RAF Membury: Wikis

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Royal Air Force Station Membury
USAAF Station AAF-466

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

Located Near Lambourn, Berkshire, England
Membury-8aug44.jpg
Membury airfield photographed on 8 August 1944. As Membury had been designed as a maintenance and repair depot, additional hangar space and other facilities were required. However, because the 04/22 runway could not be lengthened due to the hilly terrain on the eastern side, the secondary 17/35 was increased in length. This is what gives the runway layout an unusual shape.
Type Military Airfield
Coordinates 51°28′40.8″N 001°33′17.99″W / 51.478°N 1.5549972°W / 51.478; -1.5549972
Location code ME ?
Built 1942
In use 1942-1946
Controlled by United States Army Air Forces
Garrison Eighth Air Force
Ninth Air Force
Battles/wars European Theatre of World War II
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945
RAF Membury is located in Berkshire
RAF Membury, shown within Berkshire

RAF Station Membury is a former World War II airfield in Berkshire, England. The airfield is located approximately 4.6 miles (7.4 km) mi north-northwest of Hungerford, at the Membury services stop of the M4 motorway; about 60 miles (97 km) miles west-southwest 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 by several combat units with varying missions. It was also a major supply and maintenance depot. After the war, it was a private airport until the construction of the M4 motorway in the 1960s when it was closed.

Today the remains of the airfield are located on private property with the former technical site now being an industrial estate (Membury Business Park).

Contents

Overview

Membury airfield was scheduled for construction for RAF operational training use. The major construction work was done in the spring and summer of 1942 to enable Membury to be ready for use that autumn.

The airfield was built 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. It consisted of three runways of 4,554 ft (22/04), 3,430 ft (17/35), and 3,300 ft (27/09). Thirty-three "frying pan" hardstands were constructed 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; 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 component maintenance shops to keep the aircraft airworthy and to quickly repair light and moderate battle damage. The Ammunition dump was located on the northwest 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 2,368 personnel, including communal and a sick quarters.

While still under construction, on 11 June 1942, Membury was allocated for USAAF use as a transport or reconnaissance base and later for upgrading to provide maintenance and repair depot facilities. To this end, during early 1943, runway 17/35 was extended to the north to 4,790 ft as the terrain would not allow an extension to be made to the original main runway. 26 additional "loop" hard standings were added and eight pans eliminated. Two more T-2 hangars and additional workshops were erected on what was to be the depot area.

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

Membury was known as USAAF Station AAF-466 for security reasons by the USAAF during the war, and by which it was referred to instead of location. Its USAAF Station Code was "ME".

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3rd Photographic and 67th Observation/Reconnaissance Groups

Meanwhile, the Eighth Air Force VIII Ground Air Support Command, the forebear of the re-born Ninth Air Force had designated Membury for use by its reconnaissance units and technicians arrived in August 1942 to prepare the base for personnel who were en route on the RMS Queen Elizabeth. These were the men of the 3rd Photographic and the 67th Observation Groups, who arrived at Membury on 7 and 8 September 1942.

The 3d consisted of the 5th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 23d squadrons, however the group's air echelons were still in the United States at Colorado Springs AAF, Colorado. While at Membury, the group was re-assigned to the Twelfth Air Force and moved to RAF Steeple Morden in Cambridgeshire during October prior to its movement to North Africa.

The 67th Observation Group arrived at Membury from Esler AAF Louisiana and consisted of the following operational squadrons:

  • 12th Observation / Reconnaissance Squadron
  • 107th Observation / Reconnaissance Squadron
  • 109th Observation / Reconnaissance Squadron
  • 153d Observation / Reconnaissance Squadron
Lockheed P-38J-10-LO (F-5C) Lightning serial 42-67435 of the 67th Recon Group.
North American P-51A-10 Mustang (F-6) Serial 43-6173 "Peg Of My Heart" of the 67th Recon Group.

