Then the Americans Arrived, British Airfields During the 1940s

While waiting for a delayed mission, crew members were taking it easy when a jeep rolled up and a photographer took this picture. The next day the photo was posted on the main bulletin board with a sign- " Improper Crew Behavior while awaiting a delayed mission!"

As mans first powered flight only took place on December 17th 1903, by the Wright Brothers in North Carolina, airfields prior to WWI were few and far between. WWI itself did change this, however.

This war truly cemented flight as an integral part of a fighting force, and as such nations rapidly expanded their infrastructure to operate them, Britain included.

After WWI had ended, there were over 300 airfields of all types in Britain, a number reduced to just 30 soon after.  The need for new airfields wouldn’t arrive until the 1930s, when Europe was once again facing war.

At this time, it was decided to construct more permanent airfields, ones that would house bomber forces and defensive fighter squadrons. These were often built with a focus on quality, much to the dismay of many people who thought these large establishments were intrusive in the countryside. In an attempt to alleviate this by making them slightly more visually appealing, many of the larger buildings were built in a neo-Georgian style.

Aerial photograph of Thruxton Airfield, England.
Aerial photograph of Thruxton Airfield, England.

By 1939 the number of permanent airfields built totalled 100. With war around the corner, it was clear many more aircraft, and therefore many more airfields, were needed. With time of the essence, no longer would these airfields be built to pre-war standards, which were costly, slow to make, and used too much manpower and materials.

These newer airfields were much more basic, and were built to a rather cookie-cutter design, consisting of an A-shape runway layout, and simple buildings like Nissen huts. These pop up airfields weren’t expected to last after the war.

To reduce the affect of bombing, these airfields were situated all around the country.

After France fell to Germany in June of 1940, Britain became the last bastion of defence against the Third Reich. From this point onwards, if any Allied aircraft were to fly over Europe, they had to leave from Britain. With the US’s entry into the war in 1941, they also used these airfields to operate their heavy bombers from. Runways had to be lengthened and infrastructure increased to support these heavy bombers and their crews.

These airfields were critical throughout the war, from defending against waves of German aircraft in the Battle of Britain, launching the mass bombing raids that helped cripple Germany from the inside, and as the last friendly soil paratroopers stood on before flying to Normandy for D-Day.

As they were never meant to last, most of these historic, once bustling sites have now returned to agricultural use. Many still have leftover remains and roads, some with whole runways still left, but a few have disappeared entirely, with just a scar in ground when viewed from the air now the only indication of their existence.

A few key airfields continued operation past WWII, as the new threats of the Cold War emerged. Newer, more complex aircraft meant these airfields needed to be adapted to accommodate them, plus offer safe storage for nuclear weapons.

Here is a compilation of these important locations in their heyday.

A P-51 Mustang (5Q-H, serial number 44-14070) of the 339th Fighter Group in snow at Bassingbourn, January 1945.
A P-51 Mustang (5Q-H, serial number 44-14070) of the 339th Fighter Group in snow at Bassingbourn, January 1945.

 

A Spitfire LF IX of No 313 Squadron undergoing an oil change at Appledram ALG (advanced landing ground), near Tangmere, 19 April 1944
A Spitfire LF IX of No 313 Squadron undergoing an oil change at Appledram ALG (advanced landing ground), near Tangmere, 19 April 1944

 

A Women’s Royal Naval Service radio mechanic walks from a Fairey Barracuda torpedo bomber at RNAS Lee-on-Solent, September 1943.
A Women’s Royal Naval Service radio mechanic walks from a Fairey Barracuda torpedo bomber at RNAS Lee-on-Solent, September 1943.

 

Aerial photograph of Bentwaters (Butley) airfield, looking east, 30 December 1943. This airfield would later be the location of the famous Rendlesham Forest UFO incident in 1980.
Aerial photograph of Bentwaters (Butley) airfield, looking east, 30 December 1943. This airfield would later be the location of the famous Rendlesham Forest UFO incident in 1980.

 

Aerial photograph of RAF Aldermaston oriented north. The bomb dump is on the east side of the airfield 19 August 1943.
Aerial photograph of RAF Aldermaston oriented north. The bomb dump is on the east side of the airfield 19 August 1943.

 

Aerial view of the crater caused by the RAF Fauld explosion. Around 4,000 tons of explosives detonated in underground storage in 1944, causing one of the biggest non nuclear explosions ever.
Aerial view of the crater caused by the RAF Fauld explosion. Around 4,000 tons of explosives detonated in underground storage in 1944, causing one of the biggest non nuclear explosions ever.

