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Stoney Cross Airfield - an overview

Stoney Cross Airfield, also known as RAF Stoney Cross, dates back to the Second World War and was constructed on Ocknell and Stoney Cross Plains, close to the tiny New Forest hamlet of Stoney Cross - three miles (5 kilometres) west of Cadnam and between the present day A31 and the village of Fritham.

But today, this is not a desolate, post-industrial site, for the New Forest heathlands and ancient woodlands have largely reclaimed their own. There remains, though, much from the airfield to discover and ponder over, and given the wartime vintage, still more about which to think more deeply.

Building activity at Stoney Cross started early in 1942 and the airfield was handed over for operational use in November of that year, although it was not ready to accommodate aircraft until January, 1943. It was May 1943, however, before the majority of essential construction work was completed and August of that year before everything was finished.

(Stoney Cross was the last of the three major New Forest, Second World War airfields to be completed - the other two, Beaulieu and Holmsley South, were both built in 1941 and 1942).

The layout of Stoney Cross airfield, as shown in a 1946 Asset Plan compiled by the Air Ministry Works Directorate (Crown Copyright, RAF Museum)
The layout of Stoney Cross airfield, as shown in a 1946 Asset Plan compiled by the Air Ministry Works Directorate
(Crown Copyright, RAF Museum)

The airfield served the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces, 9th Air Force. It was a three-runway airfield with the main, 2,000 yards (1829 metres) long, 50 yards (46 metres) wide, runway on a broadly west-south-westerly / east-north-easterly axis, providing for take offs and landings into the locally prevailing winds.

The second, 1520 yards (1390 metres) long, 50 yards wide, runway went north-west / south-east, whilst the shortest runway, at 1366 yards (1249 metres) x 50 yards, ran north / south.

So as to exclude intruding humans, deer, commoners' stock and other animals, the airfield perimeter was encircled by a high wire fence - local commoners were apparently paid £2 per head per annum in compensation for the loss of grazing.

There is, though, at least one recorded instance of an aircraft hitting a Forest pony, but the aircraft concerned was a transport aircraft so the accident perhaps happened after the end of the war when the fence was maybe not as 'stock proof' as previously.

RAF No. 239 Squadron, previously based at Hurn, arrived at Stoney Cross in January, 1943, flying P-51B Mustang aircraft; followed in March of that year by No. 26 Squadron, also flying Mustangs, and No. 175 Squadron with Hurricanes.

Use of the airfield at that time was, however, amid on-going construction work, a hardly satisfactory state of affairs, and by early April all three of these squadrons had departed for bases elsewhere.

Paratroop dropping and glider towing aircraft returned in May 1943, whilst, reflecting rapidly changing wartime circumstances, the airfield was subsequently used by USAAF 9th Air Force personnel flying P38 Lockheed Lightning fighters, USAAF 387th Bomb Group flying B26 Marauder medium bombers, and RAF Transport Command flying Wellington, Stirling, Avro York and Dakota transport planes.

Flying ceased altogether in October 1946 and the airfield was then classified as under 'Care and Maintenance'. It was thrown open in 1947 and closed completely in January 1948 after which some of the camp living areas were used to provide housing for those made homeless by wartime bombing, and for others who were also awaiting Council housing.

Three of the four large hangars were temporarily used to store auxiliary fire engines - green goddesses - and motor cycles withdrawn from civil defence work, whilst the fourth hangar was used for a while to store surplus grain and other supplies.

The hangars, control tower - situated opposite the entrance to Longbeech campsite - and other buildings were eventually removed, as was much of the concrete from perimeter tracks, runways and other elements of infrastructure, and by 1955 or 1956, the airfield land had fully reverted back to its previous classification of Crown Land managed by the Forestry Commission.

A visit to the site today, at first glance, reveals little of particular interest - the last remaining standing structure, a huge green water tower situated by Longbeech campsite, was finally removed in 2004 and the last of the concrete had been stripped from the runways by 2000, to be used as hardcore in road and other types of construction.

But look a little closer and there is still much evidence of this old airfield deep in the Forest.

The outlines of the three runways can still be clearly seen from above and so can some of the dispersal pans where aircraft were left in-between periods of activity.

The runway (and perimeter track) outlines are also visible on the ground - they are typically at a slightly lower level than the adjacent land; are often bordered on both sides by lines of brambles or gorse; are (needless to say) absolutely straight; and the grass is often of a different shade to that of adjacent land, with patches of gravel, occasional bricks and pieces of concrete showing through.

Aircraft 'frying-pan type' dispersal pads can also still be found, some - such as those in Ocknell campsite - boasting original concrete surfaces.

Look out, too, for the remains of regularly spaced runway light blocks in the grass beside the minor road to Linwood - this road uses the northern part of the main runway - and for miscellaneous sections of roadside and other war-time concrete, including the remains of airfield service roads and other facilities within Longbeech campsite.

An interesting information panel is located on the edge of a car park opposite Long Beech Inclosure, sited on concrete initially used as a hard-standing for transport planes.

Modern satellite images clearly show the outline of the old airfield's three runways, aircraft dispersal areas and other features.

A - Main runway (with the road to Linwood running along its northern edge)

B - Second runway

C - Third runway

D - Cadman's Pool

E - Janesmoor Pond

F - Ocknell Pond

G - Ocknell Campsite (with the old aircraft dispersal areas clearly visible and now used as hardstandings for caravans)

H - Longbeech Campsite (with the campsite's main service road, originally associated with the airfield, clearly visible)

I - Anses Wood

J - South Bentley Inclosure (with another old service road shown, leading into the wood from the Linwood road)

K - North Bentley Inclosure

L - King's Garn Gutter Inclosure

M - Long Beech Inclosure

N - Ocknell Inclosure

O - Information panel (sited on an area of World War Two concrete now used for car parking)

Find out more about Stoney Cross Airfield

Stoney Cross Airfield - a detailed look at the airfield

References:
They Flew from the Forest: Alan Brown
Forest Reflections: Edited by Hugh Pasmore and Marie Heinst
New Forest Notes (5th June 2004): Anthony Pasmore
American Air Museum in Britain: http://www.americanairmuseum.com/place/358
History of War: http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/175_wwII.html
Control Towers: http://www.controltowers.co.uk/S/Stoney_Cross.htm
New Forest Remembers: http://www.newforestheritage.org/stoney-cross-airfield-overview/
Hampshire Airfields: http://www.hampshireairfields.co.uk/airfields/stx.html

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Thursday, 7th - Lyndhurst Community Centre, Paraphernalia Fair, 9.00am - 5.00pm.
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Friday, 15th - Lyndhurst Community Centre, An Audience with Simon King, 7.30pm.
Saturday, 23rd - New Forest Walking Festival Fringe - Milkham Meander, 10.00am - 12.00noon. Advance booking essential.

October 2017
Saturday, 30th September and Sunday, 1st October - Burley Steam and Vintage Vehicle Show, Burley Park.
Saturday 14th October to Sunday, 29th October - New Forest Walking Festival, various locations and times.
Saturday, 28th October - Burley Village Hall, Craft Fayre, 10.30am to 5.00pm.
For further details, view the full New Forest What's on programme.
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley