Frisky Wears Out His Welcome

Frisky’s home flying field in England, Bisterne, was a prototype airfield built under the “Advanced Landing Ground” (ALG) concept. This was the construction of a relatively simple expeditionary airfield complex that aviation engineers could build quickly in order to support air operations on the continent of Europe once the Allies landed in France.

Experience gained in the North African and Italian campaigns indicated a fighter bomber unit needed a runway 120 feet wide and 5,000 feet long to create a suitable ALG for a P-47 unit. A surfacing material was then used to help strengthen the surface for the weight of the aircraft using it, as well as to provide some help against wet weather conditions prevalent in Northwestern Europe.

Since Frisky was the first occupant at Bisterne, his early operations tested the ALG concept. ALG’s in the UK were built with a Sommerfeld Tracking, ironically named after German expatriate engineer Kurt Joachim Sommerfeld. Nicknamed “tin lino,” (“lino” probably short for linoleum) it was a prefabricated lightweight wire mesh with stiffened-steel bearing rods first used by the RAF in 1941. Sommerfeld Tracking came in rolls 10 feet 8 inches (3.25 m ) wide by 75 feet 6 inches (23 m) long. To give it strength, mild steel rods were threaded through it at 9-inch intervals. Individual rolls could be joined at the edges by threading a flat steel bar through loops in the ends of the rods.

Sommerfeld Track material used for airfield surfacing during WWII.  It was the initial surface placed over the runways at Bisterne Airfield.

Sommerfeld Track material used for airfield surfacing during WWII. It was the initial surface placed over the runways at Bisterne Airfield.

As things turned out, the Sommerfeld Tracking runways at Bisterne were “tested” so much in early 371FG operations that as first constructed the field was found to be deficient under the weight of combat-loaded P-47 Thunderbolts. Bisterne, after all, was located on a cow pasture, and though it was overlaid with the Sommerfeld “chicken wire” the heavy Thunderbolts soon created ruts and bumps in the surface which were hazardous to flight operations. By the third week of April, after only a week or so of being on operational status, Ninth Air Service Command inspectors directed the airfield closed for reconstruction and the group’s flying operations to be moved three miles away to Ibsley Airfield. After a movement order was received 19 April, the field was closed for ten days, between April 20 and April 30, to allow aviation engineers to rebuild it with some improvements.

The group history indicates engineers laid down “pierced planking” at Bisterne, which is probably a reference to pierced steel planking (PSP). PSP was probably preferred, but in a somewhat short supply given the worldwide demand for the material in all combat theaters. Also, PSP’s weight was much heavier than the Sommerfeld Tracking, or the Square Mesh Track (SMT) that Frisky would see on the Continent later, which was a logistical consideration for the upcoming cross channel attack. The squadron histories indicate an American Engineer Aviation Company first removed the English-style matting, then graded the field, after which they emplaced American matting. The weather apparently cooperated and the work was completed on 29 April, with the planes returning to roost on 30 April, pretty much as scheduled.

Pierced Steel Plank (PSP), also known as Marsden or Marston Matting, came in planks that were ten feet long, 15-inches wide and which weighed 66 pounds.

Pierced Steel Plank (PSP), also known as Marsden or Marston Matting, came in planks that were ten feet long, 15-inches wide and which weighed 66 pounds.

In the meantime, the aircraft moved to continue combat missions from Ibsley Airfield, a nearby USAAF Station. RAF Ibsley had a rich history, being opened in early 1941. The foundations for its concrete runways were built from the rubble of bombed out buildings in Southampton. It was featured in the Spitfire flying sequences of the 1942 film “First of the Few” and some 19 flying squadrons were based there at various times of RAF use, including RAF, Polish, Czech, Canadian and Australian. In June, 1942, the field was turned over to the USAAF 8th Air Force, and the 1st Fighter Group with Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters was the first US stationed unit there. On 29 August 1942, two Lightnings scrambled from Ibsley against a German bomber, which may have been the first operational US fighter sorties from Britain in WWII. In late 1943, Ninth Air Force was given responsibility for the field, and in late March, 1944 the 48th Fighter Group, another Ninth Air Force P-47 outfit began operations from the field, as the 9th was rapidly expanding in preparation for D-Day.

Ibsley Airfield in January, 1944, while under 9th Air Force control.

Ibsley Airfield in January, 1944, while under 9th Air Force control.

When Frisky moved over from Bisterne to Ibsley, the new field became a bit crowded with 150 Thunderbolts from the two groups. But given Ibsley’s good runways, the groups made the best of it while Bisterne was rebuilt and continued their training and operations as the pace quickened in preparation for D-Day.
References

371st Fighter Group and 404/405/406 Fighter Squadron histories for April, 1944

“The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.” Army & Navy Publishers, Baton Rouge, LA, 1946

Johnson, David C., 1st Lt, USAF, “US Army Air Forces Continental Airfields (ETO) D-Day to V-E Day” at: http://www.afhra.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-081010-026.pdf

Advanced Landing Group, Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Landing_Ground

Bisterne ALG, at: http://www.hampshireairfields.co.uk/airfields/bis.html

RAF Bisterne, Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Bisterne

RAF Ibsley, Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Ibsley

RAF Ibsley Historical Group, at: http://www.rafibsley.co.uk/

RAF Ibsley Airfield Heritage Trust: http://www.ibsleytower.info/

48th Fighter Group, Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/48th_Operations_Group

Sommerfeld Tracking, Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sommerfeld_Tracking

Sommerfeld Track information and image at: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/army/fm/5-436/chap14.htm

Sommerfeld Track image at: http://www.google.st/patents/EP0429106A1?cl=en

Pierced Steel Plank, at: http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=1996

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