A Potted history of nearby RAF Keevil during WW2. Now unused and simply Keevil Airfield.

RAF Keevil is a former Royal Air Force station located between the villages of Keevil and Steeple Ashton, about 4 miles east of the town of Trowbridge, in Wiltshire, England.

Built on a site previously ear-marked for the purpose of an airfield in the mid-1930s, it was built in 1941, and was in use from 1942 to 1965.

With three long concrete runways, the airfield was used by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces Eighth and Ninth Air Forces.

After air raids in 1940 on the Spitfire production plants near Southampton, the Trowbridge area was one of several chosen for production. At first parts were made, and later complete aircraft when a purpose-built factory in Trowbridge was built.The fuselages and wings were taken on Queen Mary trailers to an assembly shed on the edge of the airfield near Steeple Ashton village, then flown out by the Air Transport Auxiliary. The hangar that was used for Spitfire final assembly is outside the present-day airfield boundary and is now used by small businesses.

USA Air Force: In 1942 Keevil airfield was provided to the USAAF and was assigned USAAF designation 471.

The first American unit assigned to Keevil was the 62nd Troop Carrier Group, arriving at Keevil on 6 September 1942 from Florence AAF, South Carolina. The group consisted of the following operational squadrons: 4th; 7th; 8th and  51st Troop Carrier Squadrons.
The group transported military freight and supplies using C-47 and C-53 aircraft. The unit remained in England until 15 November until being transferred to Tafaraoui Airfield, Algeria as part of Twelfth Air Force.

After the departure of the transport group, Keevil saw the arrival of the 153rd Observation Squadron from the 67th Recon. Group at RAF Membury in December 1942. From Keevil the squadron flew a combination of Douglas Bostons, Douglas A-20 Havocs and Supermarine Spitfires. In March 1944 the 153rd OS was disbanded, then re-formed as the 2911th Bomb Squadron, a liaison and communications squadron, being equipped with Stinson L5s at RAF Erlestoke.

363rd Fighter Group: Short Stirlings of Nos. 196 and 299 Squadrons RAF lined the runway at RAF Keevil on the evening of 5 June 1944 before emplaning paratroops of the 5th Parachute Brigade Group for the invasion of Normandy.

On 20 December 1943, the Ninth Air Force 363rd Fighter Group moved to Keevil from Sacramento AAF California. The group consisted of the following operational squadrons: 380th; 381st and the 382nd Fighter Squadrons. The group awaited its operational aircraft until 22 January 1944 when the group moved to RAF Rivenhall in Essex.

RAF Fighter Command use: With the departure of the Americans, the RAF used Keevil beginning in March 1944 for 196 and 299 Squadron. Short Stirling glider tugs of No. 38 Group RAF arrived, followed by a large number of Horsa gliders, crewed by Army pilots of the Glider Pilot Regiment. The RAF Stirling aircraft were crewed by RAF, RCAF, RAAF, RNZAF and SAAF personnel and were engaged in SOE and SAS drops, largely in France, and in glider towing. Their involvement in the Normandy  invasion of France and Operation Market-Garden is well remembered by Keevil and Steeple Ashton villagers. Casualties of army and air force personnel were heavy and a number of aircraft were lost.

RAF Flying Training Command use: The departure of these units to East Anglia brought Keevil to a training role when in October 1944 No.22 Heavy Glider Conversion Unit arrived, with their twin-engined Albermarle aircraft and Waco Hadrian Gliders.

They in turn were replaced in June 1945 by 61 Operation Training Unit converting newly qualified pilots on to Spitfires and, later, on to Mustangs. 61 OTU in due course became 203 Advanced Flying School before moving to Chivenor in Devon in July 1947. This marked the end of RAF Keevil as a fully staffed and equipped operational airfield.

Postwar military use: Between 1955 and 1964 the United States Air Force used the base occasionally. During 1956 and 1957, Keevil was used as a satellite airfield for "ab initio" training by No 2 Flying Training School, based at RAF Hullavington. Aircraft included the Mk 1 Percival Jet Provost. Keevil was kept in reserve status until 1965 when it was closed.

In 1956: “The secondary runways are deteriorating; the main runway is still being maintained as an auxiliary runway for the USAF.”

Although no longer a RAF station and now known as Keevil Airfield, it is maintained for military use and used for training purposes, predominately by aircraft from RAF Brize Norton and Joint Helicopter Command.

Today Keevil airfield is virtually complete with all of its runways, perimeter track and many of the hardstands still in place. It is regularly used for British Army and RAF exercises; a monthly flying schedule is published by RAF Brize Norton.

Since 1992 it has been home to Bannerdown Gliding Club, a Royal Air Force Gliding & Soaring Association club, affiliated to RAF Brize Norton since the closure of RAF Lyneham. The airfield is occasionally used as a motorsport circuit for various events and is also used by the Wessex Model Flying Club.

In September 1994 the Keevil Society held a Commemorative Day to mark the 50th anniversary of the D-Day and Arnhem operations and to dedicate a memorial to all who served at Keevil, especially those who flew from there and lost their lives.

In 2012, proposals were made to add a 4th runway, a Tactical Landing Zone,  a copy of a temporary battlefield runway, by breaking up some of the hard surfaces.......This has never materialised.

The airfield is not generally open to the public, although special “open days” are held on occasions.

There was a Polish Resettlement Camp at Steeple Ashton, called Ludford Magna, many of these people settled and made their lives in nearby Trowbridge.

If you are searching for the history and/or of someone in particular, a good source of information can be found at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.  


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