Located 6 miles north-east of the Berkshire town of Hungerford, the majority of Membury airfield lies within the parish of Lambourn however a small part of its south-western corner is located 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 following the Air Ministry’s standard Class ‘A’ pattern with three runways intersecting each other loosely forming the letter ‘A’. 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! The airfield was intended to be used by RAF Bomber Command Operational Training Units but by the time Membury Airfield was officially handed over to the RAF in August 1942, it was immediately handed over to the United States Army Air Force designating it as Army Air Force Station 466 (AAF-466)
The Yanks arrive
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 European Theatre of Operations (ETO) 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 departed 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 upgrading and inspecting 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 at Membury. As part of IX Troop Carrier Command, 53rd Troop Carrier Wing, the Group consisted of four squadrons each equipped with about 14 Douglas C-47 Skytrains – 79th Sqn (Coded S6), 80th Sqn (Coded 7D), 81st Sqn (Coded U5) and the 82nd Sqn (Coded 3D). The 436th had arrived in England during the first week of January 1944 and was initially stationed at Bottesford airfield in Nottinghamshire. Since the primary mission of the Troop Carrier Groups was to support airborne operations, it made sense to move a number of Troop Carrier Groups closer to the 101st Airborne Division who were located roughly along the Kennett Valley. The next three months saw a huge increase in flying at Membury where daily formation flights and glider towing would be the norm. All this training was 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 departed Membury for Normandy and dropped paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division at 0100 on 6th June near the hamlet of St. Germain de Varraville. The evening of the 6th saw the 436th participate in the their second combat mission of the day by towing 50 gliders to a landing zone near St Mere Eglise in 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 1944 a large contingent 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 back at Membury and in September began preparations for operation ‘Market-Garden’, the invasion of Holland.
On the 17th September 1944 Operation Market-Garden was launched. This was Field Marshal Montgomery’s ambitious plan of airborne troops capturing key bridges in Holland to enable British XXX Corps to race across the Rhine and get a foothold in Germany. The 436th TCG dispatched 90 aircraft carrying the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (less its 3rd Battalion) to drop zone ‘C’ near Zon. The following days would see the 436th carry out glider missions into Holland in increasingly bad weather. This, and the resupply missions flown by the group during ‘Market Garden’ proved to be very costly in terms of men and aircraft lost – between the 17th and 19th September, six aircrew and several glider pilots were killed in action and 11 C-47s destroyed.
The harsh winter of 1944 saw flying decrease at Membury due to the poor weather. In December during the coldest period for a number of years, the German army launched a massive counter attack on the allied lines in the Ardennes Forest. The battle of the bulge saw the 101st Airborne Division, 969th Artillery Battalion and elements of the 10th Armoured Division surrounded whilst defending the strategically important crossroads town of Bastogne. With supplies dwindling and reinforcement’s non-existent, IX Troop Carrier Command swung into action in an attempt to resupply the troops. The weather cleared on the 23rd of December and on that day Membury saw a large number of IX Troop Carrier Command Pathfinder C-47’s arrive to be loaded with supplies for Bastogne. The Pathfinders immediately took off after being loaded and headed for Bastogne. The 436th flew their own resupply mission to Bastogne that day flying 47 heavily laden C-47’s carrying ammunition, food and medical supplies to Bastogne. A further three resupply missions were flown by the 436th on the 24th, 26th and 27th of December. Patton’s Third Army broke through the German lines around Bastogne late on the 26th ending the siege of Bastogne.
The RAF return
On 25th February 1945 the 436th TCG departed Membury for Melun in France and by the end of June the station was back under RAF control. In July, 525 Squadron arrived at Membury followed by 187 Squadron in September. Both squadrons were equipped with Dakotas and for a short period transported troops to and from India. Both squadrons remained at Membury until their departure to other stations in October 1946. No other squadrons were stationed at Membury and the airfield fell silent closing a short but very busy chapter in its life.