B-26 Martin Marauders of the 391st Bomb Group (Medium) on their hardstands at Matching airfield. Photo courtesy of Dane Donato.
B-26 Martin Marauders of the 391st Bomb Group (Medium) on their hardstands at Matching airfield. Photo courtesy of Dane Donato.
Tech Sergeant Ralph Hobbs-391st Bomb Group.
Ryan Hobb's Grandfather was a Tech Sergeant, and flew with the 391st BG (M), as a Flight Engineer/Gunner, until late Spring, 1944. He then served as a Crew Chief when, finally, there were enough Flight Engineers available to crew the aircraft. Below is a series of Photographs taken at Matching, while he was stationed there during the Second World War.60 years on.
Martin Marauder B-26 "Ladybelle" on its hardstand, at Matching, with Ralph Hobbs. Note the "T2" type aircraft hangar that appears under construction in the background. This is the No 2 Hangar that was on the South Eastern side of the airfield near Stock Hall and was never actually finished.
Ryan Hobbs is Ralphs Grandson. He visited Matching airfield in 2004 and is pictured standing, more or less on the same spot
as Ralph was albeit sixty years on
Ralph Hobbs (third from left -back row) with other crew chiefs in front of the crew chiefs hut on Matching. These huts were made from discarded bomb packing cases (see the door!) and provided welcome shelter whilst out on the airfields dispersals.
'Mission 47" By Wally Humphrey, 391st BG
The pre-dinner crowd at the Officers Club was going through its daily routine of getting a few drinks put away before undertaking the usual monotonous army mess; I say monotonous because although the menu may vary, eating army chow is a habit and not a pleasure.There was the usual line at the bar, the Ping-pong tables were in full play, someone was banging out a tune on the piano in competition with the radio and about various tables were gathered the different Squadrons of the Group; just talking shop or deep in idle gossip, with an array of half-filled beer bottles and glasses in hand or on the table. At precisely five minutes to six, just five minutes before the mess hall would open, the telephone rang, the bartender answered and called for Capt. Cunningham, one of the Group intelligence Officers; seconds later he called for attention and announced that all alerted crews were to report to briefing room immediately, without eating.Well, like the Armys universal "hurry up and wait," it was after 1900 before briefing started, and quite naturally everyone did his share of bitching at the ways of the Group and Bomber Command.
Our target was behind the enemy lines at a troop concentration point, and the route in and out was shown on the Velopticon, which projects pictures and maps on a screen; soft whistles and moans came from crew members, it definitely was a hot spot. Engines would be starting at 2021, the second box off first, join up would be over the field at 2055, with all planes in formation and climbing on course. Briefing over, everyone gathered his parachute, "Mae West", steel helmet, spare chunks of armor plate, and headed out for the six-by-six trucks that distribute the crews to the various hardstands.
We were scheduled to fly "Pinks Lady" out on her 81st Combat mission without an abortion; seems our ship had developed mag drop and needed a new set of plugs in the engine. A tribute here to the ground crews is justified, for during our five months of overseas operation we have had only two single-engine take-offs; both of resulted in crash landings. But here too the B-26 comes in for its share of glory, for in none of the crash landings so far have we lost a single crew member; some have been injured true, but they all have managed to live for another day. 2021, and engines come to life all over the field, to be warmed up and flight checked. Ten minutes later they taxi out, each one falling into his place on the perimeter, till they are lined up one being behind the other on both sides of runway 21 (210 degree takeoff); there they sway softly on tricycle landing gears, not unlike some animated creation of man eager to spring into life and the calling vastness of the sky above.
At 2036 the lead ships engines roar and the plane leaps forward, gathering speed with every passing yard of the runway. About 300 yards go by before the pilot pulls the nose wheel off at 90 or more miles per hour, slowly the airs speed indicator climbs towards 150, the plane becomes airborne; seconds later the end of the runway flashes by and four feet in the air the copilot lifts the wheels and divides his attention between the flight instruments and the view on his side of the cockpit.
