Like many WW2 airfields, Stoney Cross had a short operational life span from 1942 until 1946. The original purpose of the base at Stoney Cross is not clear and was clouded in secrecy at the time but it is thought to have been intended as a sort of stealth or contingency airfield with minimum buildings or other facilities for use in the event of an invasion of the UK. However, with the ever changing demands of wartime, the original plans were changed.
Construction began in 1942 with three reinforced concrete runways and four large T2 type hangars. In addition, a multitude of buildings were concealed in wooded areas surrounding the site wherever possible.
Before it was completed in November 1942 it was being used RAF Army Co-operation Command flying MK 1 Mustang aircraft. However with the airfield still under construction, there were several accidents between contractors vehicles and taxiing aircraft as the pilots of these aircraft had virtually no forward visibility whilst on the ground. The most serious of these occurred when a Mustang ran into a contractor’s lorry causing three civilian deaths. In April 1943 the airfield was turned down as being not ready for use by both the RAF’s Transport Command and Coastal Command. While it was still under construction it remained nominally with 38 Wing who removed its HQ and aircraft to nearby RAF Holmsley South in order that the construction work could be completed without further interruption or accident.
For the next two months the airfield remained without aircraft until June 1943 when the airfield was transferred to 10 Group RAF Fighter Command while Wimpey were still completing the construction work, a task which took until August 1943. In the meantime it was used by the US 8th Air Force to drop off airmen going to a rehabilitation centre at Broadlands, near Romsey.
From June 1943 part of RAF 38 Wing in the shape of 296 and 297 Squadrons arrived, flying mainly Armstrong Whitworth Albemarles. Following re-organisation 299 Squadron was subsequently formed and was also based at the airfield. These units were training in towing the large Horsa glider built at the Airspeed factory in nearby Christchurch and carrying paratroopers, all in preparation for the invasion of Europe. Subsequently, the American Army Air Force set up a factory to build the smaller Waco Hadrian glider at the airfield which was shipped across the Atlantic in kit form – (for a fuller account of their time at Stoney Cross, visit the “Stoney Cross – Airborne Forces” page on this website)
The RAF activity continued until April 1 1944 when four squadrons of the 367th Fighter Group of the US Army Air Force, 9th Air Force known as the “Dynamite Gang” arrived with 84 Lockheed P38 fighter-bomber aircraft in advance of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. When the big day eventually came, the commanding officer at Stoney Cross wrote, “This was the day we had all been waiting for – planes by the hundreds took off and landed at our field from dusk until dawn” – (for a fuller account of their time at Stoney Cross, visit the “Stoney Cross – D Day preparations” page on this website). In July the 367th Fighter Group left for a few weeks at Ibsley, another New Forest airfield, prior to crossing the Channel to France. They were replaced by B26 Marauder medium bombers of the 387th Bombardment Group USAAF
The 387th Bomb Group moved in on 21 July 1944 with four squadrons of Martin B26 Marauder medium bombers who were known as the Tiger Striped Marauders due to their distinctive tail markings. The 387th had been one of the original four B26 Groups in England as part of the 8th USAAF and arrived in the UK in July 1943. They transferred to the 9th USAAF as part of the invasion forces. In their short stay at the airfield they flew missions supporting the break out of US forces south of Cherbourg and their push down to the Seine. Stoney Cross was an ideal airfield for the B26s with its open aspect and long runways as they had high take off and landing speed requirements.
Although initially disliked by US pilots, the B26 proved to be a superb aircraft which was able ‘to look after itself’ when attacked and, as a result, it had a lower loss rate than similar aircraft and many completed 100 missions or more. All US planes were given names by their crews which was usually painted on their nose fuselage. The most successful B26 stationed at Stoney Cross was named “Five by Five” after a popular song of the time. This plane flew 100 missions from Stoney Cross and totalled 188 missions by the end of the war.
When the 387th vacated the airfield on 1 September 1944, it went through a brief period of non operational use. Part of the airfield, one hangar and a workshop were used by a Glider Repair Unit. Horsa gliders used in the invasion were being returned to Southampton and then taken to Stoney Cross for repair or scrap. Some squadrons of the RAF Regiment were also billeted there before being moved overseas.
Britain had struggled to develop transport aircraft during the war with ex bombers such as Wellingtons and Stirlings being converted for the long flights out to the Middle and Far East. Stoney Cross with its long runways and good road links was an ideal airfield to develop the fledgling Transport Command from November 1944 onwards. The squadrons that used it were 232, 242 and 46 who had previously been fighter squadrons in the Middle East. They were reformed as Transport Squadrons at Stoney Cross with another 80 or so crews posted in from other units. They were used largely for ferrying troops to and from the far flung theatres of war in India and the Middle east.
As the Second World War came to an end a passenger and freight terminal plus a customs and immigration facility was built in September 1945 after the war ended to accommodate returning troop flights from the Far East. This required “Arrivals” and “Departure” facilities including customs and immigration and buildings were constructed for the purpose near what is now Longbeech campsite. In addition a large concrete hard standing was built known as the Transport Command Parking Area. Following the closure of the airfield this was split in two and now forms Stoney Cross and Stoney Cross Plain car parks.
The last transport unit left in October 1946 and the airfield closed in January 1948. The accommodation buildings on what is now Longbeech Campsite were taken over by the New Forest District Council as temporary local authority housing and quite a close community developed over the next ten years or so, with even a doctors surgery.
Over the following years the buildings were gradually removed and in the 1970s the runways and concrete hard standings were broken up to be used for various building projects. Nowadays, tranquility has been restored to the area which, like many other parts of the New Forest, played an important role in the liberation of Europe.
The image below is an aerial view of the airfield while still under construction in 1943
Despite the passage of time the airfield layout is still clearly visible from the air.
View Stoney Cross Airfield in a larger map