RAF Fersfield

Royal Air Force Fersfield or more simply RAF Fersfield (originally known as RAF Winfarthing) is a former Royal Air Force station located 16 miles (26 km) southwest of Norwich, Norfolk, England.

RAF Fersfield
(RAF Winfarthing)
USAAF Station 140,554
Air Force Ensign of the United Kingdom
Eighth Air Force - Emblem (World War II)
Seal of the United States Department of the Navy (alternate)
Located Near Diss, Norfolk, England
RAF Fersfield - 29 Aug 1946 Airfield
Aerial photograph mosaic of RAF Fearsfield (Winfarthing) airfield, looking north, the bomb dump is at the top, the technical site- with T2 hangar- at the bottom, 29 August 1946.
RAF Fersfield is located in Norfolk
RAF Fersfield
RAF Fersfield
Coordinates52°25′28.68″N 001°03′27.02″E / 52.4246333°N 1.0575056°ECoordinates: 52°25′28.68″N 001°03′27.02″E / 52.4246333°N 1.0575056°E
TypeMilitary airfield
Site information
OwnerAir Ministry
Controlled byRoyal Air Force
United States Army Air Forces
Site history
In use1944–1945
Battles/warsEuropean Theatre of World War II
"Air Offensive, Europe" July 1942 - May 1945
Garrison information
Garrison562d Bomb Squadron, 388th Bomb Group
OccupantsUSAAF, United States Navy Special Attack Unit (SAU-1)
Radio-controlled B-17 Flying Fortress, being test-flown as part of Operation Aphroditie.


Built in 1943/1944, the airfield was originally a satellite of RAF Knettishall. It was constructed to Class A bomber specifications, with a main 6,000 ft (1,800 m) runway (08/26), and two secondary runways (02/20, 14/32) of 4,200 ft (1,300 m). Accommodation for about 2,000 personnel were in Nissen huts along with an operations block and two T-2 hangars.

The facility was originally named Winfarthing when it was allocated to the United States Army Air Forces in 1942. Assigned to the VIII Bomber Command, it was renamed Fersfield when used by the Americans.[1] Winfarthing was assigned USAAF station number 140; Fersfield was reassigned 554.

Not used by the USAAF, it was transferred to the United States Navy for operational use. The airfield is most notable as the operational airfield for Operation Aphrodite, a secret plan for remote controlled Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers (redesignated as BQ-7s) to be used against German V-1 flying bomb sites, submarine pens, or deep fortifications that had resisted conventional bombing.[1]

Operation Aphrodite

From July 1944 to January 1945, approximately 25 high-time Fortresses (mainly B-17Fs) were assigned to the 562nd Bomb Squadron, 388th Bomb Group stationed at RAF Knettishall, along with two Consolidated B-24 Liberators from the United States Navy (PB4Y-1), to be used in Aphrodite missions. Originally RAF Woodbridge was going to be used, however Fersfield was chosen as a better location due to its relative remoteness. The plan was to use these stripped down war weary bombers as explosive packed, radio controlled flying bombs. Pilots would take-off manually and then parachute to safety leaving the bomber under the control of another aircraft and then flown to its target in Europe.

The first mission took place on 4 August 1944 The target was a V-1 site in Pas-de-Calais. In the first phase of the mission, two motherships and two drones took off. Unfortunately, one of the drones went out of control shortly after the first crewman had bailed out. It crashed near the coastal village of Orford, destroying 2 acres (8,100 m2) of trees and digging an enormous crater. The body of the other crewman was never found. The second drone was successfully dispatched toward the Pas-de-Calais. However, clouds obscured the television view from the nose just as the drone approached the target site, and the plane missed the target by 500 ft (150 m). The second phase of the mission fared little better. One robot BQ-7 had a control malfunction before it could dive onto its target and was shot down by German flak. The other one missed its target by 500 yd (460 m).

Several subsequent missions were attempted, one of them being a United States Navy PB4Y-1 which exploded over the village of Blythburgh, Suffolk, killing LT Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., the brother of future President John F. Kennedy.

The last Aphrodite mission was on 20 January 1945, against a power station at Oldenburg. Both drones missed their targets by several miles. After this last effort, the Aphrodite concept was abandoned as being unfeasible, and the USAAF scrapped the effort. The reality was that 1944 technology was simply not good enough to do the kind of job that was required.

Royal Air Force use

One of RAF most secret operations, Operation Carthage, was launched from Fersfield on 21 March 1945. The target was the Gestapo HQ in Copenhagen. de Havilland Mosquitos from No 21 Sqn, No 464 Sqn RAAF and No 487 Sqn RNZAF made the trip across the North Sea and back. The raid was led by Group Captain R.N. Bateson, and was ranked as a success in spite of many civilian casualties, mostly children.

