Europe Hotels Articles

July 11, 2010

Stansted Airport; The USAAF, POWs And Car Hire Services

A look at the development of Stansted Airport from its military beginnings to the modern site it is today.

Stansted Airport is assured a place as the UK’s fourth major airport although if current expansion plans are completed this position could increase substantially. Even before expansion is completed however, Stansted is a modern airport complete with its own rail link, motorway access, car hire services and retail areas. Predominantly it is the low cost budget airlines that use the Stansted Airport site to fly to destinations all over Europe. These destinations are numerous, at the last count it was over one hundred and seventy. The result of flying to so many different destinations is that over twenty million people use Stansted Airport annually; naturally auxiliary services such as shops restaurants and car hire desks are all prevalent in the terminal due to the large profits that can be made from passengers.

The history of Stansted Airport, like so many airports in the UK is heavily entwined with the military. Unlike many sites in the UK it was not the Royal Air Force that were instrumental in Stansted’s early development but instead the United States Air Force. At its inception the site took the name of a nearby town, Stansted Mountfitchet, deciding to drop the affix. Operational sorties were first flown in 1942 after the American engineers had constructed hangars and other buildings; some of which are still visible today. However, the modern terminal does little to commemorate these early uses, being constructed from glass and steel; the work of famed architect, Sir Norman Foster.

It was the American 344th Bombardment Group that used the Stansted site throughout the war. The aeroplanes that flew in and out were B-26 Bombers, showing that even from these early times Stansted was used to having large planes on the site. Operations from Stansted Airport were numerous to sites all over continental Europe but specifically in countries such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Of particular importance was the role played by the 344th during the Normandy Landings. Not only did B-26 crews hamper the operational activities of the Axis forces but once the Allies landed were instrumental in reducing the chance for withdrawal of German forces through the Falaise Gap. This task was performed by bombing bridges and fuel depots that limited the range of Axis tank crews and mobile forces.

After the war finished Stansted played an important role as a Prisoner of War camp. This major function of the airport is a little known fact not realised by the millions of passengers using the shops, restaurants and car hire desks today. This usage ceased however shortly after the end of the war when the site was used to train pilots of both air forces. In 1966 civilian activities were commenced, the site was passed over for development by the government when they decided Gatwick would be a better prospect for development but Stansted soon bounced back. With the growth in budget air travel and the package holiday Stansted became the airport of choice for many airlines, this was because being a smaller airport the executives were able to charge airlines less than both Gatwick and Heathrow, subsequently the site built up a strong affiliation with budget air travel that continues to this day.

The revamping of the site was decided upon in the eighties and by the early nineties Norman Foster’s work was completed. This modern and revolutionary design was filled with car hire desks and retail spaces in order for airport executives to extract larger profits and as such remained an important element of Stansted’s financial planning. From a small military airport nestled in the heart of rural Essex, Stansted has become one of the major links in the air transportation network of the UK.

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    Mairead Foley writes for where you can book car hire at airports, ferry ports, rail stations, cities and towns all over the world.

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