RAF North Pickenham

RAF North Pickenham

Infobox Military Structure
name= Royal Air Force Station North Pickenham
USAAF Station 143
location= Located Near North Pickenham, Norfolk, England

caption= North Pickenham Airfield - 31 January 1946
type= Military Airfield
controlledby=United States Army Air Forces
Royal Air Force
garrison=Eighth Air Force
RAF Bomber Command
occupants=492nd Bombardment Group
491st Bombardment Group
No. 220 Squadron(SM)
battles= European Theatre of World War II
Air Offensive, Europe July 1942 - May 1945 Location map|Norfolk
caption= RAF North Pickenham, shown within Norfolk
lat= 52.629
long= 0.732
width= 200

RAF North Pickenham is a former Royal Air Force base near North Pickenham, in Norfolk. It was originally opened in 1944 and finally closed in 1965.


North Pickenham was constructed in 1943/1944 for the United States Army Air Forces Eighth Air Force as a heavy bomber base. It was assigned USAAF designation Station 143.

492nd Bombardment Group (Heavy)

The first USAAF group to use North Pickenham was the 492d Bombardment Group (Heavy), arriving from Alamogordo AAF, New Mexico on 18 April 1944. The 492d was assigned to the 14th Combat Bombardment Wing, and the group tail code was a "Circle-U". It's operational squadrons were:

* 856th Bomb Squadron (5Z)
* 857th Bomb Squadron (9H)
* 858th Bomb Squadron (9A)
* 859th Bomb Squadron (X4)

The group flew B-24 Liberators as part of the Eighth Air Force's strategic bombing campaign.The 492d Bomb Group entered service in May 1944, and suffered tremendous losses in July. In the words of one veteran, "the whole group was wiped out." In the three months it was operational it had flown a total of sixty-four missions losing fifty-one aircraft to enemy action and six by other causes. Subsequently, due to its heavy losses the organization was transferred to RAF Harrington on 5 August for special operations duty less personnel and equipment and the surviving personnel transferred to other B-24 units.

491st Bombardment Group (Heavy)

With the departure of the 492d BG, North Pickenham was assigned to the 491st Bombardment Group (Heavy), arriving from El Paso AAF Texas in August 1944. The 491st was assigned to the 14th Combat Bombardment Wing, and the group tail code was a "Circle-Z". It's operational squadrons were:

* 852d Bomb Squadron (3Q)
* 853d Bomb Squadron (T8)
* 854th Bomb Squadron (6X)
* 855th Bomb Squadron (V2)

The group flew B-24 Liberators as part of the Eighth Air Force's strategic bombing campaign.

The 491st Bomb Group, less the air echelon, was transferred without personnel and equipment to North Pickenham initially in February 1944 briefly before being transferred to RAF Metfield in March. With the withdrawal of the 492d Bomb Group from operational missions in August the group was transferred back to North Pickenham .

Upon its return, the 491st concentrated its attacks on strategic objectives in Germany, striking communications centers, oil refineries, storage depots, industrial areas, shipyards, and other targets in such places as Berlin, Hamburg, Kassel, Cologne, Gelsenkirchen, Bielefeld, Hannover, and Magdeburg; on one occasion attacked the headquarters of the German General Staff at Zossen, Germany.

While on a mission to bomb an oil refinery at Misburg on 26 November 1944, the group was attacked by large numbers of enemy fighters; although about one-half of its planes were destroyed, the remainder fought off the interceptors, successfully bombed the target, and won for the group a Distinguished Unit Citation.

Although engaged primarily in strategic bombardment, the group also supported ground forces at St Lo in July 1944; assaulted V-weapon sites and communications lines in France during the summer of 1944; dropped supplies to paratroops on 18 September 1944 during the airborne attack in Holland; bombed German supply lines and fortifications during the Battle of the Bulge, Dec 1944-Jan 1945; supported Allied forces in the airborne drop across the Rhine in March 1945; and interdicted enemy communications during the Allied drive across Germany in April 1945.

The 491st Bomb Group returned to McChord AAF Washington on 17 July 1945 and was inactivated on 8 September 1945.

Postwar RAF use

The USAAF evacuated North Pickenham in August 1945 with the airfield becoming an RAF satellite for No. 258 MU at RAF Shipdam. North Pickenham was transferred to RAF Bomber Command in March 1948 and became inactive on 26 October. In August 1949, the airfield was transferred back to Maintenance Command and became dormant.

On 1 December 1958 the base was reopened as the home for the newly reformed No. 220 Squadron RAF, equipped with Thor nuclear missiles; the squadron was deactivated in October 1963 and the missiles removed.

North Pickenham was later used for testing the Hawker P.1127, an experimental aircraft which would later evolve into the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, and the site was finally sold in 1967 at which point the station was officially closed.

Civil Use

With the end of military control, the airfield was developed into the site of a large turkey farm. None of the buildings on the airfields site itself remain. However, on some of the dispersed sites in and around North Pickenham Village a few of the wartime buildings can still be found, including the old headquarters block.

A memorial stone in honor of the two Bomb Groups that flew from North Pickenham was dedicated during a 2nd Air Division reunion in 1987. It is situated at the entrance to the old mess site, site 4.

On 11 November 1990 a quartz clock was presented to the villagers of North Pickenham by the 492d Bomb Group. It hangs in the sanctuary of the parish church. A plaque in the church at Metfield was dedicated in 1992.

A memorial Bench in honor of the 491st Bomb Group stands adjacent to the North Pickenham Village sign

See also

* List of RAF stations
* USAAF Eighth Air Force - World War II
* 491st Bombardment Group
* 492d Bombardment Group


* Freeman, Roger A. (1978) Airfields of the Eighth: Then and Now. After the Battle ISBN 0900913096
* Freeman, Roger A. (1991) The Mighty Eighth The Colour Record. Cassell & Co. ISBN 0-304-35708-1
* Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.
* [http://www.controltowers.co.uk/N/North_Pickenham.htm controltowers.co.uk page]
* [http://www.geocities.com/thor_irbm/bases.htm Thor IRBM bases]
* [http://mighty8thaf.preller.us/php/1Loc.php?Base=North%20Pickenham mighty8thaf.preller.us Pickenham Airfield]
* [http://home.att.net/~jbaugher/usafserials.html USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present]

External links

* [http://492ndbombgroup.com 492d Bomb Group website]
* [http://www.491st.org 491st Bomb Group website]
* [http://harringtonmuseum.org.uk/ThorUK.htm Thor Missile Deployment in the UK]
* [http://www.multimap.com/map/photo.cgi?client=public&X=585000&Y=307000&scale=25000&width=700&height=400&gride=585100&gridn=306700&lang=&db=hcgaz&coordsys=gb Aerial photo of RAF North Pickenham from Multimap.Com]
* [http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=VbTJ0WUEmWI "You Tube contemporary film of Thor missiles at North Pickenham"]

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