However, England is showing some of its best weather and visibility is unlimited in all directions, although some clouds are building in the West and to the South, well, that would be right for the weather man had briefed us for clouds over the channel and from .4 to .6 tenth Cumulus over the target with bases at 4,000 and tops at 9,000.Westward we climb on course, directly into the setting sun. Jeff had borrowed my sun glasses in anticipation of its glare; you see, the copilot is a sort of second brain trust, his glasses and cigarettes must always be on hand and never, never must he forget matches or a lighter.
The formation comes within view of the moors and hills of South Central England, then swings southward still climbing in a slow easy angle or rate of climb; too rapid a rate will cause the slower ships to pull high manifold pressure and r.p.m., thereby burning a terrific amount of gas. Some 8,000 below the English coast passes underneath, clouds have now built up and the outside temperature is zero degrees Centigrade; so that we dodge and weave about them as much as possible, still we collect some ice, and the pitot-heaters have to be turned on.
Out over mid-channel the weather truly dominates the scene, showers are over on the left of us, and no less than three separate layers of clouds fill the sky; some being flat rain-filled Nimbo-Cumulus and others towering snow-white Cumulus, that catch the rays of the setting sun in breathless beauty. Then true to Lt. Henrys prediction the clouds began to break out of their solid effect and between the openings we catch glimpses of the murky Seine Bay and the distant coast of the Cherbourg Peninsula; darkness is setting in pretty fast now and the closer we approach land the clearer becomes the details of battle.
A dull red flash leaps from one of the hundreds of plots on the bay below, then a similar flash from a companion ship. Hell, it must be warships or cruisers giving their supporting fire to the armies on land; sure enough, see those clustered pin-point flashes inland, just like the winking of distant stars. Look at the cloud of flak over Caen and St. Lo, hundreds of bursts and just dark enough to see their orange bursts; those Lancasters and Halifaxes that were ahead of us coming across the channel must be catching it, gad, I hope the dive bombers and fighters are spoiling the tracking of those Jerry Ack-Ack gunners. Weve lost track of the first box coming through the cloudy channel, and our box does a 360-degree turn to gain more altitude and make landfall at the correct place. Damn, its dark, how in the world are we going to find our target in this mess? Now we can see the irregular line of artillery fire, coming from both sides at that, sure am glad Im in the Air Corps. Oh! Oh! Look at the flak low and to our right.
Guess they are trying to scare us away from some vital target; no, they are shooting at a box of Marauders lower than us and heading towards the channel and safety. They sweep under us at a terrific speed. Look at the concentrated pattern of their bursting bombs just made; something down there no longer exists. "Bomb-bays open" comes over the interphone. Must be we are hitting a target of opportunity due to darkness spoiling visibility over the primary. "Bombs away, bomb-bays closed" and we bank off the target in a steep turn and take evasive action clear to the coast. Well, that was an easy one, very little flak and we dropped on the first run; and with good results. We plow back towards our base letting down gradually all the way. The B-26 can really travel with the nose slightly down and bombs away.
Twilight has given way to almost complete darkness and at mid-channel we turn on our navigational lights, feeling certain that we are safe from enemy fighters. Back over the field we peel off by flights and land, each ship coming in at about 20 second intervals, the same as for takeoff. Safely down we taxi to our hardstands, where the crew chiefs hand-signal us to our parking position, then we unload and wait for the trucks to carry us into the crew room for debriefing; meanwhile watching planes landing on the runway nearby, gad, they come in at a terrific speed, so it seems on the ground.Debriefed, we get our two shots of Scotch and head for the mess hall, plenty hungry and most of us well tired out. Chow for a change goes down very well and a quiet comfortable feeling settles over you; but the usual second cigarette and second cup of coffee is dismissed, for we are alerted tomorrow and the best we can expect four hours sleep. Back to our huts, some take time out to wash up, while others hit the sack as soon as they can strip off their clothes; but little matter, lights are soon turned off and heavy breathing fills the room. Another mission completed and a step closer to home.
