Col. Ashley Woolridge; 106 Missions in a B-26

At the height of the war, the life expectancy of a fighter pilot was measured in weeks, for a bomber crew it was perhaps even less. With tours of duty standing at around 30 missions, it was rare to find anyone who survived these tours without at least serious injury or mental health issues. Many paid the price with their life.

Whilst aircraft could be salvaged, patched up, repaired and put back into the air, it was not  so easy for crewmen to be returned to battle so quickly. It was therefore, very rare to find anyone completing one or even two missions in a front line aircraft. Of course the subject of what constitutes a mission is in itself open for debate, ‘milk runs’ leaflet drops etc all create fractions of a mission, but this aside, for any airman to surpass 100 missions was indeed rare.

We have seen that Master Sergeant Hewitt Dunn flew 104 missions from RAF Framlingham, the highest in the European Theatre, but he was by no means the only one to surpass this incredible number.

Pilots and crews occasionally transferred across theatres, especially at the end of the war in Europe, or conveyed via the U.K. to the Middle Eastern theatre during these hostilities. One such man was Ashley E. Woolridge, initially a 2nd Lt. in the U.S.A.A.F. during the Second World War.

Woolridge was born on November 8th, 1916 in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. He graduated from school in 1934 going on to West Point Military Academy and then achieving a BSc from Lock Haven State Teachers College also in Pennsylvania. He used his numerous qualifications to teach Maths, English and Science at  Hanover High School until 1941, when, just prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, he enrolled in the U.S. Aviation Cadet Detachment, graduating in July of 1942. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. and pilot of the Air Corps.

Woolridge’s first operation was to fly the northern route to England with his group the 319th Bomb Group (Medium) operating the B-26 ‘Marauder’. The 319th initially arrived at East Anglia along with three other medium bomb groups. The 319th were sent to RAF Shipdham where they regrouped before being posted to nearby Horsham St. Faith (now Norwich airport). A period of low-level training across the Norfolk countryside, saw the unit posted to their designated theatre in north Africa. A number of accidents due to poor weather saw Woolridge’s crews suffer before experiencing any battle at all.

The 319th began transferring to Africa in the Autumn of 1942, joining the Twelfth Air Force, who would attack targets in Tunisia until early 1943. After further training, Woolridge and the 319th went on to support the Sicily and Italy campaigns: Salerno, Anzio and Monte Cassino.

At the beginning of November 1944, he was awarded command of the 320th BG, a sister group of the 319th and one who had followed them across the Atlantic and onto Africa.

By early 1945 he had achieved 106 missions, accumulating in excess of 440 combat hours. He and the groups he had served in, had gained a number of distinguished awards including Unit Citations. Personally, he gained a Silver Star, a DFC with two clusters, a Presidential Unit Citation with two clusters and two Personal Croix De Guerre Avec Palms. At the end of 1945, in November, he was discharged from the Air Force with a remarkable record of achievement behind him.

In civilian life he joined a number of church groups, married Barbara Anne Leitzinger on September 16th, 1948  and raised a family many of whom preceded him in death.

Ashley Woolridge eventually died on Monday, May 3, 2004 at the age of 87. He was buried at Hillcrest Cemetery, Clearfield,
Pennsylvania. His memorial stone depicts a B-26, the aircraft he flew 106 incredible missions in and achieved so much with.

Lt. A. Woolridge in the cockpit of a B-26 Marauder, nicknamed “Hellcat.” (IWM)

His full obituary can be seen on the ‘Findagrave website.

Other remarkable achievements can be found in “Heroic Tales“.

RAF Great Dunmow – In the shadow of Stansted Airport.

In Trail 33, we continue to explore the county of Essex. Touching the outskirts of London to the south and Suffolk to the north, it has an aviation history that has lasted over two world wars.

After visiting both Matching Green and Andrews Field, we travel a few miles west back again toward Stansted Airport.

Our next stop is Great Dunmow.

RAF Great Dunmow (Station 164)

Great Dunmow is another former airfield that sits in the shadow of nearby Stansted airport, itself a former World War 2 airfield. Dunmow was home to only two RAF units, 190 Squadron (RAF) and 620 Squadron (RAF) operating Stirling IVs and latterly the Halifax III and VII. It was also used by the USAAF flying B26 Marauders under the 386th BG.

Great Dunmow, had a multitude of names: Little Easton,  Easton Lodge and Great Easton due to its close proximity to all three locations. It was designated Station 164 by the Americans but became more commonly known as Great Dunmow.

RAF Great Dunmow

The Village sign depicts its wartime heritage.

Not built until mid-way through the war (1942-43) by the US Army’s 818th Engineer Battalion (Aviation), the American units of the 386thBG were the first to move in.

