RAF Upottery

The airfield at Smeatharpe was the last of the three airfields to be built on the Blackdown Hills during 1943 and was officially named Upottery.

It is with sadness that we report the death of Vincent Busone who was the Adjutant of the 439th Troop Carrier Group, he passed away on Monday June 20th 2011. He was locally among the best known veterans having revisited Upottery on a number of occasions. We offer our sympathy to his family and thanks for his valuable service during WWII.

Upottery from the air in 1945

Even before the arrival of the airfield the people of the area had the war brought to them firstly on the night of July 26th 1940 when a Heinkel 111 bomber that had been laying mines in the Bristol Channel was attacked by a Hurricane fighter flown by Pilot Officer J.R. Cock from Exeter who successfully brought the bomber down crashing at Longfields farm,
July 26th 1940 Longfields
Another incident but not so well reported happened on June 28th 1941 at around 3am in the morning when a German bomber dropped a stick of parachute land mines one of which fell just inside the Buttles lane road junction this aircraft was picked up in the beam of a nearby searchlight.
Not only did the explosion result in a large crater in the road the blast also destroyed a bungalow about twenty meters away. This was the home of Mr and Mrs George Wool and an evacuee boy, Mr and Mrs Wool heard the aircraft and realising the danger they took shelter under a large kitchen table which was just as well the only thing left standing after the explosion was the chimney breast.  A tall wardrobe saved the evacuee as it held up the collapsed ceiling and roof. All three occupants happily escaped with out any major injury.

The Air Raid Patrol records for the Taunton area that night indicated that there were other bombers operating in the area and caused havoc at Wrantage, Stoke St Mary, Thurlbere and Lydeard St Lawrence.

At least three parachute mines were dropped in the Smeatharpe area, one dropping near Minsons Farm which made a huge crater in a field. This is not recorded in the Taunton ARP records because it fell over the border in Devonshire.

It is worth making note of how the Buttles Lane incident was recorded. = “In Buttles Lane Churchstanton. One parachute mine. One small pig killed, one slightly wounded. One bungalow and garage completely wrecked, also three fowl houses and pig sty. Telephone lines down”

unexploded parachute mine These parachute mines were capable of destroying a whole row of houses.

The main construction of the airfield and its facilities took place during 1943 and it was designed to a specification which included full bomb storage facilities.Concrete Runways under construction WWIIBlack bitumen sprayed on the concrete runway
Upottery airfield WW2 should always be acknowledged for the role it played during the D-Day missions.
The most factual details of these are recorded in a book written by the Late Col Charles H Young which makes it a must read for those who are deeply interested.
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On April 26th 1944 the first operational unit the 439th Troop Carrier Group of the 50th Troop Carrier Wing of the United States Ninth Troop Carrier Command arrived with four Squadrons equipped with around eighty C-47 (Dakota) transport planes plus a similar number of gliders. Some of the construction work of the airfields services was still to be completed when the Americans arrived.

Insignia of the 82nd AirborneDuring May the four squadrons trained intensively concentrating on quick assemblies and close quarter formations in readiness for their part on the D-Day missions, the 439th  TCGp was one of three groups stationed in the South West of England on D-Day making up the 50th troop Carrier Wing, the others included the 440th TCGp which was stationed at Exeter and the 441st TCGp at Merryfield near Ilminster.

A fourth group the 442nd TCGp was still up in Nottinghamshire so did not arrive in the south west until a few days after D-Day having operated on the same mission under the umbrella of the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing, they then moved onto Weston Zoyland air field near Bridgwater to rejoin the rest of the 50th Wing.

Mac Hawkins 071

Just before midnight on June 5th 1944 eighty one C-47 aircraft took off from Upottery carrying over thirteen hundred men of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment who were dropped in enemy held territory behind the Utah beach on the coast of France. Their task was to secure an exit corridor and fight off German counter attacks until the arrival of troops from a sea borne landing a few hours later.

This was part of a very large operation code named Neptune described at the time as nine planes wide and five hours long, in total well over two hundred C-47 aircraft including ninety that were dispatched from Merryfield and forty five from Exeter took part.

Over thirteen thousand young American Paratroops were involved in this great airborne Armada. Despite some unaccounted for cloud along with heavy ground attack on the aircraft , which caused some confusion as they approached their target areas the mission proved successful overall and earned all of the 50th Wing Groups commendations.

Insignia of the 101st AirborneAmong the Paratroops who departed Upottery were the men of Easy Company 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment who have now become immortalized as “The Band of Brothers” through the Spielberg’s Television series.

