A history of
Greenham Common would not be complete without a look at the history of
RAF Welford. During World War Two and during the Cold War years of
operation, the two bases worked very closely together, often
complimenting each others roles and offering support services. Many
military personnel served at both RAF Welford and Greenham Common, or
lived at Greenham while serving at Welford. Many of you have asked for
some history on Welford, so here is what I have found.
The history of
RAF Welford begins in October 1941 when the construction of an RAF
airfield at the site was approved for use as an Operational Training
Unit. The airfield was built in an A shape with three runways, a number
of loops (which can still be seen), and two T2 hangars. The RAF took
over the base on June 10th 1943 and passed it over to the USAAF in
July. RAF Welford (also known as Welford Park) became USAAF Station 474
on September 6th 1943. The base itself was located on a hill just on
the edge of the Berkshire Downs, 14 miles from RAF Greenham Common. The
base had also been built around an 11th century priory which later
became the official residence of the Base Commander. The Priory is
rumoured to be haunted.
A variety of US
Troop Carrier Groups used RAF Welford until the 435th Troop Carrier
Group commanded by Lt Col. McNees moved onto the site in February 1944.
The 435th performed very similarly to the other US units at RAF
Membury, Ramsbury, Aldermaston and Greenham Common, preparing for the
liberation of Europe using Waco CG-4A and Horsa gliders towed by
Douglas C-47s and a number of C-53s. The aircraft and men of the 435th
trained tirelessly on transporting of troops, aerial resupply and
glider towing skills.
C-47s were the aircraft used by the Airborne Paras
The US Army's
101st Airborne Division arrived in the UK in the fall of 1943 and were
camped across the Thames Valley from Reading to Marlborough, commanded
by General Eisenhower from Greenham Lodge. In 1944, the 101st began a
number of exercises in preparation for the liberation of Western
Europe. The most conspicuous took place in the fields just east of RAF
Welford on March 23rd 1944. Hundreds of 101st soldiers were dropped
from C-47s in front of the visiting Prime Minister, Winston Churchill,
General Eisenhower, and a number of other senior officers. Further
101st troops at the base demonstrated weapons and equipment to the
visitors. Later that month, an accident occurred when an RAF Lancaster
from 101 Squadron crashed at Welford with a tragic loss of life.
On the morning of
D-Day, June 5th-6th 1944, 101st troops in gliders and C-47s left RAF
Welford for drop zones in Normandy. Among them was Major General
Maxwell Taylor and men of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. After
the success of the D-Day landings, aircraft from Welford carried out
aerial resupply with food, fuel, medical supplies and ammunition.
Wounded men were also flown out of France in the C-47s with nurses on
board, back to medical facilities in Newbury.
aircraft of the 435th Troop Carrier Group also went on to play a role
in Operation Dragoon, the liberation of southern France in August 1944.
Common and other local airfields, aircraft of the 435th played a part
in Operation Market Garden, an attempt to end the European war swiftly
by cutting off German troops in Holland, thus enabling a swifter defeat
of Germany. 101st units flew out from Welford on September 17th-20th to
take the river bridges of Holland on what was to become a hard battle.
Units from RAF
Welford played a decisive role with US Army units at the Battle of the
Bulge in December 1944 during the famous counter attack by German
forces at the Ardennes in Belgium. Men of the 101st found themselves
surrounded at Bastogne. US forces held at Bastogne thanks to aerial
resupply, until Army reinforcements pushed the Germans back.
In January 1945,
the 435th Troop Carrier Group left RAF Welford, leaving a number of US
staff until June 1945. With the conclusion of the war in Europe, the US
Units departed and Welford was returned to the RAF, becoming No.1336
Transport Supply Conversion Unit. Between 1947 and 1952, RAF Welford
became the Headquarters of Southern Signals Area until it was put under
care and maintenance.
RAF Welford In The Cold War
By the early
1950s, it was evident that the Soviet grip on the states of Eastern
Europe was firm, yet further Soviet intentions under the volatile and
aggressive leadership of Stalin and Khruschev could only be guessed at.
