RAF Glatton, also known as Conington, is close to the A1(M) motorway, about 7 miles South of Peterborough. RAF Glatton was built during 1942/43 by the 809th Engineer Battalion of the U.S. Army. The layout was to the standard Class ‘A’ design with three intersecting runways and encircling perimeter. However, due to local roads and topography, a large number of loop dispersals were located on a separate perimeter extension to the West of the airfield.
The airfield was unique in that the three runways surrounded Rose Court Farm, which continued to operate during the war. Two T2 hangars were built along with the usual technical site and administration buildings. The base was home to 2,900 personnel who were provided with temporary buildings of brick, concrete, steel and asbestos construction. They were located to the South West of the airfield near ConingtonVillage.
RAF Glatton received its first combat unit on January 21st 1944. The 457th Bombardment Group was the last of the B-17 Fortress Groups to join the 1st Air Division. Practice missions and ground training took place in early February and the Group started operations on February 21st, 1944. The Group sent out two forces for this first mission. 19 B-17’s went to Gutersloh airfield while 17 went to Lippstadt airfield in less than ideal conditions loaded with 500lb and 100lb bombs. The 3rd Air Division were the only ones with radar equipped B-17’s so due to the poor visibility, the 1st and 2nd Division Groups had to look for targets of opportunity. They lost one aircraft during the bomb run, ‘though most of the crew escaped. The tail gunner, William H. Schenkel, was killed in action, to become the Group’s first fatality. On return, one badly damaged B-17 was declared a Category ‘E’ write off upon landing back at base.
The Group managed another three missions in February, eighteen in March, sixteen in April, nineteen in May and another three in June before D-Day on the 6th June 1944. During this intensive period leading up to D-Day, the Group lost twenty B-17’s to enemy action. From D-Day to the end of 1944, the Group flew another one hundred and twenty-four missions loosing fifty three B-17’s. Eight missions alone claimed thirty eight aircraft. Of the 352crew missing on these missions, 83 were killed while the rest became POW’s. The 457th reached two hundred missions on March 2nd1945 to Chemnitz in Germany, their secondary target as the primary was obscured by the weather. On March the 18th, the Group was attacked by Messerschmitt Me262’s over Berlin, some flying through their own flak to reach the bombers. P-51 Mustangs showed up and chased away the 262’s.
The Group’s last mission was on April 20th1945. By the end of the war, the 457th had flown 236 missions loosing 83 B-17’s, excluding badly damaged aircraft that were written off. They had dropped 16,916 tons of bombs, 142 tons of leaflets and claimed 33 enemy aircraft destroyed, with a further 12 probables and 50 damaged. On June 4th1945, those B-17’s considered sufficiently airworthy, began to fly back the U.S.A. In addition to aircrew, each plane carried twelve to eighteen ground personnel. The remaining ground personnel took the train to Glasgow where they boarded the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner to New York. The Group reassembled at Sioux Falls, South Dakota to await further orders.
The Group had only been in the States a short time when on July 28th there was a major accident. Lt Colonel William F. Smith was flying a North American B-25 Mitchell from Bedford, MA to Sioux Falls via Newark airport, when he got lost in poor weather. He dropped out of low cloud at around 900 feet altitude, amongst the sky- scrapers of downtown Manhattan. The B-25 smashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building, killing Lt. Col Smith, two other servicemen and eleven office workers. The B-25 exploded into a ball of flame, showering the streets below with burning fuel. One engine passed right through the building and out of the other side. In September 1977, a plaque was unveiled on the 86th floor to mark the incident to those who gave their assistance after the crash.
While at Sioux Falls in early August, several officers and crew volunteered for B-29 Superfortress transition training to go on and fight against Japan. Two days after their decision, the first nuclear weapon was dropped on Japan. The second bomb brought the war to an end. On August 28th 1945, the 457th BG was disbanded.
After the war, RAF Glatton was used by No.3 Group, Bomber Command, Royal Air Force. Avro Lancasters and Consolidated Liberators flew from there to the Middle East. It was finally closed in 1948. With the end of military use, RAF Glatton returned to farming. When the A1 road was upgraded in the area, some areas of concrete were broken up for use as hardcore. Virtually all of the main runway survives along with around two thirds of one of the secondary runways. The other secondary runway has been reduced in width to a single bay while the Western perimeter track survives.
Both of the T2 hangars have been removed and most of the wartime buildings. The tower has long gone although the road to the tower and associated buildings remains. RAF Glatton is now known as Conington or Peterborough Airport, with light aviation maintaining a connection to the activities of World War 2. Conington churchyard contains a memorial to the men of the 457th who lost their lives flying from RAF Glatton.Aerial photos were taken by Stephen A Carr in 1999.
“Airfields of the Eighth” – Roger A Freeman/After The Battle
“The Mighty Eighth” – Roger A. Freeman
“Mighty Eighth War Diary” – Roger A. Freeman
Article submitted by Terry Brignall – October 2020.
Many thaks Terry.
Additional pictures and Information:
Extracts from D-Day Commemoration Clarence Ray, at the age of 22, was stationed at Glatton Airfield as a member of 457 Squadron with the United Sates Air Force. He left in his B17 Bomber the 14th June 1944 on a mission to France but tragically never returned. In the photograph Clarence Ray is in the top row on the far right.
Attached is a photo of the same plane that just two days later made a crash landing at Glatton on April 22 1944. Clarence Ray was also part of that crew but no one was hurt in that incident. A few months later on June 14th1944, he was listed as killed in action when his plane took a direct hit from flack and exploded over France.