The group received well-used Supermarine Spitfire Vs and early Douglas A-20 Havoc and Boston aircraft from the RAF plus a few L-4B Grasshopper observation aircraft to train with until their Lockheed F-5/P-38 Lightning aircraft arrived from the United States. The 67th Group operated as the nucleus of the USAAF tactical reconnaissance organization in the UK, a task acknowledged by the redesignation as such soon after the Membury units were transferred to the Ninth Air Force in October 1943. At the time of the transfer to Ninth Air Force, the group was redesignated the 67th Reconnaissance Group.

At the time, the 107th and 109th Squadrons were converting to North American P-51A Mustangs. However, before this was completed, the 107th Squadron was moved to RAF Aldermaston and the 109th to RAF Middle Wallop so that their reconnaissance photographs and visual intelligence would he quickly available to IX Troop Carrier Command and IX Fighter Command Headquarters based there.

6th Tactical Air Depot

During the winter of 1942/1943, the air depot site was occupied by the 7th and 16th Air Depot Groups, forming the 6th Tactical Air Depot which specialized in the repair and modification of Republic P-47 Thunderbolts before they were allocated to operational squadrons. During this time, the south-eastern corner of the airfield was extended and additional workshops plus two temporary hangers were erected.

366th Fighter Group

In January 1944 the 366th Fighter Group arrived at Membury from Bluethenthal AAF North Carolina. Operational squadrons of the group were:

The 366th was a group of Ninth Air Force's 71st Fighter Wing, IX Tactical Air Command.

This was a temporary location for these newcomers to the UK as Membury was earmarked for a troop carrier group. The 366th FG received Republic P-47 Thunderbolts over the next few weeks and began working up for operations.

Before the group could become operational, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Tipton. the CO. was alerted to move his unit to RAF Thruxton on 1 March as IX Troop Carrier Command was transferring the five C-47 Skytrain groups from the 50th to the 53rd Troop Carrier Wing area to be with the 101st Airborne Division units with whom they would work.

436th Troop Carrier Group

Douglas C-47s and CG-4A Waco Gliders lined up on the runway at Membury Airfield, 1944.
Douglas C-47B-25-DK Skytrain Serial 44-76238 dropping supplies.

The 436th Troop Carrier Group with its Douglas C-47/C-53 Skytrains arrived on 3 March from RAF Bottesford. Operational squadrons of the group were:

The 436th TCW was assigned to the 53rd Troop Carrier Wing.

Operation Overlord

On the early morning of D-Day, the 436th undertook its first combat mission, its C-47s dropping 1,1.184 paratroops and 12 artillery guns of the 82d Airborne Division over Normandy France south-east of Ste Marie Eglise without aircraft loss. In the evening, the group dispatched 50 C-47s towing 48 Horsa and two Waco gliders with the men and equipment of a field artillery regiment. Re-supply missions were flown next day, again without loss. For its work on June 6 and 7, the 436th received a prized Distinguished Unit Citation.

Membury was crowded on 7 June as in addition to the 70 C-47s and C-53s of the 436th, 56 additional C-47s of the 442nd TCG flew in from RAF Fulbeck to use Membury as a forward base for loading supplies to drop to the 101st Airborne Division. This mission was hindered by poor weather and the correct dropping zone could not be identified.

Membury was one of the bases convenient to US Army supply depots and C-47s from many troop carrier groups were frequent visitors on haulage assignments during the summer of 1944.

Operation Dragoon

For the invasion of southern France, a detachment from each squadron (the 79th, 80th, 81st and 82nd TCSs) was dispatched to Votone Air Base in Italy on July 19 and 20. Although the actual invasion mission, "Operation Dragoon" was not launched until 15 August. The detachments returned to Membury on August 23-24, by which time the 6th Tactical Air Depot units had moved to France.

