Fersfield

Validation date: 26 12 2017
Updated on: Never
Views: 419


52°25'31"N 001°03'25"E

Runway: 02/20 - 1300m/4200ft - asphalt
Runway: 08/26 - 1800m/6000ft - asphalt
Runway: 14/32 - 1300m/4200ft - asphalt

Fersfield airfield (Royal Air Force Fersfield, originally known as RAF Winfarthing, also known as RAF Fersfield and USAAF station number 140) was an arfield 130 kilometer northeast of London. 
The airfield was originally built in 1943/1944 as a satellite for RAF Knettishall and constructed to Class A bomber specifications, with a main runway and two secondary runways. Accommodation was provided in Nissen huts for about 2,000 personnel and it featured an operations block and two T-2 hangars.
 
The yet unbuilt facility was named Winfarthing when it was assigned to the United States Army Air Forces as USAAF station number 140 in 1942. When it was reassigned to VIII Bomber Command, it was renamed RAF Fersfield, and when reassigned to the Americans again,  Fersfield was reassigned station number 554.
When it was not used by the USAAF, it was transferred to the United States Navy for operational use. This made the airfield most notable, as it became the operational airfield for Project Aphrodite. Aphrodite was a secret plan for old, high-time remote controlled Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers (mainly F-models, redesignated as BQ-7s) to be used against German V-1 flying bomb sites, submarine pens, or deep fortifications that had resisted conventional bombing. From July 1944 to January 1945, approximately 25 high-time Fortresses were assigned to the secretive 562nd Bomb Squadron, 388th Bomb Group, along with two Consolidated B-24 Liberators from the United States Navy (PB4Y-1), to be used in highly classified Operation Aphrodite missions, known to the US Navy as Operation Anvil. Although originally RAF Woodbridge was going to be used, Fersfield was chosen as a better location because of its relative remoteness. The plan was to use the stripped-down war-weary bombers as explosive packed, radio-controlled flying bombs. Pilots would take-off manually and then parachute to safety leaving their bombers (known as 'babies') once they were under the control of another aircraft (known as 'mothers'). It would then be flown to its target in mainland Europe, where the up to 10-tonnes of highly unstable Torpex explosives would do their work.
The first mission took place on 4 August 1944. The target was a V-1 site in Pas-de-Calais. In the first phase of the mission, four Mothers, each with their own Baby took off. Unfortunately, one of the drones (ex-351BG B-17G 42-39835 ‘Wantta Spa(r)‘ TU-N)  went out of control shortly after the first crewman (TSGT Elmer Most) had bailed out. It crashed near the coastal village of Orford, destroyed 2 acres (8100 m2) of trees and dug an enormous crater, known today as Fisher's Lake. The body of the pilot, Lt John Fisher, was never found. The second drone was successfully flown toward the Pas-de-Calais. However, clouds obscured the television view from the nose just as the drone approached the target site, and the plane missed the target by 150m. The second half of the mission fared little better. One robot BQ-7 had a control malfunction before it could dive onto its target and was shot down by German flak. The other one missed its target by 500m. 
Several subsequent missions were attempted, such as the United States Navy PB4Y-1 which exploded over the village of Blythburgh, Suffolk, on 12 August 1944. It killed LT Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., the brother of future President John F. Kennedy.
Another secret operation that took place from Fersfield, also involved radio controlled bombs. Designated Operation ‘Batty’, it involved GB-4 television controlled flying bombs weighing 907kgs (2000lbs) that were slung underneath B-17s and guided onto targets using TV. The 563rd BS provided much of the support, whith the other squadrons in the 388th BG provided the crews. In the later part of 1944 a small number of these operations were flown, but again with little success and this too was abandoned before it could have any significant effect on the war.


The airfield as seen from the air in August 1944 (416th.com)


A stripped (unarmed) B-17 'Baby' at Fersfield in 1944 (Facebook

In November the 'Aphrodite' project was withdrawn to Knettishall, from where the last Aphrodite mission was on 20 January 1945 after which both projects were scrapped.
Fersfield returned to the control of the RAF and for some time it was used to train aircrew that were joining 2 Group squadrons on the European mainland. But the secretive role of the airfield was not over yet. One of RAF most secret operations, Operation Carthage, was launched from Fersfield on 21 March 1945. The target was the Gestapo HQ in Copenhagen. De Havilland Mosquitos from 21 Sqn, 464 Sqn RAAF and 487 Sqn RNZAF made the trip across the North Sea and back. Protected by Mustangs of 54 Sqn, the raid was led by Group Captain R.N. Bateson, and was ranked as a success in spite of many civilian casualties, mostly children.
From April the airfield was used by a 2 Group training flight with Mosquito T.IIIs for gunnery training. 

The airfield closed for good n February 1946. The Eastern Counties Motor Club (ECMC) was formed early in 1950 and one year later, on 22 April 1951, the club’s first race meeting took place at Fersfield. That first was a ‘closed-to-club’ affair, but just two months later an invitation meeting (to which seven clubs were invited) was organised for 17 June, at which nine race were run. With an estimated crowd of 8000, it could be considered a great success. Cars taking part included pre-war racers such as Bentleys, Frazer-Nash, MG and Bugattis plus Jaguars, Connaughts, Healeys and even a Ferrari.  
Further race meetings were held in 1952 but at the end of the season, the Royal Automobile Club requested that certain improvements be carried out which would have cost £10,000. As this was beyond the young club’s resources, Fersfield was abandoned. 


Aerial photograph mosaic of RAF Fersfield (Winfarthing) airfield, about half a year after it was sold off. Looking north, the bomb dump is at the top, the technical site- with T2 hangar- at the bottom, 29 August 1946. Photograph taken by No. 541 Squadron, sortie number RAF/106G/UK/1707. (AmericanAirMuseum/IWM, via Wikimedia)
 
Today, much of the concreted areas of the airfield have been removed for hardcore, with the airfield area being returned to agricultural uses. A surprising number of buildings exist, some on the former airfield, which are being used by agriculture, along with both T-2 hangars. Others are in the wooded areas south of the former airfield in various states of decay. The perimeter track and runways still exist, although greatly reduced in width, being used as agricultural farm roads. Other roads in the area, identified by "Airfield Road" signs, are the last vestiges of the former airfield.


The watch office was still standing in the 1970s (via Richard E. Flagg)


Although no longer an airfield, its lines are still very recognisable in the landscape. Looking North, the to T2 hangars are visible on the left. The lighter spot in the field in front of them is the location that used to be the watch office/control tower (AirfieldResearchGroup/Richard E. Flagg).