RAF Chelveston

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RAF Chelveston
USAAF Station 105
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Eighth Air Force - Emblem (World War II).png Shield Strategic Air Command.png United States Air Forces in Europe.png
Located Near Chelveston, Northamptonshire, England
Chelveston-05-1945.png
Chelveston Airfield in 1945
Coordinates 52°18′06″N 000°32′00″W / 52.30167°N 0.53333°W / 52.30167; -0.53333
Type Air Force Station
Site information
Controlled by United States Army Air Forces
Royal Air Force
United States Air Force
Site history
Built 1940
In use 1940-1962

Royal Air Force Chelveston or more simply RAF Chelveston is a former Royal Air Force station located on the south side of the A645 (former A45 road), 5 miles (8.0 km) east of Wellingborough, near the village of Chelveston in Northamptonshire, United Kingdom.

During World War II the airfield was occupied by both the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces. It was given USAAF designation Station 105.

During the Cold War, Chelveston housed some flying units, however its main role was that of a readiness station to receive USAF units from the United States in case of an emergency.

In the mid-1970s, the majority of the airfield was sold by the Ministry of Defence to private landholders, with the exception of a military housing area currently occupied by American servicemembers assigned to RAF Alconbury and RAF Molesworth.

Origins[edit]

Construction of Chelveston began in 1940 with short grass runways and three hangars grouped together. The airfield opened in August 1941 as a RAF station. It was first used for the Central Gunnery School, then the Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment took over with its gliders.

However, the grass landing strips were deemed unsuitable for heavy 4-engine bombers, so concrete runways were constructed along with taxiways and hardstands. The airfield was upgraded to Class A airfield standards before being used by the U.S. Eighth Air Force as a heavy bomber airfield.

World War II use[edit]

60th Troop Carrier Group[edit]

In early 1942, Chelveston was turned over to the American Eighth Air Force. The first USAAF unit to occupy Chelveston was the 60th Troop Carrier Group. The 60th consisted of the 10th, 11th, 12th and 26th squadrons, equipped with 53 C-47 aircraft.

The 60th arrived in early July, but its stay was brief, moving to RAF Aldermaston at the end of the month. After its training in the UK, the unit moved on to the 12th Air Force for operations in the Mediterranean theater.

301st Bombardment Group (Heavy)[edit]

On 9 August 1942, the 301st Bombardment Group (Heavy) took up residence on the station. The 301st was assigned to the 1st Combat Wing at RAF Brampton. Its operational squadrons were the 32d, 352d, 353d, 354th and 415th Bomb Squadrons, each equipped with B-17Fs.

The unit was the second heavy USAAF bomber group to arrive in England. It flew its first operational mission on 5 September 1942 to the Rouen marshalling yards in northern France. During its stay at Chelveston, the unit attacked submarine pens, airfields, railroads, bridges, and other targets on the Continent, primarily in France.

The 301st BG was allocated to Operation Torch, and on 26 November 1942 it departed for the Twelfth Air Force, being moved to Tafaraoui Airfield, Algeria.

305th Bombardment Group (Heavy)[edit]

Boeing B-17F-115-BO Flying Fortress, AAF Serial 42-30647 of the 366th BS on a mission to Stuttgart, 6 September 1943. On 23 September 1943, this aircraft crashed at Chevelston returning from a mission, killing all on board.
Boeing B-17G-60-BO Flying Fortress, AAF Serial 42-102964 of the 366th BS on mission to Frankfurt, October 1944. This aircraft survived the war and was sent to Kingman Army Airfield, Arizona on 4 December 1945 for storage.

The next group to use Chelveston was the 305th Bombardment Group (Heavy), moving in from RAF Grafton Underwood in December 1942.

The 305th BG was assigned to the 40th Combat Wing at RAF Thurleigh. The group tail code was a "Triangle G". Its operational squadrons (and fuselage codes) were the 364th(WF), 365th (XK), 366th (KY) and 422d (JJ) Bomb Squadrons, each initially equipped with B-17Fs, then upgraded to the B-17G in 1944.

The 305th Bomb Group was one of the most decorated USAAF bomb groups in the European Theater.

During the winter of 1942/43, the 305th was commanded by Colonel Curtis LeMay and pioneered many of the techniques of daylight bombing used by the USAAF over Nazi-controlled Europe. These fundamental procedures and techniques were later adapted to the B-29 Super Fortresses which fought the war to its conclusion in the Pacific.

