The 367th fighter group in Stoney Cross and Ibsley airfields
Stoney Cross was situated 15 miles west of Southampton and 17 miles south of Salisbury in the New Forest area in the Hampshire. It was built by the British Army and opened in November 1942. It was used first by the Royal Air Force (RAF) until the arrival of the 367th FG on April 5, 1944.
It was called station 452 by the USAAF and was first assigned to the 100th Fighter Wing. A short time later it was reassigned to the 70th Fighter Wing on April 15, 1944.
Like a lot of airfields in UK, it had 3 runways. The main runway was aligned 07/25 (70 degrees and 250 degrees) and was 6000 feet long and 150 feet large. The 2 secondary runways were respectively aligned 01/19 and 15/33 and were about 4100 feet long for the first one and 4500 feet long for the second one. They were also 150 feet large. These runways were surrounded by 62 hardstands. As these hardstands were built close to the end of each runway, the P-38 Lightning of each squadron of the 367th FG were scattered on their own area of the airfield.
According to Roger Freeman in his book “UK Airfields of the Ninth: Then and Now” : “This airfield was the most distinctive of all wartime three runways airfields in Britain, the spur shape being dictated by the narrow rises on which it was built”.
As the airfield was built in a wooden area, the living quarters and accommodations for the men were dispatched into nice places. Thanks to some letters or diaries written by men of the outfit, we can have an idea of the feeling they had when they arrived in Stoney Cross after a very long and boring trip.
Capt. Jack Reed, Flight Leader of 393rd FS and next Operation officer of the squadron, Group Operations officer and 393rd FS Squadron Commander at the end of the war wrote the followings comments in his diary :
- On April 4, 1944: ”We docked at Greenock yesterday and boarded the train at 16:30. Rode all nite and arrived at Stoney Cross about 18:00 tonite. I must say it’s quite a place. Much better than we expected. We have a large well equipped field and good barracks. Each flight has a separate barrack. I have mine all together”.
- On April 6: ”We are gradually getting organized. Have an excellent field to operate from. It was originally a glider field and has plenty of runway. Over 7000 feet for the long one. The dispersal areas are strung out for miles with 38s in every nook and corner. We have 85 assigned to the Group with 25 to each of the squadrons and we will use 4 ships per flight making a total of 16 per squadron on Ops. We are in the 9th Air Force and will do ground support and dive bombing and strafing”.
Aerial picture of the north end of the main runway in Stoney Cross on 30
April 1944. One can see the two large hangars and numerous hard stands (copyright IWM)
A part of the picture on the left has been enlarged. One can clearly see some P-38 of the 367th FG on the hard stand (copyright IWM)
Lt. Ed Whigham, the Group radar officer wrote in his wartime service memories: “We arrived at Stoney Cross in the middle of the night and the next morning found a large airbase, temporarily operated by the Royal Air Force that was covered with brand new silver P-38 Lightnings. And we had our first breakfast of powdered eggs, powdered milk and bread that tasted almost like straw.
Because of cultural differences between RAF and US personnel, there were occasional irritations and differences but those were transitory and minor. The RAF was in the war long before we came on the scene and their effective and courageous performance won the admiration of their nation and the world. When American Air Forces came to European Theater of Operations they learned much from the RAF and quickly came to admire their technical and fighting ability. But Britain had limited ability to provide the aircraft, pilots and other requirement for the air war against Germany and by 1944 the American Air Forces was moving toward the larger role. But the RAF was always there admirably modest in its claims and effective in action. More than the British army or Navy the RAF spoke a language that Americans understood.…/…The village of Stoney Cross, the location of our air base, was only a few miles outside Southampton, one of Britain’s major ports and a frequent target of German night raids.
Stoney Cross seemed to be in the general area where the German bombers turned either east toward London or southwest to Southampton. Thus we had frequent air raid alerts. They almost never did damage to us but created confusion and disruption for local citizens. When serving as Officer of the Day, one had to make a nightly inspection of the guard posts scattered around our very large base. I can still remember those nightly inspections during an air raid amidst the glare of powerful searchlights and the loud, violent firing of the anti-aircraft. There was more danger from shell fragments of the ack-ack than from the enemy bombs”.
In his first letter written from England to his family dated April 6, 1944, Lt. Eugene Fleming, 392nd FS, wrote: “England and Scotland are very pretty – lots of green trees + rolling hills but believe me it’s plenty cold here. I’ll be glad when our sleeping bags catch up with us so we can sleep warm. Our stoves are not sharp. We have pretty nice quarters otherwise though. We have to walk about ½ mile to our mess hall and showers. Our latrines and a place to shave is nearby though. It’s a pretty good distance to planes although they are not the ones we hoped to fly…/…We have changed our money to English money. It’s a pretty easy monetary system to catch to. Everything is rationed over here even to the soldiers. We each have our ration card to get things at the PX with. I don’t think we are going to have much to spend our money on over here”.
Lt. Ted Parmenter, 392nd FS, wrote also to his parents on May 17, 1944. He also complains about the weather and especially the low temperatures. He speaks briefly of his quarters: “My living quarters are good and are very comfortable. I have a small stove in my room and usually manage to have a small fire going. My roommate has a radio so we usually have a little entertainment. There is an American forces network that brings us all the favorite radio programs like Bob Hope, etc .All of England looks alike when you are flying over it. Everything is so small and cramped together that it all looks alike from the air. The towns are the same, can’t tell them apart. I got lost yesterday and had to call for a homing to get back to the field”.
