RAF Molesworth: Wikis

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Royal Air Force Station Molesworth
USAAF Station 107

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Patch 8thUSAAF.png United States Air Forces in Europe.png

Part of United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE)
Located near Molesworth, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom
Molesw-hellsangels.jpg
Aircraft and ground crew of Boeing B-17F-25-BO Fortress "Hell's Angels" (41-24577) of the 358th Bomb Squadron, 303d Bomb Group, RAF Molesworth. This was first aircraft to complete 25 combat missions in the 8th Air Force, on May 13, 1943. After completing 48 missions, the aircraft returned to the U.S. on January 20, 1944, for a publicity tour.[1][2]
Type Air Force Base
Coordinates 52°23′01.73″N 000°25′01.38″W / 52.3838139°N 0.41705°W / 52.3838139; -0.41705
Location code MX
Built 1940
In use 1940-1946, 1951-1959, 1986-Present
Current
owner
Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
Controlled by Royal Air Force (1939-1942)
United States Army Air Forces (1942-1945)
United States Air Force (1951-Present)
Garrison 423d Air Base Group (USAF)
Occupants RAF Bomber Command
Eighth Air Force
United States Air Forces In Europe
Battles/wars European Theatre of World War II
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945
RAF Molesworth is located in Cambridgeshire
RAF Molesworth, shown within Cambridgeshire

RAF Molesworth is a Royal Air Force station located near Molesworth, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom with a history dating back to 1917.

Its runway and flight line facilities were closed in 1973 and demolished to support ground-launched cruise missile operations in the early 1980s. It is now a non-flying facility under the control of the United States Air Force, and is one of three RAF bases in Cambridgeshire currently used by the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). Molesworth, along with RAF Alconbury and RAF Upwood are considered the "Tri-Base Area" due to their close geographic proximity and interdependency.

RAF Alconbury and RAF Molesworth are the last World War II-era Eighth Air Force bases in England that are still actively in use and controlled by the United States Air Force.

It was from Molesworth on 4 July 1942 that the first USAAF Eighth Air Force mission was flown over Nazi-occupied territory.

Contents

Units

Jas-emblem.jpg
423d Air Base Group.png

Molesworth is home to three Major Command (MAJCOM) branch sites, the United States European Command (USEUCOM);JIOCEUR Analytic Center (JAC), United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM); Intelligence and Knowledge Development Molesworth (IKD-M), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); Intelligence Fusion Centre (IFC) and is garrisoned by the United States Air Force 423rd Air Base Group (423 ABG), based at RAF Alconbury.

The role of the JAC is to process and analyze military information from a variety of sources for the benefit of the United States and NATO. Responsibility consists of eighty-three countries across Europe and the Middle East. The JAC reports to the Director of Intelligence (J2), Headquarters, United States European Command, in Stuttgart-Valhingen, Germany.

Molesworth employs over 750 personnel to include US and foreign military as well as US and British civilians. Because of past gaps in operations and demolishing of buildings and infrastructure, RAF Molesworth contains very limited support operations. As such, it relies solely upon the 423d ABG for all non-JAC related support functions like postal services, banking and telecommunications connectivity.

Historical overview

  • Bob Hope entertained base personnel on July 6, 1943.[3]
  • American journalist and news correspondent Walter Cronkite flew on a 303d Bombardment Group mission while reporting the war.[3]
  • American servicemen from RAF Molesworth married more English women during World War II than servicemen from any other American base in England.[3]
  • During the early 1980s, Molesworth was completely rebuilt. All of the World War II runways, taxiways, bomber hardstands, as well as a 9,000 ft jet runway laid down in the 1950s were removed. Crumbling buildings, mostly from the 1950s were also demolished and removed. The only surviving remnants of the World War II era are two T-2 hangars and one J-Type hangar on the former airfield. A cluster of wartime buildings, including Nissen Huts exist just east of the facility, at the intersection of the B660 and Brington Road at the edge of the town of Old Weston.[3] 52°22′49.68″N 000°23′37.97″W / 52.3804667°N 0.3938806°W / 52.3804667; -0.3938806
  • A monument to the 303d BG resides just inside the main entrance to the base and is accessible to the public.[3]

History

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World War I

The Royal Flying Corps selected a site for an airfield near the village of Old Weston in Cambridgeshire during World War I. The first flying unit to arrive at the base was 75 Squadron. It remained at this airfield until the end of the war. After the war, the airfield was abandoned. Some of the buildings were taken over by the surrounding farms with many of them still in use today.

