|Wormingford Airfield, Fordham Road, Wormingford, Colchester,|
Essex CO6 3AQ Tel: (01206) 242596
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by Frank Fear
In World War One, the land which is now the airfield was requisitioned by Major W. Bowen Hargrave, Commander of the 37th Home Defence Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. The field was used as a forward landing ground for B.E.12 and F.E.2b fighters to counter the threat of the German Zeppelin raids. The date of this order was 16th February 1917. Four months later, on the night of 16th/17th June 1917, Lt. L. P. Atkins achieved the squadron's first victory; with a good burst of gunfire from his B.E.12 fighter he brought down Zeppelin number L.48 which crashed in flames near Theberton, just 35 miles north east of Wormingford. After World War One, local landowners used the site for their own private aircraft.
With the threat of the Second World War, the area was surveyed as a possible site for a heavy bomber station. Air Ministry plans were approved and compulsory purchase orders were issued. Messrs. Richard Costain Ltd. started the necessary topographical clearance and the building of a standard Class A bomber airfield, with a 2000 yard main runway and two intersecting runways of 1400 yards each. To meet the USAAF requirements it had 52 hardstandings and two Type 2 hangars. In addition, temporary buildings to house 2900 personnel were provided. A construction like this would have cost somewhere in the region of a million pounds in those days. The work started in 1942 and was completed by November 1943. The airfield was assigned to the USAAF Eighth Air Force as a heavy bomber base, but was surplus to their requirements. It was then designated as a fighter base.
At the end of November 1943, The Ninth Air Force in the shape of the 362nd Fighter Group, under the command of Colonel Morton D. Magoffin, arrived with their three fighter squadrons, 377th, 378th and 379th. The personnel of the Group had travelled from the States by sea to Glasgow and from there by train to Bures. The Group received their first P-47 Thunderbolt fighters on 29th December 1943. Once fully operational, the Group cut its combat teeth escorting bombers of the Eighth Air Force on their missions over the Continent. The Group was named "Mogin's Maulers" as a tribute to their commander Col. "Mogin" Magoffin. January 1944 saw the Group's first casualty when the 377th Squadron Commander, Major John Fischer, was shot down and was taken prisoner of war. Sadly, worse was to follow. On 10th February 1944 2nd Lt. William F. Hall of 378 Fighter Squadron was killed in action. On the same day the Group claimed its first combat air victory, an Me109, a probable score credited to Major Joe Laughlin, Commander of the 379th Fighter Squadron. The 362nd Fighter Group's last mission from Wormingford was a strafing mission. Very bad weather conditions prevented the majority of attackers getting through to their assigned target at Thionville. However, the 362nd FG reached the target and destroyed a large number of enemy aircraft on the ground. The date was 14th April 1944. The next day the Group moved to Headcorn in Kent to support the D-Day landings and then on to cover the break-out of the beachhead. In July 1944 the Group established a base in France at Etaine to provide air support to General George Patton's Third Army. It was about this time that Col. Magoffin was shot down near Paris on 19th August 1945. His POW days were short as he was liberated a few days later when the city fell into Allied hands.
Throughout their tour of duty, the pilots of the 362nd Fighter Group distinguished themselves with their heroism against the enemy. The Group was awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations (DUC), the first for action on 25th August 1944 when they were assigned to attack targets in the vicinity of Brest. The three squadrons directed their attacks against a concentration of naval and merchant vessels in the harbour. As a result, direct hits were scored on two cruisers, one of which was left beached and burning. In this action the new CO of the Fighter Group, Col. Joseph Laughlin had the distinction of being the only USAAF fighter pilot in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) to have sunk a capital German warship. The whole of this operation accounted for the destruction or damage of twelve naval and merchant vessels engaged in troop evacuation.
The second DUC followed the events on 16th March 1944 when the 362nd Fighter Group dispatched a total of 175 P-47 Thunderbolt fighters against enemy transportation and associated facilities and ground artillery. Attacking viciously against intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire, the Group destroyed or damaged 420 military transports, and seven armoured vehicles. Included in this catalogue of destruction were locomotives, gun emplacements and road and railway installations. Although close air support was the Group's primary function, they managed to shoot down 137 German aircraft at the cost of 97 of their own pilots.
