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92nd Bombardment Group at Alconbury, 1943 (left)
This picture shows part of the 92nd Bombardment Group during their time at Alconbury in 1943, posing in front of a late production B-17F with nose turret.
Many thanks to Jim Sharp for sending us this picture, which features his father.
Flight Officer John C Morgan, co-pilot, received the Medal of Honor for action aboard a B-17 during a mission over Europe, 26 Jul 1943: when the aircraft was attacked by enemy fighters, the pilot suffered a brain injury which left him in a crazed condition for two hours Morgan flew in formation with one hand at the controls and the other holding off the struggling pilot who was attempting to fly the plane finally another crew member was able to relieve the situation and the B-17 made a safe landing at its base.
Although handicapped by weather conditions, enemy fire, and insufficient fighter protection, the group bombed aircraft factories in central Germany on 11 Jan 1944 and received a DUC for the mission. Took part in the intensive campaign of heavy bombers against the German aircraft industry during Big Week, 20-25 Feb 1944. After that, attacked V-weapon sites in France airfields in France, Germany, and the Low Countries and industrial targets in France, Germany, and Belgium, making concentrated strikes on oil and transportation facilities after Oct 1944. In addition to strategic missions, performed some interdictory and support operations. Assisted the Normandy invasion in Jun 1944 by hitting gun emplacements, junctions, and marshalling yards in the beachhead area. Supported ground forces at St Lo during the breakthrough in Jul 1944. Bombed gun positions and bridges to aid the airborne assault on Holland in Sep 1944. Participated in the Battle of the Bulge, Dec 1944-Jan 1945, by attacking bridges and marshalling yards in and near the battle area. Bombed airfields near the landing zone to cover the airborne assault across the Rhine in Mar 1945.
Moved to France in Jun 1945 and transported troops from Marseilles to Casablanca for return to the US. Inactivated in France on 28 Feb 1946.
482nd Pathfinders Leader and Radar Pioneers at Alconbury 1943. Left to Right: Col Lawrence 482nd Command Officer, Lord Cherwell, Chief Scientific officer to Winston Churchill, Col Garland 8th Air Force HQ, Dave Griggs advisor to secretary of War Stimson and Sire Watson Watt Inventor of British Radar.
The 482nd Bomb Group (P) was activated on August 20, 1943 at the United States Army Air Force "USAAF" Station 102, Alconbury, Huntingdonshire, England. The "P" stood for Pathfinder and meant the 482nd would lead the Eighth Air Force on combat missions over Europe by means of radar and other electronic navigational devices. The 482nd has the distinction of being the only USAAF group to be activated outside of the United States.
Role and Mission of the 482nd
During 1942 and 1943, experience had shown that the Eighth Air Force precision bombing as done visually by Norden bombsight was possible in the European Theater of Operations (E.T.O) only a few months a year. Several far-sighted officers, veterans of the early mission over German occupied territory, sought an answer to this dilemma. How could the largest air force in the world conquer the clouds that persisted over Europe?
Using new Radar platforms developed by the RAF, a different tactical method was planned. A group was to be formed consisting of the best crews from each of the other groups. Flying B-17 and B-24 aircrafts equipped with specially modified British radar (H2S), these crews were to lead each combat wing as Pathfinders. Thus the idea of the 482nd Bombardment group (Pathfinder) was born.
The 482nd Bomb Group (P) was activated on August 20, 1943 at the United States Army Air Force "USAAF" Station 102, Alconbury, and Huntingdonshire, England. The "P" stood for Pathfinder and meant the 482nd would lead the Eighth Air Force on combat missions over Europe by means of radar and other electronic navigational devices. The 482nd has the distinction of being the only USAAF group to be activated outside of the United States.
Upon its inception on August 20, 1943 the 482nd Bomb Group worked with a skeleton crew at Alconbury to convert and prepare the base into a four squadron operational Bomb group and make it ready to receive the incoming planes and crews. The bulk of the personnel came from the 92nd BG, the 479th Anti- Sub group and the 12th Replacement Depot. Some of the new crews came from the states via the Valley Air base in Wales. Other crews were furnished by the bomb groups in already combat and scattered throughout England. It truly became a Composite Bomb Group. The base established a Weather Section, Radar Section, Flying Control section, Maintenance Section and Armory Section. All the necessary sections to operation 8th Bomb Group. It was said that there was a feverish pace of activity for 36 straight days.
B-17 of 482nd BG equipped with British H2S Radar. Note radome under nose.
Work went on day and night and then on the night of September 26, 1943, four H2S radar equipped B-17's were flown to bases of the 1st and 3rd Air Dvisions. The target for the mission was Emden, Germany. A total of 308 B-17’s took part in that mission escorted by 262 P-47's. There were seven B-17's and one p-47 lost due to enemy action. It was the first mission in 8th Army Air Force history that was lead by radar equipped aircraft. Instead of being shackled to the ground as in the winter of 1942-1943, the 8th would fly many more missions setting a combat record in the winter of 1943-1944 all led by the 482nd BG crews.
8th Army Air Force B-17 Waist Gunners scan the sky for Bandits.
Key Operational Facts & Dates of the 482nd Bomb Group
Total sorties: 346
Total Bomb Tonnage dropped: 496.7 tons
482nd A/C MIA: 7
Enemy A/C shot down claims: 27
482nd BG Decorations – (a total 738 decorations were presented to 482nd personal)
Silver Star: 1
Distinguished Flying Crosses: 105
Oak Leaf Clusters to the Distinguished Flying Cross: 8
Air Medals: 120
Oak Leaf Clusters to the Air Medal: 485
Purple Hearts: 19
482nd Claims to Fame
• Only U.S. Bomb Group formed outside U.S.
• Pioneered radar bombing platforms and Navigation aids
• First B-17 over Berlin – March 4, 1944
• They led – they fought – they taught.
Major German Targets Bombed by the 482nd Bomb Group
Brunswick: Led 7 missions
Bremen: Led 6 missions
Frankfurt: Led 6 missions
Berlin: Led 5 missions
Munster: Led 4 Missions
Ludwigshave: Led 4 Missions
Alconbury - Base of Operations
Alconbury’s old control or watch tower
The 482nd set up operations at station #102 USAAF Alconbury. Alconbury had been an RAF (Royal Air Force) base and was allocated to the U.S. in 1942. It had three intersecting concrete runways that were 50 yards wide. The runways were expanded in 1942, the main to 6,000 ft. the two alternates to 4,200 ft each. Alconbury had 56 hardstands in total during WWII. The base encompassed approximately 500 acres.
Alconbury, Station #102 Huntingtonshire, England.
Prior to the 482nd arriving in the fall of 1943, the base had been home to several other groups including the: The 93rd Bomb Group (from September of 1942 to December 1942 – sometimes known as the "Traveling Circus"). It was the first Operational B-24 Bomb Group in the 8th. It was moved to its base at Norfolk.
The 92nd Bombardment Group, known as "Fame's Favored Few" moved in from Bovingdon in December of 1942 – August 1943. The 95th BG was also stationed at Alconbury for a short time in 1943 (from April 15 to the first week of June) and it was during their stay while loading 95th BG aircraft that a famous and tragic incident occurred at Alconbury. On May 27, 1943, at approximately 8:30 pm, while ground personnel were loading bombs into B-17 Fortress 42-29685 in the dispersal area a 500 lb bomb detonated setting off several others, instantly killing 18 men, injuring 21, destroying four B-17’s, and damaging 11 others.
Life on the Base
Alconbury, like most air bases in England during WWII, was hot, damp, wet and cold. It just depended on the season.
Alconbury was located in a farming community about 17 miles from Cambridge, England. Military life presented its daily challenges to all who called the base home. There was both an officers club and non- commissioned officers club. But you had to pay your dues.
Conditions on the base were crowded. There was one Pub in the town of Alconbury, so most times if you were lucky to have a pass the men would head to Cambridge. The problem with Pubs in England was that at 9:50 p.m.the pub keeper would call "Time Gentlemen Time" which means the pub had to close for the night. That was awful early for young airmen on leave. On base there was baseball team, base football team, basketball and boxing. Red Cross dances were most looked forward to by the entire base personal.
Photos of Alconbury
Colonel Howard Turner congratulates Lt. Col Bill Reid and Senior officers of the 92nd BG at Alconbury in June of 1943.
History [ edit | edit source ]
- It was previously named 'RAF Abbots Ripton' from 1938 to 9 September 1942 while under RAF Bomber Command control.
- The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) called the facility Alconbury Airdrome, USAAF Station No. 102 from 9 September 1942 – July 1945, then simply USAAF Station No. 102, until 26 November 1945.
- USAAF Station No. 547 Abbots Ripton, home of 2nd Strategic Air Depot is now the current-day active portion of RAF Alconbury, the former airfield part of Alconbury being the Second World War Alconbury Airdrome.
- The United States Air Force initially called the facility Alconbury RAF Station, 24 August 1951 – 18 December 1955.
During the Second World War, it was controlled by the USAAF Eighth Air Force, from 23 February 1944 to 7 August 1945 the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe (USSAFE), thereafter the United States Air Forces in Europe,
Origins [ edit | edit source ]
In 1937, Royal Air Force Bomber Command was drawing up plans for dispersal of their aircraft in the event of air raids on its stations. Despite efforts to keep new airfield sites and measures to camouflage them secret, there was little doubt that the potential enemy knew exactly where they were and would have little difficulty in finding them from the air.
