About Beaulieu Airfield – the Former RAF Beaulieu
RAF Beaulieu is a former Royal Air Force station in the New Forest, Hampshire, England. It was used during World War Two as a base by both the RAF and US Army Air Forces (including by the US planes that attacked German positions before the D-Day landings) as well as by the Special Operations Executive.
History of RAF Beaulieu
Flat areas of land in the New Forest region were highly suitable for creating airfields, especially as they were situated near the south coast, making them a useful base for aircraft operating over Europe. During World War One, a Royal Flying Corps training airfield – RFC Beaulieu – existed at East Boldre. This was closed in 1919 and RAF Beaulieu was built opposite in 1942, using brick rubble brought in from nearby bombed areas such as Southampton, for use in the runway and perimeter track foundations.
During the Second World War there were 12 airfields in the New Forest (including 9 built during the war). Opened on 8 August 1942, Beaulieu became used as the base for a variety of aircraft (bomber and fighter squandrons) needed to support rapidly developing theatres of war – initially by the Royal Air Force (2nd Tactical Air Force), then later US Army Air Forces (USAAF) in 1944.
On D-Day, P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bombers of 365th Fighter Group (known as ‘The Hellhawks’) took off from RAF Beaulieu to divebomb and attack German gun positions and communication hubs in Normandy in preparation for Operation Overlord, to prevent the Germans halting the advance of the troops landing on the D-Day beaches.
On 7 September 1944 the airfield was transferred back to the RAF, and later in January 1945, control was passed to Flying Training Command.
Throughout the war, agents and resistance fighters from the Special Operations Executive were flown into occupied Europe – as some of their training was performed locally around Beaulieu, they were frequently transported by planes from Beaulieu airfield to Europe. Around 9 of the larger houses around Beaulieu were used by the S.O.E. as a ‘finishing school’ to give the agents a chance to practise their skills before being deployed overseas.
After the war, RAF Beaulieu was used for experimental flying and as a stand-by airfiled, before it was closed in 1959.
RAF Beaulieu today
Today only a small number of structures remain standing: most were sold off and removed, or simply dismantled, but the remains of the airfield are on heathland managed by the Forestry Commission.
Virtually all the complex is accessible on open heathland and within woodland, although some elements are now on private land including the Handcraft Huts at Dilton and the WAAF air raid shelters.
The only remaining substantial length of runway from the old airfield at Beaulieu Heath is currently used by a local model aircraft flying club.
Getting to RAF Beaulieu
RAF Beaulieu is located next to the village of East Boldre, about 2 miles west of the village of Beaulieu and 5 miles east-northeast of Lymington (and approx 12 miles from Southampton via the A33). A car park is situated at Beaulieu Heath, and the nearest train stations are Brockenhurst, Lymington Town and Beaulieu Road.