The old airfield is known locally both as “Long Marston Airfield” and “Marsworth Airfield”. It occupies an area between these two villages and, at it’s northernmost point, is close to Cheddington. In fact it’s official title from the war years (and the name that is used in official records) is Cheddington. This is because all new airfields at the time were named by the nearest railway station.
The farmland to be occupied by the airfield was requisitioned in 1940 and the airfield was built and occupied by March 1942. Arthur Reeve farmed the majority of the land prior to requisition, the tenant of Church Farm, Marsworth and John Southernwoods grandfather William, the owner of Great Farm, Long Marston. In both cases, the farmers received a letter from the ministry instructing them to no longer plough their land and through 1941, the building contractor George Wimpey leveled the area and constructed the runways, service roads and buildings, much of which is still in evidence today.
The first occupants of the airfield were the RAF. The site was designated for Bomber training with the No.26 Operational Training Unit (O.T.U) who initially flew Avro Ansons and Vickers Wellingtons from here. This role continued until October 1941 when the airfield was handed over to the USAF. The first American occupants were the 66th squadron; arriving in nine B24 Liberators having made the crossing over the Atlantic in what in these times was a difficult exercise, not without danger.
The airfield spent the rest of the second world war under the control of the USAF and was referenced as “Station 113”. These new residents were to learn to love the English warm beer and for many, were introduced to the joys of riding bicycles!
The airfield saw occupation by a number of USAF squadrons and large numbers of aircraft, mostly large Liberators and B17 Flying Fortresses and a smaller number of P38 Lightnings. Its principal role throughout this period was as a training site and later was the base for psychological warfare and radar/communications jamming operations. The bombers on the latter roles carried “bombs” of propaganda leaflets and often parachuted secret agents into enemy territory. In addition they would be equipped with electronic devices to jam enemy radio transmissions and radar signals, flying in support of bomber squadrons from other airfields.
The Airfield Now
Much of the old airfield is still intact, the service roads and a number of the buildings are now used for industrial units within the Airfield Industrial Area. On the opposite side of the site, what was the Technical Complex has been returned to farming and the buildings abandoned to allow sheep to roam freely. These look very much as though the USAF simply moved out one day with the sheep moving in the next.
The following is a poem written by an American Airman stationed at Cheddington airfield in 1943:
“What will become of this little section of England that has been our life for the past two years? Will the runways and hard-standings lay abandoned and untouched in mute tribute to the men who worked, lived and sweated out the planes during the years of war and restriction? What will become of the dogs once fed so well around the mess halls – the legion of station mascots? Will they walk through deserted kitchens wondering where the chow lines and their GI pals have gone? What impression have we Americans made in our frequent contacts with the English people who have been our neighbours and companions during these long monotonous war-weary years? Probably these questions which probe into the future will not be answered for many years”.
Records indicate that a small part of the airfield was occupied by the US military up to as recently as 1975. The last occupants being the CIA!
“They took us all into a room at Cheddington and told us we were going to be working with a very secret operation and we weren’t to talk about it to anyone, not now or for the next forty years or we would be in jail. Since that time I haven’t talked about it much.”
“They took us up to Cheddington in trucks. We were the only ones there when we arrived, the RAF had already packed up and left. We went into town in the afternoon and had a hard time finding our way back that night. It was at Cheddington they told us the crew would be cut by two, we still didn’t know what we were going to be doing…”
At 1840 o’clock May 11, 1944, the Motor Convoy arrived at Station 113 near Cheddington, England. This was the Headquarters of the Composite Command of the 8th Air Force, and it was said that the 850th was here to undergo special training for work of a highly secret nature. Staff officers attended a special meeting at which the details of future operations were outlined.
Effective this date, two additional heavy bombardment squadrons are assigned to the 801st Group to carry out Carpetbagger operations. They are the 788th Bombardment Squadron, commanded by Major Leonard McManus, and the 850th Bombardment Squadron, commanded by Major Jack Dickerson. The 788th has been doing high-altitude bombing in the ETO, while the 850th is fresh from the States. Combat personnel of both squadrons are being checked out in Carpetbagger procedures at Cheddington, under the direction of Lt. Col. Fish.
The Harrington base is now assuming the proportions of a full-fledged Group. Besides the two new tactical squadrons, the following units are carrying on various aspects of maintenance and administrations: 35th Station Complement, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron of the 39th Service Group, 352nd Service Squadron, 1139th Military Police Company, 1077th Signal Company, 1220th Quartermaster Company, 18th Weather Detachment, 1645th Ordnance Company and 2132nd Engineer Fire Fighting Platoon.
Squadron Histories of the 801st BG, May 1944.
EUROPEAN THEATER OF OPERATIONS (ETO) STRATEGIC OPERATIONS of the EIGHTH AIR FORCE
850th Bombardment Squadron (H), VIII Air Force Composite Command attached to 801st Bombardment Group (P), moves from Eye to Cheddington, England with B-24s; the squadron is flying CARPETBAGGER missions. 4 B-24s are dispatched on CARPETBAGGER missions.
10/11 May – At the Osric 67 DZ, the pilot reported finding exact pinpoint, picking up the flashing “R”, but the lights went out when the aircraft was lined up to make a drop. The field reports they kept calling the aircraft in vain although it passed over the DZ.
11/12 May – The field acknowledges the success of Lt. Archambault’s drop at Scientist 32A.
8th Air Force Missions 350-352
* 977 bombers fly to France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and Denmark.
1007 fighters accompany them or fly on collateral missions.