Operation Market-Garden

The 436th Troop Carrier Group flew supplies to France for a few weeks until called upon to prepare for the airborne invasion of Holland. In contrast to its fortunes during the Normandy invasion, the two flights of 45 C-47s during the initial operation each met intense flak in the course of delivering paratroops of the 101st Airborne Division to the dropping zone near Son. Five aircraft of the first flight were lost and 13 damaged, while the second flight had no losses and no aircraft were damaged. Even so, the group was able to put up two flights of 40 aircraft the following day, every C-47 towing a glider. One C-47 was lost and two were so badly damaged by flak they crash-landed at Membury.

Next day the weather seriously disrupted another attempt to tow more gliders to the Son area. Of the 41 C-47s and the same number of gliders in the first flight, two C-47s were lost and 20 gliders ended up on both sides of the North Sea and two in it. The second flight of 41 C-47s plus gliders had to abandon the mission, 37 of the gliders landing at Membury, one coming down elsewhere and another two colliding.

On September 21st 84 C-47s dropped supplies at Overasselt without loss, and on the 23rd C-47s of the 436th towed 46 gliders, again without loss. while nine other C-47s of the 436th took part in a re-supply drop to the 101st Airborne from RAF Ramsbury. These were their final combat sorties of 'Market'.

Throughout the winter of 1944-45, the 436th interspersed supply carrying to the Continent with paratroop and glider training exercises hauling such things as gasoline, ammunition, medical supplies, rations, and clothing; evacuated the wounded to hospitals in England and France.

When the 53rd Troop Carrier Wing moved its groups to France in February 1945 the 436th vacated Membury between the 21st and 25th for its new location at Melun (A-55). Nevertheless, there was still a US presence at Membury until a few weeks after the end of hostilities as the airfield was being used by the IX Troop Carrier Command as a pick-up point.

RAF Transport Command use

With the 436th leaving Membury for Melun in France and the Americans departing by the end of June the station was back under RAF control.

Nos. 525 and 187 Squadrons, equipped with Dakotas moved in and for a short while transported troops to and from India. These squadrons remained at Membury until October 1946 when the station was closed and Membury was reduced to care and maintenance status.

Civil use

With the end of military control, Membury was used for private and light commercial flying. However between 1966 and 1976 the Campbell Company, acquiring a lease at Membury, flight-tested their rotary aircraft known as gyrocopters.

Private flying continued from the airfield until the construction of the M4 motorway which essentially bisected northern end of the former airfield about halfway between exits 14 and 15. The Membury services area is on the northeast part of the former airfield.

Several gravel and aggregate companies have stripped most concreted runways, hardstands and the perimeter track, although most of the main runway still remains in a deteriorated condition.

Many small industries took over the old buildings on the former air depot technical site which are used for light industrial purposes. The former aircraft hangars are used for grain storage. The former airfield tower stood until 1998 when it was demolished.

Membury along with RAF Gatow and RAF Wunstorf, was the setting for much of the Hammond Innes novel Air Bridge. This was set during the Berlin Airlift and is notable for the accuracy of its descriptions of locations.

Directions

The former technical site of RAF Membury can be reached by exiting the M4 Motorway at Exit 14, Baydon Road (A338) and proceeding north from the interchange approximately 1/4 mile to the B4000 interchange and turning left (Northwest). Proceed along the B4000 (Emlin Street/Baydon Road) approximately 6 miles paralleling the motorway to an unnamed road, just prior to the Membury Services facilities. Turn left, and cross on a bridge over the motorway, which will take you to the former technical site, now an industrial estate (Membury Business Park) which is on the south side of the motorway.

A T-2 hangar will be on your right once you cross over the motorway bridge. A second T-2 hangar will also be on your right about 1/2 mile further down the road still in the industrial estate. A road to the right (a part of the former perimeter track), just past the second T-2 has a loop dispersal hardstand. The remaining airfield runways appear to be on private land to the west of the industrial estate, accessible from the former technical site by some narrow roads.

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
  • British Automobile Association (AA), (1978), Complete Atlas of Britain, ISBN 0-86145-005-1

External links


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