A Short History of Membury Airfield
Located 6 miles north-east of Hungerford, Berkshire most of the airfield lies within the parish of Lambourn. However a small part of its south-western corner is in the Wiltshire parish of Ramsbury, as is the Membury Estate from which the airfield derives its name.
In many ways its early history mirrors those of the area’s four other principle airfields, namely Ramsbury, Welford, Greenham Common and Aldermaston. Construction work began in May 1941 and it was officially handed over to the military in August 1942. The main building contractor was Gee, Walker and Slater, often abbreviated to GWS and thought by many of the workforce to mean, get them, work them and sack them!
In early September 1942 the 3rd Photographic and 67th Observation Groups, which were both attached to the US 8th Air Force, moved in. The 3rd Photographic was at Membury for just six weeks before being reassigned to the US 12th Air Force and sent to Steeple Morden in Cambridgeshire. However the 67th was to remain at Membury for almost 16 months. The group’s mission whilst in the ETO (European Theatre of Operations) was photo reconnaissance work and in June 1943 their title was changed from ‘Observation’ to ‘Reconnaissance’ to better reflect their role. Shortly after the group’s arrival they were equipped with Spitfire Mk Vbs, many of which had been left behind by the USAAF’s 31st and 52nd Fighter Groups following their departure for North Africa. Other aircraft seen at Membury during this period were Tiger Moths, Havocs, Bostons and Piper L-4 Cubs. In December 1943, after being re-equipped with Mustangs, the group left Membury and went to Middle Wallop in Hampshire.
6th Tactical Air Depot
During mid 1943 the south-eastern corner of the airfield was extended and additional workshops plus two temporary hangers erected. By the end of the year the site had become home to the 6th Tactical Air Depot (TAD). This depot mainly specialised in the checking and updating of newly arrived P-47 Thunderbolts before allocation to operational units, plus maintenance and repair work that was considered beyond the capabilities of front line squadrons.
The US Ninth Air Force
At the beginning of January 1944 personnel from the 366th Fighter Group arrived at Membury from the United States and were immediately equipped with P-47 fighters. They spent the following weeks getting used to their new aircraft and the vagaries of the English weather, before moving to Thruxton in Hampshire. On 3rd March 1944 the US 436th Troop Carrier Group (TCG) arrived. The Group consisted of four squadrons (79th Sq. coded S6, 80th Sq. coded 7D, 81st Sq. coded U5 and the 82nd Sq. coded 3D) each equipped with about 14 C-47s. The group spent the next three months training (often in conjunction with the 101st Airborne Division) in preparation for the forthcoming invasion of Europe. For several weeks prior to D-Day briefings were held and plans made in readiness for the group’s participation in the ‘Neptune’ phase of operation ‘Overlord’. On the night of June 5th 1944 (D-Day minus 1), the group left Membury for Normandy and dropped paratroopers near the town of Ste. Mere-Eglise. The following evening the group dispatched a further 50 C-47s and gliders to Normandy and thankfully, just like the previous mission, it was completed without loss of life or serious damage to any of the group’s powered aircraft.
Following the initial phase of the invasion the group was employed ferrying ammunition and supplies to Normandy and returning with wounded soldiers and POWs. In July part of the group was sent to Votone in Italy to take part in operation ‘Dragoon’, the invasion of southern France. Following the successful completion of this mission they re-joined their colleagues at Membury and in September began preparations for operation ‘Market-Garden’, the invasion of Holland.
During the first day of operation ‘Market-Garden’ (17th September 1944) the 436th TCG dispatched 90 aircraft carrying the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (less its 3rd Battalion) to drop zone ‘C’ near Zon. This, and the remaining missions flown by the group during ‘Market Garden’ proved to be very costly in terms of men and aircraft lost – between 17th and 19th September six aircrew and several glider pilots were killed in action and 11 C-47s destroyed.
On 25th February 1945 the 436th TCG left Membury for Melun in France and by the end of June the station was back under RAF control. Nos. 525 and 187 Squadrons, equipped with Dakotas, then moved in and for a short period transported troops to and from India. These squadrons remained at Membury until October 1946 when the station closed.