RAF Burtonwood

Keep ’em flying

RAF Burtonwood looks at some of the history of this important air base in northwest Warrington.

Some information from Wikipedia

RAF Burtonwood was a Royal Air Force base in England, 2 miles (3.2 km) northwest of Warrington in Lancashire. During World War II and the Cold War it was used by the United States Air Force and United States Army.

It was also known as USAAF Station 590. Burtonwood airfield was opened on 1 April 1940 as a servicing and storage centre for the modification of British aircraft. It was operated by the RAF No. 37 Maintenance Unit until June 1942.

Burtonwood Airfield, 1945.
(Imaged under Creative Commons licencing)

The Fairey Aviation Company Limited, a British aircraft manufacturer, founded in 1915, with bases in Hayes in Greater London and Heaton Chapel and RAF Ringway in Greater Manchester, was appointed the parent company of the Burtonwood Repair Depot (BRD) in September 1940, and Mary Anne Site was developed for the BRD.

Altogether, there were three control towers on the base over the years. Burtonwood Road, which takes you over the modern junction 8 on the M62 motorway, is the modern name – it was originally called Cow Lane.

There used to be a pub called the Limerick on that road, owned by the local Burtonwood Brewery, but it was eventually demolished to make way for an extension to the runways.

Despite reconnaissance flights over the base by the Germans, the site was only bombed on two occasions, with little damage. Most of the bomb damage was aimed at the larger cities of Liverpool and Manchester. Also, Burtonwood was laid out in such a way that if one section was bombed, work could continue in another area.


The facility was transferred to the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) on 11 June 1942 to become a servicing centre for the United States Eighth, Ninth, Twelfth and Fifteenth Air Forces aircraft. Burtonwood was also known as Base Air Depot 1 (BAD 1), although an RAF presence continued until 21 October 1943, when the base was officially handed over to the Americans.

Burtonwood was the largest airfield in Europe during the war with the most USAAF personnel and aircraft maintenance facilities. The roar of the engines in the test beds could be heard for miles around, especially at night. By the end of the war 18,000 servicemen were stationed at Burtonwood. Some of the serviceman were based at Canada Hall, an accommodation block on the site of the current University of Chester campus at Fearnhead, and at Bruche Hall, both in east Warrington. They were sent over there because their accommodation blocks at Burtonwood were not ready in time, and were transported to and from Burtonwood in trucks.

Famous visitors to the site include Generals Eisenhower and Patton. Of course it wasn’t all work at the base. Many famous entertainers flew in to entertain the troops. These include Glenn Miller and his band, Bing Crosby in 1944 and Bob Hope in 1948. Jimmy Cagney entertained, as did the British film star Jean Simmons, who visited on 15 December 1948. Nat ‘King’ Cole performed in about 1953. Spanish-born model and actress Jinx Falkenberg (21 January 1919 – 27 August 2003) also visited the base on 29 December 1948. Baseball was played often – did they give us the game of rounders or did they pinch it from us and call it baseball? I believe it is the latter (dating to 1744), but I do remember at junior school getting somebody out with a direct throw to one of the posts from about 20 feet away. The teacher was amazed too! Other visitors to RAF Burtonwood included Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery “Monty” in October 1950, the Duke of Edinburgh in March 1953, who appeared in front of 10,000 servicemen, and evangelist Billy Graham catered for the spiritual needs on 11 May 1954.

The Germans surrendered on 8 May 1945 and the country celebrated. But the work of Burtonwood was not over.

Postwar USAF use

With the end of hostilities, control of Burtonwood was returned to the RAF in June 1946, becoming an equipment depot operated by No. 276 Maintenance Unit.

In November 1946 six B-29 Superfortress bombers from the USAAF Strategic Air Command 43d Bombardment Group were sent to Burtonwood, and from there to various bases in West Germany as a “training deployment”. In May 1947 additional B-29s were sent to Burtonwood to keep up the presence of a training program.

These deployments were only a cover-up, as the true aim of these B-29s was to have a strategic air force permanently stationed in Europe. The American presence continued with an echelon of United States Air Force personnel using the facility as a maintenance base for C-54 Skymasters used during the Berlin Airlift.

Airfield control tower and MATS  Facility 1954. MATS was the Military Air Transport Service. (Imaged under Creative Commons licencing)

Burtonwood played an important part in the airlift and the base was handed back to the Americans in September 1948. The Berlin Blockade, also known as the “German hold-up” (24 June 1948 – 11 May 1949) was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War, which started between America and Russia in 1948 and lasted until 1980.