It would have three runways (concrete and wood chip), with the main one running north-west / south-east and 6,000ft in length. The second and third runways ran east-west and north-east \ south-west and were both 4,200 ft in length. The main technical and administrative areas were to the north side in which one of the airfield’s two T2 hangars were located. A bomb store was situated to the east and was capable of storing in excess of 800 tons of bombs. Dispersals consisted of 50 loop style hardstands around the concrete perimeter track. The staff accommodation sites were dispersed over 12 sites all to the north around the Easton Lodge, referred to by crews as ‘The Big House’*1. Two Mess sites, two WAAF sites, a sick quarters, an officers and four airmen sites housed a huge number of personnel – even parts of the house itself were used. A communal site provided a number of small shops selling local produce and groceries.

RAF Great Dunmow

The secondary runway (N/E-S/W) disappears into the distance. This section is the only part in full width. The tree line marks the third E-W runway.

The 386th BG (M) were activated mid-war, on December 1st 1942 at MacDill Field, Florida, and arrived in England with their olive and grey B-26s in the following June. Their journey to Great Dunmow would take them via both RAF Snetterton Heath and RAF Boxted. For four months they would operate under the control of the Eighth Air Force, swapping in October 1943, to the 99th Combat Wing of the Ninth Air Force. Consisting of four Medium Bomb Squadrons: 552nd (code RG), 553rd (AN), 554th (RU) and 555th (YA), they would focus their attention on airfields, marshalling yards and gun batteries. Over the winter of 1943-44 they targeted V weapon sites, along France’s coast, and attacked enemy airfields during the ‘Big-Week’ campaign of February 1944.

During the Normandy invasion, they targeted bridges and Luftwaffe airfields, coastal batteries, fuel and munitions supplies, they preceded the allied forces as they moved inland; supported ground troops at Caen and St. Lo in July 1944, earning themselves a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for their actions. As the allies moved deeper into France, they were then free to move to the continent allowing them to reach further afield and support the advance toward and into Germany itself.

A crashed B-26 Marauder (AN-J, serial number 41-31585) nicknamed

B-26 Marauder ‘AN-J’, (s/n 41-31585) nicknamed “Blazing Heat” of the 553rd BS, 386th BG, 23rd June 1944.  balances on its nose after making a crash landing at Great Dunmow. (IWM)

In total, the 386th would fly 257 missions from Dunmow, operating between 24th September 1943 and 2nd October 1944, in an aircraft that earned itself a rather distasteful name for being unreliable and difficult to fly. Later versions having both larger wingspans and flying surfaces, partly cured this problem, but in the hands of a good crew, they were deemed no more ‘dangerous’ than any other bomber of that time. In fact, a number of Marauders were known to return home in an incredible condition, after taking a substantial beating at the hands of both flak and fighter attention.

After the 386th left Dunmow, it was handed over to the RAF and the first unit to arrive was 190 Squadron (RAF) with the Stirling IV. Pulled out of bomber squadrons for its ‘poor’ record, they were used by various units for both mine laying activities and glider-tug operations. Arriving from Fairford they stayed here until July 1946 whereupon 190 Sqn was disbanded. During this time they also flew the Halifax III and later the Halifax VII – an aircraft that was proven in combat and also as a transport machine. With a history that extended back to the First World War, 190 Sqn operated as a Glider-tug unit taking Horsa gliders to a number of prestige targets;  both Normandy, during the D-Day invasion, and Arnhem during the ill-fated Rhine crossing of Operation Market Garden. They flew fuel and supplies to advancing troops and carried out a number of transport duties as the war drew to a close.

The changeover between the exiting Americans and the arriving British was seen as an ideal opportunity to gather ‘supplies’ by the locals. Many tins of rationed food and other ‘luxuries’ left by the U.S. airmen were deemed ‘fair-game’ and ‘removed’ in the intervening days. Dennis Williams*2 book ‘Stirlings in Action with the Airborne Forces’ describes in detail how the incoming airmen were surprised by the extent of the items left by the Americans.

Four days after 190’s arrival, 620 Sqn also arrived at Dunmow, along with all their respective Echelons. Like their partners, they also came from RAF Fairford flying the Stirling IV. A former bomber squadron, they cut their teeth at RAF Chedburgh, then in November 1943 they transferred across to the Airborne Forces. Also flying glider operations, they too swapped their Stirlings for Halifax A.VIIs in July 1945 before moving off to the Middle East post war. Similarly, 620 Sqn flew troops into some of the most dangerous war zones, losing a number of crews and aircraft along the way.

Both 620 and 190 Sqn returned to operations soon after their arrival, flying SOE operations, glider training sorties across the UK and dropping equipment into occupied territory. As can be imagined these dangerous operations were not without their problems. A number of aircraft were lost and even during training flights, losses were still incurred.

On the 21st November 1944, Stirling LK276 crashed killing all seven crew members. It was initially thought that the pilot either failed to read his altimeter correctly causing the aircraft to strike trees and power lines, or he took his attention away from the instruments in front. Subsequent reports however, show eye witnesses claiming to have seen a following night fighter. Again contradictions in statements were not helpful and no conclusive decision could be reached. The court of enquiry ruled that it was an accident and so the case was closed. Whatever the cause was, it was a major blow to the crews at Great Dunmow.

RAF Great Dunmow

The Administrative site is now used by the local farmer and small ‘industrial’ units. The crew briefing room (front) stands in front of the intelligence block. The main Operations block has gone but the station offices are still here.