There were three "Aces' in the Group:
|Capt. Edwin Fisher, 377th Fighter Squadron||7 victories (killed in a 1946 flying accident)|
|Capt. Joseph Z. Matte, 378th Fighter Squadron||7 victories|
|Col. Morton Magoffin, CO of 362nd Fighter Group||5 victories|
The departure of 362nd Fighter Group from Wormingford heralded the arrival of the US 8th Air Force, The 55th Fighter Group with three fighter squadrons, 38th, 338th and 343rd. The group, equipped with P-38 Lockheed Lightnings, moved in on 16th April 1944. The 55th Fighter Group achieved the distinction of having the first American fighter squadrons in the skies of Berlin. The 55th FG patrolled the English Channel during the Normandy invasion. From 5th to 11th June 1944 the Group flew three missions a day, dawn to dusk. A total flying time of ten and a half hours.
In July 1944 they converted to P-51 Mustangs, a much more nimble machine with a much greater endurance, and capable of escorting the bombing missions to and from their furthest targets. The P-51 is considered to be the most successful of the fighters of this period.
The Group received two Distinguished Unit Citations (DUC). The first was for action over Germany protecting the bomber fleet. In eight missions between 3rd and 13th September 1944 they destroyed 106 enemy aircraft, some in air combat, some on the ground. The second DUC was for a ground strafing mission that destroyed many enemy assets on the ground such as locomotives, oil cars and assorted railway vehicles.
The Group operated from the airfield throughout the rest of the war. During this time, the three squadrons scored a total of 316.5 aerial and 265.5 ground victories. The tally of pilots who achieved the status of "Ace" is as follows:
|William H. Lewis||8 victories|
|Darrell S. Cramer||7.5 victories|
|Elwyn G. Righetti||7.5 victories|
|Earl R. Fryer||6.5 victories|
|Bernard H. Howes||6 victories|
|Robert E. Welch||6 victories|
|Dudley M. Amoss||5.5 victories (ex-RAF, he claimed the 55th's first jet)|
|Robert T. Buttke||5.5 victories|
|John D. Landers||14.5 victories (primarily with other units)|
Included in this score are 2 Me262 Jets. He served with 347th FG 13th AF, and 49th FG 5th AF. (Credit: D. M. Cummings)
The native of Pasadena, California had the unique distinction of receiving credit for an enemy plane attacking him from the rear. On a mission in December 1944, Lewis was being pursued in a steep dive by a German fighter. Lewis pulled out but when the German tried to follow, his wing separated and he went in. His biggest day came on 5th September 1944 when he and three other pilots tangled with some sixteen planes and downed all of them. Lewis was credited with four of the victories. (Credit: W. Smelzer, W. Hess)
Like William Lewis, Allen's big day came on 5th September 1944. In fact all of his aerial victories came on this day when the flight led by Lewis ran into sixteen German planes and downed all of them. (Credit: W. Hess)
Buttke, a veteran of two tours with the 55th, scored his half victory on 27th February 1945. On this occasion, he and Lloyd Boring teamed to down a JU-88. His P-51 was named "Lovenia" and was coded CY # F. This plane carried the pilot's name and those of his crew on the canopy frame. (Credit: W. Smelzer)
Welch, a native of Brown City, Michigan, got most of his victories during the autumn of 1944. Amongst his victories was one on Christmas Eve 1944. This particular German didn't even wait to be shot; he went over the side as soon as Welch got on his tail. His last victory came on 17th April 1945. (Credit: W. Smelzer)
Coons began and ended his victories in the same way - by scoring a double. His first pair came on 11th September 1944 and his last on 5th December of the same year. Coon's aircraft, "The Worry Bird", carried the serial number 44-14068 (Credit M. Coons)
In addition to his aerial victories, Righetti scored 27 ground victories to lead the Eighth in that category. On 24th December 1944 he downed three FW-190s. Righetti rose to command the 55th from February 1945 until he was lost on 17th April. On this date he had led the Group on a successful attack against German planes on the ground (he was credited with nine himself) when he bellied in. Righetti survived the crash only to be killed by hostile civilians a mere four days before the Group flew its last mission. (Credit: W. Smelzer)
These achievements were not without cost. The 55th Fighter Group suffered the loss of 182 pilots.