During the multinational occupation of post-World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western force’s railway and road access to the western sectors of Berlin, which they had been controlling. Their aim was to force the western powers to allow the Soviet controlled regions to start supplying Berlin with food and fuel, thereby giving them nominal control over the entire city.

Berliners watching a C-54 land
at Templehof Airport, 1948.
(Imaged under Creative Commons licencing)

In response, the Western Allies formed the Berlin Airlift to bring supplies to the people of Berlin. The airlift to supply the German 6th Army at Stalingrad required 300 tons of food per day and rarely came even close to delivering this; the Berlin effort would require at least 4,000 tons a day, well over thirteen times as much. In spite of this, by the spring of 1949 the effort was clearly succeeding, and by April the airlift was delivering more cargo than had previously flowed into the city via rail.

The success of the Airlift was humiliating to the Soviets, who had repeatedly claimed it could never possibly work. When it became clear that it did work, the blockade was lifted in May. One lasting legacy of the Airlift are the three airports in the former western zones of the city, which served as the primary gateways to Berlin for another fifty years.

The next four photos are Copyright © Peter Spilsbury and were taken by him on his visit to the base in 1956. See more in Peter’s Gallery.

The Boeing WB-29 Superfortress was a strategic bomber which had its maiden flight on 21 September 1942. There were 3,900 built at a cost of $639,188 each. They were the type which dropped the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Power was provided by Pratt & Whitney R-4360 ‘Wasp Major’ engines. A crew of 11 were on board (pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, bombardier, navigator, radio operator, radar observer, 2 CFC Blister gunners, CFC upper gunner and tail gunner). Its length was 99 ft and had a wing span of 141 ft 3in. Maximum speed was 357 mph.

North American F-100F Super Sabre FW898 was a fighter which first flew on 7 March 1957 with one Pratt & Whitney J57-P-21A (A/B 17,000Lb) engine. Its maximum speed was 871 mph. It had a wing span of 38 ft 10in and a length of 52 ft 3in. Major Robinson Risner established a record when he flew a North American F-100F Super Sabre “Spirit of St. Louis II” across the Atlantic to Paris on 21 May 1957 over the same route used by Charles Lindbergh 30 years prior.

Boeing WB-50D Superfortress 49-302 of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. It was 99 feet long and had a wing span of 141 ft 3 in. They were housed in the C type hangar of Mary Ann Site between 1953 and 1959. They would average 2,700 miles each day taking weather readings with a ten man crew. It was powered by four Pratt & Whitney R-4360-35 engines. The maximum speed was 395 mph with a cruising speed of 277 mph.

Republic F-84F Thunderstreak 210110 was a fighter/bomber. It had a top speed of 720mph and a combat range of 850 miles. It could carry a load of 6,000lb and was armed with M-3 machine guns. The maiden flight was 28 February 1946 and 7,524 were built.

Back the Burtonwood story. On 7 November 1953 the USAF 53d Weather Reconnaissance Squadron began operating from the base, flying initially the WB-29 then WB-50D Superfortress (examples pictured above), having been transferred from Kindley Field, Bermuda. The squadron was assigned to collecting weather data that was transmitted to weather stations for use in preparing forecasts required for the Air Force Military Air Transport Service (MATS) and the U.S. Weather Bureau.

The squadron was transferred to RAF Alconbury in Cambridgeshire on 26 April 1959. MATS also used Burtonwood as a cargo and passenger transport facility until 1958, when its operations were moved to RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.

During the 1950s, European-based USAF aircraft were overhauled or modified at Burtonwood, including Republic F-84 Thunderjets, Thunderstreaks and North American F-86 Sabres.

A small village was built, with its own school and shop, to house the many US servicemen. The buildings were known as “Tobacco Houses”, because the lease for the land was paid with American tobacco.

Major USAF use of Burtonwood ended in April 1959 when the flightline was closed, although some use of the runway was made by gliders of the RAF Air Training Corps. The USAF returned the station to the Ministry of Defence in 1965.

United States Army

US forces returned to Burtonwood in 1967 when France withdrew its military support for NATO. Burtonwood was used as a receiving depot for USAF and US Army equipment and supplies being withdrawn from their former French NATO facilities. Afterwards, the US Army took over the base and renamed it Burtonwood Army Depot.