* 16 bombers and 9 fighters are lost, 7 planes are damaged beyond repair, 227 planes return with damage.
* 163 airmen are MIA, 5 are KIA, and 34 are WIA.
* 2.4 million leaflets are dropped on Denmark.
Stars and Stripes Headlines – 13 May 1944
Allied Armies Ram Gustav Line
Force of 1,000 Bombers Blasts Leipzig Works
Invasion Fever Mounts as U.S. Awaits D-Day
Eye – 02May44 Cheddington – 11May44 Harrington – 27May44
31May44 27Jun44 01Jul44 03Jul44 05Jul44 07Jul44 10Jul44 11Jul44
“We went out over Brest… and the flak was so thick you could walk on it”
Leo – 1975
22 B-24s are dispatched on CARPETBAGGER missions over France without loss.
Mission reports indicate that Bales and Simcik flew a “buddy” mission with the Ward crew of the 36th BS in A/C# 784 on the night of 28/29 May to Peter 16 E in France. The mission was complete, dropping 12 containers and 10 packages while scattering leaflets over the towns of Ecouche, Souday, Saessy, Souesmas, Presly, and La Chapolotte on the return trip. On the same night Lt. Silverstein flew his “buddy” mission with the 36th BS crew of Fenster in A/C# 538 to Osric 24 in Belgium, also a completed mission dropping 12 containers and 2 packages while scattering leaflets over the towns of Hulst, Lakeron, Ternonde, and Alost on the return trip. Two nights later, the Bales crew flew their first combat mission as a complete crew, taking Sgt. Randall Sadler as a passenger. Flying for only the second time at Harrington, their ship was the former 389th BG plane from Hethel, “Fightin’ Sam”, shown below as it appeared when in the 389th.
Mission Report 520
Aircraft #42-40506 R “Fightin’ Sam”
Operation: Stationer 127
15th plane to depart Station 179
7th to return safely to Station 179
Load: 12 Containers, 5 Packages, 5 bundles of nickels
Take Off: 2250
Route: Selsey Bill 2559@ 7000′; Le Havre 0030@ 7000′;Enemy Coast 0124@ 7000′; Selsey Bill 0152@ 5000′
Enemy Opposition: Moderate light flak at Le Havre, alt. 7000′ 0030. Fairly accurate, approx. 100′ to either side of plane. Took evasive action.
Weather: Clouds & haze over England – Undercast over channel, which broke near French coast.
Captains Report: Compass was reading error of -20 degrees. Crossed English Coast at undetermined point, returned, found Selsey Bill. Proceeded approx. 40 miles into France. Turned back due to navigational uncertainty. Preceded to airfield approx. 30 mi. N.W. of home base received a Q.D.M. & returned to base.
Operational Summary of Missions – Night of 31 May/ 1 June 1944
Twenty-two planes, 7 from the 36th BS, 8 from the 406th BS, 4 from the 788th BS, and 3 from the 850th BS, return from night missions to 15-drop zones in Occupied Countries. Of the fourteen French and one unspecified country destinations, 3 planes had electrical or mechanical malfunctions and turned back, 3 planes were unable to locate the DZs, 8 found no receptions, and 3 had bad receptions. Eighty-four containers and fifty-six packages were successfully dropped at the 7 receptive DZs. Twelve DZs were single plane and three were multiple plane receptions. Among the fifteen failed missions, the Bales crew, who turned back because of a bad compass, reported moderate flak over La Havre. Eighteen planes scattered 424,000 leaflets over population centers on their return flights. The last plane to return was the Martin crew of the 788th BS, touching down at 0818 hours, while the first crew to return was the Chopper crew of the 36th BS at 0056 hours. All deliveries were made between the hours of 0103 and 0245. The 406th BS, with 36 percent of planes in the air, delivered 52 percent of the items for the night, while the 850th BS, with 14 percent of the planes, delivered only 2 percent of all items for the night. All planes returned safely to Station 179.
OVERLORD buildup in England as of 31 May 44
3,000,000 men in 52 divisions
1200 naval ships, including 2 battleships, 23 cruisers, and 105 destroyers
2500 landing craft
5200 bombers, 5500 fighters, 2400 transport planes on 163 airfields
On 30 May 44 OVERLORD troops began loading
Force A – 60,000 U.S. Troops with 6800 vehicles
Force B – 25,000 U.S. reinforcements with 4400 vehicles
British forces – 75,000 with 12,000 vehicles
Missions of the 8th Air Force on 31 May 1944
* Mission 382: 1,029 bombers and 682 fighters attack targets in Germany, France and Belgium.
* 1 bomber and 3 fighters are lost, 1 bomber is damaged beyond repair,
68 other planes are damaged.
* 1 airman is KIA, 5 are MIA, and 10 are MIA.
801st BG (H) (P) – August 1944 reorganization as the 492nd BG (H)
36th BS (H) – Became the 856th BS, some elements sent to Cheddington for Radio Countermeasure work others remained on CARPETBAGGER duties and received the group’s four C-47’s for evacuation of aircrews from Annecy to the UK. This unit operated practically as an independent unit under OSS direction.
406th BS (H) – Became the 858th BS, continued as the “Special Leaflet” squadron operated out of Cheddington. Returned to Harrington on the 14th of March 1945 and operated there until the 28th June 1945 with 20 aircrews along with B-17 and B-24 aircraft.
788th BS (H) – Became the 859th BS, sent to Italy in December 1944 to join the 885th BS. Subsequently the two squadrons formed the 15th Special Group (P) and were redesignated the 2641st Special Group (P) in March 1945.