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Royal Air Force Station Metfield
USAAF Station 366

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

Located Near Metfield, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Mt-011847-raf.jpg
RAF Metfield - January 1947
Type Military Airfield
Coordinates 52°22′02.25″N 001°23′40.17″E / 52.3672917°N 1.3944917°E / 52.3672917; 1.3944917
Built 1943
In use 1943-1945
Controlled by United States Army Air Forces
Garrison Eighth Air Force
Occupants 491st Bombardment Group
Battles/wars European Theatre of World War II
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945
RAF Metfield is located in Suffolk
RAF Metfield, shown within Suffolk

RAF Metfield is a former United States Army Air Force station in England. It is located just to the southeast of the village of Metfield in Suffolk.

Metfield was built as a standard, Class-A bomber design airfield, consisting of three intersecting concrete runways, fifty dispersal points and two T-2 type hangars. Additional buildings were also erected to house about 2,900 personnel on former farmland to the southwest. When it was constructed in 1943, it necessitated the closure of the B1123 road between Halesworth and Harleston.

Contents

USAAF use

The airfield was built for the United States Army Air Forces Eighth Air Force as a hevy bomber field. During World War II it was known as USAAF Station 366. Metfield was one of the most isolated Eighth Air Force stations in Suffolk.

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353d Fighter Group

The first American occupants of Metfield was the 353rd Fighter Group, moving in from RAF Goxhill on 3 August 1943. The 353d was assigned to the 66th Fighter Wing, at Sawston Hall, Cambridge.

Operational squadrons of the 353d were:

  • 350th Fighter (LH)
  • 351st Fighter (YJ)
  • 352d Fighter (SX)

Group markings were black, yellow, black, yellow spinners, with a 48-inch black and yellow check band around the cowling to the end of the exhaust stubs.

Equipped with P-47D Thunderbolts, operations commenced on 12 August 1943. It was the fourth P-47 unit to join the Eighth Air Force. From Metfield the 353rd flew numerous counter-air missions and provided escort for bombers that attacked targets in western Europe, made counter-air sweeps over France and the Low Countries, and dive-bombed targets in France.

On 12 April 1944 the 353rd moved to RAF Raydon.

491st Bombardment Group (Heavy)

With the departure of the P-47's of the 353d, a B-24 Liberators bombardment group, the 491st Bombardment Group (Heavy) moved in. The 491st starting arriving on 15 May and the last aircraft arrived on 30 May 1944.

The 491st was assigned to the 95th Combat Wing at Halesworth. The group tail code was a Circle "Z". It's operational squadrons were:

  • 852d Bomb Squadron (3Q)
  • 853d Bomb Squadron (T8)
  • 854th Bomb Squadron (6X)
  • 855th Bomb Squadron (V2)

The squadrons were unusual in it having its ground compliment recruited from other stations of the 2d Air Division. The group commenced operations on 2 June.

Ford B-24H-25-FO Liberator Serial 42-95219 of the 854th Bomb Squadron

The 491st attacked airfields, bridges, and coastal defenses both preceding and during the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, the unit concentrated its attacks on strategic objectives in Germany, striking communications centers, oil refineries, storage depots, industrial areas, shipyards, and other targets in such places as Berlin, Hamburg, Kassel, Cologne, Gelsenkirchen, Bielefeld, Hannover, and Magdeburg.

On one occasion the 491st attacked the headquarters of the German General Staff at Zossen, Germany.

On 15 July 1944 at 7:30pm, the bomb dump at Metfield exploded. One bomb mysteriously detonated, practically setting off the entire munitions storage area. 1,200 tons of high-explosive and indendinary bombs rocked the countryside for miles around. Five men were killed and 5 B-24's in nearby hardstands were severely damaged beyond repair. An additional six aircraft were severely damaged.

After the explosion, an extended loop road was built to by-pass the crater left by the explosion. The crater subsequently became a dump for all manner of discarded items.

On 15 August 1944, the 95th Combat wing was broken up and the 491st was moved to RAF North Pickenham.

1409th Army Air Force Base Unit

After the 491st moved, a small number of B-24's were still assigned to Metfield, under the command of the European Division of Air Transport, United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe (USSTAF). These aircraft were used by the 1409th Army Air Force Base Unit, a classified unit engaged in clandestine transport operations to Sweden, flying out special materials and ferrying personnel.

The 1409th operated from Metfield until the end of the war operating the B-24s, as well as C-47s and C-54s. The unit also used RAF Leuchars in Scotland as an advanced base.

On 4 March 1945, Metfield was strafed by a Ju-88 of the Luftwaffe, killing one man in the control tower. The aircraft was shot down and crashed just south of the base.

In May 1945, Metfield was closed and turned over to the RAF. It was subsequently abandoned, but remained in the hands of the Ministry of Defence.

Civil Use

Metfield was not used by the Air Ministry after World War II ended and for years it sat abandoned and empty. In 1964/65, the airfield and support buildings were sold to private individuals.

Metfield was returned to agricultrual use, however the site of the bomb dump explosion could be seen for many years as a water-filled lake.

When the lake was cleaned out, all types of discarded equipment was found, including several unexploded bombs. Indeed, ordnance that was tossed into the air during the bomb dump explosion has been found over the years in the fields surrounding Metfield. Pieces of metal from the exploded bombs has been found scattered over the area to the present day.

In the late 1960s, the main runways, taxiways and parking aprons were mostly torn up or turned into single lane agricultural roads.

Very little evidence of the airfield can be seen today only a few brick buildings, deteriorating Quonset (Nissen) huts, and some concrete roadways that were aircraft taxiways.

Group Patches of Units Assigned to Metfield

353 FG Emblem
491st BG Emblem

See also

References

  • Freeman, Roger A. (1978) Airfields of the Eighth: Then and Now. After the Battle ISBN 0900913096
  • Freeman, Roger A. (1991) The Mighty Eighth The Colour Record. Cassell & Co. ISBN 0-304-35708-1
  • 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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