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RAF Merryfield   


 Summary          

Location Ilton, Nr Ilminster, Somerset

Opened 1944 Known as AAF Base 464

In use 1944 -to date

 



Built 1937

In use 1937 -to date

Squadrons based there




 AIRFIELD HISTORY          


RAF Merryfield (also known as Isle Abbotts) is a former Second World War airfield in the village of Ilton, near Ilminster in southwest Somerset, England.



The airfield is located approximately 7 miles (11 km) north of Chard, about 130 miles (210 km) southwest of London.



It is now RNAS Merryfield and today serves as a satellite to the larger RNAS Yeovilton; it is used mainly as a training facility for helicopter pilots.


Construction


















Merryfield airfield was built to the Class "A" bomber standard, by John Laing Ltd who were the main contractors with work commencing in late 1942 and was formally opened by the RAF on 9 February 1944


Unlike other local airfields,  work proceeded slowly as there was a problem with the drainage of waterways crossing the site. However these problems were eventually overcome and the Airfield completed


In September 1943, while the airfield was being constructed the official name was changed from Isle Abbotts to Merryfield. This initially appears puzzling as at first glance the name is rather distinctive and such changes were usually connected with contractual alterations or where another airfield had a similar sounding name which might cause confusion.


While No Airfield locally had a similar Name, Laing’s were building Thorpe Abbott’s, in Norfolk  at the same time which might account for he change but at the time of writing no further information on this change is available.


In addition and in preparation for D day, the airfield was listed in November 1943 as one of 16 to be made available for the USAAF to meet the number of troop carrier groups projected for the UK under the Bolero scheme and this also might account for the change. The idea being that there should be no possibility of confusion, for what would be the largest campaign ever conceived.


Like all standard class A Bomber bases The main runway was 6,000 ft and aligned 10-26, with the other two secondary runways being 4,200ft at 17-35 and the third 04-22,  being somewhat shorter 3,660ft.   


All 50 hard standings were loop types in concrete with bituminous surfaces. With two T2 Hangars Which had become the standard specification for all new airfields (except those having a special purpose) by the beginning of 1943.


The technical site was on the south side and the dispersed domestic sites for 3,214 persons lay mostly in the parish of Ilton.
























Following the Handover and the decision to use Merryfield as part of operation Overlord US engineers arrived shortly after the Airfield had been opened to lay PSP (pierced steel planking) at the main runway ends for glider marshalling while the necessary facilities for accommodating paratroops in the hangars also arrived.


Following this preparation, 4 squadrons of The 441st Troop carrier group belonging to the Ninth Air Force’s 50th Troop Carrier Wing, IX Troop Carrier Command moved in from RAF Langar, Nottinghamshire, on 25 April with over 70 C-47s dispersed on the airfield. The group’s squadrons and fuselage codes were:


  99th  Troop Carrier Squadron   ( 3  J )

100th   Troop Carrier Squadron   ( 8 C )

301st    Troop Carrier Squadron   ( Z 4 )

302nd  Troop Carrier Squadron   ( 2 L )


For the D-Day operation, Operation Albany (Link) the group dropped a contingent of the 101st Airborne Division paratroops near Cherbourg, then carried out re-supply and glider delivery missions. For its efficiency and achievements during these two days it was, like other troop carrier groups, awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation. During these missions, three C-47s and two CG-4A gliders were missing in action.

 

The group’s aircraft flew supplies into Normandy as soon as suitable landing strips were available and evacuated casualties to Merryfield. On 17 July the air echelons of the 99th, 100th and 302nd Troop Carrier Squadrons new to Grosseto airbase in Italy to prepare for operations connected with the invasion of southern France returning to Merryfield on 24 August.

 

Meanwhile, the 301st TCS remained active on the Normandy shuttle while supplies were urgently needed for the advancing Allied armies, although from 7 August this was from RAF Ramsbury until the other squadrons returned.

 

Soon afterwards word was received that the 50th Troop Carrier Wing would move to France, the 441st being one of the first two groups, with headquarters leaving Merryfield on 6 September for its Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) at Villeneuve (ALG A-63).

 

From France the group dropped paratroops of 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions near Nijmegen on 17 September during the air attack on Holland, and towed gliders with reinforcements on 18 and 23 Sep.

 

In December, the group transported ammunition, rations, medicine, and other supplies to troops of 101st Airborne Division surrounded by the enemy at Bastogne. Released gliders carrying troops of 17th Airborne Division near Wesel on 24 March 1945 when the Allies launched the airborne assault across the Rhine. Hauled gasoline to armoured columns in Germany after the Allies crossed the Rhine.

 

Continually transported freight and personnel in the theater when not participating in airborne operations. Evacuated casualties and prisoners who had been liberated.

