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Memories of Burtonwood airbase

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Pictures by Eddie Whitham

AFTER many year working for the press, local photographer Eddie Whitham changed his career path, becoming the official photographer at the former US Army Burtonwood airbase.
Here Eddie recalls his time at the base including some never seen before photographs at the base which last saw active service during the Gulf War, having previously been the largest US Army airbase and supply depot in Europe. The base was originally built for the RAF and  opened in April 1940 and played a vital role during the Second World War. At it’s height there were 18500 US personnel stationed at Burtonwood.

Royal Air Force Burtonwood (or RAF Burtonwood) was a former Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Forces base that was located in Burtonwood, 2 miles (3.2 km) Northwest of Warrington in Lancashire, England.  In 1946 the base was transferred back to the United Kingdom however United States operations continued. The base officially closed in 1991 and since then the runway and all of the associated buildings have been demolished. RAF Burtonwood Heritage Centre was opened on part of the former base at Gulliver’s World and focuses on the lives of the servicemen, the war and the airplanes at the base. The facility was transferred to the United States Army Air Forces in 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 in the form of the RAF Police who maintained security on the site until the mid 1960s.

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. According to some sources Burtonwood was placed strategically so that it was out of range of Luftwaffe bombers, but this is not true, as several Nazi air-raids were made on the facility.
During their leave periods, American servicemen from Burtonwood virtually took over the centre of nearby Warrington.
Facts about the Base: 16.85 miles of fencing — 18 miles of roads – 4.65 rail track – 13 hangars – 1054 nissen huts – 22 warehouses covering 3,535,990 square feet. During the Second World war 4,243 iconic B17 Flying Fortress planes were made ready for battle at Burtonwood along with 43,381 P47 Thunderbolt aircraft passing through the Base .  In 1948/49 Burtonwood was again instrumental in supplying the Berlin Air Lift. The next big event in the history of the base came when during the Gulf war in 1990 the base was a main supply facility. The Base finally officially shut down in 1991 to be replaced by the Omega development and housing, most recently the Chapelford area.
Pictured below are some of the 600  iconic “Willys Jeeps” which were stored at Burtonwood in the later years. One jeep built in 1947,when it was being serviced in 1990 had ONLY 17 miles on the clock! It had never been in service and the only time it moved was for service or being moved around the warehouse. The Willys jeep was and probably is still a very sort after vehicle and when they were transported out of Burtonwood there were many inquiries about them. To save space on the transporters they ‘piggy backed’ so that more could be moved at one time.

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About Author

Experienced journalist for more than 35 years. Managing Director of magazine publishing group with six in-house titles and on-line daily newspaper for Warrington. Experienced writer, photographer, PR consultant and media expert having written for local, regional and national newspapers. Specialties: PR, media, social networking, photographer, networking, advertising, sales, media crisis management. Patron Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace. Trustee Warrington Disability Partnership. Former Chairman of Warrington Town FC.

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