Fenton Airfield, 200km south of Darwin, was a piece of America planted in the vast Northern Territory Outback. During 1943 and 1944 Fenton was the major offensive base for long range bombing operations against Japanese forces.
Found along the Douglas Hot Springs road 13kms south of the Stuart Highway turn off, Fenton Airfield is one of the most complete wartime airfields in existence in Northern Australia. The site includes the Group Headquarters, Fenton Headquarters, US 86 Station Hospital and the Fenton Aircraft Graveyard. Fenton airfield is entered on the Northern Territory Heritage Register. The site is on private property and is not accessible to the public without owners' approval.
Named after the legendary “Doc” Fenton, who recommended the site in 1942, Fenton Airfield was developed as the principal heavy bomber base for the North Western Area of Operations with a the view to a possible major thrust against the Japanese through the Darwin Region. Airfield construction was carried out by the US 808th Engineer Battalion, No. 1 Airfield Construction Squadron, RAAF and the New South Wales Department of Main Roads.
B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft of the USAAF 43rd Bombardment Group were the first heavy bombers to operate from the airfield during a brief stay in late 1942. In January 1943 the USAAF 319th Bombardment Squadron equipped with B-24 Liberator bombers, arrived to begin reconnaissance and strike missions against the Japanese on Timor, Celebes (now Sulawesi) and the Moluccas (now the Maluku Islands).
The USAAF 380th Bombardment Group arrived in June 1943 equipped with 28 Liberator bombers and in its first month of operations, the group carried out 50 long range missions. Operations flown by the USAAF from Fenton, struck deep into enemy held territory, as far as Borneo to the north-west and the Solomon Islands to the east.
Australian forces came to Fenton in March 1943 with the arrival of anti-aircraft batteries to defend this vital offensive base. The enemy was well aware of Fenton’s strategic importance and strike power, and on 30 June 1943, the Japanese retaliated with the first of a number of air raids on Fenton. Two men were injured, four Liberators were destroyed and much equipment was lost in the raid. In the air, a total of six RAAD Spitfire fighters were shot down with one pilot killed.
Japanese losses amounted to six bombers and two fighter aircraft. A week later, the Japanese attacked at noon on 6 July, setting the fuel dumps aflame and damaging the runway. The Australian anti-aircraft batteries succeeded in claiming one of the raiser, a “Betty bomber”.
During 1944 Liberators from Fenton continued to bomb targets on Timor, the Celebes and at Balikpapan until the 380th Bombardment Group moved move to Darwin during June and July of that year. During August 1944 the first RAAF units began arriving at Fenton and establishing themselves at the facilities vacated by the Americans.
No. 24 Squadron and No. 82 Wing Headquarters were followed by No. 21 Squadron. These squadrons were also equipped with B-24 Liberators, and continued the tradition of long range missions initiated by the USAAF. By July 1945 the two RAAF squadrons and Wing Headquarters had departed for Darwin and the Islands, and by November 1945 the airfield was deserted, apart from caretaker units.
Fenton Sept 1944 Cleaning the perspex window of the rear gun turrent of a Loberator aircraft AWM NWA0624
Fenton Sept 1944 Fitters maintain the engine of a Conslidated B24 Liberator aircraft of No 24 Squadron RAAF AWM NWA0620