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USAAF Station 590
|Burtonwood Air Depot|
|Part of United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE)|
|Located Near Warrington, Cheshire, England|
Burtonwood Airfield in 1945
|Type||Royal Air Force station|
Royal Air Force Burtonwood or more simply RAF Burtonwood is a former Royal Air Force station 2 miles (3.2 km) northwest of Warrington, Cheshire (formerly in Lancashire), England. It was also known as USAAF station 590.
The facility was transferred to the United States Army Air Forces in June 1942 to become a servicing centre for the United States Eighth, Ninth, Twelfth and Fifteenth Air Forces aircraft. Burtonwood was also known as Base Air Depot 1 (BAD 1), although an RAF presence continued until October 1943.
Burtonwood was the largest airfield in Europe during the war with the most USAAF personnel and aircraft maintenance facilities. The roar of the engines in the test beds could be heard for miles around, especially at night. By the end of the war 18,000 servicemen were stationed at Burtonwood. According to some sources Burtonwood was placed strategically so that it was out of range of Luftwaffe bombers, but this is not true, as several Nazi raids were made on the facility. During their leave periods, American servicemen from Burtonwood virtually took over the centre of nearby Warrington.
Postwar USAF use
When hostilities ended, control of Burtonwood was returned to the RAF in June 1946 and became an equipment depot operated by No 276 Maintenance Unit.
In November 1946 six B-29 Superfortress bombers from the USAAF Strategic Air Command 43d Bombardment Group were sent to Burtonwood, and from there to various bases in West Germany as a "training deployment". In May 1947 additional B-29s were sent to Burtonwood to keep up the presence of a training programme. These deployments were only a cover-up, as the true aim of these B-29s was to have a strategic air force permanently stationed in Europe. The American presence continued with an echelon of United States Air Force personnel using the facility as a maintenance base for C-54 Skymasters used during the Berlin Airlift.
On 7 November 1953 the USAF 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron began operating from the base flying initially the WB-29 then WB-50D Superfortress, having been transferred from Kindley Field, Bermuda. The squadron was assigned to collecting weather data that was transmitted to weather stations for use in preparing forecasts required for the Air Force Military Air Transport Service (MATS) and the US Weather Bureau. The squadron was transferred to RAF Alconbury in Cambridgeshire on 26 April 1959.
MATS also used Burtonwood as a cargo and passenger transport facility until 1958, when its operations were moved to RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk. Transatlantic transport flights through the base were operated by Douglas C-54, Douglas C-118, Douglas C-124, Douglas C-133 Cargomaster and Lockheed C-130 aircraft. During the 1950s, European-based USAF aircraft were overhauled or modified at Burtonwood, including Republic F-84 Thunderjets, F-84F Thunderstreaks and North American F-86 Sabres.
A small village was built, with its own school and shop, to house the many US servicemen. The buildings were known as "Tobacco Houses", because the lease for the land was paid with American tobacco.
Major USAF use of Burtonwood ended in April 1959 when the flightline was closed although some use of the runway was made by gliders of the RAF Air Training Corps (635 Gliding School ran weekend training throughout the year and longer courses during school holidays). For several years the facility fell into disuse and the USAF returned the station to the Ministry of Defence in 1965.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the area was used extensively by Territorial Army and Cadet units for training purposes. The site was also used by the MoD for civil contingency and emergency planning exercises, as well as EOD exercises for Police; Fire and Rescue training.
In 2009 the final bunkers were demolished. However, the scars of the bunkers and runways can still be seen from the M62 motorway.
United States Army
US forces returned to Burtonwood in 1966 when France withdrew its military support for NATO. Burtonwood was used as a receiving depot for USAF and US Army equipment and supplies being withdrawn from their former French NATO facilities. Afterwards, the US Army took over the base and renamed it Burtonwood Army Depot.
The Army developed Burtonwood into a storage and forward supply depot operated by the 47th Support Group. The main warehouse was described as the largest building under a single roof in Europe. The idea was that in the event of an emergency, US troops in the USA that were earmarked for NATO service in Europe would fly over and pick up their kit from Burtonwood before going on to the battle front. It was never tested for this eventuality, although the base provided service functions for the 1991 Gulf War.
When the Cold War ended, Burtonwood Army Depot was declared excess to NATO requirements and was closed in June 1994.
The M62 motorway bisects the airfield in an east-west direction over the former main runway 09/27. Before junction 8 was made, the last part of this runway was still visible, but is now covered by Junction 8. Part of the airfield is also occupied by the motorway Welcome Break Burtonwood service station. The other two runways had orientation 03/21 and 14/32.
In the late 1950s, it was suggested that Burtonwood would be a better site for a regional airport than either of the sites now occupied by Liverpool John Lennon Airport or Manchester Airport. However, subsidence caused by coal mining, and civic pride, prevented action being taken on the proposal.
In late 2008 and early 2009 the remaining buildings were demolished over four months (the storage bunkers pictured in this article). Some of the World War II aircraft hardstands, part of the old airfield perimeter track, and the northwest end of a secondary runway exist.
The area south of the M62 has been cleared of all structures and almost all concreted areas, to make way for the Omega commercial development and building a new urban village called Chapelford.
- "Burtonwood", Aldon P.Ferguson, Airfield Publications, 1986, Reading, ISBN 0-9511113-0-2
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to RAF Burtonwood.|
- Facts and figures about Burtonwood
- BBC history of Burtonwood
- Burtonwood at CBRD
- Service station
- September 1981 photos of RAF Burtonwood
- The Omega Opportunity
- Subterranea Britannica: Burtonwood
- Chapelford Urban Village