Postwar use


LocationNorfolk, England

The Eastern Counties Motor Club (ECMC) was formed early in 1950 and was soon turning its attention to organising competitive motoring, the first being a speed trail at RAF Bentwaters on 23 April. One year later, on 22 April 1951, the club’s first race meeting took place at Fersfield, which is situated near Diss in Norfolk. That the first was a ‘closed-to-club’ affair, but just two months later an invitation meeting (to which seven clubs were invited) was organised for 17 June, at which nine race were run, with an estimated crowd of 8,000, was a great success. Cars taking part included pre-war racers such as Bentleys, Frazer-Nash, MG and Bugattis plus Jaguars, Connaughts, Healeys and even a Ferrari. The RAC steward requested the fourth race be red-flagged (stopped) as spectators had encroached into a restricted area; but some drivers declined to obey the flag and were reprimanded for their colour blindness!

Further race meetings were held in 1952 but at the end of the season, the RAC requested that certain improvements be carried out which would have cost £10,000. This being beyond the club’s resources, Fersfield was abandoned. However, the ECMC was not to be outdone and turned its attention to another Norfolk airfield, Snetterton Heath (which become Snetterton) where it successfully ran the Eastern Counties 100 meeting for many years.

According to folklore, the RAC steward once insisted that everyone present at Fersfield should sweep the track clean of rubbish before he would allow racing to continue. As with most circuits there was always a lighter side and Fersfield was no exception, for the story goes of the road sweeper which did two laps to clean the track without the brushes working.[2][3]

Current use

Today, much of the concreted areas of the airfield have been removed for hardcore, with the airfield area being returned to agricultural uses. A surprising number of buildings exist, some on the former airfield, which are being used by agriculture, along with one of T-2 hangars. Others are in the wooded areas south of the former airfield in various states of decay. The perimeter track and runways still exist, although greatly reduced in width, being used as agricultural farm roads. Other roads in the area, identified by "Airfield Road" signs, are the last vestiges of the former airfield.

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.


  1. ^ a b "Fersfield". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  2. ^ http://www.dissexpress.co.uk/news/latest-news/fersfield-was-site-of-first-motor-circuit-1-426450
  3. ^ Peter Swinger, "Motor Racing Circuits in England : Then & Now" (Ian Allan Publishing, ISBN 0 7110 3104 5, 2008)


External links

388th Operations Group

The 388th Operations Group (388 OG) is the flying component of the 388th Fighter Wing, assigned to the Air Combat Command Twelfth Air Force. The group is stationed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

During World War II, its predecessor unit, the 388th Bombardment Group (Heavy) was an Eighth Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress unit in England, stationed at RAF Knettishall (Station 136). The group earned four Distinguished Unit Citations, flying over 300 combat missions (17 August 1943 – Regensburg; 26 June 1943 – Hanover; 12 May 1944 – Brux and 21 June 1944 on a shuttle mission to Russia). It also conducted Aphroditie radio-controlled B-24 Liberators as test guided bombs.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engined heavy bomber developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). Competing against Douglas and Martin for a contract to build 200 bombers, the Boeing entry (prototype Model 299/XB-17) outperformed both competitors and exceeded the air corps' performance specifications. Although Boeing lost the contract (to the Douglas B-18 Bolo) because the prototype crashed, the air corps ordered 13 more B-17s for further evaluation. From its introduction in 1938, the B-17 Flying Fortress evolved through numerous design advances, becoming the third-most produced bomber of all time, behind the four-engined B-24 and the multirole, twin-engined Ju 88.

The B-17 was primarily employed by the USAAF in the daylight strategic bombing campaign of World War II against German industrial and military targets. The United States Eighth Air Force, based at many airfields in central, eastern and southern England, and the Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, complemented the RAF Bomber Command's nighttime area bombing in the Combined Bomber Offensive to help secure air superiority over the cities, factories and battlefields of Western Europe in preparation for the invasion of France in 1944. The B-17 also participated to a lesser extent in the War in the Pacific, early in World War II, where it conducted raids against Japanese shipping and airfields.From its prewar inception, the USAAC (by June 1941, the USAAF) promoted the aircraft as a strategic weapon; it was a relatively fast, high-flying, long-range bomber with heavy defensive armament at the expense of bombload. It developed a reputation for toughness based upon stories and photos of badly damaged B-17s safely returning to base. The B-17 dropped more bombs than any other U.S. aircraft in World War II. Of approximately 1.5 million tons of bombs dropped on Nazi Germany and its occupied territories by U.S. aircraft, over 640,000 tons were dropped from B-17s. In addition to its role as a bomber, the B-17 was also employed as a transport, antisubmarine aircraft, drone controller, and search-and-rescue aircraft.

As of October 2019, 9 aircraft remain airworthy, though none of them were ever flown in combat. Dozens more are in storage or on static display. The oldest of these is a D-series flown in combat in the Pacific and the Caribbean.

East of England

The East of England is one of nine official regions of England at the first level of NUTS for statistical purposes. It was created in 1994 and was adopted for statistics from 1999. It includes the ceremonial counties of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. Essex has the highest population in the region.

Its population at the 2011 census was 5,847,000.Bedford, Luton, Basildon, Peterborough, Southend-on-Sea, Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester, Chelmsford and Cambridge are the region's most populous towns. The southern part of the region lies in the London commuter belt.


