RAF Halesworth - USAAF Station 365

Text © Copyright Evelyn Simak, July 2014
Images are under a separate Creative Commons Licence.

TM4078 : Sign on building at industrial estate by Evelyn Simak

The location of the airfield is roughly equidistant between Halesworth and Holton, with the dispersed sites situated mainly around the villages of Holton and Upper Holton. It is for this reason that the aerodrome is occasionally also referred to as Holton airfield. Built in 1942/43 as a Class A bomber base, the main runway was 1,8 kilometres (6000 feet) long and the dispersed camps accommodated about 3000 personnel.

Because the airfield is only 13 kilometres (8 miles) distant from the coast it was ideally located for escort fighter operations, where range was an important factor. Hence the first unit to be based here was the 56th Fighter Group (FG) which arrived from RAF Horsham St Faith (now Norwich International Airport) in July 1943.

Its operational squadrons were

61st Fighter Squadron
62nd Fighter Squadron
63rd Fighter Squadron

The 56th FG was to become one of the most highly decorated fighter units in the Eighth Army Air Forces and the group also pioneered most of the successful fighter escort tactics, flying P-47 Thunderbolts. In April 1944, the unit left because the airfield was required for a new B-24 Liberator group - the 489th Bombardment Group (Heavy).

The group was assigned to the 20th Combat Bombardment Wing and comprised the following operational squadrons

844th Bombardment Squadron
845th Bombardment Squadron
846th Bombardment Squadron
847th Bombardment Squadron

It supported the landings in Normandy on 6 June 1944, and later flew missions to France and to Germany. Other operations included the dropping of food to the liberated French and to Allied forces in France, and food and ammunition transports to the Netherlands.

After the unit had been moved back to the USA, the 5th Emergency Rescue Squadron (ERS) was transferred from RAF Boxted to Halesworth in January 1945. The squadron was equipped with special P-47s, Catalina Flying Boats and SB-17 Flying Fortresses with lifeboats for air-sea rescue work. Although the USAAF had already been operating their Catalinas in the Mediterranian, they were still relying on the RAF to rescue downed airmen around the UK's east coast until General Spaatz in August 1944 asked for Catalinas to be provided for the 8th Air Force. Eventually, six aircraft were ordered from the USAAF HQ at Keesler Field in Mississippi and delivered via the South Atlantic route, with the first four arriving at Bovington in January 1945. After being evaluated, all six Catalinas were then flown to Halesworth, where they were to be based and used by the 5th ERS for air-sea rescue work.

The aircraft depicted below - the pictures were taken at the Norfolk Airshow, which is held annually on the site of the WW2 aerodrome of Old Buckenham > LinkExternal link - was brought to the UK from British Columbia in 2004 and over the following years transformed to represent a USAAF OA-10A Catalina which had the serial number 44-33915 and was operated by the 5th ERS (Emergency Rescue Squadron), 8th Air Force, from RAF Halesworth in Suffolk in early 1945. It is on display at IWM Duxford and can occasionally be seen in action at a number of airshows throughout the country.

TM0693 : A Catalina Flying Boat by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : A Catalina Flying Boat by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : A Catalina Flying Boat by Evelyn Simak

The PBY Catalina series of flying boats was designed and produced by Consolidated Aircraft Corporation, based in San Diego (they also build the B-24 Liberator bomber) to meet a military requirement and was one of the most widely used seaplanes of WW2, serving with every branch of the USAAF (United States Armed Forces) and in the air forces and navies of many other nations including the UK. The aircraft were armed with 3.30 (7.62 mm) calibre machine guns, two of which were in the nose turret and one in the ventral hatch in the tail; or with 2.50 (12.7 mm) calibre machine guns, one in each waist blister; 4,000 lbs (1,814 kg) of bombs or depth charges and torpedo racks could be added if required. In November 1941, the aircraft was named "Catalina", after Catalina Island, when Great Britain ordered their first 30 aircraft. Catalinas were still in service until the 1980s, and some of them continue to fly as waterbombers or airtankers in aerial firefighting operations all over the world.

