USAAF Station 342
Atcham Airfield – 9 May 1946
Location in Shropshire
|Operator||Royal Air Force|
United States Army Air Forces
|Controlled by||RAF Fighter Command (1941-1942)|
Eighth Air Force (1942-1944)
Ninth Air Force (1944-1945)
RAF Flying Training Command (1945-1946)
|Battles/wars||Second World War|
|Elevation||61 metres (200 ft) AMSL|
Initially built for RAF Fighter Command, during the Second World War its primary use was by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Eighth Air Force. It was mainly the home of the 495th Fighter Training Group, where pilots were trained to fly Republic P-47 Thunderbolts although a few also were trained to fly twin-engined Lockheed P-38 Lightnings for both Eighth and Ninth Air Force units. Atcham continued to see use as a training base until it was returned to the RAF in March 1945.
Royal Air Force
The airfield was opened in 1941 and was initially used by the Royal Air Force to house two squadrons of RAF Fighter Command with the first to arrive being 131 Squadron on 27 September 1941 with Supermarine Spitfires
It was planned to open RAF Condover as a satellite station but when it opened in 1942 the RAF had decided to hand over the Atcham site for American use.
United States Army Air Forces use
To support the USAAF, jurisdiction of Atcham Airfield was transferred from RAF Fighter Command to the USAAF on 15 June 1942 when a number of RAF stations were turned over to the Americans. It was designated as Station 342 (AP).
- 332d Service Squadron; HHS, 333d Service Group
- 356th, 361st Service Squadrons; HHS 42d Service Group
- 18th Weather Squadron
Regular Army Station Units included:
- 1004th Signal Company
- 1148th Quartermaster Company
- 1761st Ordnance Supply & Maintenance Company
- 2020th Engineer Fire Fighting Platoon
- 182nd Medical Dispensary
The 6th Fighter Wing was the original training organisation established on 27 August 1942, under the control of VIII Fighter Command. During 1942 and early 1943, it trained pilots in combat operations as well as air-to-air-gunnery with the attached 1st Gunnery & Tow Target Flight. The training was conducted using Supermarine Spitfies and pilots drawn from the 67th Observation Group at RAF Membury (AAF-466) and RAF Middle Wallop (AAF-449).
The 6th Fighter Wing provided training to the following groups:
- The group arrived without assigned aircraft as its Bell P-39 Airacobras were found unsuitable for long-distance formation ferry flights. Provided with British Supermarine Spitfires by the Royal Air Force (RAF), the 31st FG entered combat in August and supported a raid made by Canadian, British, American, and French forces at Dieppe on 19 August. The group also escorted bombers and flew patrol and diversionary missions.
- After its training was completed in August 1942, the 31st moved to RAF Westhampnett in Sussex before moving into Tafaraoui Airfield, Oran, Algeria on 8 November 1942 as part of Twelfth Air Force.
- The 14th arrived at Atcham on 18 August 1942 from Hamilton Field, California. It consisted of the 48th (ES) and 49th Fighter Squadrons (QU).
- Equipped with Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, the 14th escorted Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers to targets in France. In addition, fourteen P-38s of the 48th Squadron were sent on detached service to RAF Westhampnett and RAF Ford in southern England, where in co-ordination with British squadrons, the pilots engaged in a number of practice sweeps across the English Channel.
- After flying sweep sorties during which there was no contact with the Luftwaffe, in November 1942 the 14th was reassigned to the Twelfth Air Force, and was transferred to Tafaraoui Airfield, Oran, Algeria in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO) after the Operation Torch landings in North Africa.
The 6th Wing was discontinued on 13 September 1943. Its place was taken by a provisional unit, the 2906th Observation Training Group (Fighter), which had been organized on 16 August. The 2906th was replaced in turn by a regular unit, the 495th Fighter Training Group on 26 October 1943. The 495th switched its mission to a Replacement Training Group (RTU) and was assigned two RTU squadrons:
As a Combat Crew Replacement Center, the squadrons flew a mixture of hand-me-down aircraft, primarily planes which were considered not combat-ready to high hours and being "war weary". It flew P-47 Thunderbolts, some P-38H Lightnings, and A-20 Havocs. Pilots trained were then assigned to both VIII Fighter Command and IX Fighter Command after completion of training for subsequent assignment to units as needed.
Back to Royal Air Force control
Atcham was returned to the RAF Flying Training Command on 14 March 1945 becoming a satellite of RAF Ternhill. No. 5 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit RAF ((P)AFU) and No. 6 Service Flying Training School RAF (SFTS). No. 577 Squadron RAF target towing with Airspeed Oxfords, Spitfires and Vultee A-31 Vengeances used the airfield until the end of the war.
Today there is little evidence of Atcham airfield. Some minor agricultural roads which were part of the perimeter track remain as access to farm fields, and the B4394 uses part of the former South West to North East runway. The three Callender Hamilton hangars of the former technical site remain together in use with all the administration buildings, the whole complex forming the Atcham Industrial Estate northwest of the former airfield area.
Major units assigned
- 131 Squadron (27 September 1941 - 8 February 1942)
- 350 Squadron (19 February - 5 April 1942)
- 74 Squadron (24 March - 10 April 1942)
- 232 Squadron (10 April - 15 May 1942)
- 452 Squadron (June 1942)
- 495th Fighter Training Group (27 August 1942 - February 1945)
- 31st Fighter Group (11 June – 1 August 1942)
- 14th Fighter Group (18 August – November 1942)
- "RAF Atcham". Control Towers. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Freeman 2001, p. 22.
- "Atcham". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- Jefford 2001, p. 59.
- "333d Service Group". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
- "42d Service Group". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
- "495th Fighter Training Group". Eighth Air Force Historical Society. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
- Maurer 1980, p. 85.
- Maurer 1980, p. 83.
- Maurer 1980, p. 84.
- Maurer 1980, p. 58.
- Maurer 1980, p. 57.
- "Factsheet 6 Air Division". Air Force Historical Research Agency. 4 October 2007. Archived from the original on 30 October 2012. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
- "Abstract, History 2906 Observation Training Group (Fighter) (Provisional) September 1943". Air Force History Index. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
- "495th Fighter Training Group". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
- "RAF Atcham". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Freeman, R. Airfields of the Eighth – Then and Now. After the Battle. London, UK: Battle of Britain International Ltd., 2001. ISBN 0-9009-13-09-6.
- Jefford, C.G. RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing, 2001. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
- Maurer, M. Air Force Combat Units of World War II. USAF Historical Division. Washington D.C., USA: Zenger Publishing Co., Inc, 1980. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
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