Satellite bases were considered one answer to this threat – a landing ground within reasonable road travel distance of the parent airfield to which aircraft could be diverted if the home station was bombed or likely to be attacked. These satellite bases would be equipped with a level of support that would allow operations to take place if the main airbase were taken out of action.
In the spring of 1938, the Air Ministry acquired about 150 acres (0.6 km 2 ) of open meadowland at Alconbury Hill, Huntingdonshire, expressly for use as a satellite airfield. The exact location was adjacent to the ancient Roman road Ermine Street, north-west of Little Stukeley village, near to the junction where Ermine Street became the A1 instead of the A14.
After a minimal amount of construction, RAF Alconbury was tested in May 1938 when No. 63 Squadron, the first to be equipped with the Fairey Battle light bomber, flew in from its home station of RAF Upwood five miles (8 km) away. This was a two-day training exercise and other squadrons were to follow over the next 15 months.
During this period, RAF Alconbury consisted of a few wooden huts but plans were made to provide both refuelling and rearmament facilities.
RAF Bomber Command use: 1939–1941 [ edit | edit source ]
In September 1939, RAF Upwood squadrons were given operational training roles and Alconbury became RAF Wyton's satellite under No. 2 Group, Squadron Nos. 12, 40 and 139. These squadrons were frequently deployed to Alconbury, No. 139 being the first to be actually stationed there, if only for nine days.
Squadrons 15 and 40 converted from Battles to Bristol Blenheim bombers, but did not take part in bombing raids with the new type until the German Blitzkrieg was unleashed in May 1940.
No. 15 Squadron took up residence on 14 April 1940, when additional requisitioned accommodation was available. It flew its first raid of the war on 10 May against a German occupied airfield near Rotterdam. All eight aircraft returned, some with flak damage. A following operation, an attempt to break the Albert Canal at Maastricht, was disastrous as half the 12-plane force dispatched failed to return.
The remnants of No. 15 then moved back to RAF Wyton and Alconbury reverted to satellite use by both Wyton squadrons. In the autumn of 1940 these decimated units were scheduled to be converted to Vickers Wellington bombers and on 1 November 1940, RAF Wyton and Alconbury came under the control of No. 3 Group.
In late 1940/41, an expansion of RAF Alconbury commenced to upgrade its facilities from a satellite airfield to a fully operational one. A main concrete runway bearing 00–18 was built 1,375 yards (1,257 m) long, the ancillaries 06-24 being 1,240 yards (1,130 m) and 12–30 at 1,110 yards (1,010 m), all 50 yards (46 m) wide. The encircling perimeter track served 30 pan type hardstandings, most leading off of five long access tracks on the northern side of the airfield. Construction was of 12-inch (300 mm) concrete with an asphalt covering.
The technical site on the north-west side was expanded where a single T2 hangar was also erected. A second T2 was sited adjacent to the hardstanding complex east of the threshold of runway 18. Personnel accommodation was provided to the south-west side of the A14, around Alconbury House which had been requisitioned earlier. This upgrade of RAF Alconbury was performed by W & C French Ltd.
The construction attracted the attention of the Luftwaffe as the flying field of RAF Alconbury was attacked by German bombers on 16 September 1940, although no serious damage was done.
While this work was in progress, No. 40 Squadron brought its Wellingtons to Alconbury in February 1941 and operated on night raids until the autumn. Targets attacked were industrial targets in Germany but also on the German Navy in the ports on the Atlantic coast of France. One notable operation in which they took part was the large raid flown on 24 July against Brest, where some of the principal German battleships were undergoing repairs in preparation for a new campaign against British shipping.
This was the time of the Blitz, when many parts of Britain were being subjected to an almost nightly series of heavy air raids. On two nights, 8 March and 11 June, RAF Alconbury was again bombed and on both of these occasions one Wellington was damaged on the ground.
In October 1941 two of its flights with 16 Wellingtons were dispatched to operate from Malta, supposedly on an emergency detachment. The remainder of No. 40 soldiered on but never had more than eight aircraft on strength. By February 1942 it was evident that the major section of No. 40 would not be returning from the Mediterranean area and on 14 February 1942 the remaining aircraft at RAF Alconbury formed into No. 156 Squadron RAF.
Operations from Alconbury with No. 3 Group continued until August 1942 when No. 156 was chosen to become one of the special Pathfinder Force units, moving to RAF Warboys early that month. This was the end of RAF Bomber Command's association with Alconbury.
A total of 67 bombers had been lost in RAF Bomber Command operations flown from Alconbury, eight were Blenheims and 59 Wellingtons.
USAAF use: 1942–1945 [ edit | edit source ]
RAF Alconbury, 12 March 1943
In May 1942, RAF Alconbury was allocated to the United States Eighth Air Force when a number of stations in East Anglia were turned over to the Americans after their entry into the war. It was designated by the USAAF as Station 102 (AL). The first USAAF unit to be activated at Alconbury was the 357th Air Services Squadron on 18 August 1942. The first base commander was Col. Edward J. Timberlake, taking command on 6 December.
Also in 1942, to bring the station up to Class A airfield standards, the runways were extended to 2,000 yards (Main), and 1,400 yards (Secondary), with 26 additional hardstands along with the taxiways altered. Two T-2 type hangars, located on the west side and one on the north of the main airfield, were provided for major maintenance work. One hangar was close to the technical site, a collection of prefabricated buildings for specialist purposes.
The commercial buildings and barracks were dispersed in nearby farmland to the south east of the airfield on the other side of the A14 highway. The bomb and ammunition stores were sited on the opposite side of the airfield to the personnel living quarters. This was the usual arrangement for safety reasons.
In addition, two underground gasoline storage facilities, with a total capacity of 216,000 gallons were situated at points adjacent to the perimeter track, but at some distance from the explosive storage area.
At one frying-pan-shaped hardstand on the north side of the airfield, an earth shooting-in butt was constructed. This was about 25 feet (7.6 m) high.
The total area of land occupied by RAF Alconbury in 1942 was about 500 acres (2 km 2 ) with 100 acres (0.4 km 2 ) taken up by concrete and buildings.
93d Bombardment Group (Heavy) [ edit | edit source ]
93d Bomb Group Consolidated B-24D-1-CO Liberator, AAF Serial No. 41-23711, at RAF Alconbury England in 1942. This aircraft was lost over Austria 1 October 1943. MACR 3301
The first American Eighth Air Force unit to take residence at RAF Alconbury was the 93d Bombardment Group, known as the "Travelling Circus" from Fort Myers AAF (Page Field), Florida on 7 September 1942. It was assigned to the 20th Combat Bombardment Wing at RAF Horsham St Faith near Norwich. The group flew B-24 Liberator aircraft with a tail code of "Circle B". Its operational squadrons were:
The 93d was the first Liberator-equipped bomber group to reach the Eighth Air Force. The group became operational with the B-24 on 9 October 1942 by attacking steel and engineering works at Lille France. Until December, the group operated primarily against submarine pens along the French coast along the Bay of Biscay.
While the 93d was at RAF Alconbury, His Majesty, King George VI paid his first visit to an Eighth Air Force base on 13 November 1942. During the visit, he was shown the B-24 "Teggie Ann", then considered to be the 93d's leading aircraft.
On 6 December 1942, most of the group was transferred to Twelfth Air Force in North Africa to support the Operation Torch landings. The balance of the 93d BG was moved to RAF Hardwick (Station 104), near Bungay, Suffolk where B-24 groups were being concentrated.
92d Bombardment Group (Heavy) [ edit | edit source ]
Senior Pilots pose in front of a 325th Bomb Squadron Boeing B-17F-105-BO, AAF Serial No. 42-30455, after a successful mission to Hülser Berg Germany in late June 1943. Equipped with radar, this aircraft flew several missions as the lead aircraft of the group. Unfortunately, this aircraft went down in North Sea 16 November 1943 while returning from Norway after being transferred to the 390th BG/569th BS at RAF Framlingham in Suffolk. 10 crew MIA. MACR 1400
Unidentified 92d Bomb Group B-17F at Alconbury Airfield, summer 1943. In the background is a familiar sight to anyone who ever served at Alconbury, the village of Little Stukeley
Replacing the 93d BG, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress equipped 92d Bombardment Group transferred to Alconbury from RAF Bovingdon on 11 January 1943.
The 92d Bomb Group was known as "Fame's Favorite Few", and it was assigned to the 4th Combat Wing, at RAF Thurleigh. The group tail code was a "Triangle B". Its operational squadrons were:
Initially, after two combat missions in September 1942, the 92d was withdrawn from combat and its B-17F bombers exchanged for the older B-17E bombers being flown by the 97th Bomb Group. It then acted as an operational training unit supplying combat crews to combat groups in the UK. However, in early 1943, the diversion to Operation Torch of heavy bomber groups originally planned for the Eighth Air Force led to a decision to return the 92nd to combat operations. The 92d Bomb Group resumed flying missions on 1 May 1943, although its 326th Bomb Squadron was left at Bovingdon to continue the OTU mission, its 325th squadron was used to provide a cadre for H2S radar training, and its 327th squadron acquired a special mission.