The 305th BG bombed the navy yards at Wilhelmshaven on 27 January 1943 when heavy bombers of Eighth AF made their first penetration into Germany. Through mid-1943, the group attacked strategic targets as submarine pens, docks, harbours, shipyards, motor works, and marshalling yards in France, Germany, and the Low Countries.

The 305th BG received the Distinguished Unit Citation for a mission on April 1943 when an industrial target in Paris was bombed with precision in spite of pressing enemy fighter attacks and heavy flak.

During the second half of 1943, the unit began deeper penetration into enemy territory to strike heavy industry. Significant objectives included aluminum, magnesium, and nitrate works in Norway, industries in Berlin, oil plants at Merseburg, aircraft factories at Anklam, shipping at Gdynia, and ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt.

A second Distinguished Unit Citation was awarded to the 305th for withstanding severe opposition to bomb aircraft factories in central Germany on 11 January 1944. The unit participated in the intensive campaign of heavy bombers against the German aircraft industry during Big Week, 20–25 February 1944.

In addition to bombardment of strategic targets, the 305th BG often flew tactical interdictory missions and supported infantry units. Prior to the Normandy invasion in June 1944, it helped to neutralize enemy installations such as V-weapon sites, airfields, and repair shops. On D-Day, 6 June, the unit bombed enemy strongholds near the battle area. During the Battle of Normandy the 305th attacked enemy positions in advance of ground forces at Saint-Lô in July 1944 and struck antiaircraft batteries to cover the airborne invasion of Holland in September.

The 422nd Bomb Squadron became a specialist unit in the summer of 1943, taking part in experimental night bombing missions with the B-17 and carrying out leaflet dropping sorties in the darkness. In 1944, the squadron extended its activities to pathfinder techniques using the H2X airborne radar.

The 305th took part in the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 − January 1945, by bombing military installations in the battle zone, and supported the airborne assault across the Rhine in March 1945.

Medal of Honor[edit]

1st Lt William R Lawley Jr and 1st Lt Edward S Michael, pilots in the 364th Bomb Squadron, each received the Medal of Honor for similar performances on 20 February and 11 April 1944, respectively.

In each case a B-17 was severely damaged by fighters after it had bombed a target in Germany, crew members were wounded, and the pilot himself was critically injured; recovering in time to pull his aircraft out of a steep dive, and realising that the wounded men would be unable to bail out, each pilot flew his plane back to England and made a successful crash landing.

Legacy

After V-E Day, the 305th moved to St Trond Airfield, in Belgium in July 1945 and Chelveston was returned to the RAF in October 1945. The 305th Bomb Group became part of the United States Air Forces in Europe, performing occupation duty at Lechfeld Air Base, Germany, December 1945 - 25 December 1946. The group was inactivated in Germany on 25 December 1946.

During the Cold War The United States Air Force 305th Bombardment Wing was activated in 1951 as a Strategic Air Command Boeing B-29 "Superfortresses", later B-47 Stratojet bomber wing. In 1952, the wing was bestowed the linage, honors and history of the World War II USAAF 305th Bombardment Group. In 1970, the unit was reequipped with Boeing KC-135 "Stratotankers" and was redesignated as the 305th Air Refueling Wing.

In 1992, the 305th was realigned to Air Mobility Command and redesignated as the 305th Air Mobility Wing. It was equipped with the Lockheed C-141B Starlifter and McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender aircraft. The 305th retired the last USAF C-141B in September 2004, and was reequipped with the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III.

The 305 AMW remains an active wing at McGuire AFB, New Jersey with over 55 years of service.

Postwar use[edit]

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, Chevelston was placed into 'care and maintenance' status by the RAF and became a satellite field for the No 25 Maintenance Unit.

20th Century Fox film crews shot the opening sequence of the film "Twelve O'Clock High" at Chelveston. In these scenes, an American AAF veteran played by Dean Jagger returns to "Archbury" (Chelveston), the home station for his bomb group. The airfield is mostly deserted, except for the occasional cow, but the control tower, huts and hangars still remain as ruined yet evocative reminders of what was once his home away from home.[citation needed]

Cold War use by USAF[edit]

1960 photo of Douglas RB-66C-DT Destroyer, AF Serial No. 54-470 of the 42d TRS/10th TRW at RAF Chelveston. This aircraft was used during the Vietnam War and was eventually scrapped at Kadena AB, Okinawa in 1973

.

