RAF North Witham: Wikis

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Royal Air Force Station North Witham
USAAF Station AAF-479

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Patch9thusaaf.png

Located Near North Witham, Lincolnshire, England
NorthWitham-19mar44.jpg
North Wirtham airfield, 19 March 1944. Note the cluster of hangars in the technical site, to the northwest of the airfield, and the dispersed T-2 hangar, on the southeast side of the airfield.
Type Military airfield
Coordinates 52°47′35″N 000°35′53″W / 52.79306°N 0.59806°W / 52.79306; -0.59806Coordinates: 52°47′35″N 000°35′53″W / 52.79306°N 0.59806°W / 52.79306; -0.59806
Location code NW
Built 1942
In use 1943-1945
Controlled by United States Army Air Forces
Royal Air Force
Garrison Ninth Air Force
RAF Maintenance Command
Occupants 1st Tactical Air Depot
IX Troop Carrier Pathfinder Group (Provisional)
Battles/wars European Theatre of World War II
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945
RAF North Witham is located in Lincolnshire
RAF North Witham, shown within Lincolnshire

RAF Station North Witham is a former World War II airfield in Lincolnshire, England. The airfield is located in Twyford Wood, approximately 19 miles (31 km) east-southeast of Cotgrave; about 104 miles (167 km) north-northwest of London

Opened in 1943, it was used by both the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force. During the war it was used primarily as a transport airfield. After the war it was closed in late 1945.

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

Contents

Overview

North Witham was designed as a bomber airfield as part of the RAF's rapid expansion during World War II in the Air Ministry No. 7 Group area. Construction commenced late in 1942 with J. Mowlem & Co Ltd as main contractors. The acerage used for the airfield proper necessitated the closing of a minor road to Swayfield village.

The airfield was built to the Class A airfield standard set by the British Air Ministry, 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 runways were the optimum 6,000 ft main and 4,200ft secondaries, aligned 02/20, 06/24 and 12/30 respectively. The 50 hardstands were all loop type 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; elife 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 aircraft airworthy (see 1st Tactical Air Depot below) and to repair aircraft severely damaged in combat. The Ammunition dump was located on the northeast 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 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.

North Witham opened officially on 15 December 1943, the first RAF personnel having arrived the day before.

USAAF use

Ramsbury was known as USAAF Station AAF-479 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 "NW".

The first American personnel arrived on 31 December 1943, having been accommodated at the nearby RAF Cottesmore. Domestic accommodations had Nissen huts for 2,324 persons but in addition to this several hundred Gls had to be accommodated in tents.

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1st Tactical Air Depot

North Witham was allocated to the USAAF Troop Carrier Command in August 1943, although the airfield was not fully completed until late in the year when it had become the preferred site for the 1st Tactical Air Depot. Its immediate task was to distribute transport aircraft and the means of maintaining them to operational groups of the USAAF. At this time that meant handling the type known by its maker, Douglas, as the DC-3, to the RAF as the Dakota and to the USAAF as the C-47, of which IX Troop Carrier Command (TCC) had 1,410 at peak inventory.

As at other airfields where Tactical Air Depots were established. the major organisations were two Air Depot Groups (ADGs), each having a Depot Repair Squadron and a Depot Supply Squadron, a Quartermaster Truck Company. a Quartermaster Supply Platoon and an Ordnance Medium Maintenance Company.

There were also specialist units present serving both ADGs and the usual Military Police Company and Station Complement Squadron to guard and run the airfield, The two ADGs at North Witham were the 29th and 33rd (the 85th ADG was present until February 1944) and, apart from their direct control of units on the airfield, they were responsible for seven Service Groups divided into A and B teams, each based with and serving one of the 14 Troop Carrier Groups in the IX TCC.

When IX TCC was transferred from the Ninth Air Force to the First Allied Airborne Army control on 1 September 1944, the North Witham organisation's title was changed to IX Troop Carrier Service Wing (Provisional) although activities continued much as before. As North Witham had only two T-2 hangars, US army engineers erected six Butler combat hangars to give additional coveted shelter for engineering work. Additional workshops were also erected on the technical site.