From Alconbury, the 92d engaged in bombing strategic targets, including shipyards at Kiel, ball-bearing plants at Schweinfurt, submarine installations at Wilhelmshaven, a tire plant at Hanover, airfields near Paris, an aircraft factory at Nantes, and a magnesium mine and reducing plant in Norway.
On 15 September 1943, the 92d BG was moved to RAF Podington (Station 109), near Wellingborough in Bedfordshire when the decision was made to take Alconbury off operational bombing missions and change the airfield's mission to pathfinder and radar-guided bombing with the 482d and 801st Bomb Groups.
Its 327th Bombardment Squadron became the only to be equipped with the experimental Boeing YB-40 Fortress gunship from May through August 1943. The YB-40 was the bomber escort variant of the Flying Fortress, where the Y stood for "service test". It was developed to test the escort bomber concept for B-17 daylight bomber forces which were suffering appalling losses in their raids against German targets on the European continent.
Because there were no fighters capable of escorting bomber formations on deep strike missions early in the Second World War, the USAAF tested heavily armed bombers to act as escorts and protect the bomb-carrying aircraft from enemy fighters. Twelve of the 22 B-17F bombers modified to the YB-40 configuration were dispatched to Alconbury for testing and evaluation.
The first operational YB-40 sortie took place on 29 May 1943 against U-boat Sub pens at Saint-Nazaire, France.
Very early on, it was found that the net effect of the additional drag of the turrets and the extra weight of the guns, armour, and additional ammunition was to reduce the speed of the YB-40 to a point where it could not maintain formation with the standard B-17s on the way home from the target once they had released their bombs. The YB-40 could protect itself fairly well, but not the bombers it was supposed to defend. Consequently, it was recognised that the YB-40 project was an operational failure, and the surviving YB-40s were converted back to standard B-17F configuration or used as gunnery trainers back in the States.
However, the YB-40 was to have one lasting impact—the chin turret originally introduced on the YB-40 was later adopted as standard for the B-17G series.
95th Bombardment Group (Heavy) [ edit | edit source ]
The smoking wreckage of Boeing B-17F-65-BO, AAF Serial No. 42-29685
From 15 April to the first week of June 1943, the 95th Bombardment Group was stationed at RAF Alconbury, being transferred Rapid City AAF, South Dakota. This was during a time of massive construction of airfields in East Anglia, and the 95th's assigned station, RAF Horham (Station 119) was not yet ready to receive the group. The 95th was assigned to the 13th Combat Bombardment Wing at RAF Horsham St Faith. The group flew B-17 Flying Fortresses with a tail code of "Square B". Its operational squadrons were:
While at Alconbury, the group's aircraft were being ferried in from the States and the ground echelon was arriving by transport ship in the UK. Practice and familiar flying was performed, and on 13 May the first operational mission was flown by attacking an airfield at St. Omer. During the next month the group made repeated attacks against V-weapon sites and airfields in France. On 27 May, at approximately 20:30, ground personnel were arming B-17F 42–29685 in the dispersal area when, inexplicably, a 500-pound bomb detonated. The explosion, in turn, set off several other bombs. In an instant, 18 men were killed, 21 injured, and four B-17s completely destroyed on the ground. Eleven other B-17s were damaged.
In early June 1943 the 95th BG began moving to RAF Horham, with the last aircraft departing Alconbury on 15 June.
482d Bombardment Group (Pathfinder) [ edit | edit source ]
Second World War USAAF Map, RAF Alconbury
482d Bomb Group B-24s from RAF Alconbury England on bomb run over occupied Europe – 1943
In the summer of 1943, experiments with radar for high-altitude bombing through clouds were conducted. A special organisation, the 482d Bombardment Group, was formed to use this technology and be devoted to pathfinder techniques using the H2S, H2X and APS-15A RADAR that was developed.
The 482d Bomb Group was formed at Alconbury on 20 August 1943, under the command of Lt Col Baskin R. Lawrence, who had been training its 92d BG cadre since 1 May. Its operational squadrons were:
The 812th Bomb Squadron arrived from the United States in September with 12 new B-17 aircraft equipped with U.S. manufactured H2S radar. The 813th was a re-designation of the 325th Bomb Squadron, 92d Bomb Group, which had been training in British-manufactured H2S and Oboe B-17s since May. The 814th flew B-24 Liberator aircraft acquired from a disbanded anti-submarine warfare group. The 482d Group was unique among Eighth Air Force units in that it was the only one to be officially activated in the UK from scratch.
The 482d BG provided pathfinder (PFF) lead aircraft for other bomb groups throughout the winter of 1943/44. As lead aircraft, 482 BG B-17s and B-24s usually flew missions from stations of other groups with some key personnel of the host group flying in the pathfinder aircraft.
In March 1944, the 482d BG was taken off combat operations and became a training and development unit for various radar devices, but continued to undertake special operations, notably D-Day when 18 crews were provided to lead bomb groups.
The 482d BG was transferred to Composite Command in February 1944 when emphasis shifted to training radar operators. The 482d began an H2X training school on 21 February 1944, graduating a class of 36 radar navigators each month, as the PFF force was decentralised first to the air divisions and eventually to all the combat groups, with training initially conducted by RAF instructors. Training and experimentation remained its chief role for the remainder of war.
From August 1944 to April 1945 the 482d BG conducted 202 radar scope and 'pickling' sorties over hostile territory without loss, dropping 45 tons of bombs in Nazi controlled territory. In November 1944, the group was re-designated as the 482d Bomb Group, Heavy.
801st Bombardment Group (Provisional) [ edit | edit source ]
In November 1943, a unit was formed to clandestinely deliver agents and supplies into Nazi-occupied Europe for the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.). To address this mission, the 36th and 406th Bomb Squadrons with specially modified B-24 Liberators were formed and activated at Alconbury. They were attached to the 482d Bombardment Group. This was the beginning of Operation Carpetbagger.
The purpose of the Carpetbagger project was to fly Special Operations missions which entailed delivering supplies to resistance groups in enemy occupied countries. The squadrons flew agents and supplies into southern France with B-24 Liberators that had all armament removed except in the top and tail turrets. In addition, the standard bomb shackles were removed from the bomb bay and British shackles were installed to accommodate special supply canisters. All unneeded radio gear was removed, as were the oxygen bottles. Flash suppressors were installed on the guns, flame dampeners were installed on the turbo-superchargers, and blackout curtains were installed over the waist gun windows. Light bulbs were painted red to spare night vision and special radio gear was added to assist in navigation and homing in on drop zones. The undersides of the aircraft were painted black to avoid detection by enemy searchlights. Combat with the enemy was avoided as it only endangered the success of the mission. Drops were also made using radio-navigation equipment. Supplies were also released in containers designed to be dropped from the existing equipment in the bomb bay. Pilots often flew several miles farther into enemy territory after completing the drop to disguise the actual drop zone in case enemy observers were tracking the plane's movement.
These squadrons were formed from the personnel and equipment of the recently disbanded 4th and 22d Antisubmarine Squadrons at RAF Podington. However, owing to lack of sufficient facilities at Alconbury, in mid-December the two squadrons were reassigned to the Eighth Air Force Composite Command (Special Operations Group), (remaining attached to the 482d Bomb Group) and moved to RAF Watton (Station 376), near Thetford in Norfolk.
The move to RAF Watton did not prove to be fortuitous. The heavy B-24s were incompatible with the grass runways and muddy hard standings there and were forced to move back to Alconbury in January 1944.
On 4 January 1944, planes from the Carpetbagger squadrons made its first drop of arms and supplies to French, Belgian and Italian partisans. Often operating in weather considered impossible for flying, the squadrons flew most of their missions to supply French partisan groups north of the Loire River in support of the upcoming D-Day invasion. Due to the clandestine nature of their mission, Alconbury's relative openness proved unsuitable . However, a new airfield under construction in the depths of rural Northamptonshire, RAF Harrington (Station 179) proved ideal for Carpetbagger operations. The advanced echelon of the squadrons moved into Harrington on 25 March 1944.
On 1 April the 36th and 406th Bomb Squadrons were attached to the 801st Bombardment Group (Provisional) and on 1 May the Carpetbaggers officially departed Alconbury. The 801st (Provisional) eventually acquired the designation of the 492d Bombardment Group, a 2d Division unit stood down on 11 August 1944, because of heavy losses and the two squadrons were redesignated the 856th (formerly 36th) and 858th (formerly 406th) Bombardment Squadrons.
36th Bomb Squadron [ edit | edit source ]
The redesignation of the Carpetbagger squadrons made the designation of "36th Bombardment Squadron" available again and it was assigned to the 803d Bomb Squadron, a provisional squadron then located at RAF Cheddington and known as the Radar Countermeasure (RCM) Unit. This third incarnation of the 36th BS (the first had been an Eleventh Air Force unit) went back to Alconbury in February 1945, and was administratively assigned to the 482d Bombardment Group. However operational control for the 36th's special missions and training were exercised by Eighth Air Force Headquarters.
The 36th Bomb Squadron was the Eighth Air Force's only electronic warfare squadron using specially equipped B-24s to jam Nazi VHF communications during large Eighth Air Force daylight raids. In addition, the 36th BS flew night missions with the Royal Air Force Bomber Command 100 Group at RAF Sculthorpe.
The 36th BS's missions involved trickery, ingenious deception, spoofs, and tank communications jamming. This squadron flew on bad weather days during the Battle of the Bulge as well, when the rest of the Eighth Air Force stood down.