 

The 441st remained overseas after the war as part of United States Air Forces in Europe, performing occupation duty from Frankfurt Germany. It continued to transport personnel and equipment, using C-46, C-47, and C-109 aircraft.


The 441st Troop Carrier Group was deactivated at Frankfurt Germany on 30 September 1946.


Merryfield was retained by the USAAF IX TCC for another two months while C-47s regularly ferried supplies and personnel before being handed over to the RAF at the end of October, 1944  thus ending the Ninth Air Force’s association with the station.


Although the ninth Airforce had left in October The C-47 in its British guise, the Dakota, still held sway at Merryfield but in much smaller numbers with No. 238 Squadron of RAF Transport Command being re-formed there  during the winter of 1944-45 and, when it departed overseas, No. 187 was also re-formed at Merryfield to fly Dakotas.


No. 53 Squadron the former Coastal Command Squadron with Liberators replaced No. 187 in September 1945. On the 22nd November a crash occurred when a Consolidated Liberator C Mk VIII transport crashed shortly after take-off from RAF Merryfield with the loss of all 27 on board.


The Liberator (serial number KH126) was being operated on a trooping flight from RAF Merryfield to India. When shortly after take off it failed to gain enough height to clear a hill. It struck a tree and crashed at White's Farm near Broadway Pound, six miles from the airfield. Where immediately burst into flames with the loss of the five-man crew (all but one Polish) and 22 Army passengers.



Paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division at Merryfield, home of the 441st Troop Carrier Group. Handwritten caption on reverse: '441st Troop Carrier Group, US Army, Merryfield, England. We dropped the 101st Paratroop Division at Normandy. This photo is one of our squadrons.'

302nd Troop Carrier Squadron  ( 2 L ) brings wounded back from Normandy to Merryfield, to take to Taunton

301st Troop Carrier Squadron ( Z 4 ) at Merry field

99th Troop Carrier Squadron ( 3 J)  at  Merry field

C-47 Skytrains of the 441st Troop Carrier Group fly in formation over Italy. Image via Ira LaTour.

Dakota Mark IVs (KN490 ‘B’nearest) of No. 187 Squadron RAF based at Merryfield, Somerset, on the ground at Mauripur air terminal, Karachi, June 1945. Mauripur was the first Indian staging post on the trooping flights between the United Kingdom and Poona undertaken by the Squadron from April 1945 to March 1946.


Dakota Mark IV, KN394 'M', of No. 187 Squadron RAF based at Merryfield, Somerset, taxies past a donkey train at Mauripur air terminal, Karachi, India. Mauripur was the first Indian staging post on the trooping flights between the United Kingdom and Poona undertaken by the Squadron from April 1945 to March 1946.

Armourers unload 250 lb Mk VIII depth charges Liberator GR Mk VA of No 53 Squadron RAF at St Eval Cornwall prior to the move to Merryfield

Canberra’s at Merryfield Pic Trevor Danks

De Havilland Sea Venom FAW.21 Jet Fighter Plane

A Merlin helicopter landing at Merryfield

Today, there is security on the gate as it is still an operational airfield and a restricted area.


In December this squadron was replaced by the Stirlings of No. 242 Squadron. No. 242 later converted to Yorks but the long distance flights to the Middle and Far East locations on which most of these transport units had been engaged gradually subsided and the Yorks departed in May 1946. The airfield closed that October.


Until the outbreak of the Korean War and a resurgence of air power, civilian caretakers looked after the otherwise deserted airfield. Late in 1951, Merryfield was re-opened as an advanced pilot training establishment with Vampire and Meteor jets. Some additional concrete was laid in front of the main technical site and other building work conducted before the station was again run down towards the end of 1954. During the following two years, a detachment front No. 231 Operational Conversion Unit, was assigned with


Then came the Royal Navy with Sea Venoms but they withdrew early in 1958 and by 1961 it appeared the airfield had finally been abandoned.

 

Over the next few years, the airfield deteriorated and the hangars and some other buildings were sold off. A road that was closed when the airfield was built, was re-opened making use of part of the main runway.

 

Surprisingly, in 1971, part of the airfield was again taken over by the Royal Navy for use in assault helicopter training and exercises that would not conflict with fixed-wing traffic on the Navy’s other stations. Merryfield was soon subject to naval tradition by being labelled HMS Heron. In the event, the Navy’s occupation proved to be the most enduring of the airfield’s half century of existence, for it is still being used by its helicopters today .

Sources of information, Text & Photographs  

-Imperial War Museum

-Wikipedia

-Memories of RAF Merryfield (Memories written by  members of Forces Reunited)

-Don Stonestrom

-Jamie Thompson Airfield Manager MOD Merryfield

-Robin  Gilbert





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