Note: Written July 8th 1944 regarding a mission flown on the evening of July 7 1944. It was Wally Humphrey's 47th mission. Wally Humphrey was with the 573rd Squadron. The mission in this story was the marshalling yards at Lisieux, France. Eight, 500-lb. bombs, were dropped on the target from his aircraft.
The loss of Short Stirling PW 391.
My father "Pops" W. John Howes, volunteered for the RAF in July 1940 at the age of 18. Following his training in Marlow and a lot of square bashing he was selected for Arnold Scheme pilot training in October 1941. He arrived at Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada in the winter of 1941 crossing the Atlantic on the 'Pasteur'. He gained both RAF and American pilots wings in August 1942 and did not return to Britain until July 1943 when he was already trained as an Instructor and had been training USAAF pilots. He returned as Flying Officer and married his fiancé Anne, one week after arriving back in the UK, they had been apart for 20 long months. Here are details of his service life:
RAF Regiment August and September 1943 at RAF Sidmouth
29/9/43 at No 6 ( Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit 23 Group; Little Rissington, near Cheltenham in Gloucester.
7/3/44-28/7/44 DGp/FTC/4462/44/4042 OTU Ashbourne
28/7/44 38GP/1209/44 ORTU Hampstead Norris Operational and refresher Training Units, Oxfordshire.(Harwell Sattelite)
9/9/44 ORTU Operations Nickel raid Samson harbour Guernsey.
DGp/FC/9255/44 23 HGCU October 44 Seighford, Shropshire Glider Conversion Unit Glider Conversion Units at Peplow (Sat)
Crew Taffy, Ken, Fred, Mac + Brand new Stirling aircraft
December 44 Posted to Tilstock 38 Gp 2379/44.
Now 'Pops’ is Senior Pilot. A promise from Sq/Leader Watts that he will get promotion to Fl/Commander after 1400 hours flying. He takes over from Fl/Com George Sharpe.
His Daughter Kathleen was born on the 19/02/45, John is on 10 days leave from 19-28th February so the crew miss postings to the new Squadron.
03/03/45 FINAL Posting 38Gp/675/40 ORTU Matching Essex. 24/03/45 Operation "Varsity " Glider tug to eastern Rhine Crossing. (Further details available)
Fatal Accident 29/03/45 Mark IV Stirling PW 391 Official version Non operational flight .
29/03 /45 Flying Accident 14.55 hours Thorney, Northants.
Crew (Pops) Fl/Lt W John Howes
Mac Fl/Sgt R.H.MacAlpine
Taffy Fl/Sgt F .W Rees
Fred Fl/Sgt. F.C Aldersley,
P/O Ken R Inger, Sgt Ken Slee, Cpl J Hardy passenger.
They were on a check flight when a Miles Master Piloted by Cpl (Free French,) Phillippe de Bienkkewicz out of Peterborough, collided with the Stirling cutting off the tail. Both planes burst into flames and crashed, all of the crew in both aircraft were killed. The Place of death is recorded as Whittelsey. Court of Inquiry report not available. John had completed 1466 hours flying. "
Another version of the crash is as follows,
"The crew & Aircraft are reported to have been dropping supplies to troops on the Eastern Rhine, the radio malfunctioned and they returned to base for repairs. Following repair a test flight was carried out to check out the radio over Peterborough. The Stirling was returning to base when a solo trainer aircraft flew out of a cloud and crashed into the Stirling, killing the crew of seven in the Stirling and the solo Pilot of the Magister Cpl.R.de Bienkiewicz.
From Bombers to Bee Orchids, Matching airfield © by Paul Hewitt.
