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  Boxted Airfield Open Day and Fly-in - Langham, Essex 4th September 2005

Review - If you are searching for inspiration for something different and inspiring for next year’s airshow diary then look no further than the Boxted Airfield Open Day and Fly-In, held this year on the 3 and 4 September.

The event is organised by the Boxted Airfield Historical Group in conjunction with the Popular Flying Association’s Suffolk Coastal Strut Regional Group and takes place on the site of former USAAF Station 150, Boxted Airfield, Essex (although the site is nearer Langham than Boxted which can confuse the uninitiated visitor to the display!).

The Boxted Airfield Historical Group aims to educate, as well as promote and preserve the history of Boxted Airfield and it is a site that is indeed steeped in the history of American airpower in the Second World War. 

The airfield was first occupied in June 1943 by the 386th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, flying the twin engine Martin B-26B Marauder bomber.  At the time the Marauder had earned itself a bad reputation, being named as a widow-maker after a combination of malfunctions and pilot inexperience had led to many crashes and fatalities at training bases.  Flying from Boxted the 386th, in concert with three other Bomb Groups, pioneered the use of the Marauder in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO).  In three months of operations the Bomb Groups redeemed the reputation of the B-26.  By October 1943, the Groups were assigned to the tactical 9th Air Force, the 386th leaving Boxted for Great Dunmow in late September. 

The 386th Bomb Group’s place was taken by another pioneering unit the 354th Fighter Group, who flew into Boxted in November 1943.  The ‘Pioneer Mustang Group’ was assigned to the 9th Air Force and was equipped with the first North American P-51B Mustangs in the ETO at a time when the 8th Air Force’s heavy bombers were desperate for long-range fighter protection.  As a result the 354th came under the operational control of the 8th Air Force and on 5 December 1943 P-51 Mustangs from Boxted escorted B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers for the first time, this mission being to the Amiens area of France.  The Group’s first confirmed air-to-air victory came on 16 December 1943 on a bomber escort mission to Bremen.  A new chapter in the aerial battle over Europe had been opened.

As D-Day approached, and more 8th Air Force fighter groups converted to Mustangs, the 354th came back under the operational control of the 9th Air Force and, in April 1944, the Group left Boxted for Lashenden Advanced Landing Ground (ALG), near Headcorn in Kent.  The link with Lashenden was maintained in the show with a display from the Tiger Club’s Turbulent team who are based at Headcorn Aerodrome, itself on the site of Lashenden ALG.  The airfield is well worth a visit to see the Lashenden Air Warfare Museum, which has displays on the 354th and its operations.

The final combat unit to operate from Boxted was the famous 56th Fighter Group flying the 7-ton Republic P-47D Thunderbolt, and from January 1945, the unit also flew the P-47M.  The Group moved into Boxted in April 1944 under the command of Colonel Hubert A. Zemke, and was the only fighter group in the 8th AF to fly P-47s throughout hostilities.  The Group also destroyed more enemy aircraft in combat than any other fighter group in the 8th AF.  The 56th FG stayed at Boxted for the rest of the war celebrating VE and VJ days at the airfield and it was not until September 1945 that Boxted’s runways became silent again.

The theme of the open day this year was to commemorate VE Day 8 May 1945 and in addition to the fly-in and air display there was a 1940s evening on the Saturday with a 14 piece big band, while both days had a VE day tea party for the children attending.  Coach tours of the airfield, now used primarily for agriculture, were also available ably guided by Derek Bowers.  Derek lived near the airfield during the Second World War and was eleven years old when Thunderbolts were lifting off from Boxted’s runways.  Visitors could follow the old perimeter track way and see, amongst other things, some of the original briefing huts, most surviving buildings now being used for storage.  The site of the original runways could also be seen, visiting aircraft using a grass strip on the alignment of runway 04/22, the concrete long since gone for use as hardcore for the building of the nearby A12.

It was fitting that the skies around Boxted again growled to the sound of a P-51 mounted Rolls Royce Merlin engine as Maurice Hammond displayed in his Mustang ‘Janie’ immaculate against the deep blue of the sky.  The display itself was opened by another Merlin legend, the Spitfire, Pete Kynsey displaying Spitfire Ltd’s MK.XVIe TD248 G-OXVI on the Sunday.  Other highlights included the aptly named ‘Red Sparrows’ Chipmunk Formation Team led by Howard Cooke while eye-catching Stearman E-75 N4712V added further growl to the proceedings.  Stars of the fly-in included Miles M.38 Messenger G-AJWB and locally based Yak-52 G-ZYAK while all proceedings were ably choreographed by display director Peter Wensak from his custom built black and white chequered flying control trailer.  This provided another link to the past as similar looking trailers were used during World War Two.

Richard Turner and the team at Boxted should be congratulated for putting on such an intimate and thought provoking event and we wish them well towards their goal of setting up a museum to preserve this history for all.

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