P-38s of the 392nd FS in Stoney Cross Caroline Cobb via Clyde Deavers / collection 367th FG association)
Lieutenant Hugh Hallman, 392nd SF, in the cockpit of his P-38s in Stoney Cross Caroline Cobb via Clyde Deavers / collection 367th FG association)
Lieutenant Kenneth Markley, 392nd FS, in Stoney Cross. The bandage on his face results from a landing accident when coming back from an escort mission on 21 June 1944 (Caroline Cobb via Clyde Deavers / collection 367th FG association)
Claus Grondwald, a crew chief of the 392nd FS, shared his most cherished memories of Stoney Cross.
They were sent to me by his son, Robert, and are as follow:
1) The British maintained an artillery battery at the airfield manning “flak guns”. Every day at 4:00 the 30 or so contingent took an hour long break for tea and scones. For some reason the Germans never strafed the field during this time.
2) Every week or two weeks the Flight Surgeons gave each pilot a liter of whiskey. Since most of these pilots were still 19 or 20 they did not drink so they gave the whiskey (American or Canadian so the “e”) to their flight crews. Once a month each Flight would have a poker or black jack tournament and drink the whiskey straight as no ice was available.
3) The Germans were bombing Southampton pretty bad during this time. Dad remembers merely sitting outside his hut with the guys in the evenings watching the bombs go off not 15 miles away and thinking it was the 4th of July Fireworks back home.
4) It was at Stoney Cross that all the enlisted men in the FG had the bullets taken from them as they spent time off hunting deer, rabbit and fox to supplement the terrible English food. The airfield was considered “Royal Property” and thus the game belonged to the King.
5) Claus added that they were still being served horse meat which they (American soldiers) all detested. Claus also said that the first time the men of the 367th FG ate horse meat, they were in the ship Duchess of Bedford during the crossing of the Atlantic.
6) On their first liberty in Southampton they had more money than they could spend. They went from pub to pub buying up ALL the owners’ meager allotment of alcohol. The Brits did not mind much as the Americans avoided the warm beer, ale and stout leaving it for the locals.
7) They made the enlisted men stand guard duty at night. My Dad remembers one night when the bombing seemed pretty bad just North in Southampton. On cold mornings the crews put these big heater boxes under the engines to warm up the fluids. He dragged one of those boxes out to the guard station and crawled into in with a flash light to read a book. He swears a buzz bomb dropped not a mile from him that evening.
8) The Cletrac was very much a novelty for the flight crews. There was one specialist in the Squadron that was responsible for the pair of them, and he trained all the crew members on the operation of the vehicle. You actually had to be recertified every six months, since their primary duty was to tow planes out of the hangers.
Dad said when they had free time the mechanics would take turns just tearing through fields and pretending they were driving a tank. They enjoyed rocking them back in forth in a type of serpentine "zig / zag" driving pattern around large rocks and such. The secondary duty as mentioned in the research was to carry auxiliary fuel tanks for longer missions.
Claus Grondwald at the command of a Cletrac in Stoney Cross or Ibsley (Robert Grondwald)
Ground crews in Stoney Cross or Ibsley (Robert Grondwald)
Aerial picture of the Ibsley airfield (copyright IWM)
Pilots of the 394th FS in front of Cuckoo Hill close to Isley in July 1944. Standing on the left is Major Grover Gardner, C.O. of the squadron (collection 367th FG association)
After 3 month in Stoney Cross the outfit was busy packing their equipment before the move to the nearby station 347 in Ibsley on July 6 and 7. The P-38s in Stoney Cross were replaced by a medium bomber outfit equipped with B-26s which needed to be closer of the front line to improve their range. Stoney Cross and Ibsley were only separated by several miles. The first aircrafts of the 367th FG landed at Ibsley on July 6. The first squadrons to move were the 393rd and 394th. This move did not stop the missions, as the P-38s took off from Stoney Cross, attacked their assigned targets and landed in Ibsley. The first mission from this new airfield was flown a short time later the pilots landed at Ibsley for the first time as an urgent mission was assigned to the 393rd and 394th FS on the afternoon of the 6. On their side the 392nd FS pilots took off from Stoney Cross for a bomber escort on July 7 and landed on the new field upon their return.
As most of the airfields built in UK during WWII, Ibsley had 3 runways. According to Robert Freeman in his book “UK Airfields of the Ninth: Then and Now”, the three runways were aligned 01-19 (north/south), 14-32 (north west/south-east) and 05-23 (south-west/north-east) and were respectively 4800 feet, 4200 feet and 4050 feet long.
The outfit stayed only 3 weeks in this airfield and less comments were found in the squadrons histories.
Nevertheless the following statement was written in the monthly report of the 394th FS for July 1944: “On the night of the fifth, our organizational vehicules loaded with equipment started the ten miles shuttle to Ibsley…/… the difference between SX and Ibsley was merely the difference between winter and summer. Stoney Cross, flat, treeless and sandy seemed foreign upon our arrival to the green valley in which our new station was situated”.
According to Sgt Ernie Snow, a propeller specialist of the 394th FS “the parking area being made of grass, the crew chief were catching heck for getting gas and oil on the grass”.
As in Stoney Cross, the enlisted men lived in Nissen huts. The officers of the 394th FS were billeted in a large house called the “Cuckoo Hill”. According to Henry Cole, a local ranger, this house was built in 1910 by an artist and designer called Heywood Sumner. He was a prominent artist in the 'art deco' period. When he died at the age of 86 in 1940 his house was taken over by the military to accommodate officers from RAF Ibsley.
Nissan hut of the men of the 367th FG in Ibsley (Caroline Cobb via Clyde Deavers / collection 367th FG association)
Men of the 367th FG playing volley-ball in Ibsley (Caroline Cobb via Clyde Deavers / collection 367th FG association)