 

Aircrews of No 88 Squadron RAF standing around a bomb-trolley before they are loaded into the Squadron’s Douglas Boston Mark IIIs for a daylight sortie, at Attlebridge, Norfolk.
Aircrews of No 88 Squadron RAF standing around a bomb-trolley before they are loaded into the Squadron’s Douglas Boston Mark IIIs for a daylight sortie, at Attlebridge, Norfolk.

 

An armourer adjusting machine guns on a Spitfire at Biggin Hill during the Second World War
An armourer adjusting machine guns on a Spitfire at Biggin Hill during the Second World War

 

An RAF airman talks to a pilot of the 14th Fighter Group on the wing of his P-38 Lightning at Atcham, England.
An RAF airman talks to a pilot of the 14th Fighter Group on the wing of his P-38 Lightning at Atcham, England.

 

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark III, K8994 ‘E’, of No. 10 Operational Training Unit, taxying at Abingdon, Berkshire.
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark III, K8994 ‘E’, of No. 10 Operational Training Unit, taxying at Abingdon, Berkshire.

 

CF #42-50364 This Is It! Code 2U-T+ 466th BG – 785th BS Attlebridge
CF #42-50364 This Is It! Code 2U-T+ 466th BG – 785th BS Attlebridge

 

B-26s of the 322d Medium Bomb Group on the perimeter track of Andrews Field prior to takeoff.
B-26s of the 322d Medium Bomb Group on the perimeter track of Andrews Field prior to takeoff.

 

B-29 Superfortress 44-86257, assigned to the 341st Bombardment Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group, deployed to Bassingborn during 1950.
B-29 Superfortress 44-86257, assigned to the 341st Bombardment Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group, deployed to Bassingborn during 1950.

 

C-47s of the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron on the northwest perimeter track adjacent to the main hangar at Upottery.
C-47s of the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron on the northwest perimeter track adjacent to the main hangar at Upottery.

 

C-47s of the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron practicing the pick up method of towing a glider, Upottery, May 1944.
C-47s of the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron practicing the pick up method of towing a glider, Upottery, May 1944.

 

Construction of RAF Andrews Field by the 819th Engineer Battalion (Aviation) of the United States Army during 1942.
Construction of RAF Andrews Field by the 819th Engineer Battalion (Aviation) of the United States Army during 1942.

 

Daily inspection for a Liberator III of No 224 Squadron at Beaulieu in Hampshire, December 1942.
Daily inspection for a Liberator III of No 224 Squadron at Beaulieu in Hampshire, December 1942.

 

Farmers collect hay at Andrews Field whilst personnel of the 322nd Bomb Group work on a B-26 Marauder (serial number 41-31814) nicknamed Bag Of Bolts.
Farmers collect hay at Andrews Field whilst personnel of the 322nd Bomb Group work on a B-26 Marauder (serial number 41-31814) nicknamed Bag Of Bolts.

 

Five Tallboy bombs in a bomb dump at Bardney, Lincolnshire prior to being loaded on No. 9 Squadron RAF aircraft.
Five Tallboy bombs in a bomb dump at Bardney, Lincolnshire prior to being loaded on No. 9 Squadron RAF aircraft.

 

Flight Sergeant E. R. Thorn (pilot, left) and Sergeant F. J. Barker (air gunner) pose with their Boulton Paul Defiant turret fighter at RAF Biggin Hill, Kent, after destroying their 13th Axis aircraft.
Flight Sergeant E. R. Thorn (pilot, left) and Sergeant F. J. Barker (air gunner) pose with their Boulton Paul Defiant turret fighter at RAF Biggin Hill, Kent, after destroying their 13th Axis aircraft.

 

Flying Officers Spain and Spencer of No. 257 Squadron RAF wait on standby in their Hawker Typhoon Mark IBs, and attended by their ground crews, at Warmwell, Dorset.
Flying Officers Spain and Spencer of No. 257 Squadron RAF wait on standby in their Hawker Typhoon Mark IBs, and attended by their ground crews, at Warmwell, Dorset.

 

Ground crew of the 95th Bomb Group attend to an explosion caused whilst loading bombs into a B-17 Flying Fortress at Alconbury.
Ground crew of the 95th Bomb Group attend to an explosion caused whilst loading bombs into a B-17 Flying Fortress at Alconbury.

