Historic Airfields

RAF Polebrook-Northamptonshire

March 25, 2019

RAF Polebrook-Northamptonshire was built by George Wimpy and Co. 3/4 miles southeast of Oundle in Northamptonshire on farmland owned by the Rothchild Family. The airfield was first used by the RAF in the years 1940- 42 by 90th Squadron.

It had one J type hanger and 2 T2s and 30 hardstandings laid down. These were lengthened in 1942 as they were found to be unsuitable for heavy bombers. So they were made up to 1,900 yards main and two secondary ones were 1,400 yards each and twenty more hardstands were laid down to make RAF Polebrook a class A airfield.

This page is in memory of the 351st Combat Wing who was stationed here from 1943 to 1945. On January 15, 1943, the 305 Service Group arrived at RAFD Polebrook to begin preparations to receive the air and ground echelons of the 351st Bomber Group.

The 305th was a Headquarters Squadron and the 162nd, the 320th Service Group, and the 166th were Quarter Master Squadrons. In 1943, on April 15, a B17 Flying Fortress landed with the advanced party of the Air Echelon of the 351st Bomber Group. On board were Maj. Bowels and Maj. J. Milton, and Capt. Scott got assigned to the 94th Air Combat Wing. Also at Polebrook were the operational 508th, 509th, 510th, and 511th Triangle J.

In the month of April 1943, 40 B17 Bombers landed at RAF Polebrook, ten aircraft for each squadron. The ground crews and other personnel made the journey from New York to Britain aboard RMS Queen Elizabeth, then by train to Oundle Station, and then by truck to the airfield. For an overview of listed WW II airfields, see this page. 

On May 14, 1943, the 351st Squadron carried out its first raid to a German airfield near the Belgium city of Kortrijk. The 351st operated against German targets such as the ball-bearing plants at Schweinfurt, tank factories, bridges, armaments, oil refineries, and many other strategic targets in enemy-occupied territory. The 351st Squadron received a Distinguished Unit Citation. For the History of RAF North Weald, click here.

In 1944, RAF Polebrook became the Headquarters of the 49th Combat Wing which controlled the 351st squadron at Polebrook, the 457th Squadron at Glatton, and the 401st Squadron at Deenethorpe. The Unit flew 311 combat missions, lost 175 B17 Bombers, and the crews were credited in destroying 303 enemy aircraft.

In 1943, Maj. Clark Gable was stationed at RAF Polebrook to make an air gunnery film, called Combat America, to help train air gunners. He flew 5 missions over enemy territory and by the end of September 1943, Maj. Gables and his film crew had shot 59.000 ft of 16mm film. See also: The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Center in East Kirkby.

The 351st Squadron stayed at RAF Polebrook until the end of the hostilities and the unit returned to the United States soon after V Day. The air combat echelons left on May 31, 1945, and the ground echelons sailed on June 25 by the same way they had come.

There is a fitting memorial to all these brave young men who gave so much for our freedom in World War Two that is located at the far end of the runway of RAF Polebrook. Check out also this article about the North Weald Airfield Museum where volunteers work hard to keep the memory alive of all the brave servicemen and women who gave their lives to defend our values and freedom.