RAF North Witham

The images are from an SKDC organised walk round giving a very informative insight into RAF North Witham on 5th June 1944. Words below from Wiki!

It was established by the British Royal Air Force, and was lent to the United States Army Air Forces Ninth Air Force. The airfield was also known as USAAF station 479. Today it is now abandoned.

North Witham was designed as a bomber airfield as part of the RAF’s rapid expansion during World War II in the Air Ministry No. 7 Group area. Construction commenced late in 1942 with J. Mowlem & Co Ltd as main contractors. The acerage used for the airfield proper necessitated the closing of a minor road to Swayfield village. The runways were the optimum 6,000 ft main and 4,200ft secondaries, aligned 02-20, 06-24 and 12-30 respectively. The 50 hardstands were all loop type and the hangars the usual two T-2s.

It opened officially on 15 December 1943, the first RAF personnel having arrived the day before.

The first American personnel arrived on 31 December 1943, having been been accommodated at the nearby RAF Cottesmore. Domestic accommodations had Nissen huts for 2,324 persons but in addition to this several hundred Gls had to be accommodated in tents.

1st Tactical Air Depot
North Witham was allocated to the USAAF Troop Carrier Command in August 1943, although the airfield was not fully completed until late in the year when it had become the preferred site for the 1st Tactical Air Depot. Its immediate task was to distribute transport aircraft and the means of maintaining them to operational groups of the USAAF. At this time that meant handling the type known by its maker, Douglas, as the DC-3, to the RAF as the Dakota and to the USAAF as the C-47, of which IX Troop Carrier Command (TCC) had 1,410 at peak inventory.

As at other airfields where Tactical Air Depots were established. the major organisations were two Air Depot Groups (ADGs), each having a Depot Repair Squadron and a Depot Supply Squadron, a Quartermaster Truck Company. a Quartermaster Supply Platoon and an Ordnance Medium Maintenance Company.

There were also specialist units present serving both ADGs and the usual Military Police Company and Station Complement Squadron to guard and run the airfield, The two ADGs at North Witham were the 29th and 33rd (the 85th ADG was present until February 1944) and, apart from their direct control of units on the airfield, they were responsible for seven Service Groups divided into A and B teams, each based with and serving one of the 14 Troop Carrier Groups in the IX TCC.

When IX TCC was transferred from the Ninth Air Force to the First Allied Airborne Army control on 1 September 1944, the North Witham organisation’s title was changed to IX Troop Carrier Service Wing (Provisional) although activities continued much as before. As North Witham had only two T-2 hangars, US army engineers erected six Butler combat hangars to give additional coveted shelter for engineering work. Additional workshops were also erected on the technical site.

IX Troop Carrier Pathfinder Group (Provisional)

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the Day. `Full victory-nothing else’ to paratroopers in England, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the invasion of the continent of Europe. Note the tents.In March 1944, the Command Pathfinder School of the U.S. IX Troop Carrier Command, moved in from a nucleus formed at from RAF Cottesmore to train air crews and pathfinder paratroopers. The latter would act as scouts, provide with radio communication, including beacons, ahead of a main drop of parachute troops. At this stage, much of the living accommodation was under canvas.

IX TCC groups selected three crews each for training, and trained on school C-47s fitted with “Gee” radar triangulation navigational equipment and a limited number of SCR-717-C search radar sets. “Rebecca” (AN/APN-2) interrogators were also installed to query “Eureka” (ANIPPN-l) transponders, the ground set which was used to mark the landing or dropping zones during an airborne operation, the combination Rebecca/Eureka transponding radar system used as a homing beacon. The pathfinder air crews worked with teams drawn from paratroop regiments, the task being to locate a given dropping point with a combination of Gee and SCR-717-C, drop the paratroops who would then set up Eureka sets and visual aids on the ground to guide in the main airborne force to within an optimum visual range for an accurate delivery.

It was IX TCC Pathfinder School C-47s that led the air invasion forces on 5 June 1944, when the pathfinders of US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions took off for Normandy, leading the American airborne landings in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord.

At 21:30 hours on 5 June 1944 the first of seven serials (six of three aircraft and one of two) with about 300 pathfinders were dispatched from North Witham for the French Cotentin Peninsula, in 20 C-47 aircraft. They began to drop at 00:15 on June 6, to prepare the drop zones for the follow-on airborne parachute divisions. They were the first US troops on the ground on D-Day. However, their aircraft were scattered by low clouds and anti-aircraft fire. Many never found their assigned landing zones. Some of the landing zones were too heavily defended, some were flooded. One of the pathfinder C-47s for the 101st Airborne was forced to ditch en route to Normandy.

In August 1944, twelve Pathfinder C-47s were detached to operate from Marcigliano airfield, north of Rome, for Operation “Dragoon”. Just prior to Operation “Market”, the Pathfinder School, re-designated the IX Troop Carrier Pathfinder Group (Provisional), moved from North Witham to RAF Chalgrove between 10/14 September due to an expansion of the C-47/C-53 Air depot.

Training of Polish airborne troops followed but by December, the war had moved on and the Air Depot Group began to move to France.

Bomb disposal
USAAF C-47 maintenance repair activities continued at North Witham until May 1945, albeit on a reducing scale. On 1 June 1945 the station was handed over to No. 40 Group, RAF Maintenance Command.

Under RAF control, the airfield became a bomb dump under 100 Maintenance Unit. There had been bomb dumps in fields and roadsides all round the country especially in a county like Lincolnshire, full of Bomber Command air stations. These were decommissioned as quickly as possible and the bombs brought to more secure places to await the slower process of decommissioning the bombs themselves. 100 MU had been at nearby RAF South Witham since March 1942 and as operational demand died off, the unit expanded from Morkery Wood onto the runways of North Witham.

Modern Times
The Site was originally partially wooded and some of this remained to the north-east of the runways throughout the military period but after closure, the Forestry Commission planted most of the airfield with oak (Quercus robur) and conifers. Part of it is now a reserve for butterflies and the concrete is slowly being broken up and removed. However, the southern end of the airfield is something of an industrial estate and its proximity to a junction of the A1 road means that development is pressing against the wood from the north-west. Nonetheless the derelict control tower remains and on a warm summer’s day, on the runway, in the quiet of the trees, it is a very atmospheric place.