Being so far south, Great Dunmow offered a safe haven for some returning bombers. On November 5th 1944, whilst on their return from mission 166 over Frankfurt, the 401st were diverted to the Great Dunmow as bad weather had closed in over Deenethorpe. An eye-witness account describes two B-17s ‘colliding’ on the runway, whilst other records suggest the two B-17s crash landed both suffering from extensive flak damage.  Records show one of them as B-17G ’42-102674′ flown by 2nd Lt. William F. Grimm  and the other as B-17 ’42-31662′ flown by 1st Lt. Leland R. Hayes. However this particular aircraft (42-31662) was known to be ‘Fancy Nancy IV‘ flown by Walter Cox which did not crash at Dunmow, going on to serve to the war’s end. As with many war records, it can be difficult ascertain total accuracy and an anomaly has occurred here somewhere.*3

Both 190 and 620 Sqns continued on in SOE operations, including their first to Norway on the night of November 6th/7th 1944.  Both operations were seen as failures but it would highlight the difficulties of flying for four hours to often heavily fog-laden environments and back again.

Poor weather dogged this part of the country especially in the early 1940s. The airfield was in a poor condition and a great deal of work had to be carried out to assist operations. Lighting, repairs to the runways and drainage were all severe problems and all needed urgent and immediate attention. Conditions therefore were not good. Successive cold winters and the continual mud, left some with very ‘unsavoury’ memories. Working in bitter cold weather outside certainly became a challenge for hard pressed ground-crews.

A number of operations involved Dunmow aircraft over the next few months, but they were mainly confined to practice flights towing Horsa gliders. Then in late March 1945, Operation ‘Varsity’ began. The drive into Germany required 21,000 troops, 1,800 transport aircraft and over 1,300 gliders. The base was sealed off from the outside world, only air-tests and spoof flights were scheduled, and then on the morning of the 24th March 1945 60 aircraft were lined up along the runways ready to go.

Anti-aircraft fire was heavy and conditions poor over the drop zone, but all 190 Sqn and 620 Sqn aircraft returned – some with damage. They seem to fair far better than the gliders though of which some 80% were damaged by flak – many severely.

Toward the end of the war, both squadrons dropped supplies and recovered POWs from the now free Europe. It was an emotional time for all but accidents and losses still occurred and crews still died.

In July 1945 620 Sqn received the Halifax A.VII and finally in January 1946 it would be all change for Great Dunmow. 620 Sqn were posted to Aqir in Palestine; 190 Squadron was disbanded and the unit renumbered as 295 Squadron and sent to Tarrant Rushton – this was the end for Great Dunmow. The airfield was used as a vehicle storage unit until 1948, at which point it was closed for good. The tower and major buildings were demolished, the concrete dug up for hardcore for the new road, and the remainder returned to agriculture, a state it survives in today.

As with many airfields today, there is little left to see in the way of buildings and infrastructure at Dunmow airfield. A memorial stands alongside the B1256 road a few miles to the south side of the airfield site and an adjacent footpath takes you through what was the bomb store on to the airfield itself.  By driving from here to the village of Little Easton, you can more easily access the site from the northern side, by far the better option. Drive through the small village of little Easton, past the quaint village duck pond and on toward Little Easton Manor. Much of the grounds of the Manor were the accommodation areas and now as an estate once more, is (at the time of writing) up for sale for a cool £5,000,000.

Before arriving at the manor – which shows little of its aviation history – there is a small tourist sign and access to the adjacent fields. Stop here. The footpath to your left crosses the airfield utilising  much of the remaining perimeter track. This path is an old access road to the airfield and takes you up to the threshold of the former second runway (N/E-S/W).  It is a short walk but once there the full width of the runway can be seen, and when looking on, so to can the length (albeit cut short). The only part that is full width, the enormity of these tracks is staggering. The path then leads off to the west through the field strangely enough only feet from the usable but broken and much narrower perimeter track. At the end of this path, you arrive at the threshold of the third (E-W) runway. Now only a single farm track; the length is in its entirety but again standing at this point you can see how long the runways were. The path then crosses over the southern half of the airfield away to the south but there is little to be gained from taking this route, other than to know you have walked where many crews would have spent their time.  The dispersals that once stood here are now long gone and no trace remains of their existence.

If you continue east the path splits again and the one turning south takes you through the former bomb store and onto the afore-mentioned memorial. Now a quarry, the store is supplied by the perimeter track which is used by lorries to transport materials. Turning back on yourself it is possible to walk along the perimeter track back to your starting point. Along these paths are signs of the concrete that once carried the B-26s, Stirlings and Halifaxes, much narrower now, their significance little more than a farm track. Away to your right, was the former ‘dump’ or Marauder graveyard, where scrapped B-26s were left to rot.