 

Ground personnel watch a B-17 Flying Fortress nicknamed Ragin’ Red II of the 379th Bomb Group start up in snow at Bassingbourn, January 1945.
Ground personnel watch a B-17 Flying Fortress nicknamed Ragin’ Red II of the 379th Bomb Group start up in snow at Bassingbourn, January 1945.

 

Ground staff re-arm a Spitfire Mk I at Biggin Hill, September 1940.
Ground staff re-arm a Spitfire Mk I at Biggin Hill, September 1940.

 

Groundcrew of No. 9 Squadron RAF, clearing snow in front of a trailer bearing a 12,000 lb ‘Tallboy’ deep-penetration bomb, at Bardney, Lincolnshire, in the winter of 1944 – 1945.
Groundcrew of No. 9 Squadron RAF, clearing snow in front of a trailer bearing a 12,000 lb ‘Tallboy’ deep-penetration bomb, at Bardney, Lincolnshire, in the winter of 1944 – 1945.

 

Groundcrew refuelling a Hawker Hurricane Mk I of No. 32 Squadron from a refuelling truck whilst the pilot waits in the cockpit, Biggin Hill, August 1940.
Groundcrew refuelling a Hawker Hurricane Mk I of No. 32 Squadron from a refuelling truck whilst the pilot waits in the cockpit, Biggin Hill, August 1940.

 

Group photo of pilots and crews from the 482d Bombardment Group – RAF Alconbury, England
Group photo of pilots and crews from the 482d Bombardment Group – RAF Alconbury, England

 

No. 88 Squadron RAF Boston IIIs at Attlebridge.
No. 88 Squadron RAF Boston IIIs at Attlebridge.

 

Oblique air photo of RAF Tarrant Rushton, looking Northeast to Southwest
Oblique air photo of RAF Tarrant Rushton, looking Northeast to Southwest

 

Operation MALLARD aircraft prepared for the reinforcement of the British airborne assault, assembled at Tarrant Rushton, Hampshire, on the afternoon of 6 June.
Operation MALLARD aircraft prepared for the reinforcement of the British airborne assault, assembled at Tarrant Rushton, Hampshire, on the afternoon of 6 June.

 

P-38s of the 370th Fighter Group at RAF Andover.
P-38s of the 370th Fighter Group at RAF Andover.

 

Paratroopers of the 503rd US Parachute Infantry Regiment prepare to board a C-47 Skytrain of the 60th Troop Carrier Group at Aldermaston, 23 September 1942
Paratroopers of the 503rd US Parachute Infantry Regiment prepare to board a C-47 Skytrain of the 60th Troop Carrier Group at Aldermaston, 23 September 1942

 

Aerial photograph of Alconbury airfield shortly after the USAAF assumed jurisdiction of the facility. Note the B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 93d Bomb Group are parked on the runway.
Aerial photograph of Alconbury airfield shortly after the USAAF assumed jurisdiction of the facility. Note the B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 93d Bomb Group are parked on the runway.

 

Personnel of the 91st Bomb Group at a Parade at Bassingbourn to celebrate their second year in the European Theatre of Operations, 17 September 1944.
Personnel of the 91st Bomb Group at a Parade at Bassingbourn to celebrate their second year in the European Theatre of Operations, 17 September 1944.

 

RAF Attlebridge 466th Bombardment Group Crew 612
RAF Attlebridge 466th Bombardment Group Crew 612

 

Republic P-47D-27-RE Thunderbolt Serial 42-6887 of the 512th Fighter Squadron at Ashford airfield.
Republic P-47D-27-RE Thunderbolt Serial 42-6887 of the 512th Fighter Squadron at Ashford airfield.

 

Spitfire pilots of No 234 Squadron at rest in the pilots’ room at Warmwell, 26 July 1941.
Spitfire pilots of No 234 Squadron at rest in the pilots’ room at Warmwell, 26 July 1941.

 

Supermarine Spitfire LF Mark IXBs of Nos. 312 and 313 (Czech) Squadrons RAF undergoing engine repair and maintenance at Appledram, Sussex.
Supermarine Spitfire LF Mark IXBs of Nos. 312 and 313 (Czech) Squadrons RAF undergoing engine repair and maintenance at Appledram, Sussex.

