UK Airfields

The Contribution of Naval Aviation

Sixteen naval air squadrons flying from shore bases took part in Operation Neptune, one Dutch, three American and twelve Royal Navy air squadrons. Two of the US Navy squadrons flew Liberator anti-submarine patrol aircraft, operating against submarines in transit through the Bay of Biscay; the third squadron was the only US Navy unit ever to operate Spitfires. The single Royal Netherlands Navy squadron was equipped with B-25 Mitchell Bombers and flew as part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force’s medium bomber force against inland targets.

The Royal Navy’s contribution was more mixed, in equipment as well as in the tasks. The Swordfish of 838 Squadron provided night anti-submarine patrols in the western English Channel, complemented by 849 and 850 Squadrons’ Avengers, which flew the day patrols in this area. 816 Squadron Swordfish, operating from Perranporth, ventured further afield, providing night anti-E-boat patrols off the coast of Britanny. In the central Channel, in the invasion area, the Swordfish of 819 and Avengers of 848 operated by night against the E-boats, while on the extreme eastern flank two more Avenger squadrons, 854 and 855, supported the Dover Command’s E-boat patrols. After the assault phase, some of the squadrons were moved to meet the changing requirements, notably the arrival of U-boats in the waters used by resupply convoys and the introduction of midget submarines. The Avengers occasionally found themselves in a completely unexpected combat role and this resulted in two ‘kills’ against V.1 flying bombs.

Seven fighter squadrons (five of them naval) had perhaps the most unusual task. Spotting for the guns of the Fleet, whether in action against ships or shore targets, had been one of the very first tasks for shipborne aircraft but by 1943 it was clear that the ‘traditional’ multi-seat spotter aircraft was too vulnerable to modern AA defences. In the autumn of that year, certain single-seat fighter squadrons began to train for the job and in the spring of 1944, No.3 Naval Fighter Wing was moved to RNAS Lee-on-Solent as the nucleus of the Air Spotting Pool, to spot for the Neptune battleship and cruiser shore bombardment forces. Besides the Seafires of 885 and 886 Squadrons and the Spitfires of 808 and 897 Squadrons, the Pool included two RAF Spitfire Squadrons, Nos 26 and 63, whose pilots had also been trained in this role, and VCS.7, a US Navy unit whose pilots’ already knew the role but who had to accustom themselves to the high-performance landplane Spitfires after the float biplanes which they had previously flown from ships’ catapults.

Pairs of spotters from Lee-on-Solent were active over all the beaches from dawn on ‘D’-Day, correcting the fall of shot on batteries, enemy movements and key bridges and junctions up to 15 miles inland, identifying fresh targets for the guns and, during the opening days, occasionally fending off German fighters, several of which were shot down. VCS.7 was withdrawn after the fall of Cherbourg in late June, but not until the second week in July were the enemy pushed back out of battleship gun range in the Caen sector. Fewer bombardment targets were available, but this released some sorties for a task – dawn patrols against midget submarines, several of which were sunk by the “anti-submarine fighters”. When, in mid-July, the Pool was disbanded, its Seafires and Spitfires had flown 1,230 sorties in 33 ‘flyable’ days, for the loss of two dozen aircraft to flak, fighters and the weather but very few of the RN, USN and RAF pilots were lost. It had also proved the value of the fighter-spotter.


Bircham Newton Norfolk Wellington & Albacores 1 squadron

Chivenor Devon Wellington ASW 4 squadrons

Davidstow Moor Cornwall Beaufighter R/P 2 squadrons
Wellington ASW1 1 squadron

Dunkeswell Devon Liberators (USN) 3 squadrons

Harrowbeer Devon Swordfish (RN) 1 squadron

Hawkinge Kent Avengers (RN) 2 squadrons

Langham Suffolk Beaufighter R/P & torpedo 2 squadrons

Lee-on-Solent (RNAS) Hampshire Seafires (RN) 4 squadrons
Spitfires 2 squadrons (for bombardment spotting duties) Walrus SAR (RN) 1 squadron

Manston Kent Beaufighter (fighters) 1 squadron
Swordfish (RN) 1 squadron
Avengers (RN) 1 squadron

Mount Batten Devon Sunderlands 1 squadron

North Coates Lincolnshire Beaufighter R/P & torpedo 2 squadrons

Pembroke Dock Pembrokeshire Sunderlands 1 squadron

Perranporth Cornwall Avengers (RN) 3 squadrons

Portreath Cornwall Beaufighters (fighters) 1 squadron
Mosquitoes (6pdr gun) 1 squadron

Predannack Cornwall Wellington ASW 1 squadron
Liberators 1 squadron

St Davids Pembrokeshire Halifax ASW 2 squadrons

St Eval Cornwall Liberators 4 squadrons


A USAAF Troop Carrier, Fighter or Bombardment Group consisted of three or four squadrons totalling  approximately 72 of the same type of aircraft. Reconnaissance Groups were somewhat smaller and consisted of different types.
A-20 Havoc (= RAF Boston) light bomber B-26 Marauder light bomber P-38 Lightning fighter/ground attack (F-5 PR variant)
C-47 Dakota transport
P-47 Thunderbolt fighter/ground-attack
P-51 Mustang fighter (F-6 PR variant)
Advanced Landing Grounds were temporary airfields with wire matting or pierced steel planking runways  and minimal facilities; the 22 ALGs which were activated for Neptune remained in use only until even more advanced ALGs could be opened in France.

RAF Stirling, Albemarle and Halifax aircraft were employed as glider-tugs.

