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Fenton: A piece of America

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 13km south of the Stuart Highway turn off, Fenton Airfield is one of the most complete wartime airfields in existence in Northern Australia and is entered on the Northern Territory Heritage Register. The site includes the Group Headquarters, Fenton Headquarters, US 86 Station Hospital and the Fenton Aircraft Graveyard.

Construction of Fenton Airfield began in 1942 and was first home to American B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators to undertake strike and reconnaissance missions. Operations flown by the USAAF from Fenton, struck deep into enemy held territory, as far as Borneo to the north-west and the Soloman Islands to the east. The enemy was well aware of Fenton’s strategic importance and strike power, and the Japanese retaliated with a number of ‘Betty’ bomber air raids. Australian forces came to Fenton in March 1943 with the arrival of anti-aircraft batteries to defend this vital offensive base.

The Fenton Group Headquarters was located north of the airfield on the flat beneath the ‘headquarters hill’. The hill contained the commanding officer’s quarters, group administration, the intelligence unit, medical unit, an open-air picture theatre, and the officer’s facilities, including clubs and messes.

Audio: Lieutenant Clyde Barnet

The US 86 Station Hospital was established to provide medical aid for the USAAF and support units at Fenton Airfield. The Hospital was staffed by eight doctors, a dentist, fifteen nurses, three administrators and about a hundred enlisted men. It provided a wide range of services including X-ray and pathology. Its staff dealt with a variety of disorders including scurvy, malaria, dengue fever and a number of communicable diseases.

Audio: Betty, nurse

With hundreds of American airmen and support units based at Fenton, in December 1943 Hollywood came to the Outback. A USO variety show starring John Wayne, Gary Cooper and other popular celebrities of the time performed under the stars to the delight of the hundreds of airman.

By August 1944 the American squadrons had moved north to Darwin and were replaced by RAAF units who continued long-range missions.

Inevitably numbers of aircraft were written off at Fenton, either through accidents or enemy action. A cleared crash-landing strip and an aircraft graveyard was established during 1943 to assist in the salvage and reuse of scarce parts and airframes. Assignment of aircraft to the graveyard – or salvage – depended on the extent of damage. In recent years souvenir hunters have removed many important items. Please respect this site and leave it as you find it. The aircraft graveyard is part of the declared heritage area entered in the Northern Territory Heritage Register.

Please note – this site is on private property and is not accessible to the public without owners’ approval.

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