by Ernie Cromie
The United States military aviation presence in Northern Ireland during the Second World War, while smaller in scale that in Britain, was nevertheless extensive and as long-lived. Tentative plans drawn up in 1941 well before US entry to the war proposed the establishment of what was then termed an ‘Interceptor Command’ to take over the burden of air defence from the RAF [Shadow 82 scheme] and the construction of a depot for the maintenance and repair of British-operated aircraft of American manufacture also the supply, maintenance and repair of aircraft in United States Army Air Force [USAAF] service.
Overtly, US military ground forces arrived in Northern Ireland in January 1942, by which time the earlier plans were evolving to take account of the massive strategic build-up then envisaged for the UK as a whole and because airfields in Britain were sorely needed for combat operations it was decided that Northern Ireland should also become the main centre for essential theatre indoctrination training of 8th Air Force combat units on their arrival from the USA.
In July 1942, 8th Air Force Composite Command was activated in the USA, initially with responsibility for a wide range of matters but in practice the oversight of aircrew training in Northern Ireland became its almost exclusive function, although throughout its local existence the Command retained responsibility for discipline of all USAAF and US Army units here, including military personnel at the 8th Air Force Service Command’s air depot at Langford Lodge.
Unsurprisingly, as the war progressed, these proposals were further altered to take account of previously unforeseen developments in the wider arena, most significantly the invasion of North Africa, which had the adverse effect of temporarily diverting resources from the 8th AF.
This had inevitable consequences for the ultimate nature of developments; nevertheless, numerous USAAF stations and installations were established in Northern Ireland where there was also a significant US presence at airfields not under direct American control.
The largest establishment was at Langford Lodge [AAF Stn 597] on the eastern shores of Lough Neagh where construction of the air depot commenced early in 1942, by greatly enlarging the aircraft storage facility previously used by the RAF’s 23 Maintenance Unit.
Eventually, Langford Lodge was one of four Base Air Depots in the UK but, unlike the others at Burtonwood, Warton and Baverstock / Greenham Common, it was operated by the civilian Lockheed Overseas Corporation on behalf of and under the supervision of 8th AFSC until a unique contract between both organizations was terminated by the USAAF in May 1944.
Collectively, the air depots were the primary in-theatre logistical support facility in the UK, providing 4th echelon support to four air forces – the 8th and 9th in the UK, the 12th in North Africa and the 15th in North Africa and Italy.
It is impossible here to describe every aspect of the work done at Langford Lodge, what follows being a brief summary of only some aspects.
Gradually, the Depot came to specialise in experimental engineering but on the basis of records compiled by LOC for the period November 1942 until April 1944, work of a reassembly, modification, repair, major overhaul or salvage nature was also completed on at least 3,300 aircraft while a further 11,000 were line-serviced.
In terms of employment, 3,900 American civilian technicians from the USA, many of them highly skilled, were taken on by LOC for varying lengths of time. They lived at Langford Lodge but were assisted by roughly comparable numbers of locally-recruited civilians who commuted daily. US military personnel were a third category, albeit the total on base prior to May 1944 was generally less than 1,500. A ‘snapshot’ survey on 1 January 1944 indicated a total of 6,900 personnel on base – 2,913 locals, 2,883 LOC and 1,104 US military.
Up to January 1944, 555 aircraft engines were virtually rebuilt, largely Pratt & Whitney, Wright and Allisons and a small number of Continentals. 274,000 spark plugs were refurbished between July 1943 and April 1944 while in the same period 11,500 propellers were cleaned, adjusted and reassembled or subjected to further overhaul.
The base was at its busiest during summer 1943, in fact it was unable to handle the flow of aircraft arriving from the USA due to insufficient hangar capacity, hardstanding areas and shortage of personnel, which resulted in Greencastle [AAF Stn 237] being taken over as a satellite depot. From 1944 until the end of the war, salvage of both 8th and 9th AF war weary aircraft became an increasingly feverish aspect of work at both stations.
Local personnel from the Modification & Technical Section, taken at Langford Lodge sometime during 1944-1945.
Private first class, Milburn H. Henke from Minnesota, was officially the first American GI to set foot in the European Theatre of Operations [ETO] on January 26th 1942 when he stepped ashore at Dufferin Dock Belfast. In reality several hundred GIs had already come ashore a few minutes earlier.
Lockheed Overseas Corporation embroidered patch used on LOC personnel jackets and overalls.