Return to the road and walk from here west toward the lodge. After a few minutes you arrive at the former airfield entrance. The airfield sub-station marks the entrance and a footpath takes you along the road onto the airfield site. The technical area would be to your left and right, with one of the T2 hangars to your left. Follow the path as it crosses the field and you arrive where the tower once stood. There is no sign of it now, but the path takes you right though the spot where so many decisions were made and aircraft counted back. The path then leads on through the airfield and  joins the third (E-W) runway at its centre. largely overgrown with trees, the line is clearly evident, but again evidence of the concrete structure lay  scattered along the edges of this once gigantic pathway.

RAF Great Dunmow

The airfield substation marks the airfield entrance.

Turn back again and through the technical area. Hovering over the tress to your left you will be able to see the current control tower and landing aircraft at Stansted airport – a mere stones throw away. Also to your left are a small group of farm buildings , amongst them a blister hangar that appears to have been moved here after the war. Beyond these and accessible from the roadway, a small collection of administrative buildings remain now used by the local farmer and as small industrial units. By walking along the road these are accessible and perfectly visible from the roadway.

The road from here continues on and takes you into where the  main accommodation sites once stood. Much of this is private land but traversed in places by small bridal ways and footpaths. Immediately opposite was the mess site 4 and further along the road the sick quarters. The remaining accommodation sites were to the north of here amongst the now dense forests that have replaced them. To the north of these woods was the sewage plant that once served the airfield. It has now been replaced by a more a modern unit but its location is still precise.   Various tracks lead into private land from here, but they are the original tracks for the various accommodation sites that once housed the crews and staff of this once busy base.

Return to your car and drive back to Little Easton stopping at the church  (St. Mary the Virgin). Inside at the back of the church on the north wall are two beautiful widows that commemorate the service of those stationed here at Great Dunmow – both RAF and USAAF. Primarily focusing on the USAAF, they depict a number of scenes – each reflecting the daily lives of the airmen. Some show them holding hands with the civilian children, others preparing for and returning from flight; Marauders in the ‘Missing man’ formation, and two hands clasped together as a sign of American and British unity – each one is beautifully presented and well maintained. One of the windows depicts ‘peace and tranquillity’, whilst the other called “The Window of the Crusaders”; depicts the role played by the 386th. Plaques, rolls of honour and information boards give great detail about the lives of those who were stationed here for those short periods during the Second World War.

August 2015 007

One of two stained glass windows in Little Easton church.

Great Dunmow served an important role during the Second World War. Today its historical significance is in no way played down. Whilst the majority of the airfield is now crops, ‘free access’ allows you to revisit those days of the Second World War, to walk in the footsteps of heroes, to experience the sight of a welcome runway as a returning bomber would. The huts and church windows stand as reminders of those who, whilst so young, gave their all in the name of freedom and democracy.

Notes and further reading

*1The Big House, was the former Estate of Frances, Countess of Warwick, who was regularly visited by the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. A railway halt was built outside the house to accommodate these visits.

*2 Williams Dennis, Stirlings in Action with the Airborne Forces, Pen and Sword Aviation, 2008 – this book provides an in-depth look at life within both 620 Squadron and 190 Squadron whilst at RAF Great Dunmow. It is highly recommended as a follow-up to the activities of these two units whilst here and abroad.

*3 See the 401st BG website for details of these aircraft and missions, including the original mission reports.

466th Bomb Group – a Disastrous start to the War.

The area around Attlebridge is steeped in historical value, archaeological finds have dated inhabitants of the area going back as far as prehistoric times; the Romans, Anglo Saxons and Normans have all left their remnants and marks. So too, has more modern man.

RAF Attlebridge (Station 120)

Initially built as a satellite for Swanton Morley, Attlebridge would eventually pass into the hands of the USAAF, receiving the designation Station 120 . As a satellite it was built with less ‘quality’ features than standard ‘A’ Class airfields, but this would not prevent its development or use by a range of single, twin and four engined aircraft of both the RAF and USAAF.

RAF Attlebridge, which became the home airfield of the 466th Bomb Group, earlier in the war when the RAF still owned the station. The control tower is to the left of the windsock. Handwritten caption on image:

RAF Attlebridge Watch Office with Ops Room, the photo is believed to have been taken before the USAAF moved in. The office is a Type ‘A’ design (17821/40). and would have later additions to bring it up to improved standards.   (IWM)

Opened in 1941, initial occupants were the dispersed Blenheim IVs of 105 Sqn from the parent airfield RAF Swanton Morley. Operating anti-shipping roles, they were originally state-of-the-art aircraft but were quickly left behind in the development stakes as the war progressed. Their failings were soon revealed in front line operations and so activities were reduced to low-level attacks on shipping and coastal targets.

No. 88 Sqn (RAF) were the first permanent residents of Attlebridge. Having replaced their Blenheim IVs for Bostons IIIs in the previous July, they brought these new and updated American built aircraft to Attlebridge to continue the low-level attacks on the European continent. 88 Sqn would operate various model s of the Boston right up until their departure the following year and then subsequent disbandment later in 1945.

These were infant years for Attlebridge, and it was soon realised that upgrading was going to be needed if it was to be a serious contender. So reconstruction work began and the site was upgraded with new concrete runways, improved perimeters tracks and dispersal points.

