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C-47s of the 306th Troop Carrier Squadron


RAF Station Weston Zoyland is a former World War II airfield in Somersetmarker, Englandmarker. The airfield is located approximately east-southeast of Bridgwatermarker; about west-southwest of Londonmarker

Opened in 1944, it was used by both the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force. During the war it was used primarily as transport airfield. After the war it was used as a reserve RAF Fighter Command airfield until 1958.

Today the remains of the airfield are a mixture of farmland and a base for Civil Air Patrol activities.

Overview

Weston Zoyland airfield originated in the mid-1920s as a landing ground, being in use by 1926 for drogue tugs using the anti-aircraft gunnery range off Watchetmarker in the Bristol Channelmarker. At first, it was no more than an extended cow pasture, subject only to seasonal use until the Second World War loomed, when the site was occupied on a permanent basis. During the pre-war years, buildings were erected piecemeal as required and the landing ground area gradually enlarged but, with the fall of France, Weston Zoyland was no longer a backwater airfield.

To obtain the necessary amount of land for siting runways of sufficient length, the A372 to Othery was closed and diverted south on a former minor road.

In 1942, the Air Ministry decided to upgrade the airfield to bomber standard and, early in 1943, work began on laying concrete runways and the perimeter track to the Class A airfield standard, the main feature of which was a set of three converging runways each containing a concrete runway for takeoffs and landings, optimally placed at 60 degree angles to each other in a triangular pattern.

The airfield runways were a main of 5.775 ft at 11/29, and ancillaries of 3,564 ft at 05/23 and 4,101 ft at 16/34. Two hardstands were of 150ft diameter pans and there were 33 loops connecting to an enclosing perimeter track, of a standard width of 50 feet.

The ground support station was constructed largely of Nissen huts of various sizes. The support station was where the group and ground station commanders and squadron headquarters and orderly rooms were located. Also on the ground station were where the mess facilities; chapel; hospital; mission briefing and debriefing; armory and bombsite storage; life support; parachute rigging; supply warehouses; station and airfield security; motor pool and the other ground support functions necessary to support the air operations of the group. These facilities were all connected by a network of single path support roads.

The technical site, connected to the ground station and airfield consisted of a mixture of hangars consisting of three T-2s (two of 13 bays one of 14 bays), one Bellman, one Bessoneau and nine Blisters. It also included various organizational, component and field maintenance shops along with the crew chiefs and other personnel necessary to keep the aircraft airworthy and to quickly repair light and moderate battle damage. Aircraft severely damaged in combat were sent to repair depots for major structural repair. The Ammunition dump was located on the northwest side of the airfield, outside of the perimeter track surrounded by large dirt mounds and concrete storage pens.

Various domestic accommodation sites were constructed to the northwest the airfield, but within a mile or so of the technical support site, also using clusters of Maycrete or Nissen huts. The Huts were either connected, set up end-to-end or built singly and made of prefabricated corrugated iron with a door and two small windows at the front and back. They provided accommodation for 1,530 personnel, including communal and a sick quarters.

RAF Transport Command Use

While this work was in progress. the airfield continued to be used by anti-aircraft co-operation units and the occasional Mustang squadron but in September, when the runways were ready, RAF Transport Command stepped in and formed No. 525 Squadron to operate Vickers Warwicks. No. 525 stayed for most of the winter, moving to RAF Lynehammarker in February 1944, where it eventually switched over to the C-47 Skytrain/DC-3 Dakota.

USAAF Use

Although not previously allocated for US Ninth Air Force use, IX Troop Carrier Command wished to move the four C-47 groups of 50th Troop Carrier Wing from the Leicestermarker-Granthammarker area to the southwest where they would be closer to the units of the 101st Airborne Division which they were to lift during the invasion. In consequence, the Air Ministry made available suitably-sited airfields including Weston Zoyland. All RAF flying units had moved out. Meanwhile, in common with most other bases designated for troop carrier use, US engineers laid some 500ft of Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) each side of the main runway heads and camp beds were set up in the hangars to accommodate the paratroops.

Weston Zoyland was known as USAAF Station AAF-447 for security reasons during the war while under American control, and by which it was referred to instead of location. It's Station-ID was "ZW".