World War II

RAAF/RAF use

At the start of World War II the Air Ministry selected the area as the site for what would become RAF Molesworth. The base was built in 1940 and 1941. The first unit, Royal Australian Air Force 460 Squadron was formed at the base on November 15, 1941 with Vickers Wellington IVs. 460 Squadron departed the field on January 4, 1942. RAF Bomber Command 159 squadron moved in shortly afterwards, however this unit did not remain long, moving to the Middle East on January 12.

USAAF use

Patch USAAF.png

Molesworth was one of the early Eighth Air Force stations assigned to the United States Army Air Force (USAAF). In February 1942, General Ira Eaker and four US staff members inspected Molesworth for possible American use, and during 1942 the facility was improved to Class A airfield standard, with all of its runways extended to American specifications for heavy 4-engined bombers. The main runway was lengthened to 2,000 yards and the number of hardstands increased to fifty. It was given USAAF designation as Station 107.

From 16 September 1943 – 18 June 1945, Molesworth served as headquarters for the 41st Combat Bombardment Wing of the 1st Bomb Division.

15th Bombardment Squadron

RDB-7B (RAF Douglas A-20C-1-DO Havoc Boston III), Serial AL672, shown as a staff communications aircraft for 8th AF HQ at RAF Bovingdon. This aircraft was originally belonged to 15th Bombardment Squadron (Light) and used on 4 July 1942 a low-level attack on Luftwaffe airfields in the Netherlands

The first USAAF tenant on Molesworth was the 15th Bombardment Squadron, arriving on June 9, 1942 from RAF Grafton Underwood. The squadron flew the Douglas Boston III (A-20) light bomber. The 15th was originally part of the 27th Bombardment Group (Light), assigned to Fifth Air Force in the Philippine Islands. However the group's planes (A-24s), did not arrive by December 7, 1941, and due to the deteriorating situation in the Philippines after the Japanese invasion, they were diverted to Australia. Surviving members of the group reformed into a combat unit in Australia and fought in the Dutch East Indies and New Guinea Campaigns.

When the 27th Bombardment Group was inactivated and transferred back to the United States for reequipping, the surviving members of the group were first transferred back to the United States, then to the UK in May where they received their Bostons from No. 226 Squadron RAF. The men and aircraft were organized and formed as the 15th Bomb Squadron, the 15th LBS having been a part of the 27th while in training during 1940/41 before being inactivated prior to the groups deployment to the Philippines. With the pilots having had extensive combat experience against the Japanese in the Pacific War, these airmen's mission was to train with their RAF counterparts in preparation for the upcoming Eighth Air Force strategic bombing campaign against the Germans.

After a few weeks of familiarization training with the new aircraft, on July 4, 1942, six American crews from the 15th Bomb Squadron joined with six RAF crews from RAF Swanton Morley for a low-level attack on Luftwaffe airfields in the Netherlands, becoming the first USAAF unit to bomb targets in Europe. The 4th of July raid had been specifically ordered by General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold and approved by President Roosevelt. Arnold believed that the 4th of July would be an ideal day for the USAAF to open its strategic bombing campaign against the Nazis, but General Carl Spaatz did not have any of his heavy Eighth Air Force bomb groups ready for operational missions. Two of the 15th's planes did not return from the mission, along with one RAF aircraft. The squadron commander, Capt. Charles Kegelman, plane was shot up badly and almost did not return.