 

The closed Alconbury Airfield USAAF Station 102 in 1947. Shows both Alconbury Airfield as well as the 2d Strategic Air Depot, Abbots Ripton
The closed Alconbury Airfield USAAF Station 102 in 1947. Shows both Alconbury Airfield as well as the 2d Strategic Air Depot, Abbots Ripton

 

The crew of a Blenheim IV of No. 88 (Hong Kong) Squadron climb from their aircraft at Attlebridge, Norfolk, after returning from an Army co-operation exercise, 16 August 1941.
The crew of a Blenheim IV of No. 88 (Hong Kong) Squadron climb from their aircraft at Attlebridge, Norfolk, after returning from an Army co-operation exercise, 16 August 1941.

 

The crew of Avro Lancaster B Mark III boarding their aircraft at Bardney, Lincolnshire, for a raid on the Zeppelin works at Friedrichshafen, on the shores of Lake Constance, Germany.
The crew of Avro Lancaster B Mark III boarding their aircraft at Bardney, Lincolnshire, for a raid on the Zeppelin works at Friedrichshafen, on the shores of Lake Constance, Germany.

 

The Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Rt Hon Peter Frazer, climbs from the cockpit of a No 92 Squadron Spitfire VB at Biggin Hill on the evening of 11 July 1941.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Rt Hon Peter Frazer, climbs from the cockpit of a No 92 Squadron Spitfire VB at Biggin Hill on the evening of 11 July 1941.

 

RAF Andrews Field – 4 September 1943 – Airfield
RAF Andrews Field – 4 September 1943 – Airfield

 

Three unidentified airmen of the 322nd Bomb Group at Andrewsfield Aerodrome, England.
Three unidentified airmen of the 322nd Bomb Group at Andrewsfield Aerodrome, England.

 

92d Bomb Group riding bikes past B-17 Flying Fortresses B-17F (PY-T, serial number 42-3165) and B-17F (UX-H, serial number 42-5745) nicknamed The Fuhrer the Better, at Alconbury.
92d Bomb Group riding bikes past B-17 Flying Fortresses B-17F (PY-T, serial number 42-3165) and B-17F (UX-H, serial number 42-5745) nicknamed The Fuhrer the Better, at Alconbury.

 

250 lb MC bombs being stacked in one of RAF Fauld’s tunnels
250 lb MC bombs being stacked in one of RAF Fauld’s tunnels

 

A B-26 Marauder (ER-F, serial number 41-31814) nicknamed Bag O Bolts of the 322nd Bomb Group from Andrews Field flies low over countryside.
A B-26 Marauder (ER-F, serial number 41-31814) nicknamed Bag O Bolts of the 322nd Bomb Group from Andrews Field flies low over countryside.

 

A B-26 Marauder (serial number 41-31773) nicknamed Flak Bait of the 322nd Bomb Group, Andrews Field Aerodrome, England.
A B-26 Marauder (serial number 41-31773) nicknamed Flak Bait of the 322nd Bomb Group, Andrews Field Aerodrome, England.

 

A barrage balloon of Balloon Command attached to a winching lorry and anchored to the ground near Biggin Hill, Kent. In the background a number of airborne balloons are visible. Large numbers of barrage balloons were located across the south-eastern approaches to London to combat the growing threat from V-1 flying bombs launched from Pas de Calais starting in June 1944.
A barrage balloon of Balloon Command attached to a winching lorry and anchored to the ground near Biggin Hill, Kent. In the background a number of airborne balloons are visible. Large numbers of barrage balloons were located across the south-eastern approaches to London to combat the growing threat from V-1 flying bombs launched from Pas de Calais starting in June 1944.

 

A GAL Hamilcar heavy glider clears to the airfield to the north after being towed off Runway 19 at Tarrant Rushton, Dorset, by a Handley Page Halifax target tug of No. 644 Squadron RAF.
A GAL Hamilcar heavy glider clears to the airfield to the north after being towed off Runway 19 at Tarrant Rushton, Dorset, by a Handley Page Halifax target tug of No. 644 Squadron RAF.

 

Another Article From Us: Bunkers of all Shapes and Sizes in 32 Images

 

A Handley Page Halifax Mark V (foreground), and General Aircraft Hamilcar heavy gliders lined up on the main runway, await the signal to start at Tarrant Rushton, Dorset.
A Handley Page Halifax Mark V (foreground), and General Aircraft Hamilcar heavy gliders lined up on the main runway, await the signal to start at Tarrant Rushton, Dorset.