442d Troop Carrier Group

There was a long delay before the allocated unit, the 442d Troop Carrier Group arrived after D-Day from RAF Fulbeckmarker. Its operational squadrons were:

  • 303d Troop Carrier (J7)
  • 304th Troop Carrier (V4)
  • 305th Troop Carrier (4J)
  • 306th Troop Carrier (7H)


The 442d was a group of Ninth Air Force's 50th Troop Carrier Wing, IX Troop Carrier Command.

The Douglas C-47/C-53 Skytrains of the group did not move in until 12/13 June although elements of the group had visited Weston Zoyland during the precceding weeks. With 50 C-47s on the airfield, there was a shortage of aircraft standings and, while many aircraft were parked on the turf, additional PSP standings were put down in case of wet weather.

Haulage of freight to the Continent and casualty evacuation occupied the 442nd until mid-July when the air echelons of three squadrons (303d, 304th, 305th) were sent to Follonica airfield in Italymarker from where they look part in the air drops for the invasion of southern France in August.

In their absence, the 306th TCS continued with air haulage to and from France, being temporarily based at RAF Ramsburymarker for two weeks prior to the return of the MTO detachment on 24 August.

For Operation "Market", the 442nd TCG air echelon moved to an advanced base at RAF Chilboltonmarker to give better range and operated temporarily as part of 53rd TCW. The group suffered 13 crew casualties and lost 10 C-47s during the missions in support of the air operations over Holland, all of which were flown from Chilbolton.

It was then hack to supply carrying until the group was alerted that it would be going to its Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) Peray Airfield (ALG A-44) Francemarker. The main party moved out between 4/6 October, the 442nd being the last of the 50th TCW groups to leave its English base. Although some US personnel remained until late that month, this was Weston Zoyland's last connection with the Ninth Air Force.

Legacy

From France the group flew resupply missions, hauling freight, and evacuating casualties in support of the Allied effort to breach the Siegfried Line. Continued transport duties until V-E Day but also participated in the airborne assault across the Rhinemarker in Mar 1945 by releasing gliders filled with troops. The group carried supplies to ground forces in Germany (Apr-May), and evacuated prisoners who had been liberated.

Remained in the theater as part of occupation force after the war as part of United States Air Forces in Europe. Inactivated at Munichmarker airfield Germanymarker on 30 September 1946.

Subsequent RAF Use

The station had never been officially transferred from the RAF and the anti-aircraft support units were quick to return. Nos. 286 and 587 Squadrons with their mixture of Martinets. Hurricanes. Oxfords, Vengeances and Harvards remained in residence until near the end of hostilities.

Four fighter squadrons came and departed during the months following the end of the war in Europe but by 1947 the station was reduced to care and maintenance.

There was virtually no further flying at Weston Zoyland until the summer of 1952 when, to meet the Soviet threat. an increase in the RAF's strength and a demand for more aircrews found Meteors and Vampires operating in a training role.

Canberra squadrons were present during the mid 1950s when Weston Zoyland was used as a work-up station prior to overseas assignments. By 1958 the station was once more deserted of aircraft and, although retained by the Air Ministry for another ten years, it never reopened for military flying. Some of these Canberras flew out to Australia to take part in the British atomic tests at Monte Bello Islands.

Civil Use

Upon its release from military use, in the 1960s, the A372 was restored to near its original route by utilizing a considerable length of the former main runway. The former secondary runways are clearly evident in aerial photography, although most of the concrete has been removed. The former perimeter track has been reduced to a single-lane agricultural road with the pan and loop dispersal hardstands all being removed. Several derelict buildings still remain, including the control tower and a large cluster to the northwest of the perimeter, including the base of what appears to be the remains of two large J-Type hangars and a support site. No evidence of the Pierced Steel Planking extensions to the runways remain nor of an Ammunition dump.

Although much of the airfield is no longer usable for aviation purposes, Westonzoyland Airfieldmarker is in use for Microlights which uses the northwest half of the 16/34 runway, and is a base for the Sky Watch Civil Air Patrol (SWCAP).

See also



References

  • Freeman, Roger A. (1994) UK Airfields of the Ninth: Then and Now 1994. After the Battle ISBN 0900913800
  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.


External links


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