Spaatz considered the mission a "stunt" triggered by pressure in the American press who believed the people of both the United States and Great Britain needed a psychological boost. However, Kegleman was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and its British equivalent for his valor on that Fourth of July mission—the first Eighth Air Force airman to receive the nation's second highest combat decoration.

The 15th flew most of its missions from Molesworth in its Bostons, and did not receive USAAF Douglas A-20 Havoc aircraft until 5 September. The squadron was transferred to RAF Podington until September 15 where it flew a few missions before being transferred to Twelfth Air Force for support of Allied landings in North Africa on October 15, 1942.

303d Bombardment Group

303-bg.jpg
B-17G-25-DL Fortress 42-38050 Thunderbird, 359th BS.
Pre-mission briefing, 9 Oct 1944 prior to 303d Bomb Group raid on Anklam, Germany to attack Arado aircraft component plant.

With the departure of the 15th Bomb Squadron, Molesworth was occupied by the B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 358th Bombardment Squadron, the first of four squadrons that would comprise the 303d Bombardment Group. The 303d would remain at Molesworth until shortly after V-E Day in late May 1945.

The 303d Bombardment Group consisted of the following squadrons:

  • 358th Bombardment (Code VK)
  • 359th Bombardment (Code BN)
  • 360th Bombardment (Code PU)
  • 427th Bombardment (Code GN)

The 358th flew the first mission for the group on November 17, 1942. The group would become one of the legendary units of the Eighth Air Force. Initially missions were conducted against targets such as aerodromes, railways, and submarine pens in France until 1943, then flying missions into Germany itself.

The 303d took part in the first penetration into Germany by heavy bombers of Eighth Air Force by striking the U-boat yard at Wilhelmshaven on January 27, 1943 then attacked other targets such as the ball-bearing plants at Schweinfurt, shipbuilding yards at Bremen, a synthetic rubber plant at Huls, an aircraft engine factory at Hamburg, industrial areas of Frankfurt, an aerodrome at Villacoublay, and a marshalling yard at Le Mans.

The 303d received a Distinguished Unit Citation for an operation on January 11, 1944 when, in spite of continuous attacks by enemy fighters in weather that prevented effective fighter cover from reaching the group, it successfully struck an aircraft assembly plant at Oschersleben.

The group attacked gun emplacements and bridges in the Pas de Calais area during the invasion of Normandy in June 1944; bombed enemy troops to support the breakthrough at St Lo in July 1944. It struck airfields, oil depots, and other targets during the Battle of the Bulge, and bombed military installations in the Wesel area to aid the Allied assault across the Rhine in March 1945.

The last mission for the 303d was flown on April 25, 1945 when it attacked an armament works in Pilsen. During its combat tour the group flew 364 missions comprising 10,271 sorties, dropped 26,346 tons of bombs and shot down 378 enemy aircraft with another 104 probables. The group also saw 817 of its men killed in action with another 754 becoming prisoners of war.

On May 31, 1945, the 303d Bomb Group left Molesworth, moving to Casablanca, French Morocco.

Wulf Hound

On 12 December 1942, a 303d B-17F named Wulf Hound (41-24585) became the first B-17 to be captured intact by the Luftwaffe.[4][5].

During a raid on the marshalling yards in Rouen-Sotterville, Wulf Hound was damaged and began losing altitude. Over the Netherlands it was intercepted by a Messerschmitt Bf 110. Deciding that their only chance for survival was surrender, the pilot lowered the wheels on the bomber and it was escorted to Leeuwarden airfield. The B-17 was subsequently studied intensely by the Germans who used this information to refine their tactics for attacking B-17 bomber formations. After flight testing at Rechlin, it was used for demonstration visits to Luftwaffe Jagdgruppen as DL+XC, before being assigned to I./KG200 in September 1943 as A3+AE.[5]

The missions of I/K.G.200 are still largely unknown and not much is written about this unit. One of their better-known missions took place in the spring of 1944 in the Western desert (long after Rommel had been run out of Africa) and involved the use of several captured B-17s and other Allied aircraft for the construction and maintenance of a series of secret airstrips and fuel dumps. A captured Fortress was used to parachute agents into Jordan in October 1944. In Luftwaffe service, the B-17 was assigned the cover designation of "Dornier Do 200".[5]

The final fate of Wulf Hound is unknown.