This story unfolded from the loss of one of the three aircraft shot down belonging to the 439th Troop Carrier Group which was carrying the Easy Company Commander 1st Lt Thomas Meehan and many of his subordinates who along with every one else on board including the five man crew were killed.

This meant that the responsibility of Easy Company Commander fell on the shoulders of a young 2nd Lt by the name of Richard (Dick) Winters who went on to lead his men in such a manner that he earned their respect, admiration and complete loyalty resulting in outstanding performances for the remainder of the war.

Loading GlidersJune 7th 1944 at day break the 439th Troop carrier where airborne again as part of the second wave of the invasion this time with fifty planes towing thirty large wooden British built Horsa and twenty smaller canvas covered tubular steel framed American built Waco gliders these transported nine hundred and sixty eight men of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment along with some Jeeps supplies and other equipment the operation was code named Hackensack in support was the 441st TCGp from Merryfield with another fifty planes and gliders all of the gliders were released over Normandy close to the same area as the previous mission.
This remarkable film footage was taken at Upottery during preparation for operation Hackensack

These operations accounted for a considerable loss of life and the South West Airfields Heritage Trust are particularly proud of the fact that during 2004 with the help of the local community and their organizations funds were raised for a memorial marking these events, this is now situated on the site of the last remaining Sentry Post at Moonhayes Cross a road junction on the Upottery to Churchingford road.

It was not many days after D-Day that the 439th TCGp planes started landing on grass strips behind the landing beaches of Omaha and Utah taking over supplies and ferrying home injured troops who invariably finished up in Musgrove Park Hospital at Taunton, this was purpose built for the American forces.

Mid July saw the departure of three of the four squadrons over to Italy for the invasion of Southern France and missions to and from the Italian Front.

Having completed these intended missions the three squadrons returned to Upottery on August  25th they then began heavy re-supply and evacuation flights but with in a week the four squadrons were back up at Balderton in Nottinghamshire. They returned to at Upottery on September 4th and five days later they moved to a field in France near Reims however they started to return to Balderton via Upottery on Sept 11th in readiness for operation “Market Garden” an attempt to capture and control key bridges in Holland the out come of which provided the story behind “A Bridge To Far”

Effectively Troop Carrier Group activities at Upottery began to wind down at the end of September 1944 as the 439th Troop Carrier Group prepared to move over to France and by the end of October the last of the Troop Carrier Group ground personal had left and the field was officially handed over as a satellite for Dunkeswell and the US Navy on 13th January 1945.

Gliders at Upottery

Charles Young collection B 014
Another common sight at Upottery was the glider snatch, this picture shows pilot 1st Lt Gerald (Bud) Berry of  the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron picking up a glider from a Normandy field the only one to be brought back to Upottery, it is estimated that only about 26 were ever recovered after the Normandy invasion.Waco Glider at Upottery July 1944

Only a minority of C-47′s were kitted out with the glider snatch equipment, Bud brought this plane over from America early 1944 and stayed with it for the war, he carried out the first of only two snatches of Waco Gliders loaded with stretcher cases from a European battle zone.
Remagen 4 Chappell and Berry
The Commander of the 50th Troop Carrier Wing General Chappell congratulating Gerald Berry after coming to visit him after his successful evacuation mission
Albert Furr Lt Berry’s Crew Chief has his foot on the ladder.

Upottery tower and fire equipment439th TCG inside Upottery tower Upottery tower and fire equipment

See also the Upottery Memorial Role of Honour page.

See also the associated website theworldatwar.info

Upottery from the air

These photos show Upottery today: Tweet

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Interesting footage Upottery airfield

Some remarkable footage found on youtube of some of the old WWII buildings left around the old Upottery airfield on private Land All credits John Grech   Tweet

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17 comments

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  1. Michael Briggs

    Robin,
    My wife Nancy and I would like to arrange a tour of the Upottery airfield on Thursday, June 22nd. Would that be possible?