The Army developed Burtonwood into a storage and forward supply depot operated by the 47th Support Group. The main warehouse was described as the largest building under a single roof in Europe. The idea was that in the event of an emergency, US troops in the USA that were earmarked for NATO service in Europe would fly over and pick up their kit from Burtonwood before going on to the battle front.

It was never tested for this eventuality, although the base provided service functions for the 1991 Gulf War.

With the end of the Cold War, Burtonwood Army Depot was declared excess to NATO requirements and was officially closed in June 1994. One questioned that was always asked of Burtonwood was whether or not nuclear weapons were ever stored there.

Civilians, of course, would never be given the answer to that one, but now that the Cold war is a thing of the past, I don’t suppose it really matter anymore. Most of the buildings on the base were torn down by the year 2000, leaving it free for alternative uses.

Civil Use

In the late 1950s, it was suggested that Burtonwood would be a better site for a regional airport than either of the sites now occupied by Liverpool John Lennon Airport or Manchester (Ringway) Airport. However, subsidence caused by coal mining, plus civic pride, prevented action being taken on the proposal.

The M62 motorway bisects the airfield in an east-west direction over the former main runway. Prior to the construction of junction 8, the last part of this runway was still visible, but is now covered by the new junction. Part of the airfield is also occupied by the motorway Welcome Break Burtonwood service station.

All the buildings apart from a few aircraft hangars and old storage bunkers on the north side of the M62 have been demolished. The remainder were scheduled for demolition during 2008 (see later). Some of the World War II aircraft hardstands, part of the old airfield perimeter track, and the northwest end of a secondary runway exist.

View westbound at the site of M62 J8, showing the last remaining part of the Burtonwood main runway before construction of the junction.

*Image from Wikipedia. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNU Free Documentation license“.

The area south of the M62 has been cleared of all structures and almost all concreted areas, to make way for the Omega commercial development and the building of a new urban village called Chapelford, which is now partly occupied.

My dad tells me that when he lived in Longford he could hear the engines being tested at the base from his home. The Dallam estate did not exist when my dad was a youngster, so there was nothing to cushion the noise, which was deafening, he recalls. Having said that, the noise could, in fact, be heard all over the town.

635 Volunteer Gliding School

Based on information supplied by Deputy Flt Lt Peter McLachlan (6 Sep 2010).

635 Volunteer Gliding School (later designated as Squadron) was formed in November 1959 and remained at Burtonwood until 1984 when the runways were removed.

It was stationed at RAF Burtonwood upon deactivation of the airfield by the United States Air Force. The Commanding Officer at Burtonwood was Flt Lt Bryan H Trunkfield, with deputy Flt Lt Peter McLachlan later to become Officer Commanding with the rank of Squadron Leader.

The squadron carried out more sorties than all the RAF and United States Air Force put together, although they gained very little recognition for this record.

The young people of Warrington have much to thank the 635 squadron for – taking command of one of Her Majesty’s aircraft at the age of sixteen (two years before the legal age of driving) was a responsibility that many would envy. The Nurses at Warrington General hospital, Warrington Infirmary and St Helens hospital attended many parties at the Gliding School, with happy memories all round.

The squadron remained at Burtonwood for 25 years before being transferred to BAE Samlesbury, where it was operational for a further 24 years before being reformed at RAF Topcliffe in North Yorkshire, where it remains today. The BBC featured the Gliding School on Look North with Martin Henfield and Stewart Hall.

In February 2010, former Commanding Officer Bryan Trunkfield gave an illustrated talk about his time at Burtonwood. He was also deputy director of Liverpool (Speke) Airport and was accompanied on the night by two former gliding instructors, one of whom was Civil Chief Engineer at RAF Burtonwood.  Bryan was joined by Peter McLachlan who was Commanding Officer after Bryan, and also the Senior Engineer at RAF Burtonwood from the 1960s to the 1980s.

One of the gliders used at Burtonwood (from start to finish), Sedbergh XN185, is still in RAF hands. The proposal is to have it refurbished and placed in the RAF Museum at Hendon (a fund has been set up to achieve this).

2301 (Heywood) Squadron East Lancs Wing

Following on from this, I was sent the following photos from Kevin Hughes who was part of the 2301 (Heywood) Squadron East Lancs Wing, has supplied the following photographs of his gliding course training at RAF Burtonwood on 21 June 1983.