The Catalina served with great distinction throughout WW2, where it was used in anti-submarine warfare, patrol bombing, convoy escorts, search and rescue missions (especially air-sea rescue), and cargo transport and many individual operations, including the location of the German battleship Bismark. Two Victoria Crosses, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, were awarded to RAF Coastal Command Catalina captains: Flying Officer John Alexander Cruickshank (210 Squadron RAF Voluntary Reserve , based at RAF Sullom Voe in Shetland), reportedly the last living recipient to have been awarded the VC during WW2, received his for sinking a German U-boat and, despite suffering from 72 shrapnel wounds, safely landing his aircraft. Sadly, Flight Lt David Hornell, Royal Canadian Air Force, from 162 Squadron (based at RAF Wick, Caithness, Scotland) did not live to see his VC. He sank the German submarine U.1225 to the north-west of Bergen and despite being badly hit and shortly crashing.

From August 1945 until February 1946, the airfield was used by the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arms Nos. 762 and 798 and designated HMS Sparrowhawk.

At some time the aerodrome also served as an operational training airfield for P-51 Mustang pilots. It was eventually closed for flying in February 1946 and turned over to the Ministry of Food for Care and Maintenance until it was sold in 1963. Halesworth was one of the airfields which were later purchased by Bernard Matthews Farms Ltd, erecting large poultry houses on the runways. For this reason the runways on all the airfields owned by Bernard Matthews Farms Ltd remained mostly intact - until recently.

The 56th FG and the 93 BG are commemorated by several memorials, all in the vicinity of the airfield. Three memorials can be found on the lawn in front of the Halesworth Airfield Museum in Upper Holton. A plaque honouring all who were based on the airfield can be found inside St Peter's church which also contains kneelers made by 489th BG veterans' wives. The cockpit section of a Douglas C-54 Skymaster transport aircraft, used by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in WW2, can be seen at the site where the 56th Fighter and the 489th Bomb Groups' Combat Mess halls once stood. Adjoining it is a fuel drop tank memorial. This site, located a short distance further along the road from the Museum, opposite the main entrance to Holton Hall Park, is now occupied by a small industrial estate. All the former RAF/USAAF buildings have been restored and currently house offices and workshops.

TM4078 : RAF memorial on the Old Airfield Site by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : Old aircraft cockpit by Evelyn Simak

TM4078 : Building on the Combat mess site by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : Restored RAF/USAAF building by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : Restored RAF Nissen hut on industrial estate by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : Restored RAF Nissen huts by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : Nissen hut on the Combat mess site by Evelyn Simak

A public bridleway called Scalesbrook Lane skirts the eastern side of the airfield. It follows an old concreted service road leading past Bernard Matthews' turkey factory and skirting the area occupied by the Technical site, which was spread out along the eastern edge of the airfield. The bomb and ammunition storage area was in Scalesbrook Wood, further to the north-east, where the service road merged with the perimeter track.

TM4078 : Cracked concrete on bridleway to Upper Holton by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : B. Matthews turkey factory, Halesworth by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : Barley field near Upper Holton by Evelyn Simak

Once past the turkey factory, a concrete track turns off in an easterly direction, leading to the Admin site where the Operations block and the Norden bombsight building still stand, albeit in a derelict condition. The buildings are used for storage by the farmer who now owns this land. A much overgrown picket post beside the track is guarding the site entrance and what would seem to once have been a latrine adjoins the Operations block in the south.

TM4078 : Concrete ex-airfield track, Halesworth by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : The Operations block by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : The derelict Norden bombsight building by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : The old latrine by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : The old picket post by Evelyn Simak

The main RAF and WAAF Communal site (Site 3) was located in Holton Hall Park, just across the road from the turkey factory. Holton Hall was occupied by the American Forces during the war and demolished in 1957. The 68-acre park is currently classed as a caravan park and is home to a close-knit gated community. The park can be accessed only by prior appointment or by private invitation. Beside the main entrance gate on Sparrowhawk Road, which follows the airfield's southern perimeter track, there is a water treatment plant where a water tower built by the Americans once used to stand. A much smaller tower has since replaced it.

TM4078 : Water treatment plant in Sparrowhawk Road by Evelyn Simak

The building which currently houses the caravan park's site office was the Ration store. It is situated near the main entrance, on the edge of a vast expanse of concrete where three large Nissen huts, housing the GIs' Mess hall, once stood. One of the original boot scrapers at the mess hall's entrance is still in place after seven decades, firmly embedded in the concrete. The Ration store was adjoined by the PX building, and a tailors, barbers and shoemaker's shop. The Squash court was situated a short distance further to the east.

