Welcome to The RAF in Essex, WW1 to WW2

Website about all the Airfields from RFC WW1 to WW2.

RAF Earls Colne

"Never was so much owed by so many to so few"
- Winston Churchill

RAF Earls Colne

The Royal Air Force requisitioned Marks Hall and its estate in 1941. The hall itself was used as the headquarters for the for Earls Colne Airfield. The airfield was constructioned in September 1941, with concrete runways, a station hospital, mess halls, bomb shelters, a control tower and various other station building. Marks Hall was adapted to serve as the Area Headquarters, first briefly by the 4th Bombardment wing, of the 8th Air Force and later by the United States Ninth Air force. The main aircraft that flew from Earls Colne were B-17s Flying Fortresses, flown by the 94th Bombardment Group (Heavy). Later the 323rd Bombardment Group (Medium) flew B-26 Marauders up until their departure in July 1944. The airfield was taken over in September 1944 by RAF 38 Group Transport Command. The 296 and 297 Squadrons had recently taken part in ‘Operation Market Garden’ towing Horsas and CG-4 (Waco’s) to Arnhem. In October the squadrons exchanged their Albemarles for Halifax V and later added the Halifax III.

Earls Colne's airfield was among the first in Britain to host the famous gun-bristling, ten-man Flying Fortress, which featured in the 1990 David Puttnam film Memphis Belle. Construction of the aerodrome just south of the village began in 1941 as part of a huge bomber-airfield building programme throughout East Anglia.

It was one of 27 military airfields in Essex; many more had been planned in the county to accommodate US bomber groups which, in the event, were diverted to operations in North Africa.

Arguably the greatest airborne operation of the 2nd World War, Varsity was planned to force a crossing of the Rhine at Weisel in Germany and start the final advance on Berlin. The squadrons’ Halifax aircraft towed paratroopers of the 6th Airborne division and their equipment in 60 Horsa Gliders. Flight officer Rosemary Britton flew as a ‘stowaway’ in one of the tug aircraft, which left from Earls Colne and became the only female participant of the ‘crossing of the Rhine’.

The land is now an industrial Estate and also Marks Hall Estate trust decided some years ago to create a permanent memorial site in remembrance of all those who served at Earls Colne Airfield. This can be seen on the walk through the northern end of the arboretum. The memorial is in the form of a 1/10-scale replica of the runway layout of the old airfield. Little remains of the airfield except scattered air raid shelters throughout the woods.

Marks Hall Estate itself was left to the nation for use in agriculture and arboreculture by Mr Thomas Price in his final will. The Trustees are passionate about keeping the countryside for the nation and local community.

323rd Bombardment Group - Earls Colne - 07/06/1944 - DDay-Overlord


Thursday 24th March 2016, 10:00am to 1:00pm

Every year the anniversary of Operation Varsity is commenorated at 11am at the Memorial Site at Marks Hall Estate. There is a 2 minute silence and wreath laying cerimony. All members of the local community are welcome to join including military personnel.

Forty three gliders were flown from Earls Colne Airfield, Essex. The operation included over 1,500 aircraft and 1,300 gliders, both American and British. It was the largest single lift of airborne forces ever undertaken.

In previous years there have been the Army Air Corps from Wattisham and other HM Forces present. The Trustees and staff of Marks Hall Estate recognise the importance of continuing to mark this occasion.

Visitors need to arrive by 10.30am at the latest to allow time to walk to the Memorial Site.

Telephone: 01376 563796.