Along with these electronic warfare missions, the 36th BS also flew regular sorties which set out to discover the frequencies being used by the Nazis for their radio and radar devices. For this they operated a number of P-38 Lightning twin boomed fighters from Alconbury as well as their B-24s.
Station 547 – Abbots Ripton, 2d Strategic Air Depot [ edit | edit source ]
In addition to being an operational bomber base, RAF Alconbury served as the flying field for the 2d Strategic Air Depot at RAF Abbots Ripton (station 547), which served the B-17 groups of the 1st Air Division as a major maintenance base. Although physically attached, the depot was considered a separate entity and was a separate operating unit from RAF Alconbury.
The Air Depot was constructed in 1943 on the eastern site of the airfield, mainly in the village of Little Stukeley, approximately where the modern-day RAF Alconbury facilities are presently located. It composed of a looped taxiway off the perimeter track with 24 additional hardstands. A technical complex of engineering shops was adjacent to the site and beyond along the south east side of the A14. Also there were several barracks and communal sites.
Abbots Ripton performed heavy maintenance, repair and modification of B-17s from the fourteen Groups which formed the 1st Bombardment Wing, later renamed the 1st Bombardment Division on 13 September 1943, to end confusion of the term "wing" with the operational combat wings (in January 1945, it was renamed again, becoming the 1st Air Division). It was a common sight to see many B-17's from many groups of the Eighth Air Force undergoing repair for battle damage repairs from bases such as Molesworth, Chelveston, Kimbolton, Bassingbourn, Grafton Underwood, Polebrook, Glatton, Deenethorpe, Nuthampstead, Podington, Bovington, Watton, Harrington, Thurleigh and Ridgwell.
Its unit designation was the 5th and 35th Air Depot Groups and as a large and important unit, with over 3000 personnel assigned.
Station 103 – Brampton, 1st Air Division [ edit | edit source ]
Brampton, about 3 miles (5 km) to the south west of Alconbury, was the headquarters of the 8th Air Force 1st Bombardment Wing, later renamed the 1st Bombardment Division on 13 September 1943, to end confusion of the term "wing" with the operational combat wings (in January 1945, it was renamed again, becoming the 1st Air Division). From RAF Brampton Grange, as it was termed in official records, the 1st BW/BD/AD directed combat operations of B-17 bomber and fighter groups under its command from 19 August 1942, to the end of the war. It was an administrative headquarters which relied on Alconbury for logistical support and its flying requirements.
Postwar USAAF use [ edit | edit source ]
Operational bomber missions ceased at RAF Alconbury at the end of April 1945. The 482nd Bomb Group departed Alconbury between 27 and 30 May 1945, however, the 36th Bomb Squadron stayed at the base until the fall, not inactivating until 15 October.
Day-to-day command of Alconbury was assumed by the 435th Air Services Group on 15 April. The final USAAF base commander was Col. Robert F. Hambaugh.
The 857th Bomb Squadron from the 492d Bomb Group was transferred to Alconbury on 11 June from RAF Harrington near Kettering after the closure of that airfield. The 857th used its B-24s for various cargo ferrying operations to and from the continent until 6 August until being inactivated.
The 652d Bomb Squadron was transferred from RAF Watton on 11 June. This squadron flew specially-equipped B-17s on weather reconnaissance missions until 25 October.
Hq., 1st Air Division was transferred to Alconbury on 20 September upon the closure of Brampton Grange. Both the 1st AD and the 435th ASG were inactivated on 31 October and the facility turned over to Hq. Eighth Air Force. Alconbury airfield was handed back to the RAF on 26 November 1945.
RAF Alconbury was subsequently placed in caretaker status by RAF Maintenance Command and remained so for almost a decade. Until 1951, the RAF used the airfield as a bomb storage and disposal site.
USAF use: 1953–Current [ edit | edit source ]
Map of RAF Alconbury about 1977. Note the outlines of the former Abbots Ripton Air Depot hardstands still visible.
In response to the threat by the Soviet Union, especially after the 1948 Berlin Blockade and the 1950 invasion of South Korea by Communist forces, it was decided in 1951 to re-establish a strong American force in Europe. On 24 August 1951, RAF Alconbury was once more allocated for American use – now by the independent United States Air Force.
Alconbury was far from adequate in its Second World War configuration, both in its flying facilities and in its accommodation, so plans were designed for a major expansion to accommodate the new jet aircraft and other operational facilities. Alconbury required upgrading with strengthening and extension of runway 12–30 to 3,000 yards (2,700 m) by 67 yards (61 m). In addition, new aircraft standings, access tracks together with an on-going construction of service and domestic buildings continued for some years.
7560th Air Base Group [ edit | edit source ]
The United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) officially took control of RAF Alconbury for a second time on 1 June 1953. The first base commander was Lt. Col. Winfield H. Brown. The first United States Air Force unit to be assigned was the 1st Motor Transport Maintenance Squadron, being activated on the station 1 September 1953.
On 1 January 1954 the 7523d Support Squadron was activated. This was later redesignated as the 7560th Air Base Squadron on 7 November 1954 and the 7560th Air Base Group on 21 March 1955.
86th Bombardment Squadron [ edit | edit source ]
North American B-45A-1-NA Tornado AF Serial No. 48-0010 of 86th Bomb Squadron. This aircraft is now on display at the Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
Although construction had been ongoing at Alconbury since 1951, it was not until September 1955 that it was ready to house flying units again with the arrival of the 86th Bombardment Squadron (Light), flying the B-45A Tornado.
The 86th BS operated from Alconbury as a detachment of the Tactical Air Command's 47th Bombardment Wing stationed at RAF Sculthorpe, Norfolk. The 47th BS operated three jet bomber squadrons (19th, 84th, and 85th) from Sculthorpe and the addition of the 86th BS necessitated the use of Alconbury to accommodate the additional aircraft.
In May 1958, the re-equipment of the 47th Bombardment Wing began and B-66 Destroyers began flying into Alconbury to replace the B-45s. With this equipment change, the 86th was redesignated 86th Bombardment Squadron (Tactical). The 47th Bomb Wing and the 86th Bomb Squadron were part of the Tactical Air Command (TAC).
42d Troop Carrier Squadron [ edit | edit source ]
In May 1957 the 42d Troop Carrier Squadron arrived at Alconbury with a mixed fleet of C-119 Flying Boxcar, Grumman SA-16A Amphibians, C-54s and C-47 Dakotas. The 42d TCS was formed at nearby RAF Molesworth in October 1956 where it had previously operated as the MATS 582d Air Resupply and Communications Group performing special operations missions for HQ USAFE.
The 42d TCS had a short life at Alconbury and was inactivated on 8 December 1957. The C-54's and C-47's were sent to Rhein-Main Air Base West Germany, and the C-119s were sent to the 322d Air Division at Évreux-Fauville Air Base France.
53d Weather Reconnaissance Squadron [ edit | edit source ]
WB-50D, AF Serial No. 48-0115, Weather Reconnaissance Aircraft
On 26 April 1959 Alconbury saw the arrival of the 53d Weather Reconnaissance Squadron from RAF Burtonwood. The 53d WRS flew the WB-50D Superfortress and was assigned to the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). Its mission was collecting weather data that was transmitted to weather stations for use in preparing forecasts required for the Air Force Military Air Transport Service (MATS) and the U.S. Weather Bureau. The squadron was reassigned to RAF Mildenhall on 10 August 1959 in conjunction with the arrival of the 10th TRW.
10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing [ edit | edit source ]
On 25 August 1959, the 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing arrived from Spangdahlem Air Base, West Germany, replacing the 7560th Air Base Group as the host unit at Alconbury. The 7560th was discontinued. The 10th TRW had been activated at Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base, West Germany in April 1947, then assigned to Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France in 1952 then to Spangdahlem in 1953 as part of various USAFE reorganisations.
In Germany, the 10th TRW operated RF-80A Shooting Stars and RB-26C Invader reconnaissance aircraft. In October 1954, the wing received RB-57 Canberras and then acquired RF-84 Thunderjets in July 1955. In November 1956 the 10th received Douglas RB-66 and WB-66 Destroyer aircraft in 1957.
B-66 era [ edit | edit source ]
Douglas RB-66B-DL Destroyer, AF Serial No. 54-0419, converted to EB-66E, at Det. 1, 10th TRW, Toul-Rosieres AB, France. This aircraft was retired to MASDC in October 1972
USAFE organizational changes in 1959 moved the 10th TRW out of the Eifel and to Alconbury, where the wing would reside for the next 34 years. To accommodate the 10th TRW, the 86th Bomb Squadron was returned to its host unit at RAF Sculthorpe and the 53rd Weather Squadron was transferred to RAF Mildenhall. These redeployments were completed by August 1959.
Although the 10th TRW wing headquarters was located at RAF Alconbury, two of its component squadrons were not. The 1st and 30th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadrons were based at Alconbury, however to accommodate the increased number of aircraft of the 10th, two other airfields, RAF Bruntingthorpe and RAF Chelveston, were placed under Alconbury's control. The 19th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron was stationed at Bruntingthorpe while the 42nd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron was at Chelveston flying RB-66C and WB-66s for electronic and weather reconnaissance. When the WB-66D weather reconnaissance aircraft were retired in 1959, 13 B-66B "Brown Cradle" offensive jamming aircraft were reassigned from RAF Sculthorpe.
