The earliest information I have about the farm is that the Royal Flying Corps used about fifty acres of grassland at the SW end as an emergency landing ground from 1916 to 1919 when it reverted to agricultural use with a large herd of Hereford cattle. The farmer at that time had visited Argentina and was influenced by their style of ranch farming, even to the extent of wearing cowboy hat and chaps when riding round the herd.

It was re-commandeered in 1940 and used by Swordfish biplanes, which flew patrols along the French beaches.

In 1942 work started on upgrading the airfield to an Advanced Landing Ground. This entailed the laying of two steel mesh runways, extending to the southeast and north of the existing grass strip. The main runway ran NE / SW for nearly 1.5 kilometres and the secondary N / S for 1.2 km. Later blister hangers and taxi tracks with hard standing were added.

Apart from the occasional Spitfire, diverted from Hawkinge, and a few reconnaissance Lysanders the airfield remained unused until a squadron of Albacores was transferred from Manston in mid 1944. A squadron of Swordfish soon joined it. Sorties were flown against enemy shipping and smoke laying was done to cover shipping movements in the Channel. A simple electric flare path was added to the runways and night operations against enemy shipping commenced with good results, though two aircraft were shot down..

On September 19th 1944 a USAAF B-24, Liberator bomber made an emergency landing on the North / South runway, coming to rest a few hundred yards from the farm buildings. Arnold Schonberg who now lives in a retirement home in Florida piloted it. Thanks to him for allowing me to publish the following account and pictures.

On what was expected to be a relatively safe supply drop to American forces behind enemy lines in Holland, Arnold and his crew encountered heavy machine gun fire and Flak on their approach to the target. The aircraft was badly damaged and the Bombardier and Radio Operator were wounded. They managed to complete the drop successfully but unable to remain with the rest of the formation as the aircraft required the efforts of both pilots to maintain control.

The aircraft was hit again as they left the target and the Navigator was injured. Owing to these problems and worsening weather they became lost. They decided to fly down the coast of France to assess the damage and find a narrow point of the Channel to cross if they could. Limping along at low altitude, they found themselves over Dunkirk where they were again hit by heavy anti aircraft fire. They decided not to bail out over France because of the wounded and instead to try and make it to England. Swingfield ALG was the first RAF field they saw.

With the weather closing in, pieces of the plane falling off, number 4 engine on fire and no air speed indicator they managed to land. The plane skidded to a halt with a collapsed right hand undercarriage and the starboard wing on fire. All crew members, except the two pilots, were injured but all escaped safely and were rapidly cared for by RAF staff. Badly injured crew were rushed to hospital in Canterbury and the rest posed for a photo beside their badly damaged plane. Arnold just tore the seat of his trousers sliding down from the top of his aircraft.

Arnold contacted his base to ask what should be done with the aircraft. He was asked if there was a bulldozer available to move the plane from the runway. As there wasn’t, the crew sold the plane to a local scrap merchant. Please tell me if you know which local dealer ended up with the remains of a USAAF Liberator in their yard?

Both RAF squadrons moved out at the end of 1944 as operations became fewer. The site remained an unoccupied ALG until it was decommissioned in April 1945.

After the Sommerfeld tracking and hard standings etc were removed, the land was deep ploughed by steam engines and crops planted. 40% of the farm remained as grassland with cattle and the remainder grew cereals, potatoes and peas. In the mid 1950’s most of the cattle were sold and the farm became mainly arable.

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1944 Runways and Taxi tracks.

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Fairey Swordfish

Fairey Albacore

Westland Lysander

B24 Liberator with RAF crews in attendance

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Crew of B-24  Liberator pictured with the wreck, No 4 engine burnt out and missing its propeller. Arnold is standing on the right in his Class ‘A’ uniform, ready to go to town.

Click on pictures to view full size.

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Swanton Court Farm