RNAS Merryfield

RAF Station Merryfield (also known as Isle Abbotts) is a former Second World War airfield at the village of Ilton near Ilminster in southwest Somerset, England. The name comes from the ruins of Merryfield House. The airfield is located approximately 7 miles (11 km) north of Chard, about 130 miles (210 km) southwest of London. It is now RNAS Merryfield and serves as a satellite to the larger RNAS Yeovilton and serves mainly as a training airport for helicopter pilots.

Opened in 1944, it was used by both the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force. During the war it was used primarily as a transport airfield. After the war it was provided to the Royal Navy.

Today the airfield is an active military installation with restricted access.

Overview

Merryfield airfield was to be built to the Class A airfield standard for bomber use, with a set of three converging runways each containing a concrete runway for takeoffs and landings, optimally placed at 60 degree angles to each other in a triangular pattern, John Laing Ltd being the main contractors. Work commenced late in 1942 and on 11 November the airfield was listed as one of 16 to be made available for the USAAF to meet the number of troop carrier groups projected for the UK.

Work proceeded slowly as there was a problem with the drainage of waterways crossing the site. In September 1943, the official name was changed from Isle Abbotts to Merryfield, such changes being usually connected with contractual alterations or where another airfield had a similar sounding name which might cause confusion. In this case, however the change is puzzling as the same contractors were involved and Isle Abbotts appears singularly distinctive.

The airfield's main runway was 6,000 ft and aligned 10-28, the secondaries 4,200 ft at 17-35 and 3,660 ft at 04-22. All 50 hardstands were loop types in concrete with bituminous surfaces connecting to an enclosing perimeter track, of a standard width of 50 feet.

The ground support station was constructed largely of Nissen huts of various sizes. The support station was where the group and ground station commanders and squadron headquarters and orderly rooms were located. Also on the ground station were where the mess facilities; chapel; hospital; mission briefing and debriefing; armory; life support; parachute rigging; supply warehouses; station and airfield security; motor pool and the other ground support functions necessary to support the air operations of the group. These facilities were all connected by a network of single path support roads.

The technical site, connected to the ground station and airfield consisted of at least two T-2 type hangars and various organizational, component and field maintenance shops along with the crew chiefs and other personnel necessary to keep the aircraft airworthy and to quickly repair light and moderate battle damage. Aircraft severely damaged in combat were sent to repair depots for major structural repair. The ammunition dump was located on the north side of the airfield, outside of the perimeter track surrounded by large dirt mounds and concrete storage pens.

Various domestic accommodation sites were constructed dispersed away from the airfield, located mostly in the parish of Ilton. They were clusters of Maycrete or Nissen huts. The huts were either connected, set up end-to-end or built singly and made of prefabricated corrugated iron with a door and two small windows at the front and back. They provided accommodation for 3,214 personnel, including communal and a sick quarters.

During airborne operations, when large numbers of airborne parachutists were moved to the airfield, tents would be pitched on the interior grass regions of the airfield, or wherever space could be found to accommodate the airborne forces for the short time they would be bivouacked at the station prior to the operation.

USAAF use

Formally opened by the RAF on 9 February 1944, US engineers arrived to lay pierced steel planking at the main runway ends for glider marshalling while the necessary facilities for accommodating paratroops in the hangars arrived.

Merryfield was known as USAAF Station AAF-464 for security reasons by the USAAF during the war, and by which it was referred to instead of location. Its USAAF Station Code was "MF".

441st Troop Carrier Group

The 441st Troop Carrier Group moved in from RAF Langar on 25 April, with over 70 C-47s dispersed on the airfield. The group's squadrons and fuselage codes were:

  • 99th Troop Carrier Squadron (3J)
  • 100th Troop Carrier Squadron (8C)
  • 301st Troop Carrier Squadron (Z4)
  • 302d Troop Carrier Squadron (2L)

The 441st was a group of Ninth Air Force's 50th Troop Carrier Wing, IX Troop Carrier Command.

For the D-Day operation, the group dropped 101st Airborne Division paratroops near Cherbourg, then carried out re-supply and glider delivery missions the following day. For its efficiency and achievements during these two days it was, like other troop carrier groups, awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation. During these missions, three C-47s and two CG-4A gliders were missing in action.

The group's aircraft flew supplies into Normandy as soon as suitable landing strips were available and evacuated casualties to Merryfield. On 17 July the air echelons of the 99th, 100th and 302nd Troop Carrier Squadrons flew to Grosseto airbase in Italy to prepare for operations connected with the invasion of southern France, returning to Merryfield on 24 August.

Meanwhile, the 301st TCS remained active on the Normandy shuttle while supplies were urgently needed for the advancing Allied armies, although operating from RAF Ramsbury from 7 August until the other squadrons returned.

Soon afterwards word was received that the 50th Troop Carrier Wing would move to France, the 441st being one of the first two groups, with headquarters leaving Merryfield on 6 September for its Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) at Villeneuve (ALG A-63).

Legacy

From France the group dropped paratroops of 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions near Nijmegen on 17 September during the air attack on Holland, and towed gliders with reinforcements on 18 and 23 September

In December, the group transported ammunition, rations, medicine, and other supplies to troops of 101st Airborne Division surrounded by the enemy at Bastogne. The group released gliders carrying troops of 17th Airborne Division near Wesel on 24 March 1945 when the Allies launched the airborne assault across the Rhine and hauled gasoline to armored columns in Germany after the Allies crossed the Rhine

It continually transported freight and personnel in the theater when not participating in airborne operations and evacuated casualties and prisoners who had been liberated.

The 441st remained overseas after the war as part of United States Air Forces in Europe, performing occupation duty from Frankfurt Germany. It continued to transport personnel and equipment, using C-46, C-47, and C-109 aircraft.

The 441st Troop Carrier Group was inactivated at Frankfurt, Germany, on 30 September 1946.

RAF Transport Command/Royal Navy use

Merryfield was retained by the USAAF IX TCC for another two months while C-47s regularly ferried supplies and personnel before being handed over to the RAF at the end of October, thus ending the Ninth Air Force's association with the station.

The C-47 in its British guise, the Dakota, still held sway at Merryfield but in much smaller numbers than when the 441st TCG was in residence. No. 238 Squadron of RAF Transport Command re-formed there with the type during the winter of 1944-45 and, when it departed overseas, No. 187 was also re-formed at Merryfield to fly Dakotas.

No. 53 Squadron with Liberators replaced No. 187 in September, and it too was replaced by the Stirlings of No. 242 Squadron in December. No. 242 later converted to Yorks but the long distance flights to the Middle and Far East locations on which most of these transport units had been engaged gradually subsided and the Yorks departed in May 1946. The airfield closed that October.

Until the outbreak of the Korean War and a resurgence of air power, civilian caretakers looked after the otherwise deserted airfield. Late in 1951, Merryfield was re-opened as an advanced pilot training establishment with Vampire and Meteor jets. Some additional concrete was laid in front of the main technical site and other building work conducted before the station was again run down towards the end of 1954. During the following two years, a detachment from No. 231 Operational Conversion Unit, with Canberras, was often present. It was also used by Westland Aircraft for flight tests of the Westland Wyvern. Then came the Royal Navy with Sea Venoms but they withdrew early in 1958 and by 1961 it appeared the airfield had finally been abandoned.

Over the next few years, the airfield deteriorated and the hangars and some other buildings were sold off. A road that was closed when the airfield was built was re-opened making use of part of the main runway.

In 1971, part of the airfield was again taken over by the Royal Navy for use in assault helicopter training and exercises that would not conflict with fixed-wing traffic on the Navy's other stations. Merryfield was soon subject to naval tradition by being labelled RNAS Merryfield (HMS Heron II) (IATA: N/A, ICAO: EGDW). In the event, the Navy's occupation proved to be the most enduring of the airfield's half century of existence, for it was still being used by its helicopters.

In the 1980s, the site was considered as a storage area for nuclear waste.

In more recent years the MoD has let out this airfield for the use of the scouts for camping events. Local cycling clubs also hold races on the perimeter road circuit and runways, including Regional Championships.

Today, there is security on the gate as it is still an operational airfield and a restricted area.

The local scout district uses the airfield to hold its district and county jamborees

Building Activity

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