Following the closure of Bruntingthorpe in 1962 and the active runway at Chelveston in 1963, the 19th and 42nd TRSs were transferred to Toul-Rosieres AB, where they operated for a few years as Det No. 1, 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. Eventually the 10 TRW would rotate aircraft to Toul AB from 4 different squadrons, the 1st, 19th, 30th and 42d.
On 10 March 1964, a 19th TRS RB-66B from Toul was shot down over East Germany after it crossed over the border due to an instrument malfunction. The crew ejected and were taken prisoner briefly before being released.
These rotational deployments to France continued until October 1965 with the activation of the 25th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Chambley-Bussieres Air Base and the 19th and 42nd TRSquadrons being permanently assigned to the 25th TRW.
With France's withdrawal from NATO's integrated military organisation in 1966, Chambley AB was closed and the 25th TRW was inactivated. The RB-66s of the 19th TRS were returned to CONUS, being assigned to the 363rd TRW, Shaw AFB, South Carolina. The specially-equipped B-66's of the 42nd ECS and their aircrews were sent directly to Southeast Asia, being assigned to the 41st Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (TEWS), Takhli Royal Thai AFB (RTAFB) Thailand.
Bruntingthorpe was eventually returned to the RAF. RAF Chelveston is still nominally under American control, however only a small USAF housing area exists there today.
RF-4C era [ edit | edit source ]
McDonnell RF-4C-24-MC Phantom II of the 1st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron 14 August 1971. This aircraft was retired to AMARC in March 1992.
At Alconbury the 10th TRW retained the 1st and 30th TRS's with their RB-66s until May 1965 when it began conversion to the RF-4C Phantom. The 10th TRW expanded on 15 August 1966 by the addition of the 32d TRS. This squadron had formerly flown RF-101 Voodoos with the 66th TRW at Laon-Couvron Air Base, France but was now equipped with RF-4Cs, becoming the third tactical reconnaissance squadron at RAF Alconbury.
In the mid-1960s the Tail Code concept was adopted by the Air Force to identify its aircraft although never painted on planes until after 1970. At Alconbury, the codes "AR", "AS" and "AT" were established for the 1st, 30th and 32d TRS's initially. However this was abandoned in 1971. After that, all Alconbury assigned aircraft carried "AR" on their tails. 10th TRW squadrons were distinguished by a small coloured stripe on the tip of the tail – 1 TRS (blue), 30 TRS (red) and the 32 TRS (yellow). In 1972, due to heavy usage of runway by these Phantoms, the runway was overhauled, during which time, the aircraft and airmen went to RAF Wethersfield to fly out their sorties. Missions from this base were highly successful, due to the diligence and hard work of all temporarily assigned personnel. This TDY assignment was to a previously closed flightline.
The advent of reconnaissance satellites made the need for tactical reconnaissance less necessary by the mid 1970s. This, along with the need for budget reductions caused the reduction in the numbers of front line tactical reconnaissance aircraft. In 1976, two of the 10th TRW's squadrons (32d TRS on 1 January 30th TRS on 1 April) were inactivated. The 1st TRS remained the only squadron providing battlefield tactical reconnaissance.
In August 1976, the 10th TRW became the parent organisation for the 66th Combat Support Squadron (CSS) 819th Civil Engineering Squadron Heavy Repair (CESHR), and the 2166th Communications Squadron stationed at RAF Wethersfield. This field served as a dispersal site during war games, in particular Able Archer 83. In addition, large amounts of War Reserve Material (WRM) designated for RAF Alconbury was stored there. RAF Wethersfield remained a satellite base for RAF Alconbury until 3 July 1990 when it was closed and handed back to the Royal Air Force.
527th Aggressor Squadron [ edit | edit source ]
Northrop F-5E Tiger II, AF Serial No.s 73–0953, 73–0956 and 73-0985 of the 527th TFTAS in formation, 1977
In April 1976, the 10th TRW was chosen as the parent of the USAF in Europe's aggressor unit. This formed as the 527th Tactical Fighter Training and Aggressor Squadron in April 1976 and was equipped with the F-5E in May. The aircraft were originally part of an order for South Vietnam. The 527th began providing aggressor support to European-based combat units in September. It was subsequently renamed as the 527th Aggressor Squadron in 1983.
The aggressor F-5Es were painted in a variety of colourful camouflage schemes designed to mimic those in use by Warsaw Pact aircraft. Two-digit Soviet-style nose codes were applied to most aggressor aircraft. These coincided with the last two digits of the serial number. When there was duplication, three digits were used.
International conventions made it necessary for military aircraft to carry their national insignia, but the star-and-bar national insignia was reduced in size and relocated to a less-conspicuous position on the rear fuselage. The 527th's Aggressor aircraft were among the first to apply the star and bar in toned-down or stencil form, now standard on USAF aircraft.
After 12 years of intense flying, in 1988 the fleet of aggressor F-5Es of the 527th Aggressor Squadron was getting rather worn out as a result of sustained exposure to the rigours of air combat manoeuvring. There were restrictions placed on operations in which pilots were warned not to exceed a certain G-load. Some repair kits had to be devised to overcome these problems, and the estimated cost of repair of the entire fleet was beginning to exceed a billion dollars. In addition, with the appearance of a new generation of Soviet fighters, it became apparent that F-5Es could no longer adequately mimic Warsaw Pact threats.
It was decided to re-equip the squadron with F-16C Fighting Falcons and reassign the squadron to RAF Bentwaters. In return, the A-10's at Bentwaters would be reassigned to Alconbury and give the 10th a new Close Air Support (CAS) mission.
The 527th AS flew its last F-5E sortie from Alconbury on 22 June 1988. On 14 July 1988 the squadron was transferred, transitioning to F-16Cs by mid-January 1989 at Bentwaters. However, in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the decision was made to terminate the entire USAF aggressor program. The 527th AS was inactivated in late autumn of 1990.
After the 527th was reassigned, eight of the lowest-hour F-5E's were transferred to the U.S. Navy for TOPGUN/Aggressor training at NAS Miramar, California in July 1988. The remainder were sent to storage at RAF Kemble for refurbishing. From there they were sold under the foreign military assistance program to Morocco and Tunisia in October 1989. One F-5E was thought to be retained at Alconbury for static display as a gate guard. In reality this is a plastic/fiberglass model with an authentic windscreen and canopy.
17th Reconnaissance Wing [ edit | edit source ]
95th Reconnaissance Squadron Lockheed TR-1A, AF Serial No. 80-1081 – 1989
The Strategic Air Command arrived at Alconbury on 1 October 1982 when the 17th Reconnaissance Wing (17th RW) was activated. The 17th RW was assigned to SAC's Eighth Air Force, 7th Air Division. The operational squadron of the 17th RW was the 95th Reconnaissance Squadron, flying the TR-1A, a tactical reconnaissance version of the Lockheed U-2. In 1992 all TR-1s were designated U-2Rs.
The arrival of the U-2 led to a large remodelling of the northern section of the airfield to accommodate these aircraft and their specialised mission. Work included the construction of five prefabricated ‘Ready Sheds’, thirteen extra-wide hardened aircraft shelters, a squadron headquarters, a massive Avionics and Photography Interpretation Centre, and new concrete aprons and taxiways. In addition, in order to ensure that the 17th Reconnaissance Wing would always have a command post for its TR-1A aircraft, a nuclear-hardened command post facility was constructed with its own power plant, communications facilities, air supply, and decontamination facility to help facilitate the needs of the wing and its TR-1A aircraft in case a World War III scenario ever occurred. During its operation, it was officially known as Building 210, but was better known by its nickname, Magic Mountain.
As the TR-1A steadily became the principal means for battlefield and tactical reconnaissance, so the demands on the RF-4C Phantoms decreased. The 1960s Phantoms were also becoming much more expensive to maintain. On 1 July 1987 the RF-4Cs of the 1st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron flew their last mission, and the squadron was inactivated on 15 January 1988. Some of its aircraft were sent to the 26th TRW at Zweibrücken AB, West Germany, while the rest went to Air National Guard units as replacement aircraft or to AMARC for storage.
10th Tactical Fighter Wing [ edit | edit source ]
With the withdrawal of the RF-4C's and F-5E's, the 10th TRW became the 10th Tactical Fighter Wing on 20 August 1987. Two squadrons of A-10A aircraft. The 509th and 511th TFsquadrons, were assigned to the 10th TFW, on 1 June and 1 September 1988, respectively, relocating from the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing at RAF Bentwaters.
Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II AF Serial No. 81-0979 – 10th TFWs Wing Commander's aircraft – 1990
The A-10 had arrived in Europe in January 1979, and four squadrons were assigned to Bentwaters. It was decided that with the deactivation of the RF-4C's at Alconbury that two of the squadrons could be relocated there in a dispersal move, with the other two remaining at Bentwaters.
The constant pressure on Alconbury's main runway after nearly 35 years inevitably made it necessary for major repair work to be undertaken. Between April and November 1989 the main runway was closed and overhauled. During this period the A-10s were deployed to nearby RAF Wyton while the TR-1As were deployed to RAF Sculthorpe.
Desert Shield/Storm [ edit | edit source ]
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, plans were made for significant cuts in NATO forces in Europe and very soon the first rumours began to circulate about the possible closure of RAF Alconbury. Just as the cutting back process was beginning, Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, and the Gulf War began.
