The first possible landing of an aircraft at Greenham Common was around 1930 when the area was still a grassy common. Biplane bombers of the RAF landed there for a few days as an RAF exercise took place. During World War Two, the Berkshire area saw a number of airfields constructed at Aldermaston, Membury, Ramsbury, and Welford. In September 1943, the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army crossed the Atlantic and camped in surrounding areas of Newbury.
An RAF station was to be constructed two miles outside Newbury in the county of Berkshire. The Air Ministry acquired the land from Newbury Town Council in May 1941.The base was originally to act as a satellite for the bomber training unit at Aldermaston a few miles east. In early 1942, hardstandings were constructed for aircraft use. Beyond the base, accommodation sites were built, some on Sydmonton Common. Barbed wired Women's Auxilary Air Force (WAAF) sites were put up around Bowden House and Grove Cottage in the north-east. A bomb dump site was also set up. Although built for use by the RAF, they decided that it would be better used by the forces of the US Army Air Force (USAAF). The base was near completed in the summer of 1942. Its first unit was the 51st TCW who arrived from the US in September 1942 and stayed until being deployed to North Africa on Operation Torch in November. Greenham Common briefly passed back to the control of RAF groups 92 and 70 and was used for flight training on Oxfords until the end of September 1943. The base was then reassigned to the USAAF on October 1st 1943 becoming USAAF Station 486. RAF Greenham Common was finally handed to the 8th ASC USAAF on November 8th.
This was a large A-shaped airfield with one runway of 4,800ft and the second of 3,300ft. Yet even these were not thought long enough and were extended in late 1942. Accommodation was built on the eastern perimeter, along with 2 T2 hangars, a technical area and a 27 pan hardstanding.
The first role for Greenham Common was to re-equip the 354th FG (Fighter Group), 9th AF who had arrived on November 4th to acquire its mount: the mighty P-51B Mustang. The aircraft stayed just a week before redeployment to Boxted. The airfield then played host to a number of units on a transient basis including the 368th FG and their P-47 Thunderbolts.
P-51s carry out a patrol
On March 16th 1944, Greenham Common's role changed to accommodate troop transport aircraft of the 438 TCG. The group undertook solid training at the base and became fully operational in April that year with the Douglas C-47 Dakota transports.
New infrastructure had to be developed to support these larger aircraft. Loop hardstandings were built in addition to the panhandles, then making 50 hardstandings in all. Steel track marshaling areas were constructed either end of the main runway. These allowed gliders such as the Horsa to be positioned on the runway with tugs still capable of moving alongside, allowing mass take-offs. A number of long buildings were also constructed for storing and examining glider cables.
By early June 1944, the forces at the base were at a high state of readiness. All four squadrons of the 428th TCG were then fully trained on glider towing and paratroop drops both day and night. On the night of June 5th, the base was ringed with armed troops. Nearby was the wartime headquaters of General Eisenhower who was on his way to the base to inspect the troops. Eisenhower joined General Lewis Brereton at Greenham Common to watch the first troops leave by Dakota just before 11pm.
It was at Greenham on this night that General Eisenhower gave his famous "Eyes of the world are on you" speech. Another 80 Dakota's then left the base at 11 second intervals bound for the shores of Normandy on Operation Overlord. Aircraft also towed Horsa and Waco gliders to the front in France and later carried the wounded back for treatment in Britain. On December 12th 1944, a tragedy occured when one of the gliders crashed at the base. Over 30 American soldiers were killed in the accident and their memory is kept every year in December by the Royal British Legion.
By February 1945, the 438th began moving to Prosnes in France to support the front. American ground units held a presence at Greenham until the end of the European campaign. A small USAAF detachment remained a short time at the supply depot in Thatcham. The base was then handed over to Transport Command to an uncertain future.