With the Korean War and the growing threat of the Soviet Union, the US and UK agreed to an expanded US military presence in the United Kingdom. On 1 December 1952, Chelveston returned to American control.

RAF Chelveston was allocated to the Strategic Air Command (SAC), and a completely new jet runway (11,000') was constructed on the airfield to accommodate intercontinental bombers. Also, wartime buildings that were in a state of disrepair were replaced with new facilities.

No permanent USAF wing was assigned to Chelveston. The station's main mission was to be a reserve airfield, kept in a state of high readiness to receive USAF units from the CONUS in the event of an emergency. The B-47 Stratojet was a familiar sight at Chelveston as wings deployed on 90-day rotations. Two of the SAC B-47 Wings which deployed to Chelveston were the 301st Bombardment Wing and the 305th Bombardment Wing, direct descendents of the two World War II B-17 Bombardment groups assigned to the airfield.

Starting in November 1955 the airfielf was transferred to the SAC 7th Air Division as a standby facility, operated by the 3914th Air Base Group (SAC). In 1958 the church of St James in Thrapston received the pews which had previously been installed in the Chelveston chapel.

Chelveston was turned over to USAFE in August 1959. Shortly thereafter, it became the home for RB-66C's of the 42nd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron from RAF Alconbury's 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. In March 1962, the active runway at Chelveston was closed and the B-66's were transferred to Toul-Rosieres Air Base France.

After the B-66s departed the base was returned to a reserve status. The RAF used Chelveston for Civil Defence exercises. Mostly though, the station was maintained by a small RAF skeleton support staff. In August 1968, the station was put on alert during the Czechoslovakian Crisis, but no units were deployed there.

Throughout USAF jurisdictions, servicemen were encouraged and assisted to pursue hobbies and use the station workshops. Chelveston and Alconbury servicemen often built and raced stock-cars, and especially in the 1960s were famous around English race tracks for their building and racing skills and for their access to American-built V-8 engines.

Chelveston today[edit]

2005 sign offering the remainder of RAF Chelveston for sale

In the early 1970s due to budget cutbacks, the MOD decided to close Chelveston. The concrete runways, taxiways and hardstands were broken up and removed in 1977, with large quantities of aggregate being supplied to various construction projects in the Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire markets. The ground station 52°18′04″N 000°32′11″W / 52.30111°N 0.53639°W / 52.30111; -0.53639, with large numbers of nissen huts and other building erected during World War II and during the 1950s were also all demolished, including the removal of streets and other infrastructure. Although unused since the early 1960s, most of these structures were in relatively good condition at the time of their removal. Other parts of the base were sold to private agricultural interests, with the exception of some housing units 52°18′05″N 000°32′31″W / 52.30139°N 0.54194°W / 52.30139; -0.54194 retained by the USAF for families of personnel assigned to RAF Molesworth and a small school. These homes may have been sold by the MoD in recent years, due to the reduced number of American military personnel in the areas. The large J-Type hangar was retained by the 10th TRW at RAF Alconbury for storage of War Reserve Material (WRM) assets until the late 1980s. It was demolished after the closure of the Alconbury flightline.

An RAF signals facility was retained on the former airfield site, with a large array of antennas (part of UK STCICS). This site incorporated a microwave relay mast linking the site with the MOD in London and RAF Strike Command in High Wycombe. One mast was of 600W power that transmitted RAF VOLMET on 5.450 MHz USB and 11.253 MHz USB. The site was disposed of by the MoD in 2004.

Almost nothing of the former airfield remains, although some evidence of the wartime airfield can still be seen in aerial imagery.

In late 2005, RAF Station Chelveston were sold by Defence Estates to a businessman who is in the process of developing it into Chelveston Renewable Energy Park. In May 2007 a new memorial to the men that served at the RAF station during the Second World War was unveiled in their memory by some of their comrades.

RAF Chelveston USAAF/USAF Emblems[edit]

301st BG Emblem
SAC Emblem
USAFE Emblem
42nd TRS Emblem

See also[edit]

References[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

External links[edit]