Some of the first aircraft to be sent to the Gulf area were three TR-1A's from Alconbury, deploying to Taif Air Base in Saudi Arabia. 23 A-10A's of the 511 TFS deployed to Damman/King Fahd International Airport Saudi Arabia, as part of the 354th TFW from Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, South Carolina.
The 511th TFS A-10s flew no fewer than 1700 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm and played an important part in wreaking havoc on Iraqi tank forces, Scud missiles and other ground positions.
Post Cold-War Phasedown [ edit | edit source ]
With the end of the Cold War, the USAF presence at RAF Alconbury was gradually phased down.
On 30 June 1991, following closely on the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the thawing of east–west relations, the 17th Reconnaissance Wing inactivated but its subordinate unit, the 95th Reconnaissance Squadron, remained at Alconbury. It subsequently inactivated at Alconbury on 15 September 1993, then reactivated on 1 July 1994 as the 95th RS at RAF Mildenhall, assigned to the 55th Operations Group. The squadron provides intelligence support to produce politically sensitive real-time intelligence data vital to national foreign policy.
Magic Mountain was closed during this time as the Soviet threat had ceased to exist.
The U-2Rs were consolidated at Beale AFB California in the 9th Wing, which used to deploy routinely on a temporary duty basis to RAF Mildenhall, which also used to hold a pair of SR-71 aircraft on permanent detachment. Since approx 2007, RAF Mildenhall has been designated a U-2 diversion airfield. U-2 aircraft now frequently stage through RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire as they transit to / from Forward Deployed Locations in the Middle East. RAF Fairford is not an operational airfield it is maintained on a 'Care & Maintenance' basis but it is fully serviceable and is activated on an as required basis.
On 16 December 1991 the 509th TFS flew its last operational mission. The 511th TFS's last mission was on 27 March 1992. Throughout 1992, the 10th TFWs A-10 aircraft were transferred back to the United States. The 509th TFS's aircraft were sent directly to AMARC for long-term flyable storage. Some of the 511th TFS's aircraft were sent to Air National Guard units, the remainder to AMARC storage. The last aircraft departed the Alconbury runway on 18 December. Both fighter squadrons were inactivated on that date.
10th Air Base Wing [ edit | edit source ]
On 31 March 1993, the 10th TFW was redesignated the 10th Air Base Wing, acting as the host unit for the special operations organisations.
On 1 December 1992, the 39th Special Operations Wing arrived at Alconbury, consolidating its units from RAF Woodbridge and Rhein Main Air Base, Germany. After consolidating its aircraft and people at the base, the 39th SOW inactivated, and the 352d Special Operations Group activated, linking the unit's heritage with a historic Second World War commando unit. The 352d SOG consisted of the following squadrons:
The 352d conducted both fixed and rotary-wing operations, as well as search and rescue missions in the European and Southwest Asian Theaters.
In May 1993, as part of the drawdown of American forces in Europe, it was announced that activities at Alconbury would be reduced. The 10th Air Base Wing was inactivated 1 October 1994. To maintain the unit's heritage, the Air Force moved the 10th Air Base Wing flag to the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, on 1 November 1994 where it exists today. In its place, the 710th Air Base Wing (ABW) was activated as the host unit on RAF Alconbury.
The 352d Special Operations Group and its associated aircraft, the MC-130H, MC-130P and MH-53J Pave Low, transferred to RAF Mildenhall on 17 February 1995. This ended active USAF flying operations at RAF Alconbury.
The airfield area and associated infrastructure were returned to the British Ministry of Defence by the USAF on 30 September 1995. The main base support areas (the portion of the base containing activities such as housing, base exchange, commissary, financial institutions, administrative and support offices) were retained under USAF control. The former airfield site of RAF Alconbury is now administered by Urban & Civic Limited and will be developed as an Enterprise Zone for business and about 8,000 houses. It will also include a Heritage Centre to commemorate the history of the base. For further information see www.alconbury.co.uk
423d Air Base Group [ edit | edit source ]
On 12 July 1995, the 710th ABW was inactivated and the 423d Air Base Squadron at RAF Molesworth assumed the host unit role at Alconbury as well as RAF Upwood. In July 2005, the squadron was redesignated as the 423d Air Base Group and its headquarters and mission was moved to RAF Alconbury.
The 501st Combat Support Wing (501 CSW) was reactivated on 22 March 2005 at RAF Mildenhall. Its mission was administering the various geographically separated units in the UK. On 1 May 2007, the wing moved to RAF Alconbury.
Group Commanding Officers
Col. Budd John Peaslee ⇗ - 18 December 1942 to 8 September 1943
Col. Julius Khan Lacey ⇗ - 8 September 1943 to 23 November 1943
Col. Dale Orville Smith ⇗ - 23 November 1943 to 21 November 1944
Lt. Col. Theodore Ross Milton ⇗ - 21 November 1944 to 16 June 1945
Lt. Col. Robert William Fish ⇗ - 17 June 1945 to 18 October 1945
Want to know more about RAF Alconbury?
Henry L. Flower 5th Depot Repair Squad RAF Alconbury
Sgt. Charles Samuel Moose 482nd Bomb Group
My Dad was Charlie Moose. He was in the 482nd Bomber Group pathfinders at Alconbury for most of the war. He was born on 29th May 1915 and died in Orono, Maine, USA on 21st November 2005, of a stroke at the kitchen table in my presence on my 59th birthday. (I am John Charles (Jack) Moose, now living in Georgia his only child.
We have a few letters my mother, Eleanor, sent to Dad when at Alconbury, which he brought back home with him, including envelopes. We do not know what happened to his side of the communication. We did see one which he had signed Charles. They had been going together and decided while he was gone to get engaged. She was seven years older than he was, and married at age 36, being 37 when I was born. Dad did over 32 raids over Europe - more than the allowed amount, because he was in the war before the Airforce was official (army) and the ones before the airforce were not counted in the allowed amount. He was the engineer and landed a plane twice at the base when the pilot and copilot were out of commission (once the pilot was out cold and the co-pilot were dead. He had to crawl down under the plane to do repairs at times and did many jobs on the plane. Charlie did not talk much about his time in England, except that he liked it. He was sensitive about the war because of a lot of the things he saw. He started to talk about it more when he got into his 80s. He was of German decent (PA Dutch) and so felt more than normally bad about bombing (Moose used to be Muth).
He did tell about being over there with Clark Gable, and how Clark came over with them and was very friendly with the soldiers. Charlie was one chosen to take the staff car to do errands and sometimes went to London with Clark. One time, they were an American club and had just eaten, and they both liked a red-headed waitress. Clark said to Charlie to not pay the bill, but to step outside, so that she would follow them. While they were out in the street talking, the place was hit by a bomb and many were killed. She probably lived because they had her outside. Another time he was on a bus and he made a pass at a red-headed girl. She slapped him. Charlie knew firsthand that Jimmy Stewart - who was there at the same time - was not friendly to the soldiers. He felt he was above that, Charlie said.
After the war, he lived in Orono, Maine, near a 1940s-1950s air force base in Bangor, and he saw a red-headed girl get off a bus, and went up to her and asked her if she had been in England, and she said yes, and you are the serviceman that I slapped. Apparently they had been introduced and had met over there more than once, so recognised each other. They had a laugh. She had married an American and lived nearby.
Eleanor, my mother, had black hair, as did Dad, not red. Being German, Charlie liked beer and told about going to Peterborough to a particular bar or pub and to Cambridge. He did not smoke, so he traded his rations meant for those in the bars for candy bars and other things. He brought back post cards of Cambridge, which he had toured. He had a substitute mother over there, on a special plan, and went to a family wedding, taking part in it, which he had a picture of. He had the little guide to British manners and expressions and a map of England and Scotland he had carried there. He told a little about the weather there, but did not really complain. He was usually quite quiet and was older than some of the soldiers, so he had more freedom to go in the car into the countryside on some special errands, and really enjoyed that, he said. He thought Cambridge was really beautiful and hated the North Sea and English Channel. England reminded him some of the areas of Pennsylvania he was from.
When the Schwienfurt bombing took place, there was too much cloud cover and they had to go back again to mark it. The incendiary markers would not go off sometimes and they would have to do it again. He would have tears in his eyes when he told about the bombings and marking the targets.
On D-Day they flew over taking pictures and dropping leaflets and, having left with a new plane, they got back full of holes so that the plane had to be scrapped. In the beginning, they did not even have fire cover because the range of the fighter planes was not far enough to cover them, so they went in and got back out as soon as they could! The percentage of deaths in their unit was so high, Charlie never really expected to return home. He had one award (now at least temporarily lost either in the flood of the basement in 2002 or in our move) that he would not tell about. He kidded that it was for bed making. It was a presidential citation, it turns out. He did once meet the then queen in a small group presented to her and was really teary eyed about it. He did have the special patch that showed him on the bomb. Several times their plane just barely made it back and he had to bail out more than once - once in Europe.
He never travelled much, but would have liked to have go back and visit. He was near Exeter, either before or after this, and took the tour of the cathedral. We just do not know very much since he would only talk about the co-social things usually when he did talk. He once met another serviceman in Maine, who had been in a bomber squad. He found out that Charlie had been in the pathfinders. He asked him why the targets were not marked at Schweinfurt and Charlie told him about the markers not going off and having to go back and do it again. Then the serviceman finally knew.
