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RAF Welford Park
USAAF Station AAF-474
|Part of United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE)|
|Located near Welford, Berkshire, England|
501st Combat Support Wing
|Type||Royal Air Force Station|
|Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)|
|Controlled by||Royal Air Force (1943,1945-1948)
United States Army Air Forces (1943-1945)
United States Air Force (1955--present)
|Garrison||420th Munitions Squadron|
|Occupants||Royal Air Force
Eighth Air Force
United States Air Forces In Europe
|Battles/wars||European Theatre of World War II
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945
Opened in 1943, it was used during World War II by both the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Forces. During the war it was used primarily as a transport airfield. After the war it was closed in 1946 and placed in reserve status. As a result of the Cold War, the station was reopened in 1955 as a munitions depot by the United States Air Force
Welford is now under the command of the 420 Munitions Squadron, and comes under the command of the 501st Combat Support Wing, with headquarters at RAF Alconbury, which provides support to the Geographically Separated Units (GSU)s in the United Kingdom.
RAF Welford is located in West Berkshire with a now disused dedicated access road leading to the station from the eastbound M4 motorway to the west of the A34 junction with the M4. There is no access from the westbound motorway, so traffic leaving the station for the west must first travel east to the A34 junction before heading west.
The access road from the M4 is enigmatically signposted "Works Unit Only", but has the distinctive Red Border of a Defence Establishment.
Welford airfield (also called Welford Park) was built as one of the many Operational Training Unit airfields for the Southern Counties and was intended originally as a base for No 92 group Bomber Command. The original design called for a standard RAF 3 runway Class A airfield layout with the main runway of 2,000 feet (610 m) aligned NW/SE to be a satellite airfield for the nearby RAF Membury due to the high risk of Luftwaffe attack.
The ground support station was constructed largely of Nissen huts of various sizes. The support station was where the group and ground station commanders and squadron headquarters and orderly rooms were located. Also on the ground station were where the mess facilities; chapel; hospital; mission briefing and debriefing; armory and bombsite storage; life support; parachute rigging; supply warehouses; station and airfield security; motor pool and the other ground support functions necessary to support the air operations of the group. These facilities were all connected by a network of single path support roads.
The technical site, connected to the ground station and airfield consisted of at least two T-2 type hangars and various organizational, component and field maintenance shops along with the crew chiefs and other personnel necessary to keep the aircraft airworthy and to quickly repair light and moderate battle damage. Aircraft severely damaged in combat were sent to repair depots for major structural repair. The Ammunition dump was located on the east side of the airfield, outside of the perimeter track surrounded by large dirt mounds and concrete storage pens.
Various domestic accommodation sites were constructed dispersed away from the airfield, but within a mile or so of the technical support site, also using clusters of Maycrete or Nissen huts. The Huts were either connected, set up end-to-end or built singly and made of prefabricated corrugated iron with a door and two small windows at the front and back. They provided accommodation for personnel, including communal and a sick quarters, however in 1942 the plan had been modified to bring the dispersed accommodation sites closer to the airfield.
By April 1943 when the airfield was nearing completion, No 70 group assumed responsibility and the opening up party arrived on 10 June, using the WAAF site situated in a copse to the north of the site as the headquarters until construction work was finished and the 2 T-2 hangars complete. Additional hard standings for 50 dispersed aircraft was also provided connecting to an enclosing perimeter track, of a standard width of 50 feet.
With the need to find bases for the newly arriving USAAF forces, Welford was selected and the first contingent of Americans arrived on 6 September 1943, when the VIII Air Support Command took charge of the airfield. In October 1943 the airfield was allocated to Ninth Air Force IX Troop Carrier Command (TCC).
While under USAAF control, Welford was known as USAAF Station AAF-474 for security reasons during the war, and by which it was referred to instead of location. Its Station-ID was "WF".
- 34th Troop Carrier Squadron (NM)
- 43d Troop Carrier Squadron (UA)
- 309th Troop Carrier Squadron (M6)
- 310th Troop Carrier Squadron (4A)
The 315th TCG was part of the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing.
As part of the IX Troop Carrier Command's desire to have its C-47 groups commence training with paratroops of the 101st Airborne Division deployed in the Salisbury Plain area, the squadrons of the 435th Troop Carrier Group arrived at Welford on 25 January 1944 from RAF Langar flying C-47s and C-53s. Its squadrons and fuselage codes were:
- 75th Troop Carrier Squadron (SH)
- 76th Troop Carrier Squadron (CW)
- 77th Troop Carrier Squadron (IB)
- 78th Troop Carrier Squadron (CM)
The 435th TCW was assigned to the 53rd Troop Carrier Wing.
At Welford, the group began training for participation in the airborne operation over Normandy. On 6 February the 435th took part in the first joint airborne exercise when British and U.S. paratroops were dropped at Winterbourne Stoke. Intensive training activities continued, dropping paratroops and towing CG-4A Waco assault gliders.
The group entered combat on D-Day by dropping paratroops of 101st Airborne Division near Cherbourg in the early hours of 6 June, losing three aircraft. Later that same day, the group towed 12 Waco and 38 Horsa gliders carrying reinforcements to that area on the afternoon of D-Day and on the following morning. For these actions, the 435th received a Distinguished Unit Citation for its part in the Battle of Normandy.
In support of ground forces on the continent, the group carried out transport services following the landings in France and intermittently engaged in missions of this type until V-E Day. It hauled supplies such as serum, blood plasma, radar sets, clothing, rations, and ammunition, and evacuated wounded personnel to Allied hospitals.
