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"Construction of British Advanced Landing Fields" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following report on British advanced landing fields in WWII was originally printed in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 19, February 25, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The terrain of the Cyrenaican theater, over which the campaign of November 1941 to January 1942 was fought, is desolate, bare, and devoid of almost all the usual terrain features. Under such conditions, it was only natural that the work of the British engineers was of singular importance.

One of the major roles of the engineers in this campaign was the construction of advanced landing fields for both bomber and pursuit aircraft. For all engineer work, in the field or elsewhere, early warning of the requirements is needed; such warning is particularly necessary in the case of advanced landing-field construction in modern fast-moving battles under desert conditions. Broadly speaking, the advanced landing fields for fighter and other squadrons were constructed by two mobile construction parties of army engineers; these parties were reinforced as required by other engineer units of army or corps. Behind, and advancing to take over as the army moved forward, was a detachment of construction engineers.

The two mobile construction parties were formed before the operation started; each consisted of 1 officer and 50 enlisted men. These parties were attached to army corps as required. Forward liaison between RAF and army was provided by a senior RAF officer in charge of landing-field selection, and by appropriate engineer officers of field rank. The close liaison thus obtained produced very satisfactory results.

In all, during the 2 months following November 18, fourteen entirely new landing fields were constructed. All landing fields consisted of two strips 150 to 300 yards wide; the fighter landing fields were 900 to 1,200 yards long, and the bombers' 200 yards longer; the minimum should however, be not less than 150 by 1,000 and 200 by 1,200 yards, respectively.

Both of the mobile construction parties were motorized; the most suitable trucks were found to be those of the dump type, as most of the work consisted of moving quantities of earth and stone either on to, or away from, the landing field; each party was allotted a motorized patrol. It was found that the strength of the parties was adequate, but that assistance from other engineer resources had frequently to be sought for landing-field construction and for dealing with work of a more permanent nature on landing fields. Each party should carry a small amount of explosives, materials for wind socks and for marking fields, paint for corner posts, signboards, etc.

For various reasons, the RAF adopted the policy that as many fighters as possible should use an airdrome--in some instances a fighter group of up to five squadrons. This policy necessitated large dispersal areas.

The following two examples give an idea of the minimum time required to prepare an advanced landing field. In each instance one party, organized as above, cleared two strips 1,100 yards by 300 yards; in one case work started at 0700 and fighters were operating from the field the same day, and in the other case at 1000 the next day. In general, however, it may be said that the mobile construction party or a platoon of combat engineers can clear and mark one strip a day, the landing field being completed, with two strips and all markings, in 3 days.

Another task of the greatest importance was the successful preparation of a strip 560 by 30 yards to enable 60 fighters to take off from a landing field water-logged as a result of a week's rain. This task was effected by filling up the soft spots with stone and draining away the standing water. All serviceable aircraft got off.


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