Aldermaston Berkshire C-47 434th TCG

Appledram ALG W. Sussex Spitfires 3 squadrons

Ashford ALG Kent P-47 406th FG

Barkston Heath Lincolnshire C-47s 61st TCG

Beaulieu Hampshire P-47s 365th FG

Bisterne ALG Hampshire P-47s 371st FG

Blakehill Farm (Cricklade) Gloucestershire Dakotas 2 squadrons

Bognor ALG W. Sussex Spitfires 3 squadrons

Bolt Head Devon Spitfires (ADGB) 1 squadron

Boreham Essex B-26s 394th BG

Brize Norton Oxfordshire Albemarles 2 squadrons

Broadwell Oxfordshire Dakotas 2 squadrons

Chailey ALG E. Sussex Spitfires 3 squadrons

Chalgrove Oxfordshire F-5, F-6 PR 10th RecG

Chilbolton Hampshire P-47s 368th FG

Chipping Ongar Essex B-26s 387th BG

Christchurch Hampshire P-47s 405th FG

Coolham ALG W. Sussex Mustangs 3 squadrons

Cottesmore Rutland C-47s 316th TCG

Culmhead Devon Spitfires (ADGB) 3 squadrons

Deanland ALG W. Sussex Spitfires (ADGB) 3 squadrons

Detling Kent Spitfires (ADGB) 3 squadrons

Down Ampney Gloucestershire Dakotas 1 squadron

Dunsfold Surrey Mitchells 3 squadrons

Earles Colne Essex B-26s 323rd BG

Exeter Devon C-47s 440th TCG

Fairford Gloucestershire Stirlings 2 squadrons

Fairwood Common Devon Beaufighter NF (ADGB) 1 squadron

Folkingham Lincolnshire C-47s 313rd TCG

Ford W. Sussex Spitfires 6 squadrons
Mosquito NF (ADGB) 1 squadron

Friston E. Sussex Spitfires (ADGB) 2 squadrons

Funtington ALG W. Sussex Mustangs 3 squadrons
Typhoons 3 squadrons

Gatwick Sussex Mustang Tac/R 3 squadrons

Gosfield Essex A-20s 409th BG

Gravesend Kent Mosquito FB 3 squadrons

Great Dunmow Essex B-26s 386th BG

Great Saling Essex B-26s 322nd BG

Greenham Common Berkshire C-47s 438th TCG

Harrowbeer Devon Spitfires (ADGB) 1 squadron
Typhoons (ADGB) 1 squadron

Hartford Bridge Hampshire Spitfires 1 squadron
Bostons 2 squadrons
Mitchells 1 squadron
Mosquito FB 1 squadron

Harwell Berkshire Albemarles 2 squadrons

Headcorn ALG Kent P-47s 362nd FG

High Halden ALG Kent P-47s 358th FG

Horne Surrey Spitfires (ADGB) 3 squadrons

Hunsdon Hertfordshire Mosquito NF 1 squadron

Hurn Hampshire Typhoons 5 squadrons
Mosquito NF 1 squadron Mosquito (ADGB) 1 squadron

Ibsley Hants P-47s 48th FG

Keevil Wiltshire Stirlings 2 squadrons

Kingsnorth ALG Kent P-47s 36th FG

Lasham Hants Mosquito FB 3 squadrons

Lashenden ALG Kent P-51s 354th FG

Little Walden Essex A-20s 410th BG

Lymington ALG Hampshire P-47s 50th FG

Lympne Kent Spitfires (ADGB) 3 squadrons

Manston Kent Mosquito (ADGB) FB 1 squadron
Spitfires (ADGB) 1 squadron

Matching Essex B-26s 391st BG

Membury Devon C-47s 436th TCG

Merryfield Somerset C-47s 441st TCG

Merston W. Sussex Spitfires 3 squadrons

Middle Wallop Hampshire F-5 PR, P-51 Tac/R 68th RecG

Needs Oar Point ALG Hampshire Typhoons 4 squadrons

Newchurch ALG Kent Spitfires 1 squadron
Tempests 2 squadrons

Northolt Middlesex Spitfire PR 1 squadron
Mosquito PR 1 squadron Wellington Tac/R (1) 1 squadron

Odiham Hampshire Mustang Tac/R 4 squadrons

Portreath Cornwall Warwick, Spitfire, Walrus SAR

Predannack Cornwall Spitfires (ADGB) 2 squadrons
Mosquito NF (ADGB) 1 squadron

Ramsbury Wiltshire C-47s 437th TCG

Rivenhall Essex B-26s 394th BG

Saltby Leicestershire C-47s 314th TCG

Selsey ALG W. Sussex Spitfires 3 squadrons

Shoreham E. Sussex Spitfires (ADGB) 1 squadron
Lysander, Spitfire, Walrus SAR

Spanhoe Northamptonshire C-47s 315th TCG

Stansted Essex B-26s 344th BG

Staplehurst ALG Kent P-51s 363rd FG

Stony Cross Hampshire P-38s 367th FG

Tangmere W. Sussex Spitfires 6 squadrons

Tarrant Rushton Dorset Halifaxes 2 squadrons

Thorney Island Hampshire Typhoons 2 squadrons

Thruxton Hampshire P-47s 366th FG

Upottery Devon C-47s 439th TCG

Warmwell Dorset P-38s 474th FG
Anson, Spitfire, Walrus SAR

Welford Park Berkshire C-47s 435th TCG

Westhampnett W. Sussex Typhoons 1 squadron

West Malling Kent Spitfires 1 squadron
Mosquito NF 2 squadrons Mosquito NF (ADGB) 1 squadron

Weston Zoyland Somerset C-47s 442nd TCG

Wethersfield Essex A-20s 416th BG

Winkleigh Devon Beaufighter NF (ADGB) 1 squadron

Winkton ALG Hampshire P-47s 404th FG

Woodchurch ALG Kent P-47s 373rd FG

Zeals Wiltshire Mosquito NF 1 squadron