    Thanks,

    Michael Briggs
    mbriggs@callcoverage.com

    1. Robin

      Michael, yes that should be possible, could you please contact me via robin273@btinternet.com. I will also copy this message via email

  2. Mrs C Elbro

    where actually is the airfield, and as I am a group organiser with not many people, I would love to bring them to see your airfield. we visited the old RAF Base airfield down on Bodmin Moor. and they told us about your place.
    so I wonder if you would send me a leaflet, I would pay for it. or some info on how to get to you. ( my cousin was in the RAF during the war, she used to live in OSM but I don’t know where she was based. and she was the only one in family to be in the RAF as all the others were Army or Navy…..she drove ambulances, when not playing in a band….
    Anyway please let me know when you are open and how to find you

    Carmel

    1. Robin

      Carmel, Thanks for your communication. The WW2 Upottery airfield is at a hamlet called Smeatharpe between Honiton and Taunton on the Devon Somerset border. We have a Heritage Centre there, the postcode is EX14 9RD.
      It is open Thurs-Fridays and Saturdays between 11am — 4pm. Unfortunately it will close for the winter at the end of this month October. But it can be available during the winter by prior appointment.
      If you would like one of our flyers for both Upottery and Dunkeswell please send me your postal address in an email.

      Any other help I can provide please come back to me Best Wishes Robin for the SWAHT.

  3. Bob Stonebraker

    Thank you, and Thank God we won!!!

  4. Brandon J.White

    I regret I do not know HOW to create a WEBSITE……I do have some things which I could display on it, and a few tales to tell of my days spent on the airfield…..I am a Dakota artist as well, but have not painted any 439th TCG pictures….I did take photos of ‘our’ meeting with Mr Mason, the owner of ‘Smeatharpe Airfield’ at the time, and when pacing out the area required for the Stadium we proposed to build on the end of the runway ! That is Roy Goodman and me, with Mr Mason of course……any advice on HOW to create a WEBSITE would be most welcome. I know my small bits of info and photos taken from the air and on the ground would be welcomed etc. Best wishes, Brandon White.

    1. Robin

      Brandon, I tried contacting you a while back, if you want to follow up your inquiries please contact the email address supplied on the web site

  5. Martin Cross

    Hello,

    Apologies for this being extremely late in the day but I was wondering if you may be able to accommodate an airfield visit to Upottery Airfield on Sunday 22nd February in the morning at some point. I am a WWII reenactor with a deep interest in WWII and I am in Exeter this weekend.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind Regards,

    Martin Cross

    1. Robin

      Martin, I have sent you an email. For those interested in tours at short notice it is best to use the email contact on the home page.

  6. JAN FISHER

    GREAT SITE WITH INTERSTING ITEMS AND HISTORY OF OUR WARTIME AIRFIELDS. SO GLAD I FOUND THIS SITE. GREAT ARCHIVAL INFORMATION.

  7. Norma Rothwell

    I spent my tenth birthday at the airfield on 6th June 1934. My dad was in the RAF and my brother and I had two lovely holidays there – one in June and another in August.
    I will never forget how lovely all the Americans were to us and how much we enjoyed staying there. God Bless them all. And our RAF boys. Thanks to them I am still enjoying life now seventy years latertr.

  8. Greg Giles

    Can tours still be done of this airfield, very interested in seeing the site. I am from australia.

    1. Robin

      Greg the short answer is yes, please use the email address provided on our web site to fix up a tour through me, regards Robin

  9. John Wybourn

    My wife was totally underwhelmed when I told her it was my plan to visit a disused airfield whilst on a mini break in Bath! How differently she felt after our visit. Robin brought the whole area to life with his detailed knowledge of the airfield and the personnel who operated it. His wonderful collection of photos and the sympathetic way the display Nissan hut has been renovated is a credit to him and all involved. He took us round the base and showed us all the main landmarks with a description of each one. Thank you Robin – long may you continue in keeping the memory of RAF Upottery alive.

  10. Alex Wensowitch

    As a follow up on my request posted here for information on the Upottery Airfield, my visit to the area far exceeded any expectations I had. After making contact with Robin Gilbert, he was kind enough to pick me up at the hotel and take me out to Upottery (Smeatharpe) Airfield. Along the way, Robin was a history book that came alive right before me and transported me back in time. His personal knowldedge of the area’s history and significance provided a rare insight into that pivotal time during WWII. I shall be forever grateful to Robin for his combination of passion and professionalism on our grand tour of the old airfield.

  11. Robin

    I am pleased to report that Alex caught up with me and on Tuesday January 4th I took him on a historic tour of the old airfield. This is a service that we are prepared to carry out by prior notice, both for individuals or parties. So do not be afraid to contact us. All of the Upottery airfield is in private hands and not open to the general public, however we do have license to visit a good deal of it by appointment.

  12. Alex Wensowitch

    I will be in the area of Upottery the first week in January 2011 and would be interested in visiting the airfield near Smeatharpe. Would you happen to have the name and location of the person who owns this property?

  1. WWII airfields: Upottery | War History Online

    […] You can find out a lot from this this excellent site: http://www.southwestairfields.co.uk […]

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