Legacy

The 303d Bomb Group was inactivated in Morocco on July 23, 1945. Personnel demobilised and the B-17 aircraft sent to storage.

During the Cold War, the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command 303d Bombardment Wing, Medium flew Boeing B-29 "Superfortresses" and later Boeing B-47 "Stratojet" from Davis-Monthan AFB Arizona beginning in 1951. The wing was bestowed the honours and history of the USAAF 303d Bombardment Group in 1952. The wing was inactivated in 1964 with the phaseout of the B-47.

In the late 1980s, the USAFE 303d Tactical Missile Wing was reactivated at Molesworth with BGM-109G Gryphon Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMs). The GLCM era however, was short-lived as the wing was discontinued and deactivated in 1989.

The Cold War

RAF Use

On July 1, 1945 the Americans turned the station back to the RAF, who quickly chose it to be a training base for their new jet aircraft. The first jet unit, 1335 Conversion Unit, arrived on July 27, flying Gloster Meteor IIIs. It would be joined over the next year by several transient aircraft detachments and units.

On October 10, 1946, 1335 Conversion Unit moved from RAF Molesworth. The base was then inactivated and placed in a 'care and maintenance' status.

USAF Use

Usaf roundel.png
RAF Molesworth circa early to mid 1960s. With the arrival of the Cold War 582d Resupply Group in 1953, the base was modernised with the construction of a 9'000 ft jet runway and permanent facilities, overlaid over the World War II Eighth Air Force airfield. This configuration existed until about 1980.
HU-16 Albatrosses of the 582d Air Resupply Group - 25 Oct 1955

As the Cold War increased in intensity, the US Air Force began looking to expand in Western Europe. RAF Molesworth was chosen in 1951 to become home to the 582d Air Resupply Group. The station was enlarged with main runway extensions and modern facilities. After much runway work by the 801st Engineer Battalion, the group moved from Great Falls, Montana to the base in February 1954.

582d Air Resupply Group

582arw-emblem.jpg

In September 1953, after the Korean Armistice was signed that ended active conflict on the Korean peninsula the existing USAF Air Supply Wings were reduced to air resupply groups. The groups were approximately one-half the size of the former wings and consisted of two squadrons—one flying squadron and one support squadron—as compared to six squadrons in each wing before the reorganization. The unit was equipped with twelve B-29s, four Grumman HU-16 Albatross, Amphibians, three C-119 Flying Boxcars (able to use RATO gear) and a C-47.

Although the unit was identified as an Air Resupply Group, the unit's name was deliberately misleading, as the mission of the 582d was support of special operations over Soviet occupied territory.

The 582d was assigned directly to Third Air Force and provided the bulk of its air support to the Army 10th Special Forces Group, which had been transferred in total from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Bad Tölz, West Germany. For the next two and one-half years, the 582d worked closely with the 10th Group providing airdrop, resupply, and airland support with its assigned B-29 and C-119 aircraft.

The versatile SA-16 was utilized for amphibious missions, including night water-infiltration/exfiltration operations. Assigned SA-16s were also tasked to fly classified courier missions throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East and southern Europe.

On October 25, 1956 the 582d was redesignated the 42d Troop Carrier Squadron. The 42d flew HU-16s, C-47s, C-119s and C-54 Douglas Skymaster cargo transport aircraft from Molesworth until May 3, 1957 when it moved 13 miles up the road to RAF Alconbury. However the squadron had a short life at Alconbury and was deactivated on December 8, 1957. The C-54s and C-47s were sent to Rhein-Main Air Base, West Germany, and the C-119s were sent to the 322nd Air Division at Evreux-Fauville Air Base, France.

