USAAF Station 117
|Located Near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, England|
Map showing the location of RAF Kimbolton within Cambridgeshire.
|Type||Royal Air Force station|
|Controlled by||United States Army Air Forces|
|Battles/wars||European Theatre of World War II|
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945
|Garrison||Eighth Air Force|
|Occupants||379th Bombardment Group|
The airfield was originally built in 1941 for RAF Bomber Command, then expanded to Class A airfield standards for use by American heavy bombers during 1942. Kimbolton was assigned to the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Eighth Air Force. It was given the designation USAAF Station 117.
The 91st was assigned to the 1st Combat Bombardment Wing of the 1st Bombardment Division. Its tail code was Triangle-A. Its operational Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress squadrons were:
The 91st stayed at Kimbolton only a few weeks, because the runways at Kimbolton were not strong or long enough for the safe operation of Fortresses. The group transferred to RAF Bassingbourn on 14 October.
The next USAAF unit to use Kimbolton was the 17th Bombardment Group (Medium), arriving in October from Barksdale AAF Louisiana. The 17th was originally intended to use RAF Bassingbourn. However, with the move of the 91st, the unit utilized Kimbolton as its shorter runways could accommodate their smaller, twin-engined medium bombers.
The 17th consisted of the following squadrons:
The 17th flew the Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber, and used Kimbolton as a transitory airfield on its way to the North African campaign. The Group departed in November for Telergma, Algeria, with its last elements leaving in early December. With the departure of the B-26s, extensions were made to the NW-SE runway to facilitate the operation of fully loaded B-17s.
The 379th was assigned to the 41st Combat Bombardment Wing of the 1st Bombardment Division. Its tail code was Triangle-K. Its operational B-17 Flying Fortress squadrons were:
The 379th BG began operations with Eighth AF on 19 May 1943, and received a Distinguished Unit Citation for operations over Europe from May 1943 through July 1944. The group engaged primarily in bombardment of strategic targets such as industries, oil refineries, storage plants, submarine pens, airfields and communications centres in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Poland.
Specific targets included a chemical plant in Ludwigshafen, an aircraft assembly plant in Brunswick, ball-bearing plants at Schweinfurt and Leipzig, synthetic oil refineries at Merseburg and Gelsenkirchen, marshalling yards at Hamm and Reims and airfields in Mesnil au Val and Berlin.
The Group received another DUC for flying without fighter protection into central Germany to attack vital aircraft factories on 11 January 1944. On several occasions the Group attacked interdictory targets and operated in support of ground forces. It bombed V-weapon sites, airfields, radar stations and other installations before the Normandy invasion in June 1944, bombed defended positions just ahead of the Allied landings on 6 June and struck airfields, rail choke points, and gun emplacements during the campaign that followed.
During the Battle of France, the Group bombed enemy positions to assist ground troops at St Lo during the breakthrough, 24–25 July 1944, attacked German communications and fortifications during the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 - January 1945, and bombed bridges and viaducts in France and Germany to aid the Allied assault across the Rhine, February–March 1945.
The combat record of the 379th was the most successful of all the Eighth Air Force heavy bomber groups. It held records as far as bomb tonnage dropped - 26,459 tons - more than any other unit including those operational before the 379th arrived in the UK. It also exceeded all other UK Bomb Groups in the total number of missions flown, carrying out 330 between May 1943 and 15 May 1945. Two of the 524th Squadron B-17's claimed individual fame: "Ole Gappy", completed 157 missions, probably more than any other Eighth Air Force bomber and "Swamp Fire" was the first heavy bomber to achieve 100 missions without an abort. Lt Bruce E. Mills was the pilot of that mission.
According to Lt Baine A. Hawthorne, who was a pilot of A/C 42-40003, "Ol' Gappy" was the name of just the chin turret. The name was painted on the chin turret as a joke toward a crew chief with a space between his front teeth (reference the space between the two machine guns in the chin turret). The aircraft was actually named "Topper" after a then-famous movie character. The nose art was unfinished (top hat, white bow tie and white gloves) due to interruptions in painting because of the mission schedule. After some time had passed, and "Topper" kept coming home, the crews thought it would be bad luck to complete the nose art, including adding the correct name. Sadly, "Topper" was cut up and sold for scrap after the war. A better end should have been had for the B-17 with the most missions and only one abort.
The 379th Bomb Wing and 524th Bomb Squadron were reactivated by Strategic Air Command and reequipped with Boeing B-47 Stratojet medium bombers at Homestead AFB, Florida, on 1 November 1955. Upon activation, the unit was bestowed the honors, history and colors of the World War II Eighth Air Force's 379th Bomb Group. In January 1961, the wing was redesignated as a heavy bombardment wing and relocated to Wurtsmith AFB, Michigan where it was equipped with Boeing B-52 Stratofortress and KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft. Throughout the Cold War, the wing played a major role in the defense of the United States.
Post Second World War
The wing meritoriously served in combat during the Vietnam War and 1990-1991 Operations Desert Shield/Operation Desert Storm flying the Boeing B-52G Stratofortress (the vertical stabilizer of the 379th's aircraft were emblazoned with the Triangle K to honor their Second World War namesake). Wurtsmith AFB, named after Major General Paul B. Wurtsmith was closed by BRAC action in 1993 and the 379th Bombardment Wing was disestablished the same year.
After the Second World War, RAF Kimbolton closed in 1946 but was maintained with a "standby" status until the early 1960s. After the Americans left, the RAF used the camp for basic training (square bashing) and many hundreds of conscripts trained there before it finally closed. With the end of military control, most of the buildings were torn down and the concrete areas removed. Among the last significant buildings to survive were the airfield's two control towers (one earlier and smaller than the other) which had both become increasingly derelict before they were demolished in 1977.
Some parts of the old hard-standings have been used for go-kart racing since 1950. The kart club's flag is the 379th "Triangle K" symbol. In one of the buildings at the kart track there is a collection of memorabilia including photographs and pieces of aircraft wreckage. Once a month, MSA Kart Race Meetings are held there.
Today, the B-road which connects the village of Stow Longa to the town of Kimbolton crosses over the remains of RAF Kimbolton's main runway with its crumbling concrete visible just past the shoulder of the road. Additionally, a public footpath crosses the main area where one of the two control towers once stood, the foundations of which are still recognizable among the farmland.
On weekends, "banger racing" was formerly held on one of the old loop hardstands.
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