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USAAF Station 366
|Located near Metfield, Suffolk, England|
RAF Metfield - January 1947
|Controlled by|| Royal Air Force
United States Army Air Forces
|Battles/wars||European theatre of World War II
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945
|Garrison||Eighth Air Force|
|Occupants|| 353d Fighter Group
491st Bombardment Group
Metfield was built as a standard, Class-A bomber design airfield, consisting of three intersecting concrete runways, fifty dispersal points and two T-2 type hangars. Additional buildings were also erected to house about 2,900 personnel on former farmland to the southwest. When it was constructed in 1943, it necessitated the closure of the B1123 road between Halesworth and Harleston.
The airfield was built for the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Eighth Air Force as a heavy bomber field. During the Second World War it was known as USAAF Station 366. Metfield was one of the most isolated Eighth Air Force stations in Suffolk.
353d Fighter Group
Operational squadrons of the 353d were:
Group markings were black, yellow, black, yellow spinners, with a 48-inch black and yellow check band around the cowling to the end of the exhaust stubs.
Equipped with P-47D Thunderbolts, operations commenced on 12 August 1943. It was the fourth P-47 unit to join the Eighth Air Force. From Metfield the 353rd flew numerous counter-air missions and provided escort for bombers that attacked targets in western Europe, made counter-air sweeps over France and the Low Countries, and dive-bombed targets in France.
On 12 April 1944 the 353rd moved to RAF Raydon.
491st Bombardment Group (Heavy)
With the departure of the P-47's of the 353d, a B-24 Liberators bombardment group, the 491st Bombardment Group (Heavy) moved in. The 491st starting arriving on 15 May and the last aircraft arrived on 30 May 1944.
The 491st was assigned to the 95th Combat Wing at Halesworth. The group tail code was a Circle "Z". Its operational squadrons were:
- 852d Bombardment Squadron (3Q)
- 853d Bombardment Squadron (T8)
- 854th Bombardment Squadron (6X)
- 855th Bombardment Squadron (V2)
The squadrons were unusual in it having its ground complement recruited from other stations of the 2d Air Division. The group commenced operations on 2 June.
The 491st attacked airfields, bridges, and coastal defenses both preceding and during the invasion of Normandy. After D-Day, the unit concentrated its attacks on strategic objectives in Germany, striking communications centers, oil refineries, storage depots, industrial areas, shipyards, and other targets in such places as Berlin, Hamburg, Kassel, Cologne, Gelsenkirchen, Bielefeld, Hannover, and Magdeburg.
On one occasion the 491st attacked the headquarters of the German General Staff at Zossen, Germany.
On 15 July 1944 at 7:30pm, the bomb dump at Metfield exploded. One bomb mysteriously detonated, practically setting off the entire munitions storage area. 1,200 tons of high-explosive and indendinary bombs rocked the countryside for miles around. Five men were killed and 5 B-24's in nearby hardstands were severely damaged beyond repair. An additional six aircraft were severely damaged. There is an eye witness account of being blown flat 3.5 miles away from the explosion.
After the explosion, an extended loop road was built to by-pass the crater left by the explosion. The crater subsequently became a dump for all manner of discarded items.
1409th Army Air Force Base Unit
After the 491st moved, a small number of B-24's were still assigned to Metfield, under the command of the European Division of Air Transport, United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe (USSTAF). These aircraft were used by the 1409th Army Air Force Base Unit, a classified unit engaged in clandestine transport operations to Sweden, flying out special materials and ferrying personnel.
On 4 March 1945, during "Operation Gisela" Metfield was strafed by a Ju-88(G-6) of the Luftwaffe, killing one man in the control tower. The aircraft crashed just south of the base, after attempting to attack an inbound B24, with its upward firing cannon.
Royal Air Force use
Metfield was not used by the Air Ministry after the Second World War ended and for years it sat abandoned and empty. In 1964 and 1965, the airfield and support buildings were sold to private individuals.
Metfield was returned to agricultural use; however, the site of the bomb dump explosion could be seen for many years as a water-filled lake.
When the lake was cleaned out, all types of discarded equipment was found, including several unexploded bombs. Indeed, ordnance that was tossed into the air during the bomb dump explosion has been found over the years in the fields surrounding Metfield. Pieces of metal from the exploded bombs has been found scattered over the area to the present day.
In the late 1960s, the main runways, taxiways and parking aprons were mostly torn up or turned into single lane agricultural roads.
Very little evidence of the airfield can be seen today only a few brick buildings, deteriorating Quonset (Nissen) huts, and some concrete roadways that were aircraft taxiways.
- Freeman, R. Airfields of the Eighth - Then and Now. After the Battle. London, UK: Battle of Britain International Ltd., 2001. ISBN 0-9009-13-09-6.
- Freeman, Roger A. (1991) The Mighty Eighth The Colour Record. Cassell & Co. ISBN 0-304-35708-1
- Maurer, M. Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. USAF Historical Division. Washington D.C., USA: Zenger Publishing Co., Inc, 1980. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
- USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers—1908 to present
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