Across the Atlantic, the American’s began their immense build-up, and in the Autumn of 1942, Martin’s controversial B-26 ‘Marauders‘ were flown in via the northern Atlantic route. Both Attlebridge and nearby-by Horsham St. Faith received the new crews. A period of training was undertaken that consisted of low-level flights across the English countryside, but Attlebridge remained a back-seat airfield, acting as a staging post before the Marauders along with the Twelfth Air Force, moved on to the Mediterranean Theatre.

USAAF Station 120

One of the many structures that remain swamped by undergrowth.

Little happened following their departure; the construction work was completed and the RAF returned with another American built model, the B-25 ‘Mitchell II’. 320 Sqn (one of three Dutch squadrons) brought these with them from RAF Methwold in the western regions of Norfolk; they stayed here until August 1943 undertaking a small number of operations in low-level raids.

A spate of Luftwaffe attacks on the East Anglian coast instigated a short stay by Typhoons of 247 Sqn (RAF) which saw them use Attlebridge as a stepping stone, moving through 12 airfields in as many months, a pattern that would continue well into 1947.

At this point, Attlebridge was assigned to the Eighth Air Force and further reconstruction of the airfield began. Improvements to the runways were made, new perimeter tracks, dispersals and technical areas were all added. The three original runways of 1,220, 1,120 and 1,080 yards, were by now increased to the standard 2,000 and two of 1,400 yards accordingly, each being 50 yards wide.

To accommodate the expected influx of 3000 crews and support staff, the accommodation sites would be increased to a total of 11: two communal; a WAAF site; sick quarters; a mix of officers, sergeants and enlisted airmen quarters and a sewage treatments works. Aircraft would be dispersed around a mix of both original and new ‘spectacle’ and ‘pan style’ hard stands, over 60 in total, with two T2 hangars and a blister hanger providing maintenance shelters. A larger bomb store – located to the east, would also accommodate the huge tonnage of bombs that was going to be required in the forthcoming onslaught over occupied Europe.

The scene was set and in February 1944, the Skies over Norfolk would reverberate with the sound of America’s most-produced, four-engined ‘heavy’ bomber.

USAAF Station 120

One of the many air-raid shelters that can be seen around the area.

The only major Group to be stationed at Attlebridge was the 466th Bomb Group, 96th Combat Wing, 2nd Air Division, who arrived in early 1944.

The 466th BG were constituted on 19th May 1943, being activated in August that year. They flew Consolidated’s B-24 ‘Liberator‘ in the ‘H’, ‘J’, ‘L’ and ‘M’ models, and was made of four Bomb Squadrons: the 784th BS (code T9), the 785th BS (code 2U), the 786th BS (code U8) and the 787th BS (code 6L). The 466th would be nicknamed “The Flying Deck” and they would operate solely from Attlebridge.

In February-March 1944 the 466th moved in. The air echelon transferred via the southern ferry route to England, the ground echelon taking the Queen Mary to Greenock. They were new, inexperienced in combat, and as ‘rookies’ this would be a major factor in their disastrous start to the war.

USAAF Station 120

Many parts of the runways and dispersals remain in full width.

Their maiden operation, a mission to Berlin, on March 22nd 1944 would very quickly bring home the dangers of aerial warfare and close formation flying. Even though fighter attacks were non-existent, two B-24s were to collide with the loss of 13 of the two crews. B-24H ’41-29434′ “Terry and the Pirates” collided with B-24H ’41-29416 “Rebel Yell” after “Rebel Yell” was hit by flak. The resultant collision caused both aircraft to fall from the sky and crash West of Oranienburg, in Germany.

On the second operation, the following day, two more B-24s collided over Osterburg, and again heavy casualties were incurred. Onboard one of the aircraft, – B-24H ’41-29466 ‘Dark Rhapsody‘ – were three replacement crew members: Robert A. Gum (C/P), Bogan Radich (R/O) and Aleck A. Amich (TG), it was Amich’s first and only mission – suffering from his injuries, he died three days later in hospital. The two B-24s crashed into or near the Zuiderzee, in the north-west of Holland, where fuselage parts of ‘Dark Rhapsody‘ were later recovered in 1981. Only three of either crew survived taken as prisoners of war.

USAF Station 120

A memorial stands to the south-west overlooking the former technical site.

Then a third collision on the 27th March meant that six aircraft had been lost in five days with little or no enemy intervention. It was not a good start for the freshman of the 466th!

In an attempt to reduce these collisions, which occurred throughout the war, war-weary B24s were stripped of their armaments, painted bright colours and patterns, and lit up so formating aircraft could identify their correct path and position in the formation. Known as ‘Forming Ships’, ‘Circus Leaders’, ‘Judas Goats’ or more commonly ‘Assembly Ships’; they were painted in bizarre patterns and carried a huge quantity of pyrotechnics, that itself being a danger to the operating crews. Many units operated their own assembly ships for this purpose, the 466th using a former 44th BG B-24 ’41-24109′ painted entirely in red zigzags.