The group interrupted supply and evacuation missions to train for and participate in three major airborne assaults. On 20 July, about half of the crews and aircraft were sent to Tarquinia Italy to prepare for the invasion of Southern France on 15 August. They were replaced temporarily at Welford by the 90th TCS/438th TGG until 23 August. During the invasion, the group dropped paratroops over the assault area on and released gliders carrying troops and equipment such as jeeps, guns, and ammunition. It flew a resupply mission over France on 16 August and then transported supplies to bases in Italy before returning to England at the end of the month.
On 17 September 1944 the group participated in the Operation Market-Garden, dropping paratroops of 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and releasing gliders carrying reinforcements. Heavy flak knocked down and damaged 10 C-47s dropping the 82d, and damaged another eight in the 101st drop. Two squadrons of 30 C-47s each towing gliders were sent out with reinforcements on 18 September and although 17 were damaged, all managed to return. On 19 September more missions were flown with gliders and three aircraft were lost. The 435th TCG moved to its Advanced Landing Ground at Bretignydisambiguation needed, France on 13 February 1945 for the airborne assault across the Rhine River on 24 March.
After the Market-Garden activities, the 435th returned to the task of hauling supplies and equipment to and from the Continent. This continued until early February when the group was moved to an Advanced Landing Ground at Breigny France (A-48). From France the group supported the advance across Germany delivering supplies to the ground forces.
After V-E Day the group transported supplies to occupation forces in Germany and evacuated Allied prisoners of war.
The group returned to Baer AAF, Indiana on 5 August and was inactivated on 15 November 1945.
With the end of hostilities, Welford was taken over by RAF Transport Command on 30 June 1945, and No 1336 conversion unit was formed. By late August flying once more commenced using Dakotas, Horsas and a few Oxfords for navigation and instrument training. By March 1946 a number of courses had been completed when the station was closed and placed under care and maintenance.
In October 1946 the station was transferred to No 90 (Signals Group), eventually becoming Headquarters Southern Signals Area and renamed HQ Radio navigation Aids. The unit stayed until 1948 before it was once again placed under care and maintenance.
On 1 September 1955 RAF Welford was again re-opened as a logistics site attached to the Third Air Force and was to remain in that role for the next 40 years. The 7531st Ammunition Squadron was the principal unit at Welford until it was replaced in 1959 by the 3115th Ammunition Squadron. A significant amount of new construction was made to the facility, with large numbers of ammunition bunkers being built over the World War II airfield.
From about 1954 the site was equipped with a comprehensive internal rail network connected by means of a dedicated branch line via the Lambourn Valley Railway to the main line at Newbury. Rail traffic lasted into the 1970s, bombs being transported in open wooden-bodied wagons sheeted with tarpaulins.
On 1 November 1962 the 7255th Ammunition Supply Squadron (ASUPS) arrived at Welford as the host unit until it was re-designated the 7551st ASUPS in 1972. In September 1986 the 7551st ASUPS was again re-designated now the 850th Munitions Maintenance Squadron (Theatre) MMS(t) USAFE and in September 1987 it became a direct reporting unit of the 3rd Air Force. In January 1993 the 850th MMS was re-designated Detachment 1, 100th Regional Support Group under the control of the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall. With the inactivation of the 100th RSG in 1994, Detachment 1 personnel became part of the 720th Air Base Squadron (720 ABS) with its headquarters at RAF Fairford. The Fairford/Welford unit was then redesignated to 424th Air Base Squadron from April 1995. In 1994 approximately half of the base was returned to the MoD for RAF use by USAFE and Welford became a joint-user facility run by the 424th ABS and the Royal Air Force. The RAF side was administered by RAF Brize Norton. In April 1999 the RAF side of the base was taken over by the newly formed MOD Defence Munitions Agency and for a while administered by the Royal Navy. In November 2002 MoD returned their side back to USAF and the entire base became the responsibility of the 424th Air Base Squadron at RAF Fairford once again. In 2005 424th ABS was redesignated 420th Air Base Group with its headquarters at Fairford and the munitions personnel at Welford became 420th Munitions Squadron. There were further minor changes in structure until 2008 with the dissolution of the 420th ABG. The 420th Munitions Squadron and the 420th Air Base Squadron then became part of the 422 Air Base Group at Croughton (which itself is part of the 501st Combat Support Wing based at RAF Alconbury).
It is usually at its busiest when the US government deploys bombers to a forward air station at RAF Fairford. Due to the specialized use of Welford, some of its World War II configuration remains, with large numbers of loop dispersment pads remaining, its T-2 Hangars still in use, and much of the perimeter track.
- Freeman, Roger A. (1994) UK airfields of the Ninth: then and now, London : Battle of Britain Prints International, ISBN 0-900913-80-0
- Maurer, Maurer (1983) Air Force combat units of World War II, Washington, D.C. : Office of Air Force History, ISBN 0-912799-02-1
- Master Sgt. Kenneth C. Burnett (9 September 2009). "An end of an era - M117 bombs depart RAF Welford". U.S. Air Force. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- "Fairford transition - Questions and Answers". U.S. Air Force. 6 January 2010. Retrieved 20 August 2012. "RAF Welford has reached a steady state following a similar transformation process last year. Now aligned under the 422 ABG, its future is secure."
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: RAF Welford|
- RAF Welford in photos
- A History of RAF Welford & Greenham Common
- Pilot's Eye Views of RAF Welford - Aerial photos (April 2007) on Part 4 of UK Secret Bases website
- Aerial Photo of RAF Welford from Multimap.com
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