By the spring of 1942, the British bombing offensive had reached the stage where it could mount very large raids over Europe.
On the 30th May 1942, the first ‘ thousand bomber ‘ raid of the Second World War took place against Cologne in Germany. The massive destruction this brought set the precedent for the continuing air war, and as longer range four engine aircraft such as the Lancaster were developed, these raids became more ambitious and successful.
It had been agreed between the United States 8th Air Force Commander General Spaatz and Britain’s RAF Bomber Commander Arthur Harris, that the US 8th Air Force would fly strategic daylight bombing raids from bases in England. These daylight raids would complement similar raids flown at night by the RAF, effectively giving twenty-four hour, round the clock bombing of enemy targets.
During 1942 and early 1943, the need for suitable airfields for the US Air Force was overwhelming. The problem was, the British airfield construction programme was struggling to meet the demand. The decision was made to send US Army Aviation Battalions to England to build fourteen airfields. These were in addition to the 54 class A bomber bases and numerous fighter bases already under construction by the British for use by the United States Air Force.
Of these fourteen airfields constructed, Harrington near Wellingborough was built for the RAF in exchange for Little Staughton, which the RAF built for the USAAF. The thirteen remaining airfields built by US Engineers were as follows: Nuthamstead, Chipping Ongar, Great Dunmow, Gosfield, Raydon, Glatton, Matching, Stansted, Eye, Boreham, Debach, Andrewsfield (Great Saling) and finally Birch, the thirteenth and last one to be completed.
On January 5th 1943, the 846th Aviation Engineer Battalion left Camp Kilmer New Jersey USA for the New York port of embarkation. From here they sailed on January 6th arriving in the UK seven days later on January 13th. After two further days travelling they reached their assigned camp, Birch Essex England on January 15th 1943.