A short but eventful life, RAF Matching, Essex

RAF Matching (Station 166) or Matching Green, was built very late in the war, and was only operational for just over a year. It was initially built for the heavy bombers of the Eighth Air Force as a Class ‘A’ heavy bomber station, but was very soon transferred to the Ninth Air Force and used by medium bombers of the 391st Bomb Group, who supported the allied advance into Germany.

It was built with 3 runways all of concrete, 50 loop style hardstands, two T2 hangars; one to the south-east and one to the south-west, a number of blister hangars and a wide range of ancillary and support buildings. Both technical and accommodation areas were all to the east and south-east well away from the main area. The bomb site, had approximately three miles of roadway, giving an indication of its generous size.

matching green

The Watch Office at Matching now homes radar equipment.

Opened in January 1944 the first month would be busy for Matching Green. The first and primary residents were the Olive Drab B-26 Marauders of the 391st Bomb Group of the Ninth Air Force. The 391st were made up of 4 Bomb Squadrons: 572nd, 573rd, 574th, and 575th, and undertook their first mission within a month after arriving in England. They were a new group, ‘rookies’ in comparison to many, only being formed a year earlier.

Their primary targets were: airfields, bridges, marshalling yards and V- weapons sites across France. During the Allied invasion, they attacked German defences along the coast and as the allies moved further inland, they attacked fuel dumps and troop concentrations. They supported the break out at St. Lo in July 1944, and prevented the enemies retreat by attacking transport and communication links behind German lines.

Being to the south of the country, Matching Green was occasionally used by returning aircraft as a safe haven. On February 4th, just a month after it opened,  the first fatality would be recorded. Whilst returning from a mission to Frankfurt and with both engines on one side feathered, B-17G  ’42-31494′ (PY) of the 407BS, 92nd BG, based at Podington, failed to make the airfield and crashed on the approach to Matching Green. The resultant accident killed 5 of its crew members, a worse fate then the aircraft which was later salvaged.

matching green

One of the former accommodation sites.

In September 1944, the 391st moved from Matching Green to Roye/Amy in France, where they received a DUC for action against heavily defended sites without fighter escort. Their departure from Matching Green sounded the end and its short life would soon cease operationally. Between their arrival in January and their departure to France in  September, the 391st would fly some 6,000 sorties losing just under 200 crew members in action over Europe.

As the war drew to a close, the airfield was handed back to the RAF for paratroop activities. Elements of both RAF and the USAAF IX Troop Carrier Command, were reputed to have been based here, operating either Short Stirlings or C-47s. These were the last military units to operate from here and the site was closed in 1945, being returned to agriculture within a very short period of time. The majority of concrete was removed for nearby development, although many of the buildings were luckily left standing.  In the late 1980s, one of the T2 hangars was dismantled and transferred to  nearby North Weald Airfield. It remains there today re clad but still in aviation use. The Control Tower remains today and in remarkably good condition, adorned with electronic equipment, it us used use as a radar equipment test facility.

The site whilst agriculture, is now home to a large selection of fauna and flora. Deer roam freely across the site and a survey in the summer of 1999 recorded over 160 species of trees, grasses and wild flowers that included three different types of Orchid.

Matching Green, like other airfields in this area, lives in the shadow of the modern Stansted International Airport, and this has proven, in part, to be its savour.

matching green

The water tower at Matching Green in a former accommodation site.

Although close to Stansted, the network of country roads that lead to the airfield are small and signposts are few and far between. It is not an easy place to find – one of the many features of Second World War airfields. One of the first things you see is the old original water tower. It pokes its head above the many trees that now cover matching green airfield.

Access to this site is along what would have been the original entrance to the airfield. To mark the spot, a memorial has been built here. Sadly it’s not well looked after and was looking rather worn when I visited in the summer of 2015.

The tower, a rusty guardian, watches over a few of the remaining huts that once formed one of the many accommodation areas in this south-eastern corner of this airfield. A number of huts, in generally good condition, they are now utilised by a quantity of small businesses. The atmosphere of the place has not been lost and it is easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of crews moving between huts along its concrete paths. Some of the huts are in disrepair, a few have been ‘refurbished’ but the layout is clear.

From here drive back to the memorial and with the technical site behind you, turn left, drive along the road past the small forests and you can see evidence of more paths. These would have led to the technical area. This part, whilst predominantly agricultural, is also home to a number of deer and if you are lucky, as I was, you will see them walk across the road from one side to the other. A rather fitting sight bringing peace to a place that once brought death and destruction in the fight against an evil regime. Carry on along this road and you arrive at the more open areas of the airfield. To your right appears from almost nowhere, the original watch tower. In good condition also, it is fenced off and now used as a radar test facility.

August 2015 038

The perimeter track heads off to the north to join the east-west runway at the bend.

With the tower in front of you, the majority of the site is beyond this. A track, that was the perimeter track, leads off onto private land and a farm dwelling still using a blister hangar and other  small buildings. Carry on along the main road, at the bend you are now on the former NW-SE runway as it heads off north-east. At the next bend is further evidence  of the runways. Here the you are at the top of the ‘A’ where two of the three runways cross, now a mere track. Continue along, this is the second runway. It then turns and you drive along the perimeter track. To the south would have been one of the ‘T2s’ and loop dispersals, now all gone. On the other side of the road, the track heads off to the third runway and is used for storing farm ‘waste’.

Much of Matching Green has now gone, returned to agriculture and nature. A peaceful wind blows across the once busy airfield, a few huts linger as reminders of days long gone, but amongst the wild flowers a few well hidden surprises tell the short story of RAF Matching Green.

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6 thoughts on “A short but eventful life, RAF Matching, Essex

    • Quite a few buildings are being used inclusion the tower so that looks promising. I did come across an article about a major fire on the site some years ago, it seems to have survived that quite well so all in all it may well continue.

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  1. Great article Andy. It amazes me that facilities like RAF Matching were once the home to 4 squadrons of B-26’s of the 391st bomb group and later Short Stirlings and C-47’s, presumably as elements of airbourne operations over the Rhine area late in the war. Although it seems that not much survives, I am amazed that the site still exists. It is certainly exciting to see that some of the buildings are still there, thank you for another fascinating article.

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    • Thank you Rich. As it was originally built as a bomber station for the heavies, the runways would have been quite considerable in size. Many sites quote the RAF and IX air transport as using it, but none of the official sites have them based there, so I’m assuming they were just ‘elements’ of them. The Stirlings were used at that time as tugs after having a port record as bombers earlier on and no doubt would have been used in Rhine operations. It’s quite an interesting site to go to.

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