The 466th BG would recover from this terrible start and go on to operate in a strategic bombing role, attacking targets such as: Liege; Brunswick; the Bohlen oil refineries; Kempten aircraft plants; Hamburg; Saarbrucken; Misburg and airfields at St. Trond. They supported the Normandy landings, the St. Lo breakout, hit communication and transport links during the Battle of the Bulge, and supported the Rhine Crossing. They would fly their last mission on April 25th 1945.

The 466th BG would not suffer as badly as many of the other groups did. Their initial entrance in the war marred by losses, would soon fade away. By the war’s end they would complete a total 232 missions, a remarkable achievement in just over one year. A total of 5,762 operational sorties would see 12,914 tons of bombs dropped on enemy positions. They would lose ‘only’ 47 aircraft in action with a further 24 others being lost as ‘other’ loses. The 785th BS had the enviable record of 55 consecutive missions without loss, but the 466th were to also suffer the last aircrew casualties of the entire Eighth Air Force.

last crew shot down 21 apr 45 10kia

The last crew to be shot down over Germany, taken 21st April 1945, 10 of the crew were killed. Standing Left to Right: John C. Murphy (RN), John A. Perella (N), John A. Regan (CP), Richard J. Farrington (P), George E. Noe (PN), Chris Manners (B) Kneeling Left to Right: Robert E. Peterson (TG), John C. Brennan (WG), Jerome Barrett (FE), Howard G. Goodner (R/O), Albert Seraydarian (G) Only Manners and Seraydarian were able to bail out. .(IWM.)

After the USAAF pulled out, Attlebridge was returned to RAF ownership, it was put under care and maintenance and retained until sold off in 1959.  It is now owned by the Bernard Matthews company and as with many of the airfields that adorn Norfolk, they are now used to house Turkey sheds.


Views along one of the runways

The main runways and perimeter track of the airfield are very much evident and in a good state. As this is private ground, access is not permitted, but good views across the tracks can be gained from the local road. There were minimal visible signs of standing buildings, but the control tower was extended and is used by the management of the site.  More careful probing will reveal signs of buildings and  the bomb shelters laying waste amongst the trees. It is possible to drive round the entire site, being only feet from the perimeter track at any one time. Amongst these trees evidence can be seen of the airfields perimeter track. Odd derelict buildings lay swamped by vegetation and trees. At entrances to the site, good views along the runways give a perspective of the size of the place. Hard standings and concrete dispersal pens lay on either side of the road, now used to store sugar beet and other produce cultivated by the local farmers.

The accommodation sites, widely spread to the south-east, have little in the way of visible structures, although some huts are still used by small businesses and remain in reasonable condition.

The blister hanger still stands, although it is now showing signs of wear and its life may well be limited. Whilst large parts of the airfield have survived and survived well, many of the spectacle dispersals have been reduced, in some areas completely removed, presumably for hardcore, and only the tracks through the bomb store remain through the trees.

The western end of the main runway, perimeter track and connected dispersals have all been removed, the public road (Breck Road) now cutting through what was the main technical area. It is the only part that utilises any of the original perimeter track.

It is along this road, only feet from one of the dispersals, that there is a memorial dedicated to the crews of the airfield who served here.  A well-kept memorial, it portrays a Liberator of the 466th, 2nd Division, 8th Air force, ‘The Flying Deck’ and the badges of each of the four bombardment squadrons. It tells of the combat missions over Normandy, France, the Rhineland and the Ardennes. Dedicated in 1992, 50 years after the end of hostilities, it serves as a little reminder of those brave souls, who gave their all from this small part of Norfolk.

Attlebridge had the dubious honour of having the last crew to be shot down over Germany fly from it. As with other sites, its easy to picture a bustling base, aircraft rumbling along preparing to take off on what may be their last flight. Where man once stood, turkeys now breed.

USAAF Station 120

One of the Dispersal pans at Attlebridge.

Whilst visiting Attlebridge, it is worth taking a short journey westward to Hockering Wood, a site of Special Scientific Interest and one that is also steeped in history. More recently, it served as a massive bomb store, and evidence of its activities still remain.

(Attlebridge was visited in 2014 this page has been revised.)

Attlebridge forms a Trail taking in a number of airfields in this region all of which are covered in Trail 7.


Andrews Field where records were made.

This airfield forms the second stop on our Essex trail and is an airfield that is probably unique in that it was named after a General. After leaving Matching Green, we travel a short distance away and stop at the former base Andrews Field.

RAF Andrews Field

Andrews Field (officially Great Saling or Station 485) can be found nestled in the Essex countryside, not far from Stansted airport, about 3 miles west of Braintree. It has the unique honour, among many, to have been the first airfield designed and built for the USAAF in England.

Construction began in the summer of 1942 as a bomber station for the then fledging Eighth Air Force. Units from the 96th BG would start to arrive mid 1943 and their first operational duty would come in the middle of that same year. Heavy bombers of the 96th would go on to perform a strategic bombing role for the remainder of the Second World War, although not from Andrews Field.