What was clear
though was that Soviet military capabilities meant that Western Europe
was at serious risk of a successful Soviet invasion unless its defences
could be bolstered significantly. Through the early 1950s, US forces
established a network of support facilities as well as airbases, naval
bases and garrisons in NATO members states in Britain, West Germany,
France, Italy, Belgium, Iceland, Spain, Portugal, Holland and Turkey.
Each of these partner states formed a part of the NATO Containment
policy against further Soviet expansion westward.
If the US and its
allies were to hold the line in the event of a Soviet attack, it would
have to hold vast supplies of ammunition to supply forces at the front,
and tactical aircraft in rear defensive areas. It would be vital that a
substantial stock could be held at forward locations as it would take
time to resupply after an outbreak of (very intense) hostilities.
reopened amid this tense climate on September 1st 1955 by the 7531st
Ammunition Squadron, Third Air Force, USAF. Ammunition storage
buildings were then built along what had been the main runway and a
series of bomb revetments were constructed. The base also developed an
ammunition maintenance capability and undertook such functions as
painting bombs to prevent corrosion. Many of the World War Two Nissen
huts remained in full use including the officers mess. Although a
number of these still remain today, they are now being dismantled and
The base was set
up to receive ammunition by road and rail. Ammunition would arrive by
sea from Barry docks in south Wales and then be transported by rail to
the sidings at Welford. By the late 1960s, another US arms dump was
established at Caerwent in south Wales. Caerwent served as an initial
unloading and storage point. In November 1973, the rail link to Welford
had been abandoned and ammunition came in by road vehicles.
In the event of
war, ammunition would be taken to bases of the "Oxford Triangle" (Brize
Norton, Greenham Common, Fairford and Upper Heyford) and flown to
forward locations of US Army and Air Force bases in West Germany,
France and Holland. Some would be transported by road to British ports
and the US Army Terminal at Hythe, Southampton. Bombs would also supply
UK based units of the USAF such as F-4 Phantoms at RAF Lakenheath and
Bentwaters, and later, F-111s and A-10 Tankbusters. These aircraft were
also dependent on Welford in peacetime for a supply of live bombs and
ammunition for training on live bombing practices on the ranges of
Scotland, Lincolnshire, Wales, and other NATO states.
RAF Welford was
no different to many other overseas USAF bases during times of
international crisis. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962,
the base was closed off to the outside world with nobody allowed to
enter, as was the case at Greenham Common. Another significant
international crisis occurred in October 1973 which RAF Welford may
have played a part in. That month saw Israel suddenly invaded by its
hostile Arab neighbours. The attack was so sudden and ferocious that it
seemed Israel may have been close to defeat. President Nixon saw that a
defeat of Israel would have disastrous consequences for the Middle East
and would mean the loss of a vital Cold War ally when the Soviet Union
was courting partners and instigating subversion in the Mediterranean,
North Africa and Middle East.
authorised the largest military airlift in US history since the Berlin
Airlift. USAF C-5s and other transport aircraft left for bases in
Western Europe to collect spare parts, ammunition, and military
aircraft. Israel lost many aircraft to Syrian and Egyptian attacks and
it was not unusual to see F-4s in Israel still with USAFE markings.
Most significantly, Nixon also authorised El Al planes to fly to USAF
bases in Europe to pick up spare parts and ammunition. It is said that
a number of ammunition stores in Western Europe were virtually emptied,
and it is possible that Welford played a part. The Soviets also
threatened to send in troops to force Israel into a cease-fire if it
did not comply. The Soviet Union however was forced to back down from
its threat when US National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger got
President Nixon to put US Forces onto a DEFCON TWO (one stage short of
nuclear strike) alert, and the crisis then concluded peacefully.
The Priory was the base commanders quarters until 1995
remained open during the Cold War and was never closed unlike Greenham
had been in 1964. Although some personnel were housed at RAF Welford,
many personnel and their children lived at Greenham Common,
particularly as Greenham was relatively quiet until 1982. In fact, when
Greenham Common reopened in January 1967, it came under the command of
Lt. Colonel Paul Meuser of RAF Welford. A number of families had their
children at the school at Greenham and so it made sense to live there.