Reserve status

With the departure of the 42d Troop Carrier Squadron, Molesworth was put into a standby status, with the occasional aircraft using the base. In April 1959, with the closing of the active runway at RAF Burtonwood, WB-50Ds of the 53d Weather Reconnaissance Squadron used the runway at Molesworth, although the unit was officially assigned to RAF Alconbury. The squadron was reassigned to RAF Mildenhall in August. Base personnel was reduced to a small maintenance staff and for the next twenty years the facility was in reserve status with upkeep provided by Alconbury.

In 1973 the airfield was officially inactivated. The only remaining structures on the station were a small arms firing range, used by USAF personnel for target practice, a compound for surplus and obsolete USAF vehicles manned by civilian USAF employees, a derelict watchtower on the western perimeter of the base, and a warehouse. The base was unfenced and openly accessible to all. Local farmers grazed sheep on wired-off sections where the runway had formerly been, a solitary pest controller known locally as John the Rabbit-Catcher lived in a caravan just outside the former site of the north-west gate, and local people practised for their driving tests on the remaining concrete road surfaces.

Molesworth did serve as an American education and housing centre, offering military family housing for personnel assigned to RAF Alconbury, along with an elementary and junior high/high school offering grades 1 - 6 and 7 - 10 respectively, for dependents of servicemen and women from nearby bases including RAF Chicksands, RAF Chelveston and RAF Alconbury.

303d Tactical Missile Wing

303dtmw.jpg
RAF Molesworth GLCM bunkers in 1989.

In early 1980, RAF Molesworth was chosen to become a base for the US Air Force's mobile nuclear armed Ground Launched Cruise Missiles or GLCMs (although the majority of GLCMs were deployed at RAF Greenham Common).

During the early 1980s, the Ministry of Defence completely rebuilt Molesworth. All of the World War II runways, taxiways, bomber hardstands, as well as a 9,000 ft jet runway laid down in the 1950s were removed. Crumbling buildings, mostly from the 1950s were also demolished and removed. In its place an infrastructure to accommodate nuclear missiles (storage bunkers, launch tower, machine guns pits, and such) was built.

On December 12, 1986 the 303d Tactical Missile Wing was activated. However, the missiles and the wing did not stay long; the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987 which led to the removal of all nuclear missiles from the base by October 1988. The 303d TMW deactivated on January 30, 1989.

The infrastructure from the 303d TMW is still intact and offers a unique reminder of the Cold War.

Anti-nuclear protests

The decision in 1981 to base 64 GLCMs at Molesworth made the base a focus of protest. On December 28, 1981, members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation on a pilgrimage from Iona Abbey to Canterbury Cathedral established a Peace Camp at the south-east gate of the base for the purpose of permanent witness and protest against the planned deployment. Unlike its forerunner and inspiration Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, Molesworth People's Peace Camp included men as well as women. The Christian (particularly Quaker) presence at the Camp remained constant throughout its existence, and was soon supplemented by people of many other faiths (particularly neo-paganism) and of none, and by people of various leftist and counter-cultural persuasions. The camp became a link in a Europe-wide network of centres for non-violent direct action in opposition to NATO's plans to deploy Pershing II and GLCM missiles. In spite of deliberately provocative activity by camp residents, including numerous trespasses onto the base, there was little in the way of direct confrontation between protesters and the very few military service personnel who used the base during the first three years of its existence.

In the summer of 1983, the original Peace Camp's small collection of caravans and buses was evicted from the land adjoining RAF Molesworth's south-east gate. Its small wood-framed multi-faith peace chapel, Eirene (Greek for "Peace"), was demolished. A small band of determined and hardy protesters remained there in defiance of the eviction order, living in tents and hand-made temporary structures. A new Eirene was built from planks and polythene sheeting.

