1940 – The RAF Move In
Originally prepared in 1940 as a satellite of RAF Waterbeach, Bottisham was built as a grass airfield and was initially used by the Cambridge based Tiger Moths of No.22 Elementary Flying Training School as a relief landing ground. During a two-year period beginning in July 1941, the airfield was then occupied by a succession of Royal Air Force Army Co-operation squadrons: Nos. 241, 652, 168, 654, 2 and 4 Squadrons, equipped with a variety of aircraft including Lysanders, Tomahawks, Tiger Moths, Austers and Allison-engined Mustangs. In October 1941, Bottisham’s grass runways were reinforced with Army Track surfaces, but as these proved insubstantial, they were replaced by steel mesh Summerfeld Track the following summer.
1943 – The Americans Arrive
However, during the summer of 1943, the Air Ministry Works Directorate began work on enlarging and improving the facilities at Bottisham in preparation for the arrival of new tenants: the 361st Fighter Group, United States Eighth Air Force, comprising the 374th, 375th and 376th Fighter Squadrons, plus seven support units. Having arrived in the UK aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Group, Commanded by L/Col. Thomas J.J. Christian, Jr., was established in December 1943 as the last 8th Air Force fighter group to be equipped with the P-47 Thunderbolt and was tasked with providing escort to the Eighth’s daylight bombing offensive as well as conducting ground attack missions. On 3 January 1944, RAF Bottisham was officially handed over to the Americans and the base was renamed Army Air Force Station F-374. On the 21st, the Group flew its first combat mission and, a few days later, the main runway was widened using Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) to allow for formation take-offs.
During the first four months of 1944, the 361st gave a good account of itself against the Luftwaffe, despite the range limitations of the P-47 but, in May of that year, converted to the long-range P-51 Mustang. Successes continued during the summer, but not without losses which included one of the squadron commanders and the Group CO, who were both killed in action over France. In September, L/Col. Joseph J. Kruzel took command of the Group and the 376th Squadron took a heavy toll of enemy aircraft on the 27th. However, by the end of the month the Group had moved to Little Walden in Essex and Bottisham fell silent. In total, the 361st had flown 214 missions, claiming 148 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air and 86 on the ground, for the loss of 39 pilots.
1945 – The Belgians See It Out
Not until June 1945 did Bottisham see any more flying activity. On 1 June 1945 the airfield came into use as a relief landing ground for aircraft of the RAF (Belgian) Initial Training School, then based at RAF Snailwell. On 1 October, the airfield became a full satellite of Snailwell and by 23 November the activities of the RAF (Belgian) ITS were divided between the two airfields. Training proceeded steadily into the following year, but by 9 March 1946 the Belgians had departed for their home country. The airfield finally closed on 1 May 1946 and was sold for agricultural use on 1 October 1958.