Work started on this airfield in 1942, when it was known as Butley, as one of the sites to base the anticipated build up of the USAAF Eighth Air Force. Work was halted in 1943 due to labour shortages and when it recommenced in the summer of 1944 (when the airfield was now known as Bentwaters), there was no longer any need to find airfields for the Eighth Air Force. It was completed and then placed under 'Care and Maintenance'. Due to increasingly heavy daylight bombing raids mounted by Allied bombers in late 1944, which required a large Fighter escort, usually the American P-51 (Mustang), a Mustang Fighter Wing was established at Bentwaters.
The airfield continued to be used for four years after the end of the Second War and then was closed. In 1951 it was transferred to the USAF and subsequently became an important Cold War airfield, finally closing for good in 1993. Parts of it are now used as an industrial estate and to store agricultural produce.
It is possible to walk most of the perimeter when a lot of the Second War and Cold War infrastructure can be seen. The Open Day this Sunday also provided the opportunity for a bus trip around the site.
The above photo shows Bentwaters as it is today. The distinctive layout of Second War Airfields, an "A" shape, can clearly be seen. The area to the south west was a Cold War aircraft dispersal area, originally acquired from the Forestry Commission, the standings being hidden in mature plantations. However the 1987 gales blew most of the trees down so the areas is not as forested as it was in the 80's.
Above: The wide central runway. The bank to the right is as a result of a peculiar planning permission decision. In order to use the Aircraft Shelters for light industrial purposes, they had to be screened from the local population as they are considered to be an eyesore. However, most people probably would like to be able to see them!
The following images are of some of the Cold War Hardened Aircraft Shelters, weapon-stores and other infrastructure. Some of the images were taken from a coach on the trip around the airfield, so apologies for their quality, while some were taken while walking the perimeter.
Above: Some images of the Hardened Aircraft Shelters. A guard post can be seen in front of the shelter in the first image. More images of these guard posts to follow in later blogs! Four of the original reinforced panel concrete doors on rail-mounted runners have been retained, with original squadron logos still visible. As the doors weighed 85 tons, most have been replaced with a more practical door! Last image shows American jets outside the Shelters.
Next three images (above) show some of the briefing rooms for operations. In the top image, the two buildings in the background are briefing rooms, the brick built building for normal times while the concrete bomb proof building was to be used if hostilities had broken out. The second image again shows the two buildings, this time with a Hardened Aircraft Shelter in the foreground. Bottom image shows the two buildings only.
Lastly some images of some of the weapon-stores.
Image 1: Conventional weapon-stores with a Braithwaite water tower in the foreground. The poles were apparently to prevent helicopters etc from landing in the area and may have been strung with wires.
Image 2: Braithwaite water tower with the weapon-stores in the background.
Image 3: Watch tower overlooking the weapons stores.
Image 4: The guard post at the entrance to the nuclear weapon-stores compound.