TM4078 : GIs' mess halls on Site 3 by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : The Ration store by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : Holton Hall Park site office by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : Old boot scraper by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : Old sump by Evelyn Simak

The wood to both sides of the old concreted roads traversing the park still contains some remains of the airmen's bath houses, ablution blocks and latrines, and by the junction a short distance further along, the brick walls of an M/E plinth can be seen. (M/E stands for Mechanical and Electrical, housing the mechanical switchgear and the electrical transformers.)

TM4078 : Air raid shelter on Site 3 by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : Blast shelter on Site 3 by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : The M/E plinth by Evelyn Simak

A short distance further to the west the Standby generator building is still standing and the overgrown foundations of the Officers Club can be found nearby. Nothing remains of any of the many other buildings on this site apart from a number of air raid shelters (some now out of bounds and made inaccessible, serving as a "bat bunkers") and a few brick-built blast shelters.

TM4078 : The standby generator set house by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : Seat by hay meadow by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) butterfly - spreading its wings by Evelyn Simak

Site 3 was adjoined in the south by Site 4, which comprised the officers and sergeants quarters and the airmen's barrack huts. Site 5 - situated between Site 4 in the north and the RAF/USAAF Sick quarters further south - just south of Beccles Road - was occupied by officers and airmen's quarters and barrack huts. It also had a Communal hall.

Site 6 stood in the area that is now taken up by the large sheds of Hall Farm, by the Beccles Road/Sparrowhawk Road junction. The site comprised sergeants quarters and airmen's barrack huts.

Site 7, located to the east of Site 4 (just east of Beccles Road) comprised officers and sergeants quarters. Site 8 (north of Harrisons Lane) was another accommodation site for sergeants and airmen. This area has been built over with housing.

The WAAF Officers Mess and bath house (Site 9) and the WAAF Sick quarters were located on the western edge of Holton Hall Park.

TM4078 : Concrete road through Site 3 by Evelyn Simak

The RAF/USAAF Sick quarters (Site 10) were situated in a field to the north of Blyford Lane, approximately one kilometre to the south-east of the southern edge of the airfield, next to a large gravel extraction pit. Only an air raid shelter remains. A concrete track, now a public footpath, leads from here to Site 5 and onwards to Beccles Road.

TM4077 : Crop fields near Holton by Evelyn Simak TM4077 : Footpath to the B1124 (Beccles Road) by Evelyn Simak TM4077 : Air raid shelter on Site 10 by Evelyn Simak TM4077 : Air raid shelter on Site 10 - interior view by Evelyn Simak

Site 11 - the W/T (wireless/telegraphy) site - was situated in a field west of Primes Lane. No trace would seem to have remained of it.

When in February 2007 an outbreak of "bird-flu" was reported at the poultry farm all the poultry was destroyed and almost all of the poultry houses have since also been removed. In 2013 heavy machinery moved onto the airfield, lifting the runways (to be crushed for aggregate) in order to make room for a solar farm which currently already covers a large area of the former airfield. The hardstanding where one of the airfield's T2 hangars used to stand on is currently used for storing and processing the rubble originating from the removed runways.

TM4078 : The southern end of the N/S runway at RAF Halesworth by Evelyn Simak TM3979 : The SE/NW runway at RAF Halesworth by Evelyn Simak TM3979 : To be crushed for aggregate by Evelyn Simak TM3979 : Runway remains by Evelyn Simak TM3979 : Site of a T2 hangar by Evelyn Simak TM3979 : Solar panels on Halesworth airfield by Evelyn Simak


The RAF Halesworth Memorial Museum houses an extensive collection of WW2 memorabilia, including many items specific to the airfield, and is well worth a visit. It is open every Sunday and Bank Holiday between April and October from 2pm to 5 pm.

TM3978 : RAF Halesworth Memorial Museum by Evelyn Simak TM4078 : USAAF Memorials by RAF Halesworth Museum by Evelyn Simak

RAF Halesworth Memorial Museum > LinkExternal link

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