The evicted vehicles relocated on a bridleway to the west of the base. It turned out that not only was this bridleway the border between Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, but the border actually crossed from one side of the track to the other halfway along its length, right in the middle of the new site. This confused the issue of legal ownership so that no attempt was ever made to evict the protesters there.

One of the protesters who moved to the new site, an ex-RAF serviceman named Chris Noone, put in many months of hard physical labour to build a large rockery at the original site using the rubble from the ripped-up runway. He had been present at the British nuclear tests at Christmas Island in the 1950s and had suffered from radiation sickness for 15 years. This place of reflection and memory became known as "Peace Corner". An American protester added to it with a memorial to US military personnel who fell victim to the USAF's indiscriminate use of the toxic Agent Orange defoliant in Vietnam.

In the autumn of 1983, protesters planted a crop of winter wheat inside the disused base for the benefit of those starving in Ethiopia. This was several months before Michael Buerk's historic broadcasts broke the story to the wider world. At the same time, a much more solid and permanent peace chapel, also called Eirene, was built just inside the base perimeter, next to the wheat crop, again using rubble from the base.

In August 1984, The Molesworth Green Gathering took place inside the base. As an act of defiance of NATO nuclear policy, a radical section of the British Green movement decided to conscientiously break the law of trespass and peacefully occupied the south-east part of the interior of the disused base. A weeks-long gathering, more festival than conference, developed first into The Green Village, then into Rainbow Fields Village after the arrival of the Peace Convoy following its eviction from Nostell Priory in Yorkshire. By January 1985 the population of the village rose to more than 200, including a Brahman bull called Dharma Raj.

On February 6, 1985, 1500 police and troops were deployed to the site to secure the base for the MOD. This was the single largest mobilisation of police and troops since the war. For the Royal Engineers it was their largest operation since the bridging of The Rhine in 1944.

Following the eviction of Rainbow Village, Molesworth was the focus of large anti-nuclear protests at Easter 1985 and February 1986, during one of which Bruce Kent, one of the leaders of CND, symbolically attempted to cut through the fence in full view of the police. A dedicated protest presence remained outside the base well into the 1990s observing and recording the arrival of Cruise Missiles and helping to organise Cruise Watch. The last permanent residents of Molesworth Peace Camp were Veronica Dignam (An earlier resident of Alconbury Peace Camp and one of the Alconbury 9) and her mother Margaret Dignam.

Joint Analysis Center

On 11 January 1990 the RAF announced new construction would begin later that year to house the US European Command's new intelligence analysis centre. This facility would become known as the Joint Analysis Center (JAC). The original name of the Joint Analysis Center was supposed to be Joint Intelligence Center. Then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher objected to the name and it was changed.

With the end of the Cold War, the JAC found it necessary to redefine itself in a new era. During the 1990s and into the 21st Century the JAC has provided intelligence support for US and NATO missions in the Middle East and the Balkans while also providing global assistance in the War on Terrorism.

See also

References

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  1. ^ Bishop, Cliff T. (1986). Fortresses of the Big Triangle First, East Anglia Books. ISBN 1-869987-00-4, pp.160, 236.
  2. ^ "Hells Angels vs. Memphis Belle, Historical Information" (PDF). 303rd Bomb Group Association. http://www.303rdbg.com/missionreports/ha-vs-mb.pdf. Retrieved 11 August 2008.  
  3. ^ a b c d e Smith, John M.. Airfield Focus 40: Molesworth. GMS Enterprises. ISBN 1-870384-77-6.  
  4. ^ Captured B-17s
  5. ^ a b c Stabfer, Hans-Heiri (1988). Strangers in a Strange Land. Squadron Signal Publications.  
  • Endicott, Judy G. (1999) Active Air Force wings as of 1 October 1995; USAF active flying, space, and missile squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. CD-ROM.
  • Freeman, Roger A. (1978) Airfields of the Eighth: Then and Now. After the Battle ISBN 0900913096
  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0912799129.
  • Rogers, Brian (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.
  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present

External links


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