The 20th Fighter Group spent its whole time in the UK during World War Two based at Station 367: King's Cliffe. However the airfield had already seen nearly two years of operational flying by the time the 20th Fighter Group arrived. This is a short history of the airfield before and after the 20th Fighter Group's time.
Station 367 as it became started life as RAF King's Cliffe in 1939 when two officials visited the site and told the tenant farmer Percy Howard that the land had been earmarked for an airfield.
There had been a landing strip at King's Cliffe in the First World War but no trace of it remained and it is unlikely it was ever more than just an area set aside that aircraft could land on and possibly a few temporary structures.
The airfield was planned as a satellite station for nearby RAF Wittering which was in use as a night fighter station. Construction work started in July, 1940 and was carried out by the Wimpey Company. A perimeter track, three tarmac runways and a number of fighter pens were built ready for operational use along with associated living quarters and technical buildings. Facilities were still very rudimentary however. Personnel lived in wooden huts without washing facilities and in the winter the site was cold, exposed and very muddy!
The first Squadron to be based at RAF King's Cliffe was 266 Sqn. They flew their Spitfires in during October, 1941 and stayed until January, 1942. During this time 266 Sqn flew convoy patrols over the North Sea looking for Luftwaffe aircraft. On the 11th January, 1942 F/Lt. Allen-White was KIA after an engagement with an enemy aircraft.
The unit that replaced 266 Sqn was 616 Sqn of the Auxiliary Air Force. Again equipped with Spitfire VBs the squadron was commanded by Sqn Ldr. Colin Gray, a New Zealander, who at this point in the war had 19 confirmed victories and would go onto a final score of 27 enemy aircraft destroyed. Among the pilots of 616 Squadron was Johnnie Johnson who would end the war as the RAF's leading Ace with 38 victories. The squadron flew a number of fighter sweeps over occupied Europe. Two pilots were killed in action on 12th April, 1942 during an attack on Hazebrouk marshalling yards. Frenchman P/O. Lepel-Cointet and P/O. Strouts, a Canadian, both failing to return to base. In June, 1942 the squadron transferred onto the Spitfire VI, a special mark that was pressurised with extended wings and had been designed to intercept the Luftwaffe's high flying reconnaissance aircraft that were operating over Southern England with impunity. The pilots were not impressed with the new aircraft as the heating, designed to keep them warm at high altitude, made the aircraft unbearably hot whilst flying routine patrols. The squadron undertook a number of fighter sweeps over Europe with the new aircraft but lost a further pilot when P/O. Moore from Australia was killed over Le Tourquet on 3rd June, 1942. Shortly after this 616 Sqn were moved to West Malling in Kent from where they would take a more active role in the operations over the continent.
After 616 Squadron left in early July, 1942 they were quickly replaced by 485 (New Zealand) Squadron. The squadron were moved to King's Cliffe in order to be able to rest having been based in the south of England and having been heavily involved in offensive operations over the continent. Even whilst resting 485 Squadron was expected to take part in operations and three pilots were killed within a month of their arrival at RAF King's Cliffe. P/O. Harrison was shot down on the 22nd July, 1942 and Sgt. Langlands, a New Zealander, was lost to anti aircraft fire on the 2nd August, 1942. Another Kiwi pilot, Sgt. Vessey was killed the following day, the 3rd August, 1942, when he was shot down whilst attacking a train in Belgium. The squadron would leave RAF King's Cliffe in January, 1943 but not before losing another pilot. On a mission to Oosterschelde in Belgium Sgt. Norris, another New Zealander, was shot down by Luftwaffe fighters and killed.
It was in 1942 that the decision had been taken to allocate RAF King's Cliffe to the newly arrived US Eighth Army Air Force as a Fighter Group airfield. The airfield required a certain amount of improvement in order to be suitable for this purpose mainly due to the fact that an American Fighter Group was much larger than an RAF Squadron. In late 1942 work started on airfield. W&C French were contacted to extend two of the runways to allow heavier aircraft to use them. The perimeter track was extended and additional fighter dispersals were constructed. A whole new technical area was built with an enclosed Callendar Hamilton hangar to allow aircraft to undergo more involved maintenance. New living accommodation and other buildings were also added. This work would continue well into 1943.
