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Royal Air Force Station Christchurch
USAAF Station AAF-416

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Patch9thusaaf.png

Located Near Christchurch, Dorset, United Kingdom
Christchurch-4mar44.jpg
Christchurch Airfield - 4 March 1944. Christchurch was unusual as it was constructed on an existing airfield. However the airfield used before the war for club and commercial flying was too small to accommodate wartime aircraft so the airfield was rebuilt.
Type Military airfield
Coordinates 50°44′23″N 001°44′22″W / 50.73972°N 1.73944°W / 50.73972; -1.73944
Location code X1CC (XCH)
Built 1940
Construction
materials
Somerfield Matting
In use 1940-1964
Controlled by United States Army Air Forces
Garrison Ninth Air Force
Occupants 405th Fighter Group
Battles/wars European Theatre of World War II
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945
RAF Christchurch is located in Dorset
RAF Christchurch, shown within Dorset
Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt 42-276552 of the 405th Fighter Group, 510th Fighter Squadron
Republic P-47D-27-RE Thunderbolt 42-227312 of the 405th Fighter Group, 510th Fighter Squadron

RAF Christchurch (also known as Christchurch Advanced Landing Ground (ALG)) was a World War II airfield located southeast of the A337/B3059 intersection in Somerford, Christchurch, Dorset, England. It was a civil airfield with origins in the 1920s, then was used during World War II by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force Ninth Air Force.

Contents

Origins

Flying at Christchurch had its beginnings in July 1926 on the area known as "Burrysfield" which was used for pleasure flights. In May 1928, the Hampshire Aero Club operated from the area. The next step was when Francis C Fisher leased some open fields where he operated a flying facility in the summers, until his lease ran out in 1932. In 1933 the Rambler Air Station was established and airline services commenced on 14 May 1934 with Western Airways operating a de Havilland Dragon Rapide and the airfield was known as Christchurch Airport. In February 1935 the airfield became known as Bournemouth Airport.

In 1940 the Airspeed factory was built on part of the original airfield began production of Horsa Mk I gliders, AS.10 Oxfords, and de Havilland Mosquitos for the RAF.

Air Ministry Use

The Air Defense Research and Development Establishment was built at the northeastern end of the airfield, and in May 1940 the RAF Special Duties Flight, operating a very mixed bag of aircraft arrived to take part in the experiments with Radar. The SDF operated such diverse types as the Bristol Blenheim, Avro 504K, Scott Viking gliders, and eventually, 3 Hawker Hurricanes, for defence. In addition, the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm sent aircraft for Radar trials from HMS Raven at Eastleigh, though these were only transient visitors.

USAAF use

In 1943, the USAAF Ninth Air Force required several temporary advanced landing grounds along the southern English Channel coast prior to the Normandy invasion to provide tactical air support for the ground forces landing in France. Christchurch was provided to support this mission.

A single steel wire and plank Marsden Matting runway and parking apron was laid down for the heavier American fighters. The runway was aligned 24/06 and was dimensioned1650 x 50 yards (46 m). In addition, the airfield retained its existing grass runways N/S 1,000 yd (910 m), NE/SW 1,000 yd (910 m), E/W 1,000 yd (910 m), NW/SE 950 yd (870 m).

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.

Christchurch was known as USAAF Station AAF-416 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 "CH".

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405th Fighter Group

Christchurch airfield saw the arrival of the USAAF 405th Fighter Group on 4 April 1944, the group arriving from Walterboro Army Airfield South Carolina. The 405th had the following operational squadrons:

The 406th was a group of Ninth Air Force's 84th Fighter Wing, IX Tactical Air Command. It flew the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. The group engaged chiefly in bombing airdromes, marshalling yards and bridges in France in preparation for the invasion of France. It flew patrols in the vicinity of Brest during the D-Day invasion and then flew armed reconnaissance missions to support operations in Normandy.

The 405th moved to its Advanced Landing Ground at Picauville, France (ALG A-8) on 22 June 1944, ending the USAAF's use of Christchurch.

Ongoing Operations

From the continent, the 405th engaged primarily in providing support for ground forces until May 1945. It bombed enemy vehicles and gun positions at Saint-Lô in July 1944; attacked barges, troops, roads, and warehouses during the Battle of the Bulge (Dec 1944—Jan 1945); and struck airfields and marshalling yards when the Allies crossed the Rhine in March 1945.

The 405th Fighter Group flew its last mission on 8 May 1945 from Straubing, Germany and returned to the United States during July 1945. It was inactivated on 29 October.

Citations

The 405th Fighter Group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for a mission in France on 24 September 1944. Answering a request from Third Army for support near Laneuveville-en-Saulnois, two squadrons, flying on instruments through rain and dense overcast, were directed by ground control toward a furious tank battle where, in spite of severe ground fire, one squadron repeatedly bombed and strafed enemy tanks. The second squadron, unable to find this target because of the weather, attacked a convoy of trucks and armored vehicles. Later the same day, the third squadron hit warehouses and other buildings and silenced ground opposition in the area.

In addition, for operations, June-September 1944, that aided the drive across Normandy and the liberation of Belgium, the group was cited by the Belgian government.

RAF Transport Command Use

After the USAAF departure the airfield was returned to RAF control. In March 1945 control passed to RAF Transport Command. The main activities continued to be production(Mosquitos) from Airspeed, Radar trials, and Glider pick-up training.

In January 1946 control of the airfield passed to the Ministry of Aircraft Production.

Civil Use

With the facility released from military control, civilian flying returned to Christchurch. The Christchurch Aero club operated from the north side while on the southwestern tip of the field the 622 Glider School operated for many years from a hangar just outside the airfield boundary.

In 1954 the Military Experimental Engineering Establishment from Christchurch laid a Tarmac runway on the site of the WW2 wire and steel runway, The main beneficiaries of this exercise was the De Havilland factory which was producing jet Vampire fighters and Airspeed Ambassador twin piston engined airliners.

However, time was running out for Christchurch and following the closure of De Havilland factory in 1962, the use of the airfield rapidly declined. The manned air traffic control tower was closed in July 1963 and the Aero Club closed in 1964. The airfield officially closed at the end of 1964, although occasional aircraft used the airfield for several years after that date.

Today, Christchurch airfield has been developed by the urban areas of Somerford/Mudeford. The land which was the airfield is now a mix of housing and industry with nothing remaining of the airfield except some of the Airspeed buildings and streets named after aircraft.

See also

References

 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.
  • ArmyAirForces.com 404th Fighter Group http://www.armyairforces.com/dbgroups.asp?Group=226

External links


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