As many of our airfields and their associated buildings disappear, or fall into disrepair, its good to hear when one has been saved, refurbished or at least reused in a way that preserves its history and heritage.
Watch Offices of the Second World War are few and far between, many of those that do still remain are either derelict, business offices or thankfully museums detailing the history of the units, men and machines that once graced their surroundings.
In The Virginian Pilot magazine, it was revealed that former RAF Goxhill’s Watch Office has been dismantled brick by brick and shipped over to the Pungo area of Virginia Beach in the United States.
The founder of the Military Aviation Museum at the site, Jerry Yagen, wanted to relocate the Watch Office in a project that has taken eight years to complete.
After demolishing the building, it was removed and take to its new home where it was painstakingly rebuilt and repainted in its original colours and design. Mike Potter, the museum’s director, explained how the project we set up and managed, and how once the outside is completed, the interior will be rebuilt using original photographs and where possible, original equipment.
RAF Goxhill, which was designated Station 345 by the Americans, was opened in 1941 and acted primarily as a training of combat crew and crew replacement centre. At its peak it held 1709 active personnel of which 190 were officers. Its runways (initially 1 x 1,600 ft and 2 x 1,100 ft) were extended later to 1,600, 1,500 and 2,000 feet, and covered in Tarmac.
Many new units that arrived on the U.K. from the United States would arrive at Goxhill and then be instructed in operational procedure and sent to their respective bases throughout the U.K. The first aircraft to arrive were the P-38s of the 1st Fighter Group, the oldest and most distinguished fighter group in the USAAF, having its origins in World War I. On July 9th, 1942, two of the Groups squadrons arrived, and the airfield was officially handed over to the Americans shortly after in August. It was at this time that the 52nd FG arrived here bringing Sptifire V, one of the few British built aircraft to operate under the Stars and Stripes of the United States Air Force.
Both the 1st FG and later the 71st Fighter Squadron operated out of Goxhill, and were joined in December 1942, by more P-38s of the 78th Fighter Group. In the following June, P-47s of the 353rd FG arrived before moving off to Metfield a month later.
Toward the end of the war, bomber pilots who had completed their tours of duty were sent to Goxhill to retrain as Fighter Pilots, the idea being to fly fighters ahead of the bomber formations and report back both weather reports and keep at bay any loitering Luftwaffe aircraft.
Eventually closed in 1953, Goxhill was perhaps more synonymous with the 496 Fighter Training Group, operating both the 554th and 555th Fighter Training Squadrons, serving both the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces. Also attached to this unit was the 2nd Gunnery and Tow Target Flight providing targets for gunnery practice by those crews passing through Goxhill’s doors.
Once open, the Watch Office will be open to the public explains Potter, “this is as authentic as it gets”, he goes on to say, as warbirds from the Second world War taxi past in a moment that takes you back to the 1940s and the darkest days of the Second World War.
The story appeared in The Virginian – Pilot online May 10th 2017.