Matching Airfield is one of my favourite sites in the District. There can be no prettier sight than in mid June when the 100s of Common Spotted Orchids and Oxeye Daisy are in flower. Countrycare has been involved with the site since 1993 and I thought it would be interesting to set out the chequered history as I understand it. I apologise in advance for any inaccuracies and I would very much welcome any comments people may have or any more information about this wonderful site.
I start the story on the 20th August 1942, when this peaceful corner of the District would be change forever. For it was on this day nearly 60 years ago to the day, that the 834th Engineer Aviation Battalion began creating a bomber airfield on farmland and woodland to the east of Matching Green. Complete with runways, access tracks, hangars, a hospital and 350 ancillary buildings, enough concrete was laid at Matching to create a 45-mile long dual carriageway!
The initial clearance works for the airfield were destructive. Pottins Farm and the Kicking Dickey Pub were demolished as was 94 acres of Brickles Wood, an area of ancient woodland that was cleared to make way for access tracks and the bomb dump.
The airfield took 14 months to complete and the records show it involved a staggering 1.5 million man-hours. By December 1943, 4 squadrons of the 391st Bombardment Group, flying B-26 Marauders arrived at Matching having flown 10,000 miles around the world from Kentucky, USA. By the beginning of February 1944, the 391st was operational. The main thrust their operations were the weakening of enemy defences prior to the D-Day landings. Their targets concentrated on transport and communications links as well as coastal defences, submarine pens and rocket sites.
In October 1944, after only 9 months, the 391st left Matching to support the invasion force in France. Here their operations continued until October 1945, by which time the 4 squadrons had flown a total over 10,000 sorties. As in all war there was a human cost. Some 219 airmen were killed or missing in action and 61 were wounded. A total of 43 planes were lost.
After the war, the majority of the land was reverted to back to farmland. Much given back to the Rowe family who still farm the land today. However, many of the old buildings and track ways remained including the old control tower.
In the early 1980s many of these old building were being used for storage and became the subject of 2 public enquiries in 1981 and 1982 regarding the sites future use. The decision of the Secretary of State was that the site should be cleared of all buildings. By 1986, much of this work had been undertaken. The large aircraft hanger (presumably lovingly dismantled piece by piece) was then rebuilt at North Weald Airfield. Today only a few buildings remain around Rookwood Hall and the old control tower that still stands looking out over the former runway that is now arable fields.
Once the site had been cleared, it soon became obvious that the crushed concrete had provided ideal lime rich conditions for the colonisation of many unusual and uncommon wildflowers. It well have been that these flowers existed before the airfield and had hung on in undisturbed areas ready to recolonise? In 1987, the Abbess & White Roding Conservation Society contacted the then Essex Naturalist Trust and surveys of the site were subsequently undertaken. In 1991 recognition of the sites nature conservation value was acknowledged with the designation of the site as a County Wildlife Site.
By 1993, it was becoming clear that the once clear area was slowly being encroached by scrub and Countrycare was asked to step in by the Abbess & White Roding Conservation Society. By the spring of 1994, Countrycare had managed to track down the landowner, met with him and obtained permission to undertake conservation work on the site.
The first conservation projects began in the September and October 1994 and a management plan was subsequently written in 1996. Since that time Countrycare has organised a regular programme of scrub bashing and hay cutting tasks that have been vital to maintain the open grassy areas in which orchids and other wildflowers thrive.
A survey by Annette Ford in the summer of 1999 recorded over 160 species of trees, grasses and wild flowers and included in the plant list were 3 different types of Orchid. These were the Common Spotted and Bee Orchids that exists in their 100s and a small colony of Pyramidal Orchids that has been slowly increasing over recent years. Other notable wildflowers included Wild Basil, Red Bartsia and Common Restharrow.
It seems to me that this special wildlife sites exists as a fitting tribute to all the young Americans who fought and died from that airbase all those years ago. With the continued support of our volunteers we can hopefully continue to look after this unique site.