RAF Fersfield

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RAF Fersfield (originally known as RAF Winfarthing) is a former World War II airfield located southwest of Norwich, Norfolk.

Built in 1943/1944, the airfield was originally a satellite of RAF Knettishall. It was constructed to Class-A bomber specifications, with a main runway (07/25), and two secondary runways (01/19, 13/31) of . Accommodations for about 2,000 personnel were in Nissen huts along with an operations block and two T-2 hangars. Winfarthing was assigned USAAF station number 140; Fersfield was reassigned 554.

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Fersfield is most notable as the operational base for Operation Aphrodite, a secret plan for drone B-17s (redesignated as BQ-7s) to be used against German V-1 flying bomb sites, submarine pens, or deep fortifications that had resisted conventional bombing.

From July 1944 to January 1945, approximately 25 high-time Fortresses (mainly B-17Fs) were assigned to the 562d Bomb Squadron, 388th Bomb Group stationed at RAF Knettishall, along with two B-24s from the United States Navy (PB4Y-1), to be used in Aphrodite missions. Originally RAF Woodbridge was going to be used, however Fersfield was chosen as a better location due to its relative remoteness. The plan was to use these stripped down war weary bombers as explosive packed, radio controlled flying bombs. Pilots would take-off manually and then parachute to safety leaving the bomber under the control of another aircraft and then flown to its target in Europe.

The first mission took place on 4 August 1944 The target was a V-1 site in Pas-de-Calais. In the first phase of the mission, two motherships and two drones took off. Unfortunately, one of the drones went out of control shortly after the first crewman had bailed out. It crashed near the coastal village of Orford, destroying two acres of trees and digging an enormous crater. The body of the other crewman was never found. The second drone was successfully dispatched toward the Pas-de-Calais. Unfortunately, clouds obscured the television view from the nose just as the drone approached the target site, and the plane missed the target by 500 feet. The second phase of the mission fared little better. One robot BQ-7 had a control malfunction before it could dive onto its target and was shot down by German flak. The other one missed its target by 500 yards.

Several subsequent missions were attempted, one of them being a Navy PB4Y-1 which exploded over the village of Blythburgh, Suffolk, killing Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. the brother of future President John F. Kennedy.

The last Aphrodite mission was on January 20, 1945, against a power station at Oldenberg. Both drones missed their targets by several miles. After this last effort, the *Aphrodite* concept was abandoned as being unfeasible, and the USAAF scrapped the effort. The reality was that 1944 technology was simply not good enough to do the kind of job that was required.

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With the end of hostilities, the RAF had no further use for the airfield, and it was closed, eventually being disposed of by the Air Ministry in February 1946. For several years, the airfield was used as a 2 mile long racing circuit first used on 22 April 1951. Meetings were held through to 1952, but at the end of the year the RAC requested changes be made which were beyond the means of the Eastern Counties Motor Club, which organised the events. The club moved on to Snetterton instead.

Today, much of the concreted areas of the airfield have been removed for hardcore, with the airfield area being returned to agricultural uses. A surprising number of buildings exist, some on the former airfield, which are being used by agriculture, along with both T-2 hangars. Others are in the wooded areas south of the former airfield in various states of decay. The perimeter track and runways still exist, although greatly reduced in width, being used as agricultural farm roads. Other roads in the area, identified by "Airfield Road" signs, are the last vestiges of the former airfield.