Construction of the airfield started in 1941, with the removal of fruit orchards. The 386th Bomb Group arrived in May 1943. The group was assigned to the US 9th Tactical Air Force and flew the Martin B26 Marauder. The group’s role was to destroy strategic targets such as airfields, convoys, tanks, trains etc.
The first mission from Boxted was to bomb Woensdrecht airfield in Holland, one Marauder was lost but the mission was successful. The 386th only stayed at Boxted for 3 months before being transferred to Dunmow in September 1943.
The 354th Fighter Group came to Boxted in November 1943. This group flew the new Merlin engined P51b Mustang. Their primary role was to escort the bombers on their missions over the continent and eventually all the way to Germany.
After their first commanding officer, Kenneth Martin, was shot down and captured James Howard was put in charge. Jim was the perfect choice, he had seen combat with the flying Tigers in China. On 11th January 1944, Lt Col James Howard C.O. of the 356th FS, flying a bomber support mission, came upon a formation of thirty seven enemy fighters attacking B17s of the 401st Bomb Group over Oschersleben, Germany. Finding himself temporarily alone and without any thought for his own safety he attacked the enemy formation. He pressed home his attacks claiming three destroyed and several others damaged. For his action that day he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour, the highest award for bravery to go to a fighter pilot in the European Theatre of Operations.
The 354th proved that the Mustang was a viable aircraft in combat and the group laid the foundations in tactics that would be followed by the other Mustang groups. The 354th left Boxted in March 1944 and moved to an advanced landing ground at Lashenden in Kent to prepare for D-Day.
The 56th are generally acknowledged as the top scoring US fighter group of World War Two. The group arrived at Boxted on 19th April 1944. They had already experienced combat at their previous bases in England.
They were led by the inspirational Hubert Zemke a great tactician, a man who would not accept second best.
The 56th took part in all the major air battles during their stay at Boxted including D-Day and the battle of the Bulge. They gained the nickname Wolfpack because of the number of high scoring pilots in the unit. With 31 kills Francis Gabreski was the top scoring American pilot in Europe. Bob Johnson, another member of the Wolfpack, was number 2. Throughout their time in combat the group flew the P47 Thunderbolt, the heaviest fighter in WW2. The role of the group was escorting the bombers over enemy territory, later with additional fuel tanks fitted the 56th could escort all the way to Germany. As the war in Europe was coming to an end and the Luftwaffe were virtually defeated the Wolfpack would attack ground targets.
The 56th stayed at Boxted until the end of the war in Europe, finally returning home by the end of October 1945.