Fields on the site of what would become Long Marston Airfield were used as an aerodrome in 1917 during the First World War, but activities ceased after the armistice.
In 1940, farmland worked mainly by Arthur Rees and some by William Southernwoods was requisitioned, and 1941 saw intense activity as building contractors George Wimpey flattened the land and constructed runways, service roads and buildings.
In March 1942 the new airfield (a satellite station to Wing) welcomed No. 26 Operational Training Unit of the Royal Air Force. This O.T.U. flew Avro Ansons and Vickers Wellingtons.
Then in September 1942 the facility was transferred to the United States Army Air Force. The first aircraft of the 8th Air Force 44th Bombardment Group to arrive were the nine B24 Liberators of 66th squadron, followed by those of 67th and 68th – all of which made the hazardous flight across the Atlantic.
But this first American occupation was brief; in October 1942 the group was transferred to RAF Shipdham in Norfolk, and the British O.T.U. moved back to Long Marston.
The following year the Americans returned, the airfield being handed to the 8th Air Force’s 12th Combat Crew Replacement Centre equipped with B24D Liberators. At this time the airfield became “Station 113”.
In March and April 1944 twin-engined P38 Lockheed Lightnings were based at the Airfield, flown by 50th Fighter Squadron of the 8th Reconnaissance Group, but the squadron was not made operational.
Other squadrons assigned to Long Marston in 1944 were:-
850th Bombardment Squadron (B.S.) 8th Air Force Composite Command (8AFCC) 11th – 27th May.
858th B.S. 8AFCC 19th June – 10th August.
406th B.S. 8AFCC 5th August – 16th March 1945.
36th B.S. 8AFCC 15th August – 28th February 1945.
This last squadron flew secret missions in specially equipped Boeing B17 Flying Fortresses and B24 Liberators, jamming enemy radar, disrupting radio signals as well as transmitting false information about non-existent Allied raids. Leaflets, including “Safe Passage” for surrendering German soldiers, and fake food coupons (which caused chaos in queues for dwindling supplies) were also dropped.
The airfield was not without tragedy; in 1944 the B24 liberator captained by Lt. Norman Landburg crashed, killing two members of the crew. (A memorial was dedicated to them at Ford End Farm in 2009).
In 1945, on the 19th February, Liberator 42-50385 “The Beast of Bourbon” piloted by Lt. Louis McCarthy suffered instrument failure immediately following take off, and in poor weather conditions it crashed in Upper Brade field. The ‘plane caught fire, and three crew members (all gunners) died. (On May 7th 2011 a ceremony was held in Long Marston to honour these men and dedicate a new memorial stone).
A further memorial to members of the US Armed Forces is situated at the Lukes Lane entrance, and uses an old runway light as its centre.
After the Second World War, the airfield was taken over by the British army, and closed (officially) in 1952.
However, the Great Train Robbery in August 1963 brought the area to the notice of the media, and a few weeks after the robbery, the BBC broadcast a current events programme exposing the covert activities on the airfield site.
Evidence emerged that the airfield had been used jointly by the CIA and MI6 to store weapons as part of a NATO operation code named GLADIO. In the event of Western Europe being invaded by the Warsaw Pact, these weapons would have armed “The Resistance”.
Today, although the runways have been removed for hardcore, much of the airfield is still intact. Service roads and buildings are used by an industrial estate which has an entrance off Cheddington Lane. A grass runway is still used occasionally by light aircraft.
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Article was written by Martin Winship.