|Historical Name of Location||Newchurch, England, United Kingdom|
Contributor: Alan Chanter
ww2dbaseAs far back as 1940, the Air Staff had seen a need for small airstrips to be built around southern Britain to provide alternative bases should the larger airfields become unusable through enemy bombing. These airfields would be known as Advanced Landing Grounds (ALG) and were to be built among trees wherever possible with no permanent buildings - the personnel would live and sleep in tented accommodation. Work on building the ALGs commenced in 1942 with labour supplied by Airfield Construction Groups supplied by the Royal Air Force and Royal Corps of Engineers. Some help was also provided by the US Army since some of the ALGs would eventually be used by the USAAF.
ww2dbaseNewchurch was one of the most successful of the ALGs. Selected and approved during the early summer of 1942, it was one of the eleven ALGs to be situated in Kent, and was located at Newchurch village (three miles west of Dymchurch), on desolate Romney Marsh (which at least prevented the disputes with local landowners and the Ministry of Agriculture that frequently occurred at other places). In fact, Newchurch's coastal position was deemed to be of such military importance that a decoy airfield was actually built at Burmarsh, something that no other ALG had.
ww2dbaseBut as the tide of war turned in favour of the Allies and Fighter Command went over to more offensive operations it was decided that these small airstrips would now be of great value for employment in a future invasion of the Continent. On 2 July 1943, Newchurch became operational with the arrival of No. 125 Airfield, consisting of Nos. 19 and 132 (City of Bombay) Squadrons equipped with Spitfire VCs, whose main role was to escort light and medium bombers across the Channel. No. 125 Airfield's stay was brief. They were moved to RAF Detling on 12 October 1943 thereby allowing Newchurch ALG to be temporarily closed for upgrading during which several of the excellent blister hangers, designed and built by C. Miskin and Sons, were erected.
ww2dbaseThe base reopened in April 1944 to become the new home of No. 150 (Fighter) Wing of the 2nd Tactical Air Force. In February 1944 Wing Commander Roland "Bee" Beamont, DSO, DFC, had been appointed to command this Wing with a special responsibility to oversee the re-equipping and training of the Wing's Squadrons with the new Hawker Tempest V. Beamont had already seen plenty of action in the war. He had fought in the Battle of France and in the Battle of Britain, then flown night-fighters against German bombers during the Blitz. In 1942-43 he led daring sweeps over occupied Europe specialising in attacks on railways which earned him a new nickname. "Train Buster Beamont".
ww2dbaseThe Tempest V was a sensation. With a top speed of around 435 miles per hour it became the fastest piston-engine fighter of the war below 20,000 feet. Rugged, easy to fly and a fine gun platform, it was Beamont's favourite plane. No. 3 Squadron was the first unit in the Wing to be fly it on an operational mission in April 1944, followed by No. 486 (RNZAF) which began re-equipping with the new fighter from 15 May. These two units began working-up for expected combat during the D-Day invasion. In the event, the Tempests did not see combat until 8 June when No. 3 Squadron, led personally by Wing Commander Beamont, encountered seven German Messerschmitt Bf 109G fighters. Three were shot down for no loss, proving that the Tempest could outperform both the Bf 109G and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190A at low and medium altitudes. No. 150 Wing's third formation, No. 56 (Punjab) Squadron continued to fly a mixture of Spitfire IXs and Typhoons until converting to the Tempest on June 24th, just in time to tackle a new threat – the deadly V-1 flying bombs.
ww2dbaseAlthough Newchurch was somewhat basic in facilities it was in the right place, smack in the middle of the V-1s' flight path to London. Unfortunately this could make life for the RAF ground crews rather risky. Shrapnel often rained down over the airfield, puncturing the tents where pilots and ground crews slept. In fact, the base's first casualty was caused by a friendly plane, a passing P-47 Thunderbolt which fired on a "Doodlebug" and a stray bullet drilled a hole through the hand of a sleeping airman.
ww2dbaseThe V-1 offensive began on 13 June and for the next six weeks the Wing was in constant action. Pilots flew four or five sorties a day, living and eating by their planes. Normally they would have expected to fly for 500-600 hours a month, but that June and July they were operational for 900-1000 hours. The pressure was intense and affected the ground crews too. Fitters regularly worked eighteen hours a day to keep the Squadron in the air. Yet in spite of all leave being cancelled, morale remained high largely through the leadership of their Wing Commander and the knowledge that their efforts were essential for defending the citizens of London and the Home Counties. The Newchurch Tempests recorded their first V-1 kill on 16 June and within a week the two Tempest squadrons had destroyed 150 of the incoming missiles (codenamed "Divers"). Ultimately the Newchurch Wing would claim 632 V-1 "kills" thereby becoming the RAF'S most successful unit against the missiles. Many of the Tempest pilots at Newchurch would be credited with multiple V-1 victories. The most successful pilots were, notably, the exiled Belgian Remi van Lierde of 3 Squadron with 44 victories (9 shared), Wing Commander Beamont with 31 and Ray Clapperton of 3 Squadron with 24 kills.
ww2dbaseAs the Allied armies advanced inland on the continent, with the Tactical fighter squadrons following in their wake, the role of the advanced landing grounds declined in importance. Newchurch closed on 23 September 1944 and the site was returned to its owner shortly after.
Robin J Brooks, Kent Airfields in the Second World War (Countryside Books, 1998)
Peter Hepplewhite & Neil Tonge, World War II in Action (Macmillan Children's Books, 2005)
Andrew Thomas, V1 Flying Bomb Aces (Osprey Publishing, 2013)
World Aircraft Information Files, File 147/05
RAF Newchurch Timeline
|2 Jul 1943||No. 19 Squadron RAF, flying Spitfire VB and VC fighters, arrived at RAF Newchurch in southern England, United Kingdom.|
|3 Jul 1943||No. 132 Squadron RAF, flying Spitfire VB and IXB fighters, arrived at RAF Newchurch in southern England, United Kingdom.|
|13 Aug 1943||No. 602 Squadron RAF, flying Spitfire VB fighters, arrived at RAF Newchurch in southern England, United Kingdom.|
|18 Aug 1943||No. 19 Squadron RAF was transferred out of RAF Newchurch in southern England, United Kingdom.|
|17 Sep 1943||No. 184 Squadron RAF, flying Hurricane IV fighters, arrived at RAF Newchurch in southern England, United Kingdom.|
|12 Oct 1943||Nos. 132, 184, and 602 Squadrons RAF were transferred out of RAF Newchurch in southern England, United Kingdom.|
|21 Apr 1944||No. 486 Squadron RNZAF, flying Tempest V fighters, arrived at RAF Newchurch in southern England, United Kingdom.|
|28 Apr 1944||Nos. 3 and 56 Squadrons RAF, both flying Tempest V fighters, arrived at RAF Newchurch in southern England, United Kingdom.|
|19 Sep 1944||No. 486 Squadron RNZAF was transferred out of RAF Newchurch in southern England, United Kingdom.|
|21 Sep 1944||No. 3 Squadron RAF was transferred out of RAF Newchurch in southern England, United Kingdom.|
|23 Sep 1944||No. 56 Squadron RAF was transferred out of RAF Newchurch in southern England, United Kingdom; the field ceased operations upon No. 56 Squadron's exit.|
|WW2-Era Place Name||Newchurch, England, United Kingdom|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945