92nd Bombardment Group at Alconbury, 1943 (left) - History
8th AF/3rd Bombardment Division/92nd Combat Bombardment Wing (04/05/44 to 11/22/44)
8th AF/3rd BD/4th Bomb. Wing (P) (11/22/44 to 01/01/45)
8th AF/3rd Air Div./4th BW (P) (01/01/45 to 02/16/45)
8th AF/3rd AD/4th CBW (02/16/45 to 08/45)
Combat Missions: 191 First Combat Sortie: 05/07/44 Last Combat Sortie: 04/21/45 Field Map 486th Combat Stats Mission Log
The 486th was created on September 14, 1943 and was activated 6 days later at McCook Army Airfield, Nebraska with COL Glendon P. Overing commanding. The group was originally the 9th Antisubmarine squadron stationed in Miami, FL. This squadron was redesignated the 835th bomber squadron assigned to the 486th. The remaining squadrons (832nd, 833rd, and 834th) were created shortly thereafter. Prior to their overseas deployment the crews worked up in the B-24H and B-24J "Liberators" at McCook and Davis-Monthan Field, Ariz. The 486th was transferred to England in March of 1944 and stationed at Sudbury, England, located NE of London.
The group would fly 49 missions in the liberators until July 21, 1944. The first sortie was against the marshalling yards at Liege, FR and all aircraft returned. The 486th would lose only 8 liberators before the transition to the B-17G "Flying Fortresses" began in July.
The original group symbol was a black "O" in a white square. The square was painted on the tail, top right wing, and bottom left wing. The square identified 3rd Air Division aircraft, the O signified the group. However, when the transition to the B-17 began it was thought the "O" would be confused with the "D" of the 100th BG. To avoid any confusion all 486th Fortresses were identified by a white "W" in a black square.
The Liberators were originally painted olive drab on all upper surfaces, and light gray-blue on all ventral surfaces. This paint scheme was originally meant to camouflage the aircraft. When the Fortresses arrived they had only a natural aluminum finish. It was felt that the 8th had gained air superiority and it was believed that weight savings could be used to better advantage. Color was still used to identify planes from various units. This allowed for quicker identification of other aircraft and allowed various units to assemble more efficiently. It was also recognized that color could be used as a morale booster and build esprit de corps.
The group originally belonged to the 92nd combat bombardment wing when it began operations in April of 1944. In November of 1944 the 486th and its sister group, the 487th, were reassigned to the 4th combat bombardment wing. By December of 1944 the 4th CBW also began painting a chevron on the wing surfaces near the end. This chevron was two toned the outer leg was insignia blue, and the inner leg was painted insignia red. On existing aircraft the chevron was painted over the square W on the wings, obscuring it for the most part. By late January 1945, the 4th CBW began having the entire vertical and horizontal stabilizers painted yellow, wing colors. The 486th BG aircraft were identified by 3 36" yellow bands spaced 12" apart forward of the horizontal stabilizers. Planes of a particular squadron within the 486th could also be identified by a color band aft of the bombardiers bubble. The 832nd's color was yellow, followed by blue, red and green for the 833rd, 834th and 835th respectively.
The 486th flew 192 combat missions, losing 49 aircraft. In early May of 1945, the 486th took part in food drops to the Netherlands. The retreating Germans had flooded the low lands and left the Dutch in a sad state. Following VE day, the 486th conducted "Victory Tours." These tours were flown to give ground crews a look at the damage that their planes had created. These flights took up to 10 passengers with a minimum crew and flew at 2500 ft. "Survival/Mercy Missions" followed and continued into June. These missions carried food to various places in continental Europe. After dropping off the food shipment, passengers (ex-POWs or exiles) would be boarded and flown back to their homelands.
Throughout the summer of 45 the 486th made preparations for relocation to the PTO following 30 days of R&R stateside. However, in August the Japanese surrendered and the redeployment to the Pacific was cancelled. The final remnants of the 486th left Sudbury, England in late August, 1945. Stateside the 486th conducted operations out of Drew Field, Tampa, FL. On October 10, the airbase at Sudbury was transferred back to the RAF the 486th was de-activated on November 4th.
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92nd Bombardment Group H, US 8th Air Force
The source of this image is unknown and is shared as an orphan work.
south of village
Site of old WW2 airbase.
OS Grid Ref: SP 94010 61731
- Second World War (1939-1945)
Total names on memorial: 0
Served and returned: 0
Exact count: no
Information shown: Undefined
Order of information: Undefined
Materials: Marble - Black
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- RAF Wyton opened in April 1916 and was located on either side of the A141 road
- During World War One, the site was occupied by a variety of training and operational squadrons, including American and Canadian units
- After the war ended, the airfield continued in sometimes intermittent use as a private landing strip
- Construction as a bomber station began in 1935 and took 2 years to complete, even though there were still grass runways.
- A 139 Squadron Blenheim from Wyton carried out the first Bomber Command sortie of the war – photo reconnaissance over north-west German coast on 3 September 1939
- During the winter of 1941-42, concrete runways were constructed. Also a perimeter track linked the 37 concrete hardstandings already in place
- The Pathfinder force was formed on 15 August 1942. It was initially composed of squadrons based at Wyton, Oakington, Graveley and Warboys
- During World War two, a total of 218 bombers were lost on operations from Wyton: 57 Blenheims, 5 Wellingtons, 48 Stirlings, 64 Lancasters and 47 Mosquitos.
- In January 1953 the airfield became the main centre for photographic reconnaissance – Mosquitos being replaced by Canberras, then Valiants
- The final operational RAF squadron, (No. 1, Photographic Reconnaissance Unit), left Wyton in November 1993
- RAF Wyton hosts the annual Pathfinder March, a 46-mile (74 km) walk which starts and finishes at RAF Wyton.
- In 1938, 150 acres of open fields on Alconbury Hill were leased by the Air Ministry for use as a satellite airfield.
- In April/May 1940, light bombers based at Wyton conducted attacks on targets in Belgium and Holland, suffering horrendous losses.
- The first Victoria Cross awarded to a member of the RAF during WW2 was as a result of Flying Officer Garland’s actions during an attack on the Albert canal
- The airfield was upgraded in June 1940, marking its transition to heavy bomber status
- Luftwaffe bombers attacked the airfield in September 1940 and March 1941, causing some damage but not enough to close the airfield
- By the end of the RAF’s occupancy of the site in August 1942, a total of 67 aircraft flying on operations had been lost
- From September 1942 until the end of the war, USAAF bomber units occupied the site.
- The US Air Force returned in 1953 and occupied it continuously until 1995. Buildings and facilities were progressively upgraded to take account of ever more sophisticated aircraft being deployed, culminating in a variant of the U-2 spy plane.
- Part of the site is now to be developed for housing and light industrial uses. The US Air Force has announced its intention to withdraw from the remainder of the site as a result of defence expenditure cuts.
RAF Wyton Heritage Centre
Housed in a building situated near the main entrance, this is actually a heritage and conference centre which houses four fascinating collections of objects, documents, photographs and memorabilia. The collections are:
92nd Bombardment Group at Alconbury, 1943 (left) - History
HM King George VI accompanied by HM Queen Elizabeth and Princess Elizabeth spend time with General Doolittle of the
8 th WUAAF and an unknown American airman at Podington
At its peak it could assemble over 3,000 aircraft of various types in the air, with over 200,000 air and ground crew controlled by it. By 1945 some 350,000 Americans had served in the 8th Air Force including all of the RAF's volunteer Eagle Squadrons which had been in action since 1940, and which were transferred to the 8th Air Force in 1943, giving the Mighty Eighth a fighting pedigree right back to the Battle of Britain, and the very commencement of the war with Germany.
In all, seventeen Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to airmen of the 8th Air Force, all to bomber crewmen, and many were posthumously awarded, and whilst accounts vary, some 26,000 airmen gave their lives during the war. Locally no less than 5 Medals of Honor were awarded to airmen stationed at Chelveston and Podington.
Joining Rushden Remembers today are the veterans of Fame's Favored Few, the 92nd Bombardment Group who served at Podington on the outskirts of Rushden.
The 92nd Bombardment Group was the oldest formation in the 8th Air Force, and the first to cross the Atlantic to the United Kingdom non-stop in August 1942.
Originally stationed just to the north-west of London it became the VIII Bomber Command Combat Crew Replacement Unit and in its early months flew four missions over Germany despite being primarily an operational training unit not yet fully ready for combat duty.
By New Year 1943 however, most of the groups had been relocated to Alconbury to reform as a fully operational Bombardment Group before transfer to Podington on the outskirts of Rushden.
On 14th May 1943, the 92nd Bombardment Group achieved operational status thereafter playing a vital part in the 8th Air Force's raids on strategic objectives in Germany and occupied Europe over the next two years to the end of the European theatre of operations on the surrender of Germany.
Additionally, the 92nd Bombardment Group flew experimental missions using the Disney Rocket Bomb especially developed to destroy German U-Boat Submarine Pens along the Channel Coast.
Disney Bombs were rocket propelled but dropped conventionally. When some 5,000 feet above their target, the rocket motors started and raised the bombs speed to such an extent that it could travel through twenty feet of reinforced concrete before exploding.
