RAF Isle Abbots
USAAF Station AAF-464
Merryfield airfield in 1943, having just been turned over to the USAAF by the contractors, shown with the village of Ilton.
|Type||Royal Air Force station|
|Controlled by||United States Army Air Forces|
Royal Air Force
|Battles/wars||European Theatre of World War II|
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945
|Garrison||Ninth Air Force|
RAF Transport Command
|Occupants||441st Troop Carrier Group|
RAF Merryfield (also known as Isle Abbotts) is a former Second World War airfield in the village of Ilton near Ilminster in southwest Somerset, England. The airfield is located approximately 7 miles (11 km) north of Chard, about 130 miles (210 km) southwest of London. It is now RNAS Merryfield and serves as a satellite to the larger RNAS Yeovilton; it is used mainly as a training facility for helicopter pilots.
The airfield was built on or near the historic estate of Merryfield (alias Merrifield, Murefeld, Merefeld, Muryfield, Merifield, Wadham's Castle, etc.), the former fortified manor house of which was situated about 1 mile west-north-west of the parish church of Ilton, and immediately south of the present airfield, and of which only a moated site remains, in the middle of farmland. The estate was the seat, from mediaeval times until 1609, of the Wadham family which founded Wadham College, Oxford in 1610, and whose monuments survive at the Church of St Mary, Ilminster. Today a large grade II listed 19th century mansion called Merryfield House is situated immediately south of St Peter's Church, Ilton.
Opened in 1944, the airfield was used by both the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Forces. During the Second World War it was used primarily as a transport airfield. After the war it was provided to the Royal Navy.
Merryfield airfield was to be built to the Class A airfield standard for bomber use, with a set of three converging concrete runways for takeoffs and landings, optimally placed at 60 degree angles to each other in a triangular pattern. John Laing Ltd was the main contractor. Work commenced late in 1942 and on 11 November the airfield was listed as one of 16 to be made available for the USAAF to meet the number of troop carrier groups projected for the UK.
Work proceeded slowly as there was a problem with the drainage of waterways crossing the site. In September 1943, the official name was changed from Isle Abbotts to Merryfield, such changes being usually connected with contractual alterations or where another airfield had a similar-sounding name which might cause confusion. In this case, however the change is puzzling as the same contractors were involved and Isle Abbotts appears singularly distinctive.
The airfield's main runway was 6,000 ft and aligned 10-28, the secondaries 4,200 ft at 17-35 and 3,660 ft at 04-22. All 50 hardstands were loop types in concrete with bituminous surfaces connecting to an enclosing perimeter track, of a standard width of 50 feet.
After the formal opening by the RAF on 9 February 1944, US engineers arrived to lay pierced steel planking at the main runway ends for glider marshalling while the necessary facilities for accommodating paratroops in the hangars arrived.
Merryfield was known as USAAF Station AAF-464 for security reasons by the USAAF during the war, and by which it was referred to instead of location. Its USAAF Station Code was "MF".
441st Troop Carrier Group
- 99th Troop Carrier Squadron (3J)
- 100th Troop Carrier Squadron (8C)
- 301st Troop Carrier Squadron (Z4)
- 302d Troop Carrier Squadron (2L)
During May 1944 1500 American troops of the 101st Airborne Division arrived in preparation for D-Day. These were part of the 24,000 airborne troops destined for Normandy. On the fateful day the airfield contributed fifty-seven C-47's, some towing gliders, to the 1900 aircraft flying across the channel from 22 airfields; creating an air armada 300 miles long. The operation kept the airfield busy, being used to fly reinforcements and support to France. On the 10th of July 1944 the airfield started to be used as 61st Field Hospital, staffed by 813rd Air Evacuation Squadron; the C-47's being used as air ambulances.
Soon afterwards word was received that the 50th Troop Carrier Wing would move to France, the 441st being one of the first two groups, with headquarters leaving Merryfield on 6 September for its Advanced Landing Ground (ALG), Villeneuve-Vertus Airfield (ALG A-63).
Merryfield was retained by the USAAF IX TCC for another two months while C-47s regularly ferried supplies and personnel before being handed over to the RAF at the end of October, thus ending the Ninth Air Force's association with the station.
The C-47 in its British guise, the Dakota, still held sway at Merryfield but in much smaller numbers than when the 441st TCG was in residence. No. 238 Squadron of RAF Transport Command re-formed there with the type during the winter of 1944-45 and, when it departed overseas, No. 187 was also re-formed at Merryfield to fly Dakotas.
No. 53 Squadron with Liberators replaced No. 187 in September, and it too was replaced by the Stirlings of No. 242 Squadron in December. No. 242 later converted to Yorks but the long distance flights to the Middle and Far East locations on which most of these transport units had been engaged gradually subsided and the Yorks departed in May 1946. The airfield closed that October.
Until the outbreak of the Korean War and a resurgence of air power, civilian caretakers looked after the otherwise deserted airfield. Late in 1951, Merryfield was re-opened as an advanced pilot training establishment (208 A.F.S.) with Vampire and Meteor jets. This unit was one of the first to be equipped, in early 1953, with Vampire T.11s. Some additional concrete was laid in front of the main technical site and other building work conducted before the station was again run down towards the end of 1954. During the following two years, a detachment from No. 231 Operational Conversion Unit, with Canberras, was often present. It was also used by Westland Aircraft for flight tests of the Westland Wyvern. Then came the Royal Navy with Sea Venoms but they withdrew early in 1958 and by 1961 it appeared the airfield had finally been abandoned.
Over the next few years, the airfield deteriorated and the hangars and some other buildings were sold off. A road that was closed when the airfield was built was re-opened making use of part of the main runway. In the early 1960s Ilminster Round Table organised an air display at Merryfield which featured a fly-past by an Avro Vulcan and a display by the then RAF display team, The Black Arrows, in Hawker Hunters.
In 1971, part of the airfield was again taken over by the Royal Navy for use in assault helicopter training and exercises that would not conflict with fixed-wing traffic on the Navy's other stations. Merryfield was soon subject to naval tradition by being labelled RNAS Merryfield (HMS Heron II) (IATA: N/A, ICAO: EGDI). In the event, the Navy's occupation proved to be the most enduring of the airfield's half century of existence, for it was still being used by its helicopters.
In more recent years the MoD has let out this airfield for the use of the scouts for camping events. Local cycling clubs also hold races on the perimeter road circuit and runways, including Regional Championships. It is the principal site of the Royal Navy Model Aircraft Association.
Today, there is security on the gate as it is still an operational airfield and a restricted area.
- Moated site: OS Map Grid Reference: ST33981779 Latitude 50.95575° Longitude -2.94131°
- "Unit History: RAF Merryfield". Forces War Records.
- Berryman, David (2006). Somerset airfields in the Second World War. Newbury: Countryside Books. pp. 105–123. ISBN 1-85306-864-0.
- "Merryfield (Isle Abbots), Somerset". Patrick Stephens Ltd. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
- "Merryfield (Isle Abbotts)". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
- My personal Pilot's Flying Log Book 21 Nov 1952/18 February 1953
- "Merrifield" (PDF). Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
- "Somerset Road Club Circuit Races". British Cycling. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
- "RNAS Merryfield". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Merryfield Airfield.|
- Freeman, Roger A. (1994) UK Airfields of the Ninth: Then and Now. After the Battle ISBN 0-900913-80-0
- Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
- RNAS Merryfield information
- Photographs of RAF Merryfield from the Geograph British Isles project
- Aerial Photo of RAF Merryfield from Multimap.Com