It was whilst this work was being undertaken that the American 56th Fighter Group arrived. Freshly arrived from the USA they were not impressed by the standard of the airfield. This wasn't helped by the fact that they hadn't been allocated aircraft. Their Commanding Officer Hubert Zemke had the pilots practising their formation flying skills up and down the runways using bicycles. Whilst this may have appeared amusing to onlookers it certainly worked as the 56th Fighter Group would go on to score more aerial victories than any other Fighter Group in the Eighth Air Force. The Group soon acquired its P-47C Thunderbolts and used them to fly a number of training missions in the area as well as further afield to gunnery ranges where they could practise the skills they would soon need. As well at Zemke other notable pilots based at Station 367 as it was now known included Francis Gabreski and Robert Johnson who would end the war as the two highest scoring aces in the Eighth Air Force with 28 and 27 victories respectively. Having attained operational status the 56th Fighter Group were transferred to Horsham St Faith airfield near Norwich in April, 1943 and the airfield temporarily reverted to RAF control.
After a couple of months with no flying to allow the improvements to the airfield and its runways to be completed 91 Sqn arrived. This squadron stayed for less than two weeks. It used this time to transition from Spitfire Vbs onto the much more powerful Spitfire XII. The Luftwaffe was mounting a series of low level attacks on English coastal towns using fighters. These hit and run attacks were very hard to stop as flying low meant the Luftwaffe were able to avoid the British radar until the last minute. The Spitfire XII with its' powerful Griffon engine was designed to be fast at low level and the hope was it would be able to help disrupt these attacks. The Squadron was lead by Sqn Ldr. Raymond Harries, a Welshman, who would end the war with 15 confirmed victories against German aircraft and the destruction of a V1 Doodlebug as well. Their training complete 91 Sqn moved south to RAF Hawkinge in Kent on the 21st May, 1943. Two days later on the 25th May the squadron intercepted a Luftwaffe raid on Folkestone and shot down five of the elusive raiders. Sqn Ldr. Harries claimed two victories with the other three going to P/O. Davy, P/O. Round and F/O Maridor.
After 91 Squadron left the airfield was briefly used for pilot training by the RAFs' 7 (P) AFU who were based at RAF Westwood, Peterborough. They used King's Cliffe as a Relief Landing Ground. Aircraft would fly out to the airfield and conduct training flights before returning to RAF Westwood at the end of the day. This use ceased when the airfield again reverted to USAAF control. The 26th August, 1943 saw the arrival of the 20th Fighter Group. The airfield wasn't large enough, even with the improvements made earlier in the year, to accommodate all three squadrons due to the large size of the P-38 Lightning. Therefore the 55th Fighter Squadron was based at nearby RAF Wittering whilst the 77th and 79th Fighter Squadrons settled in at King's Cliffe. This changed in late May, 1944 when in the build up to D-Day it was decided to bring all three squadrons back together. With the transition from Lightning to the smaller P-51 Mustang in July, 1944 the space issue was solved and all three squadrons would remain based at Station 367 though to VE Day and on until October, 1945 when they returned to the USA.
The airfield reverted to RAF Control and parts of the site were used as a transit camp for German POWs returning to Europe from Canada until July, 1947 when it was placed into Care and Maintenance. The Air Ministry used the airfield to store bombs and ammunition through the 1950s and at one point it was designated as a storage location for the Thor intercontinental Ballistic Missile though there is no evidence that any of these missiles ever visited the airfield.
The airfield finally returned to civilian ownership in 1959 and in 1961 the runways, perimeter track and many of the buildings were broken up and used as hardcore for the A1 road improvements that were being undertaken nearby.
The Memorial at the airfield was planned during the early 1980s. It was dedicated to all the units that had been based at the airfield on 25th August, 1983 almost 40 years to the day since the arrival of the 20th Fighter Group.
Today the Control Tower still survives along with a number of Fighter Pens and other assorted buildings. Most are now very overgrown and slowly crumbling away. The Officer's Mess, the Dining Room and Theatre and Chapel building still survive on the Communal site and are used by small businesses.