IX Troop Carrier Pathfinder Group (Provisional)

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the Day. `Full victory-nothing else' to paratroopers in England, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the invasion of the continent of Europe. Note the tents.

In March 1944, the Command Pathfinder School of the U.S. IX Troop Carrier Command, moved in from a nucleus formed at from RAF Cottesmore to train air crews and pathfinder paratroopers. The latter would act as scouts, provide with radio communication, including beacons, ahead of a main drop of parachute troops. At this stage, much of the living accommodation was under canvas.

IX Troop Carrier Command groups selected three crews each for training, and trained on school C-47s fitted with "Gee" radar triangulation navigational equipment and a limited number of SCR-717-C search radar sets. "Rebecca" (AN/APN-2) interrogators were also installed to query "Eureka" (ANIPPN-l) transponders, the ground set which was used to mark the landing or dropping zones during an airborne operation, the combination Rebecca/Eureka transponding radar system used as a homing beacon. The pathfinder air crews worked with teams drawn from paratroop regiments, the task being to locate a given dropping point with a combination of Gee and SCR-717-C, drop the paratroops who would then set up Eureka sets and visual aids on the ground to guide in the main airborne force to within an optimum visual range for an accurate delivery.

It was IX TCC Pathfinder School C-47s that led the air invasion forces on 5 June 1944, when the pathfinders of US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions took off for Normandy, leading the American airborne landings in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord.

At 21:30 hours on 5 June 1944 the first of seven serials (six of three aircraft and one of two) with about 300 pathfinders were dispatched from North Witham for the French Cotentin Peninsula, in 20 C-47 aircraft. They began to drop at 00:15 on June 6, to prepare the drop zones for the follow-on airborne parachute divisions. They were the first US troops on the ground on D-Day. However, their aircraft were scattered by low clouds and anti-aircraft fire. Many never found their assigned landing zones. Some of the landing zones were too heavily defended, some were flooded. One of the pathfinder C-47s for the 101st Airborne was forced to ditch en route to Normandy.

In August 1944, twelve Pathfinder C-47s were detached to operate from Marcigliano airfield, north of Rome, for Operation "Dragoon". Just prior to Operation "Market", the Pathfinder School, re-designated the IX Troop Carrier Pathfinder Group (Provisional), moved from North Witham to RAF Chalgrove between 10/14 September due to an expansion of the C-47/C-53 Air depot.

Training of Polish airborne troops followed but by December, the war had moved on and the Air Depot Group began to move to France.

USAAF C-47 maintenance repair activities continued at North Witham until May 1945, albeit on a reducing scale.

RAF Maintenance Command use

On 1 June 1945 the station was handed over to No. 40 Group, RAF Maintenance Command.

Under RAF control, the airfield became a bomb dump under 100 Maintenance Unit. There had been bomb dumps in fields and roadsides all round the country especially in a county like Lincolnshire, full of RAF Bomber Command air stations. These were decommissioned as quickly as possible and the bombs brought to more secure places to await the slower process of decommissioning the bombs themselves. 100 MU had been at nearby RAF South Witham since March 1942 and as operational demand died off, the unit expanded from Morkery Wood onto the runways of North Witham.

Civil use

The site was originally partially wooded and some of this remained to the northeast of the runways throughout the military period but after closure, the Forestry Commission planted most of the airfield with oak (Quercus robur) and conifers. Part of it is now a reserve for butterflies and the concrete is slowly being broken up and removed. Ghostly outlines of large numbers of loop dispersal hardstands can be seen in aerial photography, with the perimeter track being reduced to a single lane road. The runway pattern can clearly be seen, some still remaining at full width, other parts being now at half width or less. All of the remaining runway sections are in a very deteriorated condition.

However, the southern end of the airfield is something of an industrial estate with large numbers of metal silos and highway trailers being parked. In addition, there appears to be a very large automobile graveyard where C-47s and CG-4 Waco Gliders once were parked prior to the invasion of continental Europe.

The airfield's proximity to a junction of the A1 road means that development is pressing against the wood from the north-west. Nonetheless the derelict control tower remains and on a warm summer's day, on the runway, in the quiet of the trees, it is a very atmospheric place.

See also

(US 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment) also flew from RAF Folkingham.

References

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

External links


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