Kevin and FL LT Legget, who was the chief flying instructor just after his solo flight. The aircraft is a Kirby Cadet MK3.

Another Kirby Cadet MK3

A Kirby Cadet MK3. This was same day but in the morning.

A Slingsby Sedbergh T21 side by side glider.

The Air Training Corps (ATC) is voluntary youth group which is part of the Air Cadet Organisation of the Royal Air Force. The ATC is divided into six regions, 36 wings and more than 900 squadrons within communities around the UK. Many thanks, Kevin, for your contribution. For more information on the Air Cadets, see the official website www.raf.mod.uk/aircadets.

The following photos were supplied by Dave Eaton in 2012 for use on mywarrington.

They were taken by him around 1962 from the top of the Lamont high pressure hot water boiler house building used to supply the Header House site.

Burtonwood Road was known as Cow Lane when the Americans first came to take over the RAF site in the early 1940s. 

The housing for families of the USAF servicemen. You can also see the railway line, which linked to the Cheshire Lines Railway.

The Header House (photos above) was the largest warehouse site in Europe at the time. It was used to store everything from Jeeps, trucks, bulldozers, field hospitals, Bailey bridges and tools, etc.

The Hangars

Towards the end of 2008 I was sent a series of photos by T Eyres. The descriptions here are his. All photos in this section Copyright © T Eyres. Many thanks for your work.

Always being interested in local history, I recently found out that the five remaining Hangars, which are the last remnants of the RAF/USAF base at Burtonwood, will be demolished imminently, one of these still contain murals of squadron insignia and a B17 Flying Fortress left by the us servicemen that populated the base in wartime. Burtonwood wasn’t an operational base as such but they assembled, refurbished and scrapped thousands of all types of aircraft; B17’s by the shedload in particular. Any trip to Liverpool on the M62 will take you past these monsters (the motorway is laid more or less along the main runway). Virtually nothing remains to the south of the M62 considering that it was the largest US base in Europe. Anyway I decided to give the site the last rights. Incidentally all the perimeter taxiways are all still there and if you look on Google earth, it will be apparent.

This is one of the hangars at A Site seen in October 2008.

Here are a couple more views of the J type hangars on A site (above). Note the demolition crew is on site.

Here are a couple of views of the three hangars at E site which are well different from the other two, as the curved bombproof roof goes all the way down to the floor. It was a bit spooky at this end of the airfield, not a soul about and I found an old air raid shelter – no way was I going in! The other view gives the proximity of the A site hangars in the distance, also junction 8 of the M62 to the far right.

I dug out a couple of old slides from pre 1988 to show the Control Tower and Hangars before Mr Fred Dibnah flattened them on 17 April 1988. This side of the airfield was massive and went on for miles, it’s southern boundary being the CLC route to Liverpool [see Making Tracks 2 for more]

The low buildings at the front were the arrival lounge. The pile of rubble in front is the remains of the demolished WW2 control tower. The wider view (above, right) is just to show the westbound carriageway of the M62. History lesson over. Well nearly…

One last thing – I nipped down the M62 to J8 on 10 November 2008 to see if the hangars have been demolished, but hoping that they hadn’t – no such luck, and by the looks of things there will be nothing left by the weekend. The site of the other three hangars can now be seen in the distance and only one is still intact by the looks of it. RIP.

RAF Burtonwood Association

The RAF Burtonwood Association Heritage Centre was set up in 1987 to maintain the records and history of the Base and to commemorate the work of the hundreds of men and women who served their country at Burtonwood Air base from 1940 to 1993.

Many thanks to the Burtonwood Association for allowing the use of the 1956 aerial photograph on this website.

Link to the website www.rafburtonwoodbase.org.

Gulliver’s World in Westbrook are hosts to the Burtonwood Association Heritage Centre.

The Heritage Centre is open
Wednesday to Sunday 10.30am to 5pm.

If any one wants to have a private viewing then they
can arrange this by contacting the Museum Manager Roy at thorpeap@aol.com.

There is another website (unconnected to RAF Burtonwood Association) which keeps the memory of RAF Burtonwood alive. Link to it at www.rafburtonwood.org. It includes photos and stories about RAF Burtonwood, RAF Croft and RNAS Stretton (Blackcap).

Barratt Homes Jubilee Photographic Exhibition 30 May 2012

On 30 May 2012 Barratt Homes presented a Jubilee Photographic Exhibition at their show house at The Boulevard development in Chapelford Village to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and to remember the legacy of RAF Burtonwood, on which Chapelford village and The Boulevard is built. I was invited to the launch of the exhibition where I had a chance to meet other guests.

