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Royal Air Force Station Rivenhall
USAAF Station AAF-168

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Patch9thusaaf.png

Located Near Silver End, Essex, England
Rivenhall-04-1944.jpg
Rivenhall airfield photographed in April 1944 with the B-26 Marauders of the 397th Bombardment Group parked on the grass, while the P-51 Mustangs of the 363d Fighter Group still on the dispersal loops.
Type Military airfield
Coordinates 51°51′19″N 000°38′23″E / 51.85528°N 0.63972°E / 51.85528; 0.63972
Location code RL
Built 1943
In use 1944-1946
Controlled by United States Army Air Forces
Royal Air Force
Garrison Ninth Air Force
RAF Bomber Command
Occupants 363d Fighter Group
397th Bombardment Group
Nos. 295, 570 Squadrons
Battles/wars European Theatre of World War II
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945
RAF Rivenhall is located in Essex
RAF Rivenhall, shown within Essex
Rivenhall airfield headquarters site, 1944.
North American P-51B-5 Mustang, Serial 43-6830 of the 382d Fighter Squadron.
Martin B-26C-45-MO Marauder Serial 42-107832 of the 598th Bomb Squadron.
Martin B-26B-55-MA Marauder Serial 42-96142 of the 596th Bombardment Squadron.

RAF Station Rivenhall is a former World War II airfield in Essex, England. The airfield is located approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) south-southeast of Braintree; about 40 miles (64 km) northeast 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 primarily as a combat airfield with various fighter and bomber units. After the war it was closed in 1946 and kept in reserve until 1956.

Today the remains of the airfield are located on private property with the northern half being turned into a quarry.

Contents

Overview

Construction was begun in early 1943 with the runways, perimeter and hard standings being built by Messrs W. & C. French and the buildings by Bovis Limited. Building progress was slow during the autumn and winter of 1943, so much so that much of the accommodation and support installations were uncompleted when the first units of the USAAF arrived. The airfield, like others in the grouping, had first been allocated to the Eighth Air Force for heavy bomber use and eventually re-assigned to the 3rd Bombardment Wing which became the nucleus of IX Bomber Command.

The airfield was built to the Class A airfield standard consisting of three runways of 6,000 ft (10/28), 4,200 ft (04/22), and 4,200 ft (16/34). 51 "Loop" type 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 mostly on the south side of the airfield. 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 and bombsite storage; 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, also on the south side of the airfield, was connected to the ground station and airfield consisted of at least two T-2 type hangars and various organizational, component and field maintenance shops along with the crew chiefs and other personnel necessary to keep the aircraft airworthy and to quickly repair light and moderate battle damage. Aircraft severely damaged in combat were sent to repair depots for major structural repair. The Ammunition dump was located on the north side of the airfield, outside of the perimeter track surrounded by large dirt mounds and concrete storage pens for storing the aerial bombs and the other munitions required by the combat aircraft.

Various domestic accommodation sites were constructed dispersed away from the airfield on the south side, 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 2,594 personnel, including communal and a sick quarters.

USAAF Use

Rivenhall was known as USAAF Station AAF-168 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 "RL".

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363d Fighter Group

On 22 January 1944, a squadron of the 363d Fighter Group arrived from RAF Keevil where it had been awaiting equipment. The group had been selected as the third in the European Theatere to be equipped with the new North American P-51B Mustang. The group consisted of the following operational squadrons:

The first of its squadrons to arrive at Rivenhall, the 382nd, received Mustangs with which to begin training two days later. The other two squadrons of the group, the 380th and 381st, had arrived by the end of the first week of February.

Many of the Mustangs had already seen service with the 354th Fighter Group at RAF Boxted, having been withdrawn for modification and re-issued. The early model Mustangs had been employed in a tactical fighter reconnaissance role by the RAF and USAAF, and the same task was planned for the new P-51B. However, its exceptional endurance and good performance made the type ideal for long-range bomber escort duties which was the pressing need of the USAAF in Britain at this time.

Bad weather caused the 363rd FG's first combat mission to be abandoned, but this was achieved two days later on 24 February when 24 P-51Bs took off from Rivenhall for Belgium on bomber support. Thereafter, there was no gentle introduction to operations for the remainder of the Rivenhall pilots: this inexperienced organisation had some painful lessons ahead.

On 4 March, while supporting a raid over Germany, the group was surprised by an experienced Luftwaffe unit. This was probably the Luftwaffe's most successful interception of P-51s and 11 Mustangs failed to return to Rivenhall.

The 363rd continued to provide escort for Eighth Air Force heavy bombers, but prepared to go over to fighter-bomber work. This included dive-bombing and several practice sorties were dispatched to dive-bomb targets in the Stour estuary. On two occasions, the Mustangs involved broke up attempting to pull out of the dive which led to re-examination of the technique employed.

During its stay at Rivenhall the 363rd flew 20 missions, had 16 aircraft missing in action, and was credited with shooting down 13 of the enemy. On 14 April 1944 as part of a general movement of Ninth Air Force fighter units in the Colchester area to the advanced landing grounds, the 363rd moved to RAF Staplehurst. The actual movement of all elements had begun two days previously.

397th Bombardment Group

On the day following the departure of the 363d, the first Martin B-26 Marauders of the 397th Bombardment Group arrived from RAF Gosfield. The group consisted of the following operational squadrons:

  • 596th Bombardment Squadron (X2)
  • 597th Bombardment Squadron (9F)
  • 598th Bombardment Squadron (U2)
  • 599th Bombardment Squadron (6B)

The group's identification marking was a yellow diagonal band across both sides of the vertical tailplane.

Over the next few days, more than 60 'bare metal' B-26s were to be seen on the Rivenhall hardstands. Although fresh from the training grounds in south-eastern United States, and having only reached the UK early in April. the 347th undertook its first combat mission on 20 April: an attack on a Pas de Calais V-1 site.

During its tenure of Rivenhall the 397th undertook 56 bombing missions, 32 of them attacks on bridges. Other targets were enemy airficlds, rail junctions, fuel and ammunition stores, V-weapon sites and various military installations in France and the Low Countries. During these missions a total of 16 B-26s were missing in action and several others wrecked in crash-landings at the base.

Early in August, officially on the 5th, the 397th transferred from Rivenhall to RAF Hurn in Hampshire, to give the Marauders a better radius of action as the break-out of the Allied forces from the Normandy beachhead meant that potential targets were receding.

RAF Bomber Command Use

In early October, Short Stirlings of the RAF's No. 295 Squadron took up residence with most of its operations consisting of supply drops to Norwegian resistance forces and similar activities over Holland and Denmark. On 24 March 1945, the unit took part in Operation Varsity, the crossing of the Rhine.

Early in April another Stirling squadron arrived. No. 570, which joined No. 295 in night operations in support of resistance forces in occupied countries. Both squadrons were disbanded at Rivenhall in January 1946 whereupon the station was held on a care and maintenance basis.

Rivenhall continued to be one of the busiest airfields in the UK until January 1946 when its squadrons moved to RAF Shepherds Grove, situated 12 miles northeast of Bury St. Edmunds.

After its usefulness as a flying airfield ended, Rivenhall was used to house Polish servicemen released from PoW camps who did not want to return to their homeland.

Civil Use

Upon its release from military use, in June 1956, Marconi leased part of the airfield and within ten years had taken over most of the surviving buildings. Today, the northern half of the former airfield has been turned into a quarry, with the vast majority of the land in the northwest of the airfield being excavated.

The perimeter track of the airfield has been reduced to a single track agricultural road, however some of the loop hardstands still remain in the southwestern quadrant of the field. All three runways either have been quarried, or substantially reduced in width, with agriculture fields taking over the grass areas of the former airfield. A very small portion of the 28 end of the main runway still exists at full width. Both T-2 hangars remain, along with a scattering of buildings. An automobile salvage yard has taken over some of the hardstands in the east end of the airfield, where once C-47s and gliders were stored.

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.
  • [1] USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present

External links


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