Great Saling was renamed Andrews Field in honour of Lieut. Gen. Frank M. Andrews, who was killed when his B-24 crash-landed in Iceland on 3rd May 1943. Andrews was the eighth American general to lose his life (or to be reported missing in action) since the war began, and was known as a ‘doer’, once quoted in the New York Times as saying: “I don’t want to be one of those generals who die in bed.”*3

The airfield was built as a Class A airfield, with accommodation situated to the north-eastern side of the airfield. A communal site, two mess sites, six airmen accommodation sites, two WAAF sites, a sick quarters and a sewage works would accommodate upward of 3,000 officers, airmen, WAAFs and ground crews.  The airfield, with the pinnacle of the ‘A’ pointing north, had three hard runways, the main (2,000yds) running east-west and two secondary (1,400 yd) running north-west to south-east and north-east to south-west respectively. A perimeter track with 50 hardstands joined the three runways together. Further storage and maintenance ‘sheds’ were provided by two T2 hangars, one to the south and one to the east. A bomb store, for small bombs, incendiaries and fusing, was also to the south next to Boxted Woods. The main administrative area was to the east, where the main entrance led out of the site to the accommodation areas. The technical aspects of Great Saling were widely spread and in comparison to many other airfields of this nature, quite thinly catered for. With the majority of the work being undertaken on this side of the airfield, the western side was left primarily for aircraft dispersal.

A B-26 Marauder (serial number 43-34132) nicknamed

B-26 Marauder (s/n 43-34132) “Patricia Ann” of the 450th BS undergoing an engine test at Andrews Field. The aircraft collided with another B-26 (42-96279) over Beauville Airfield, it suffered damage but was able to return*1.

The first but not primary residents, were the heavy B-17s of the 96th BG, 4th BW, Eighth Air Force. Activated in July 1942 at Salt Lake City Utah, they trained on B-17s from the start of their inception. Moving to the United Kingdom in the following May, they would stay at Andrews Field for only one month before moving on to nearby Snetterton Heath on 12th June 1943. The 96th would operate four squadrons (337th, 338th, 339th and 413rd BS), attacking targets such as shipyards, harbours, aircraft factories, and major industrial targets across occupied Europe. Later in the war, they would receive a Distinguished Unit Citation before their return to the United States post war.

With their departure, Andrews Field would be passed over to a new unit, the 332nd BG, who were to be the largest and most major operational unit to serve at Andrews Field for the duration of the hostilities.

The USAAF was not generally associated with medium bombers, and the introduction of the Martin B-26 Marauder, would bring a whole host of issues. Rushed into service, it was to gain notoriety for poor handling, regular engine failures, weak undercarriage and high stall speeds that led to a string of accidents and crew deaths. The aircraft soon gained a collection of unsavoury names; ‘Widow Maker‘, ‘Baltimore Whore‘ and ‘Flying Prostitute‘, reasons for which were born out in its early days of flying.

B-26 Marauder (s/n 41-18276) “Pickled Dilly” of the 322nd BG. Later shot down 13km south of Abbeville, by Bf-109G-6 (JG301/1), July 8, 1944. 3 KIA 4 POW*2

The 322nd BG, activated at MacDill, Florida, trained with this particular aircraft and Marauder Squadrons soon found themselves transferring across the Atlantic to bases in both Suffolk and Norfolk as part of Eaker’s Eighth Air Force.

General Eaker however, soon decided that the low flying, medium bombers were adding little to his strategic bombing campaign, and so placed all the Marauder units under the control of the VIII Air Support Command, very much a back seat of the mighty Eighth’s activities. Coinciding with this move, was the decision to move all Marauder units of the 3rd Wing south so as to be within easy reach of the continent and more able to support the impending invasion.  The first units to be affected were the 386th (to Boxted), the 322nd (from Rougham to Andrews Field) and the 323rd (to Earls Colne). The headquarters for these also moved south, taking up new residency at the less luxurious Marks Hall, an Elizabethan mansion!

After a series of disasters at Rougham, the 322nd, arrived at Andrews Field on June 12th 1943. The four squadrons (449th, 450th451st and 452nd BS) all returned to action in the July, following a series of intense low-level training duties. Better successes followed, and this led to a growing belief in the Marauder’s capability in proven hands; the future began to look brighter for the aircraft. The 322nd went on to use their new skills, attacking targets that included airfields across the lowlands, power stations, shipyards and the rail networks. Success flourished and the 322nd would eventually earn themselves both notoriety and a DUC for their high performance; if nothing else it was a reputation that stopped the Marauder crews being on the wrong end of B-17 crew jokes.

Former RAF Andrewsfield

The 80,000 gl Braithwaite Water Tower at Andrews Field

On October 6th, 1943, the four units of the  VIII Air Support Command flew their last mission as part of the Eighth. Now there was a new control, the Ninth Air Force had moved to England. A new focus and more low-level strikes against the enemy led the preparation for the invasion. Coastal defences were hit and airfields in the northern area of France were targeted as part of operation STARKEY, the allied plan to fool the Germans into thinking a full-scale attack would take place around the channel ports.