Constituted as the 3rd Air Division Scouting Force in August 1944. Originally the force consisted of eight volunteer pilots with Command or Lead Pilot experience with at least one tour of operations on B-17 or B-24 bombers. The Commanding Officer, Major Vincent W. Master's record was typical of his pilots, having completed 28 missions with his previous squadron in the 385th Bomb Group. All pilots received weather observation training and a 20 hour conversion course on the P-51 Mustang before posting to Station 159 at Wormingford.
Their task in September 1944 was to fly their P-51 fighters to scout target visibility ahead of the 3rd Air Division bombers and carry out escort duties. With their designated task of reporting meteorological conditions, it was a logical step to expand this capability by using the services of a professional meteorologist. In January 1945, 1st Lt. Ivan D. Carlton (Meteorologist) was tasked with reorganising and expanding the operational rôle of the unit. In addition to the P-51 target scouts, eight very fast B-17s arrived on the scene, stripped of all but the essential armament (the tail gun remained). The B-17s were crewed by Pilot, Co-Pilot, Navigator, Engineer, Radio Operator, Tail Gunner and a Meteorologist. The B-17s scouted the weather throughout the whole European Theatre of Operations (ETO).
The unit inherited the table of Organisation from the 862nd Bomb Squadron on 1st February 1945 and became the 3rd Scouting and Weather Force. They flew 132 missions consisting of 1300 sorties. The Mustang scouts claimed 4 air combat victories. The 3rd Scouting Force lost five pilots. Of these, the last one to be lost was Captain Tom L. Fitzsimmons. He was killed in action on 20th April 1945.
One month later on 18th May 1945 the unit was deactivated at Wormingford.
After the second World War, the frenetic activity on the airfield was replaced by a period of graceful degradation. From 1945 to 1946, RAF Transport Command used the airfield as a base to remove the war paint from their fleet of C47 Dakotas. From 1946 to 1947 the airfield became a vast Government store. In the 1950's a local engineering firm, Messrs. Woods of Colchester, used the field as a base for their executive aircraft. In 1962 the airfield was returned to civilian ownership and from 1966 to 1971 it was a licensed civil airfield. From 1971 to 1990 the land was returned to farmland with most of the runways and hard-standings broken up for hard-core for road building in the area. In the middle of 1990 the Essex & Suffolk Gliding Club moved in. The temporary clubhouse, a "Portacabin" with only basic facilities, was positioned in the north-east corner of the airfield, the gliders being launched from the remnant strip of the old main runway. The membership of the club, although modest in numbers, makes up for this in the dedication of its qualified pilots, who give their time and experience to encourage and train their fellow members. In June a new glider hangar was officially opened by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. The club provides flying facilities for all who join. It has a Junior Cadet section, where the youngsters collect "flying points" by doing various menial tasks in the club. For these points they get free flying instruction.
I am greatly indebted to Mr. Victor John Lewis, history researcher, and to the Wormingford Aerodrome Research Society (WARS) for their help and guidance with this project.
F. L. F. 21/05/99
In June 1998, the Essex & Suffolk Gliding Club were given the unique privilege of taking into our care the flag of the United States of America, the "Stars & Stripes". This flag flew over the United States White House in honour of the 9th USAAF, 362nd Fighter Group's 377th, 378th & 379th Fighter Squadrons who operated from this airfield in the early part of 1944.
The flag has been donated by a former member of 362nd Fighter Group, Mr Martin Lucash of Lakehurst, NJ, USA, who would like it, together with two Presidential Unit Citations, to be displayed in the Gliding Clubhouse, to remind all who see it of the operations that were carried out from this airfield.
The Trophy was handed over to the Club in the presence of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh on Wednesday 3rd June 1998. After the ceremony a wreath was laid on the 9th USAAF Memorial, which is situated just by the airfield perimeter opposite Jenkins Farm.
Afterwards, tea was held in the Clubhouse. A contingent of the 362nd FG veterans from the United States was in attendance. Also present was the Mayor of Colchester, Mr. David Cannon.
F. L. F. 21/05/99
Ken Cotterell, who flew from Wormingford in World War 2, in our K21: