DOWN MEMORY LANE: Airfields built just for D-Day
If one had been able to sit on the top of Chichester Cathedral's tall, elegant spire in the spring of 1944, one could have seen nine airfields set out below in the Sussex countryside.
Five of these would have been the established airfields of Tangmere, Westhampnett, Merston, Ford and Thorney Island.
The others would have been temporary airfields known as Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) constructed at Funtington, Apuldram, Selsey and Bognor.
By 1942, it had become obvious additional airfields would be required for an Allied assault on Europe, particularly during the build-up and during the actual landings.
The need would be for rudimentary airfields that would require only basic facilities for ‘day only’ operations.
These Advanced Landing Grounds would need metal mesh (known as Sommerfield Track) runways, refuelling and rearming points, hard standings and a few simple metal prefabricated Blister hangars for undercover routine maintenance and checks.
Accommodation would be under canvas and using nearby requisitioned houses.
Funtington ALG, to the west of Chichester, was ready for operations by the summer of 1943 and on September 15, two Mustang squadrons moved in.
Offensive reconnaissance sorties began with occasional deep penetration missions undertaken until the squadrons returned to Odiham a month later.
At the beginning of April 1944, an all-Canadian Typhoon Wing arrived and was tasked with attacking V1 flying bomb (‘Noball’) sites in northern France.
On April 20, the Canadian No 144 Wing, commanded by JE (Johnny) Johnson, arrived with its Spitfire IXB aircraft.
Intensive seek and destroy operations and ‘Ramrods’ (day bomber raids escorted by fighters) were undertaken until the Wing left for Ford on May 12.
Two days later, a Mustang Wing of three squadrons arrived and commenced operations.
In February 1943 construction began on a site adjacent to Chichester harbour near the village church of Apuldram.
After the work had been completed, a Typhoon Wing moved in and commenced training, culminating with an attack on the enemy held Abbeville airfield.
On June 30, an interesting event occurred when an American B17 four-engined bomber aircraft was seen orbiting over the airfield. The aircraft made an approach over Donnington and Stockbridge and made a safe landing.
One of the crew was the actor Clark Gable.
Acting as a cameraman, he was making a recruiting film and flew five missions in total, including the one that ended in the emergency landing at Apuldram.
It is said that, to the delight of the local female population, he attended local dances in Chichester before the B17 departed after being repaired!
At the beginning of April 1944 a Wing of Czech Spitfires arrived and was tasked up to D-Day with a variety of missions including ‘Noball’ sorties, bomber escort duties and offensive patrols.
Construction work commenced in February 1943 near the village of Church Norton and Selsey ALG was completed by the spring for a Typhoon squadron and a Spitfire squadron to commence training and operations.
The airfield was reopened on April 1, 1944 and three Spitfire dive-bomber squadrons arrived to escort bomber missions in the weeks up to D-Day.
Bognor ALG was opened on June 1, 1943 and was home to three Spitfire squadrons which were tasked with conducting Ramrod missions.
On March 31, 1944, two Norwegian squadrons and an RAF squadron, No 66, all equipped with Spitfire Mk IX fighter bombers, arrived and attacked enemy coastal positions and V1 sites up to D-Day – June 6, 1944.
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