Following the June invasion, for which the 322nd played a major part, they went on to continue supporting Allied ground movements. Battles at Caen and St. Lo helped the Allied forces advance through France: bridges, railway junctions, defensive positions and ordnance depots all came under the focus of the 322nd.

As the Allies moved further in land toward Germany, so too did the Marauders. In September 1944, the 322nd left Andrews Field and moved to Beauvais in France. They continued to support the Allies into the German Heartland performing their last mission on April 24th 1945, before commencing inventory duties in Germany and then returning to the US for disbandment on 15th December 1945.

By the end of their tour, the 322nd had performed remarkably. The Marauder had gone from one of the most despised aircraft to the perhaps one of the most respected. Its ability to perform in good hands, and its sturdy airframe, reflected its remarkably low loss rate, 0.3 %, 13 losses in only 4000 sorties.

After their departure, Andrews Field was passed to RAF control and a considerable number of fighter units would pass through here. First came the Mustang IIIs of 316 Sqn, who arrived in August 1944, staying until September 1945. The October of 1944, saw yet more Mustangs arrive, with 19, 122, 129, 315 and 316 sqns again all with the Mark IIIs. By now Andrews Field was a very busy base, and even more units were to pass through. In December, 309 Sqn arrived staying until August 1945, and it was during this year (1945) that 65 Sqn brought the updated Mustang IV as did 303 Sqn later in the August. A monopoly of American hardware was only broken for two months (June to August 1945) by the Spitfires of 276 Sqn.

Then as the jet age dawned and Meteors began to arrive, two squadrons would operate the aircraft from Andrews Field; both 616 Sqn and 504 Sqn (albeit for a short period only) would fly the MK.III, transforming the sound from piston engines to jet engines. As December 1945 came so did the departure of the 303 Sqn and the last remaining Mustangs, a move that signalled the end of military action at Andrews Field. Following this, the airfield was mothballed and finally put into care and maintenance.

Andrews Field was to produce some remarkable records during its operational time. The first by B-26 ‘Mild and Bitter‘ s/n 41-31819, of the 450th BS, was the first Allied bomber to pass 100 operational missions (in Europe). A second,  ‘Flak Bait‘, s/n 41-31773, became the first to surpass 200 missions – both remarkable feats when at that time few pilots relished the thought of flying just one mission let alone two hundred.

Post war, the airfield was used for a multitude of roles, eventually having much of its infrastructure removed and returning to a primarily agricultural role. However, aviation grew from the ashes and flying thrives once again through light aviation as Andrews Field Aviation. Offering a range of flying lessons, they keep the spirit of Andrews Field alive long after the last military aircraft departed on its final journey. Using a grass runway that follows the line of the original, it is one of the few reminders that an airfield existed here many years ago.

Andrews Field (Station 485)

A memorial board in the airfield clubhouse

Visiting Andrews Field today, there is little of its former life left. The runways, buildings and perimeter tracks have all but been removed. Much of the evidence of its existence lies in the nearby village of Great Saling. The 80,000 gl high level water tower (Braithwaite built to design 16305/41) stands on the former Site 3, now a playing field, and a defensive pill-box hints at the area’s historical use. The main accommodation areas are now either all built upon with small housing estates or ploughed up for agricultural purposes. The original entrance from the main road is today the entrance to a small quarry.

Driving away from the village to the rear of the airfield takes you along the former north-western perimeter track. Down here almost buried under the hedgerow are the steep banks of the firing butt. The road continues round to the southern side of the site, again utilising part of the original perimeter track. Entering the site, takes you alongside the runway to the clubhouse and parking areas. From here one of the remaining two T2s can still be seen, lurking in amongst the tress, as if defiant to development.

A rather unusual addition to the site is a somewhat forlorn Dassault Mystere IVA jet, gradually decaying in the British weather. It certainly has seen better days, and maybe one day it too will rise from the ashes and become a thing of aviation beauty once more.

A memorial to those who built the airfield can be found where the entrance to the sick quarters were, and a further memorial can be seen along the road linking Great Saling and the A120 in memory of the crews of the 322nd BG. Inside the clubhouse is a mural and photos of the airfield whilst under construction.

Andrews Field (Station 485)

The mural painted to commemorate the crews of the 322nd.

Andrews Field is an airfield that has clung onto its heritage, but whilst much of its former life has gone, the sound of small piston engined aircraft provides something of a reminder of the mighty engines that once relentlessly throbbed on this amazingly historical site.

After leaving Andrews Field, we travel a few miles west back again toward Stansted Airport. We stop at Great Dunmow and the neighbouring church at Little Easton.

Sources and further reading

1 Photo Roger Freeman Collection, IWM, FRE4482
*2 Photo Roger Freeman Collection, IWM, FRE1187
*3 New York Times published May 5th 1943 (accessed May 26th 2018)
The Mighty Eighth“, (1970), Roger Freeman, Arms and Armour,
RAF Squadrons“, (1998) CG Jefford, Airlife

A number of detailed and remarkable websites exist around the B-26, each is worthy of a visit. (art work)

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.