Over its period of operations from the United Kingdom the 92nd Bombardment Group lost some 154 aircraft in action.
Let us not forget either the role of other local 8th Airforce groups which have forever left an impression on the people of East Northamptonshire.
To those who served with the 305th Bombardment Group at Chelveston, Rushden Remembers that it too lost 154 aircraft through enemy actions. At Polebrook, first the 97th and later the 351st Bombardment Groups took the daylight bombing war to the midst of Germany. Heavy bombers needed their fighter escorts and locally this was provided by, amongst others, the 56th Fighter Group based at Kings Cliffe, who lost 87 aircraft whilst on bomber escort duty.
Plaque Unveiling Ceremony
92nd Bombardment Group HMSQuorn
The plaque funded through the auspices of veterans which was unveiled by the chairman of East Northamptonshire District Council, Edward Sampson
and Sheldon W. Kirsner, a veteran of the 92nd Bombardment Group.
HMS Quorn - The Northamptonshire Navy
As the German Navy increasingly turned to a submarine war to bring Great Britain to its knees, the Royal Navy responded by the development of ever more sophisticated anti­submarine warfare techniques to support the invaluable work of RAF Coastal Command which by 1941 had assumed the prime anti­submarine role.
Ever increasing numbers of anti­submarine destroyers were needed to escort convoys and to keep the seas around Britain as free as possible of German U-Boat activity. By early 1941 a new class of Hunt Destroyer had been designed using the class name (Hunt) which had hitherto been reserved for mine sweepers.
During Warship Week 1941, Rushden, along with countless other towns in the country, raised enormous sums of money for war purposes and in just seven days the colossal sum of £250,092 was raised by public subscription ranging from local school children collecting ship half pennies to large anonymous donations from wealthier residents.
The result of this tremendous effort was that the building cost of HMS Quorn, a Hunt Class Destroyer, was raised, and an association was formed which was to bond the ship and town until HMS Quorn was lost in the English Channel in 1944 through enemy actions.
To mark this association Rushden was given a large ship's plaque by the ship's captain whilst through the endeavours of local school children from Rushden, Raunds and Higham Ferrers enough money was collected to buy every member of the ship's crew a Bible, A few of these original bibles still exist today, treasured by former crew members as a priceless keepsake.
Until her sinking in 1944, HMS Quorn cemented herself in the hearts of the local populace and she became, with others of her type adopted in the county, the "Northamptonshire Navy" taking the war to the enemy in a positive way attacking U-Boats and keeping much larger German Naval Units in the harbours of occupied France, Holland and Belgium.
This naval report from 14th October 1942 illustrates just how well she did her job:
"Last night a RAF Coastal Command aircraft from Calshot spotted the German cruiser 45 KOMET attempting to break out from Le Havre, westward to the Atlantic, and escorted by the 3rd Schnellboot Flotilla and by German minesweepers.
In an attack by a Royal Navy Flotilla of Hunt Destroyers including HMS Quorn, Cottesmore, Endale and Glasdale plus HMS Albrighton, Komet was sunk. HMS Brocklesbury survived the action but with a large number of casualties on board whilst German Schnellboot S81 sank HMS Jasper separately making for Portland."
HMS Quorn was to take part in the Normandy invasion in 1944, but shortly afterwards, whilst on anti-submarine and Schnellboot (E-Boat) patrol, was sunk with much consequent loss of life. Her battle honours included the North Sea, English Channel and the Normandy invasion.
I don't profess to be any kind of expert on airfields, not even close, but they do interest me, especially Cold War airfields. The following is a 'cut up' of material from a variety of locations mingled in with some of my own words. Its certainly not a definitive history on Alconbury, more of an overview to accompany the pictures.
RAF Bomber Command use (1939-1941)
In September 1939, RAF Upwood squadrons were given operational training roles and Alconbury became RAF Wyton's satellite under No. 2 Group, Squadron Nos. 12, 40 and 139. These squadrons were frequently deployed to Alconbury, No. 139 being the first to be actually stationed there. Squadrons 15 and 40 converted from Battles to Bristol Blenheim bombers. No. 15 Squadron took up residence on 14 April 1940, when additional requisitioned accommodation was available. It flew its first raid of the war on 10 May against a German occupied airfield near Rotterdam.
In May 1942, RAF Alconbury was allocated to the United States Army Air Force:
93d Bombardment Group, 7 September 1942 - 5 December 1942
92d Bombardment Group, 6 January - 15 September 1943
95th Bombardment Group, 15 April - 15 June 1943
482d Bombardment Group, 20 August 1943 - 21 May 1945
801st Bombardment Group (Provisional), January - 1 May 1944
94th Bombardment Wing, 12–18 June 1945
2d Bombardment Wing, 12 June - 26 August 1945
1st Bombardment Wing, 26 June - 26 August 1945
1st Air Division, 20 September - 31 October 1945
406th Bombardment Squadron, 11 November 1943 - 7 February 1944
857th Bombardment Squadron, 11 June - 6 August 1945
652d Bombardment Squadron, 13 July - 25 October 1945
36th Bombardment Squadron: Attached to 328th Service Group, assigned to RAF Watton, operated from Alconbury, 7 February-28
March 1944, Assigned to: 1st Bombardment Division, 28 February - 15 October 1945.
Postwar United States Air Force use:
7560th Air Base Squadron, 7 November 1954 - 25 March 1955 (Redesignated: 7560th Air Base Group, 25 March 1955 - 25 August 1959
86th Bombardment Squadron, 15 September 1955 - 5 August 1959
42d Troop Carrier Squadron, 31 May - 8 December 1957
53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, 25 April - 9 August 1959
10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, 25 August 1959 - 20 August 1987 (Redesignated: 10th Tactical Fighter Wing, 10 August 1987 - 31 March 1993, Redesignated: 10th Air Base Wing, 31 March 1993 - 1 October 1994)
527th Tactical Fighter Training Aggressor Squadron, 1 April 1976 - 14 July 1988
17th Reconnaissance Wing, 1 October 1982 - 30 June 1991 (Assigned to Strategic Air Command Eighth Air Force 7th Air Division)
39th Special Operations Wing, 1 December 1992 - 1 January 1993
352d Special Operations Group, 1 January 1993 - 17 February 1995
710th Air Base Wing, 1 October 1994 - 12 July 1995
423d Air Base Squadron, 12 July 1995 - 1 July 2005 (Based at RAF Molesworth) (Redesignated: 423d Air Base Group, 1 July 2005 - present)
501st Combat Support Wing, 1 May 2007–present
The Cold War, Spy Planes & Operation Desert Storm
In 1959 with the Cold War hotting up (lame humour..), the 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing arrived at Alconbury and over the coming years flew many reconnaissance, electronic warfare and 'Aggressor Support' missions.
The Strategic Air Command arrived at Alconbury on 1 October 1982 when the 17th Reconnaissance Wing was activated, bringing with them the U2 and later the TR-1 Spy Plane. These assets required major remodelling of the airfield including Ready Sheds, 13 extra wide Hardened Aircraft Shelters, a Photographic Interpretation Centre [ame="http://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/showthread.php?t=20604"]and a Nuclear Hardened Command Post/Avionics Suite for the TR-1 spyplanes known only as Building 210 (later nicknamed Magic Mountain)[/ame].
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the threat of the Cold War vanishing there were rumours that RAF Alconbury would be closed down but then in August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Some of the first aircraft to be sent into the Gulf were three TR-1A's from Alconbury's 17th Reconnaissance Wing and 23 A-10's from the 10th Tactical Fighter Wing (511th Tactical Fighter Squadron) were deployed to Saudi Arabia for combat operations.
The 511th TFS A-10s flew no fewer than 1700 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm and played an important part in wreaking havoc on Iraqi tank forces, Scud missiles and other ground positions during the conflict.
In recent years things have wound down considerably and in 1995 the USAF returned the base to the MoD (but retaining the Base Support Area under USAF control). The USAF 423d Air Base Squadron and USAF 501st Combat Support Wing still operate from Alconbury.
Romney Sheds, WW2 Crew, Locker and Drying Rooms - Airfield & Technical Site.
Parachute Store (Building 51) - Airfield & Technical Site
Command Building - Airfield & Technical Site
Hercules Bomber artwork - Airfield & Technical Site
Photographic Processing and Interpretation Facility (Building 69) - Airfield & Technical Site.
WW2 Control Tower & Watch Office with Operations Room for Bomber Satellite Stations - Technical Site
Uni-Seco USAFE Control Tower - Airfield & Technical Site
Guard Tower - Weapons Storage Site
Awesome Warthog/30mm Cannon cartoon drawn by an airman
TR-1/U2 Hardened Aircraft Shelter (Building 4105) - Airfield & Technical Site
17th Reconnaissance Wing Squadron Headquarters - Hardened Area (flooded basement)
(Currently in use by Cambridgeshire Police for tactical training)
Hardened Aircraft Shelter / Tab-Vee 'Oh Johnnie' - Airfield & Technical Site
This was demolished by the SAS as a training exercise, took them 3 attempts to flatten it!!
The gratuitous 'Oh Johnnie vent shot' taken by everyone (yawn. )
'Sally Ann' Tab-Vee/HAS
(most likely for A-10 Warthog or F5 Tiger. maybe even Phantom )
Watch the video: RAF Alconbury 1967-68 (September 2022).