Common, dropped supplies, and 12, from RAF Ranisbury dropped paratroops to the 101st Airborne. Thereafter, the group was returned to RAF Weston Zoyland having sustained one of the higher aircraft losses of all the fourteen C-47 groups taking part in 'Market'.

Chilbolton continued to be retained by the USAAF for use by transports as a staging base for cargo operations to and from the Continent and it was not returned to the RAF until March 1945 by which time most of the C-47 groups had been transferred to bases in France.

RAF Training Command

In the hands of the RAF, Chilbolton played host to a fighter Operational Training Unit - No. 41 - for the rest of the European war, and then to several different fighter squadrons equipped with Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Tempests as the RAF reduced its strength.

In March 1946, Chilbolton became the first RAF station to operate de Havilland Vampire jets when No. 247 squadron started to convert to the type, but by the late summer that year the station was on care and maintenance.

Civil Use

With the facility released from military control in 1946, Vickers Supermarine selected the airfield as a base for conducting flights with their jet prototypes and development aircraft, remained for the best part of ten years.

Folland Aircraft moved in to the other side of the airfield to conduct similar work on their products, chiefly the Midge and Gnat, but were gone by the end of 1961. With their departure, the wartime airfield began to be dismantled, with large sections of runway, perimeter track and loop hardstands being removed for hardcore.

The next organization to take an active interest in the site was the Space Research Council which set about building an observatory with what was to become a prominent local landmark - a giant radio telescope, known as the Chilbolton Observatory, which was built almost in the center of the airfield, on the wartime main runway. When constructed, the north end of the runway was removed, with a two lane access road replacing the runway and connecting to the local road network. Various other enterprises flourished or faded in the buildings on the periphery of the airfield.

Flying continued during the 1980s when helicopters and light aircraft serving a field spraying organization were in residence using a grass strip built parallel to the main north-south 12/30 runway. Today, the perimeter track has been largely reduced to a single-lane farm road as much of the airfield has been returned to agricultural use. A large section of the 07/25 secondary runway still exists, although reduced to half width. In aerial photography, however, much of the former wartime airfield's runways and hardstands can be seen as disturbances on the landscape, giving a ghostly appearance to the area.

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.
  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present

External links


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