A bus took personnel the 14 miles from Greenham to Welford and back
each day. RAF
Welford was a major USAF base and is the largest ammunition store in
Western Europe. However, the base never had as many personnel as a
major operating location with aircraft such as Upper Heyford or
Greenham Common. These typically had 2,000 personnel plus dependents.
During the height of Cold War operations in the 1980s, RAF Welford
numbered around 400 serving personnel. When the 501st Tactical Missile
Wing was established at Greenham Common in 1982, some equipment from
the 501st was kept at Welford. There have been some suggestions that
missiles themselves from the 501st were kept at RAF Welford, although I
have never found any evidence of this, and Welford was not inspected by
the Soviet INF Teams when they began in 1988.
There were other
ammunition storage sites used by US forces in the UK that supplemented
the work at Welford. A site was leased by the USAF at Bicester in
Oxfordshire (a short distance from Upper Heyford), Denham Studios near
London in the 1950s-1960s, Bramley in Hampshire, and Burtonwood near
Liverpool, storing US Army ammunition and pre-placed military vehicles
in case of conflict. A storage facility was also briefly used at
Cheddington, Aylesbury in the 1950s, and at Ditton Priors and Fauld in
the late 1960s until 1973.
RAF Welford also
saw a number of changes in command over the years. In 1955, it started
under the command of the 7531st Ammunition Squadron until it was
replaced in 1959 by the 3115th Ammunition Squadron. The command changed
again to the 7234th Ammunition Supply Squadron (ASUPS) on November 1st
1962 until it was changed to the 7551st ASUPS in 1972. The next change
came in September 1986 when 7551st ASUPS was changed to become the
850th Munitions Maintenance Sqn (Theatre) MMS(T) USAFE. In September
1987, Welford became a unit directly responsible to the USAF Third Air
Force, until January 1993, when Welford became Det 1, 100th Regional
Support Group under the command of the 20th TFW, RAF Upper Heyford.
In 1991, RAF
Welford was to play probably the most important role in its post-war
history during the Gulf War. Vast stocks of bombs and ammunition were
required by US Forces in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait to beat back
the Iraqi occupation. It is said that huge amounts of ammunition from
Welford were dispatched to the Middle East, some of leaving from
Greenham Common. B-52s operated from RAF Fairford during the conflict
and would have been supported from Welford's stores.
As one Airman recalls;
"During the Gulf War, I was at RAF Welford which was a
little base with no planes, just bombs. (Enough to carpet bomb Iraq everyday for
a year!) Anyway, we were shipping all those bombs down to the Gulf area and we
borrowed some pencil pushers from RAF Greenham Common to help
us out. To mess with them we’d take a hammer and pound on the side of a Mk-84
(2,000 pound bomb) and they were like “HEY! Don’t do that!” We said “Don’t worry,
if it goes off you won’t even feel it!” They go “THAT’S NOT FUNNY MAN! You Ammo
guys are SICK!” Of course there was no danger as the bomb was not even
armed, but the look on their faces…!"
NATO strikes on
the Serbs during the war for Kosovo in 1999 were also mounted from
Fairford based B-52s and B-1s, as well as F-15Es from RAF Lakenheath.
After the closure of Upper Heyford in 1994, Welford came under the
command of the 720th Air Base Squadron at RAF Fairford and remains so
Common finally closed in September 1992, many of those who had been
based there were transferred to serve at RAF Welford. In 1995, the base
began a new relationship whereby the RAF took over most of the site
with a small USAF presence remaining. The RAF unit were commanded from
RAF Brize Norton until handing over the site to the MoD Defence
Munitions Agency in April 1999. The USAF now remain as the sole user of
My thanks to the
Ridgeway Military and Aviation Research Group President, Alan Bovingdon
Cox and the Friends and Veterans of Welford for providing information
for this page. If you served at RAF Welford, please sign my guestbook.
There are a growing number of Welford veterans now finding the site.
Interesting item on Welford here.
RAF Welford in Photos
Please email me if you have any more history or stories.