This account of the Woodchurch Warbirds is used by kind permission of Rob Davies & Bob Gaylor
One of the two most southerly ALGs in the grouping used by the USAAF west of Ashford, Woodchurch was originally planned to support light bombers and thereby would need a bomb store near the site.
However, in a review of airfield building plans, this original requirement was dropped so Woodchurch was of similar specification to other ALGs in the district.
The actual location of this airfield was a mile north of Woodchurch village in a well-wooded area.
The creation of the two run-ways required the closing of minor country roads and the laying of approximately 4100ft of Sommerfield Track for the east/west strip (11-29) and 5,000ft for the main north/south (01-19) Construction started in January 1943 with a three month schedule: while most of the metal tracking appears to have been down by March it was several more weeks before all the specified works had been carried out.
Ways required the closing of minor country roads and the laying of approximately 4100ft of Sommerfield Track for the east/west strip (11-29) and 5,000ft for the main north/south (01-19) Construction started in January 1943 with a three month schedule: while most of the metal tracking appears to have been down by March it was several more weeks before all the specified works had been carried out.
A trial occupation began in late July with the arrival of Nos. 231 and 400 Squadrons with Mustangs. These units used Woodchurch for operational sorties until mid-October when, as with RAF fighter squadrons on other Kent ALGs, they withdrew to air fields with hardened runways or better drainage. RAF No.5003 Airfield Construction Squadron descended during the winter of 1943-44 with a mission to upgrade Woodchurch to receive a full USAAF fighter group by April.
The perimeter track was extended and additional aircraft standings created with BRC Runway intersections were reinforced with BRC and Rod and Bar track was laid on perimeter curves, marshalling areas and some standings. Aircraft cover was provided by five Blister hangars.
The 373rd Fighter Group, with its 410th, 411th and 412th Fighter Squadrons, started to arrive in the first week of April 1944 and by May some 70 – P-47s – were present.
At this time US engineers extended runway 11-29 by 900ft using PSP to the east across a minor road between New Street Farm and Stubbs Cross. The road was only closed when air-craft were taking off or landing. The group entered combat on May 8 with a fighter sweep over Normandy.
The usual mixture of escorts and fighter-bomber work followed while the pilots of this ‘freshman’ organisation gained experience.
As with other Ninth Air Force P-47 units, once the invasion had taken place, support of the armies by ground-attack became their prime job. There was some contact with enemy aircraft and on June 7 six were credited as destroyed in a dogfight over Normandy.
All told. 373rd pilots shot down 30 enemy air-craft while operating from Woodchurch. Losses amounted to 15 P-47s missing in action.
Movement to France took place in late July and most of the personnel and aircraft had left for Tour-en-Bessin (A-13) by the 31st. Woodchurch did not miss out as a haven for disabled bombers.
On June 29th a 458th Bomb Group Liberator landed without its nose wheel down causing irreparable damage to the aircraft and urgent work for the runway repair crew and another ailing B-24 put down safely on July 19.
Derequisitioned in September the RAF works unit, No.5024 ACS, appeared in the following weeks to remove the Sommerfield Track, the Americans having already lifted the re-usable PSP.
The area was fully returned to agriculture by the following year.
From the December 2014 Issue of Rye’s Own
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