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RAF Woodchurch

RAF Woodchurch

RAF Woodchurch was a World War II airfield in England, located a mile north of Woodchurch village in Kent.

During the war the United States Army Air Force Ninth Air Force 373d Fighter Group was stationed there with Republic P-47 Thunderbolt Fighters. Woodchurch airfield was also known as USAAF Station 419.

Overview

The USAAF Ninth Air Force required several temporary Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) along the channel coast prior to the June 1944 Normandy invasion to provide tactical air support for the ground forces landing in France. Woodchurch was originally planned to support light bombers and thereby would need a bomb store near the site. However, in a review of airfield building plans, this original requirement was dropped so Woodchurch was of similar specification to other ALGs in the district.

The creation of the two runways required the closing of minor country roads and the laying of approximately of metal wire Sommerfeld Track for the east/west runway (11-29) and for the main north/south (01-19). Construction started in January 1943 with a three month schedule. While most of the metal for runways appears to have been down by March it was several more weeks before all the specified works had been carried out to construct an operational airfield.

RAF Fighter Command Use

A trial occupation began in late July 1943 with the arrival of Nos. 231 and 400 Squadrons with Mustangs. These units used Woodchurch airfield for operational sorties until mid-October when, as with RAF fighter squadrons on other Kent ALGs, they withdrew to airfields with hardened runways or better drainage.

RAF No. 5003 Airfield Construction Squadron arrived at Woodchurch during the winter of 1943-44 with a mission to upgrade the airfield to receive a full USAAF fighter group by April. The perimeter track was extended and additional aircraft hardstands constructed. Runway intersections were reinforced, marshalling areas and some additional hardstands were built. Aircraft cover was provided by five Blister hangars.

USAAF Use

373rd Fighter Group

In the first week of April 1944, the 373rd Fighter Group arrived from Richmond AAF, Virginia. Operational fighter squadrons and fuselage codes were:

  • 410th Fighter Squadron (R3)
  • 411th Fighter Squadron (U9)
  • 412th Fighter Squadron (V5)

The 373d Fighter Group was part of the 303d Fighter Wing, XIX Tactical Air Command.

By early May some 70 P-47s were present. At this time US engineers extended runway 11-29 by using Pierced Steel Planking to the east across a minor road between New Street Farm and Stubbs Cross. The road was only closed when aircraft were taking off or landing.

The group entered combat on 8 May with a fighter sweep over Normandy. The usual mixture of escorts and fighter-homber work followed while the pilots of this organisation gained experience.

As with other Ninth Air Force P-47 units, once the invasion had taken place, support of the armies by ground-attack became their prime mission. There was some contact with enemy aircraft and on 7 June six were credited as destroyed in a dogfight over Normandy. All told, 373rd pilots shot down 30 enemy aircraft while operating from Woodchurch. Losses amounted to 15 P-47s missing in action.

Movement to France took place in late July and most of the personnel and aircraft had left for Tour-en-Bessin (ALG A-13) by the 31st.

Woodchurch did not miss out as a haven for disabled bombers. On June 29, a 458th Bomb Group Liberator landed without its nosewheel down, causing irrepairable damage to the aircraft and urgent work for the runway repair crew, and another ailing B-24 put down safely on 19 July.

Legacy

After the 373d moved to the Continent, the group struck railroads, hangars, boxcars, warehouses, and other objectives to prevent enemy reinforcements from reaching the front at St Lo, where the Allies broke through on 25 July 1944. The group attacked such targets as troops, gun emplacements, and armored vehicles to aid ground troops in the Falaise-Argentan area in August 1944.

During the Battle of the Bulge, Dec 1944-Jan 1945, the group concentrated on the destruction of bridges, marshalling yards, and highways. Flew armed reconnaissance missions to support ground operations in the Rhine Valley in March 1945, hitting airfields, motor transports, and other objectives.

The 373d Fighter Group received a DUC for a mission, 20 March 1945, that greatly facilitated the crossing of the Rhine by Allied ground forces. Without losing any planes, the group repeatedly dived through barrages of antiaircraft fire to bomb vital airfields east of the river. It also attacked rail lines and highways leading to the Rhine, hitting rolling stock, motor transports, and other objectives.

The 373d Fighter Group continued tactical air operations until 4 May 1945, eventually being stationed at Furth Airfield (ALG R-10), Germany. The group returned to Sioux Falls AAF South Dakota during July and August 1945, being inactivated on 7 November.

Civil Use

After the Americans moved to France, the airfield was derequisitioned in September, the RAF works unit. No. 5024 ACS, appeared in the following weeks to remove the Sommerfeld Track, the Americans having already lifted the re-usable Pierced Steel Planking for use on the continent.

The area was fully returned to agriculture by the following year.

See also

References

  • 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.
  • ArmyAirForces.com 373d Fighter Group http://www.armyairforces.com/dbgroups.asp?Group=194
  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present

External links

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