Fersfield is a village in the English county of Norfolk. It was the home parish of Francis Blomefield, whose History of Norfolk documents the history of much of South Norfolk, and forms part of the parish of Bressingham and Fersfield (more commonly just Bressingham). The population of the village is included in the civil parish of Banham.

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.

Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr. (July 25, 1915 – August 12, 1944) was a United States Navy lieutenant. He was killed in action during World War II while serving as a land-based patrol bomber pilot, and was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. He was the eldest of nine children born to Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. (1888–1969) and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (1890–1995). He was the only Kennedy son who never sought political office, though he had planned to.

Joe Sr. had aspirations for Joe Jr. to become president. However, Joe Jr. was killed while participating in a top-secret mission in 1944, and the high expectations of the father then fell upon Joe Jr.'s younger brother John, who was later elected president.

List of Norfolk airfields

This is a list of current or former military airfields within the English county of Norfolk, East Anglia. They may have been used by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), Royal Air Force (RAF), Army Air Corps (AAC), Fleet Air Arm (FAA), United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) or the United States Air Force (USAF).

For a list of current RAF stations in the UK and abroad, see List of Royal Air Force stations and for former stations see List of former Royal Air Force stations.

List of former Royal Air Force stations

This list of former RAF stations is a list of all stations, airfields and administrative headquarters previously used by the Royal Air Force.

The stations are listed under any former county or country name which was appropriate for the duration of operation. Stations initially took their station name from the nearest railway station or halt to the airfield, e.g., RAF Abingdon from Abingdon railway station. It has also been stated that RAF stations took their name from the parish in which the station headquarters was located (e.g., Binbrook has never had a railway station).

Michel Donnet

Lieutenant General Baron Michel "Mike" G. L. Donnet CdG, CVO, DFC (1 April 1917– 31 July 2013) was a Belgian pilot who served during World War II in the Belgian and British air forces. He shot down four enemy aircraft confirmed, and achieved the RAF rank of Wing Commander. After the war, he returned to the Belgian Air Force, and held several important commands before retiring in 1975.

No. 140 Squadron RAF

No. 140 Squadron of the Royal Air Force was a Second World War photo-reconnaissance squadron that operated between 1941 and 1945.

Operation Aphrodite

Aphrodite and Anvil were the World War II code names of United States Army Air Forces and United States Navy operations to use B-17 and PB4Y bombers as precision-guided munitions against bunkers and other hardened/reinforced enemy facilities, such as those targeted during Operation Crossbow.The plan called for B-17 aircraft that had been taken out of operational service (various nicknames existed such as "robot", "baby", "drone" or "weary Willy") to be loaded to capacity with explosives, and flown by radio control into bomb-resistant fortifications such as German U-boat pens and V-weapon sites.

It was hoped that it would match the British success with Tallboy and Grand Slam ground penetration bombs but the project was dangerous, expensive and unsuccessful. Of 14 missions flown, none resulted in the successful destruction of a target. Many aircraft lost control and crashed or were shot down by flak, and many pilots were killed. However, a handful of aircraft scored near misses. One notable pilot death was that of Lt Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., USNR, the elder brother of future US President John F. Kennedy.

The program effectively ceased on January 27, 1945 when General Spaatz sent an urgent message to Doolittle: "Aphrodite babies must not be launched against the enemy until further orders".

Operation Carthage

Operation Carthage, on 21 March 1945, was a British air raid on Copenhagen, Denmark during the Second World War which caused significant collateral damage. The target of the raid was the Shellhus, used as Gestapo headquarters in the city centre. It was used for the storage of dossiers and the torture of Danish citizens during interrogations. The Danish Resistance had long asked the British to conduct a raid against the site. The building was destroyed, 18 prisoners were freed and Nazi anti-resistance activities were disrupted. Part of the raid was mistakenly directed against a nearby school; the raid caused 125 civilian deaths (including 86 schoolchildren and 18 adults at the school). A similar raid against the Gestapo headquarters in Aarhus, on 31 October 1944, had succeeded.

RAF Woodbridge

Royal Air Force Woodbridge or RAF Woodbridge, is a former Royal Air Force station located east of Woodbridge in the county of Suffolk, England.

Constructed in 1943 as a Royal Air Force (RAF) military airfield during the Second World War to assist damaged aircraft to land on their return from raids over Germany it was later used by the United States Air Force during the Cold War, being the primary home for the 79th Tactical Fighter Squadron and the 78th Tactical Fighter Squadron and squadrons of the 81st Fighter Wing under various designations until 1993. For many years, the 81st Fighter Wing also operated from nearby RAF Bentwaters, with Bentwaters and Woodbridge being known as the "Twin Bases".

Since 2006, it has been known as MOD Woodbridge, incorporating Woodbridge Airfield and Rock Barracks. Woodbridge Airfield is used by Army Air Corps aircraft for training and Rock Barracks are home to the newly formed 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault) of the Royal Engineers.

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