International Museums on the Air has become a popular feature in the club’s event calendar. Members operated GB0BAB from our usual venue Burtonwood Heritage Centre, 21st – 22nd June 2014. The museum commemorates the Burtonwood Airbase, the biggest military airfield in Europe from the 40’s till its closure in 1993.
A short history of Burtonwood Airbase
In 1939 Burtonwood Repair Depot (BRD) opened in Cow Lane, Gt Sankey. Manned by a civilian workforce of approx 4,500 aircraft engineers engaged in the maintenance and repair of American aircraft in RAF service, and also the repair and overhaul of aircraft engines. Cow Lane was later renamed Burtonwood Road.
1940 – April 1st 1940
Saw the opening of RAF Burtonwood as an aircraft storage unit (ASU) operated by no. 37 Maintenance Unit (MU). The purpose of this ASU was to receive brand new aircraft direct from the manufacturers and prepare them for squadron service and to incorporate all the latest modifications and armaments. The aircraft were then put into storage to be issued to the squadron as and when needed. 37 MU also operated an Aircraft Repair depot (ARD) repairing aircraft that had been battled damaged, or had crashed etc.
1942 – 1946
RAF Burtonwood was handed over to the US Eighth Army Air force as an ASU and ARD. The civilian workforce at BRD were redeployed and BRD site was taken over by the Eighth Air Force, thus making Burtonwood the largest military establishment in Europe. At its peak in 1944, 18,500 American servicemen were based at Burtonwood.
A total of 15,000+ aircraft were processed at Burtonwood during WWII and BRD site was remanufacturing over 2,000 aircraft engines each month.
After the war, thousands of surplus US aircraft were scrapped at Burtonwood before the Americans finally left in 1946.
1946 – 1948
Burtonwood was handed back to 37 MU, RAF and was responsible for further aircraft maintenance and also the scrapping of hundreds of war surplus aircraft .
Once again, Burtonwood was handed over to the Americans as a support base for the aircraft of the USAF based in the UK and Europe.
C54 Skymaster aircraft employed on the Berlin Airlift of 1948/49 were maintained at Burtonwood. In 1958 flying ceased at Burtonwood but the USAF continued to use the base as a supply and storage facility until finally leaving in 1965.
The airfield was put on a “care and Maintenance” footing in 1965, but was in effect left to deteriorate badly.
1967 – 1993
In 1967, the US Army were looking for a site to be used as a “Reserve Storage Activity” (RSA) and so RAF Burtonwood entered the last and longest phase in its history. The base was used for the storage of every item of equipment used by the US Army in Europe, including 10 x 1,000 bed mobile surgical hospitals, 19,000 parachutes, 750,000 meals ready to eat (MRE’s), thousands of vehicles, spares, small arms, just to mention a few.
In 1989 the “Cold War” came to an end, and Burtowood was declared surplus to requirements and earmarked for closure. The last military operations for RAF Burtonwood was the issuing of relief surplies for the Bosnian war in 1990 and finally, its remaining equipment went to the Middle East, to supply the US Army in ”Operation Desert Storm”, the freeing of Kuwait from Iraq forces.
The “Yanks” finally left in June 1992 and the base closed down in June 1993 ending 54 years of UK and US service.