I would like to thank them for that invite and to pay tribute to all the forces staff and colleagues who gave their service to RAF Burtonwood from 1940-1993. I would also like to thank ww2events.co.uk for permission to use two of their photos taken on the day, which have been added to my own.

Brochure and banner. 30 photos were on display. Among celebrities to visit RAF Burtonwood during and after World War II were Bob Hope, Joe loss, Vera Lynn, Marilyn Maxwell and Glen Miller. These visits were massive morale boosters for the forces colleagues who were performing vital tasks to protect the country during one of the most difficult times the world has ever faced.

Group photo of invited guests, including the Deputy Mayor and Barratt Homes representatives. I am second from the right.
Photo courtesy of ww2events.co.uk

The collection of photos on display, provided courtesy of Stephen Davies, David Eaton and Burtonwood Association. Photo courtesy of ww2events.co.uk

A close up of a WW2 American Ford (GPW) Jeep and military personnel, which gave a feel of being at RAF Burtonwood, if only for one day! I had a good idea of how big RAF Burtonwood was, but it is only when you view the map, below, that you can fully appreciate just how big the site was.

A plan of RAF Burtonwood superimposed over a Google Earth aerial map. I have marked a couple of things for reference.

View of
The Boulevard,
Great Sankey,
WA5 8HL.

For information visit


RAF Burtonwood – The Legacy

Burtonwood Air base was massive – there were about 18 miles of surface roadway, over 4½ miles of railway track, 13 hangars, 16 miles of fencing covering 1,471 acres, and nearly 4 million square feet of aircraft parking facilities. Around 6,000 United States personnel were stationed at RAF Burtonwood in its lifetime. Towards the end of its life there was discussion as to what to do with the land. Some said it should be used as a peace-time airport, but Manchester Ringway and eventually Liverpool airports were given higher

precedence. So what about the land for the future? Well, already the site is occupied with new industrial and residential developments, with more to come. Chapelford Urban Village has already been mentioned and now partially occupied. Many of the road names in Chapelford are named in memory of the base – California Drive and Dakota Park, for instance. And Mary Ann Meadows near Westbrook is a wooded area named in memory of the main repair depot, Mary Ann Site.

Then there is the Omega development, a 30-year plan to redevelop the site even further with employment opportunities. The entire Omega scheme is set to provide 3.1 million sq ft (287,998 sq m) of office and business space across two sites, separated by the M62 Motorway, with access via junction 8. Omega North (industrial/logistics), is expected to be the first area to be developed from 2008 as part of the £1.25 billion Omega project being built over the next 25 to 30 years on the 233 ha (575 acre) Burtonwood Air Base site.

The photos below show the Omega site on 26 August 2003 (photos Copyright © GI Gandy, mywarrington.org).

But the biggest talking point and the most controversial was the announcement by the government about the possibility of building a Titan prison on part of the site. A Titan prison is a supersize prison which is designed to tackle overcrowding in jails. Warrington was being considered as one site for the three proposed prisons. Local residents and MPs were opposed to it. I suppose the Government would argue that, in the financial climate of 2009 where there is no guarantee that Omega would go ahead, building a prison would create employment. That was only one viewpoint. An opposing view was the local community showing concern about the value of their properties

going down or the risk of jail-breaks, etc. A campaigning group called WRAPP (the Warrington Residents Against the Prison Plan) had collected petitions from locals in a bid to persuade the government to scrap the idea. They said that apart from the value of properties going down, and the risk of losing out on thousands of new jobs which Omega business park is expecting to create, most importantly it won’t cut crime. Lib Dem councillor for Bewsey and Whitecross, Jo Crotty, lead the campaign. Thankfully, the Titan prison idea was officially scrapped by the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw MP, on Monday 27 April 2009.

And finally, my dad tells this story about when he was a conductor on the bus which went to Bewsey and stopped by the base road. Every night an American would get on in town after a night out in Warrington, but never had any change to pay his fare, always offering a banknote. So dad and his driver decided to get their own back – they sorted out the change in pennies and half-pennies and put it in a bag for him when he got off saying here’s your change. The bus drives away and dad heard a might thud as the bag of change hit the back of the bus with a shout of “You *@!<?+” coming back from the Yank. Dad never saw him again.

Mission accomplished!