Nuthampstead Airfield Museum

History of the Nuthampstead Airfield

Nuthampstead was commissioned by the USAAF in 1942, to the standard bomber field specification, with a completion date of 1st April 1943. The airfield itself was built on Scales Park, which was land owned by Baron Dimsdale, with the majority of the camp situated to the west, in and around Nuthampstead village.  Local people remember the Americans felling the forest using chains drawn between 2 bulldozers, and the ground being 'levelled overnight'.

Construction was undertaken by the 814th and 830th US Engineer (Aviation) Battalions, with the 1st Battalion of the 346th Engineer Regiment assisting in the final stages.  The base was handed over, whilst still under construction, to the USAAF in August 1942. Official dedication ceremonies were held on 17th June 1943, when the base was formally named Station 131.  It was estimated at the time, that approximately 3,000,000 square feet of concrete was used to construct the 6,107 feet main runway, two 4,200 feet runways, plus 54,000 feet of taxiing space.

 Although built to host Bomb Groups, the first inhabitants were members of the 55th Fighter Group, who arrived on 16th September 1943. The 55th were equipped with the P-38 Lightning fighter and have the distinction of being the first USAAF aircraft over Berlin on 3rd March 1944. Shortly after midnight on 19th February 1944, Station 131 was attacked by bombers of the Luftwaffe.  The air base was a target of opportunity. One 25 kg. bomb, (550 pounds), exploded on a corner of the field, leaving a large crater.  Several small incendiary bombs were dropped too, all without casualties or damage.

The 55th's last operation from Nuthampstead was on 15th April 1944, and by mid April had moved to their new base at Wormingford. On the 22nd of April the 398th Bomb Group arrived with their distinctive all-silver finished, B-17Gs.

The 398th flew it's first combat mission on 6th May and completed a total of 195 missions during the next 12 months. The group completed its final operation on 25th April 1945 when the Skoda plant at Pilsen in Czechoslovakia was attacked.Whilst the 398th were at Nuthampstead, the famous Glenn Miller Orchestra visited on 2nd October 1944 and played to the servicemen and women from one of the T2 hangers on the airfield.

Towards the end of May 1945 the B-17 crews left to fly back to the States and the ground crews left Nuthampstead on 22nd June.

The airfield was then transferred from the USAAF to the RAF Maintenance Command on 10th July and was used as an ordnance store until 30 October 1954. The airfield finally closed on 1st March 1959.

The airfield then reverted to farm land and approximately seven-eighths of the total widths of the runways and perimeter tracks were broken up the St. Ives Sand and Gravel Company and used as hardcore for the M1 motorway.

A small strip of grassed  runway was built by a group of local business people, alongside the northern edge of the main runway.  On 7th March 1969, a light aircraft G-ARAI, a Piper PA-22 crash-landed at Nuthampstead.   The airfield was used in the 1980's by the local Air Training Corp.(ATC), who organised a number of 'Fly-ins'.   These days were particularly successful, as the ATC arranged their fly-in days on the same days as Duxford Airshows and were particularly adept at persuading aircraft to re-route after displaying at the Imperial War Museum.

The grass runway is still active today.

The forestry commission planted conifers on the site of the bomb-store, but Scales Park is now being returned to it's original format, of native forest, by the owner, Robert Dimsdale.

The airfield is also now home to a VOR radio navigation ground station, for London Heathrow and Stansted airports, and the technical buildings are occupied by local businesses. For a short time, the western tip of the East-West runway was used as a go-kart track, although now it is used for storage by a local farm. Most visitors of Nuthampstead today, are those associated with gun sports, as the Northern edge of the site now houses a nationally recognised shooting ground.