WW2 Airfield: The Full Story
Here is the background to the Google Map of the 460 operational airfields used by the RAF and the USAAF during the Second World War 1939 to 1945
WW2 UK operational airfields
The Rotary Club of Cambridge has a longstanding relationship with Imperial Warm Museum (IWM) Duxford and the American Air Force Museum (AAM) building in particular. The Director at the time of the construction of the AAM building was a member of Cambridge Rotary Club as was another member who was involved in its construction.
When this amazing building was first completed, it included a “Veterans Room” which the Club, along with others, sponsored. Situated on the balcony its window directly opposite the cockpit of the B52, the Veterans Room was a quiet, private room for visiting veterans, for reflection and relaxation and we included a Visitors Book and a basic computer terminal to allow access to the Club’s first database which was prepared for the official opening of the Veterans Room’ in 2001. That early database was constructed to list each of the USAAF airfields in East Anglia, with the contact details of a Rotarian living locally to the airfield who volunteered to host a veteran who wished to revisit the airfield where he had spent a dramatic and traumatic period of his young life.
The official opening ceremony was performed on a flying day, in an enormous marquee on the edge of the field next to the control tower, by General William Hess, then based at Lakenheath and senior USAF officer for Europe and Africa. About 1,000 Rotarians attended from all over Great Britain, several flying in. [General Hess’ father had flown out of Attlebridge during WW2]. It was a wonderful day.
The database was a well received but after a few years it was apparent that both veterans and hosts were slipping away and we realised that using the traditional systems of recording the location of airfields were inadequate, particularly when there was no physical evidence remaining of so many of the airfields which had been returned to agricultural use or lost beneath industrial development or domestic housing estates. So we started using Google Earth, where the satellite view can reveal clues, not visible from ground level making the location is very precise.
We decided to extend the database including operational RAF stations to the whole of the UK. Realizing how many airfields there were, we decided to limit the database to ‘operational’ WW2 airfields, excluding training, repair, manufacturing, transportation, storage and other indirect airfields. Also recorded are squadrons that had ever made each airfield its home, however briefly. The scale of movements of squadrons between airfields, as the priorities of the war in the air changed, was considerable.
We chose to do this so that families seeking to construct their family tree and history with only limited information about where and when a father, grandfather or uncle served, when the relative was no longer available to be questioned. The family may only know his squadron number or a memorable location from a chance remark.
Understandably this has taken a number of years to complete not least because many sources are incomplete or unreliable and so cross checking was essential. As the database was being developed it was obvious that technology allowed it to be presented as a map with the relevant data readily presented for each airfield. This map immediately demonstrates the scale and extent of the allies air war effort of WW2, based in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Our ‘WW2 UK operational airfields’ was completed in 2017 and its existence was revealed to a handful of known enthusiasts. We soon had about a thousand hits and to our relief, no challenges on its accuracy. Word of mouth is better than any publicity. Recently we started raising awareness with obvious organisations with an interest and already we receive 50 or so hits a week, with lots of returning visitors.
Robin Davies greatly assisted by Francis Hookham
Links to museums in the UK where WW2 aircraft can be seen
Please email Robin Davies or Francis Hookham at email@example.com with the link to other appropriate museums in the UK which should be added to this list.
Hendon - Royal Airforce Museum
Duxford - Imperial War Museum
Duxford - American Air Museum