When were the American airbases built in East Anglia?

News; The crew of United States Air Force B24 Liberator bomber; Contributed 16.4.10

The crew of United States Air Force B24 Liberator bomber. - Credit: Submitted

When we reflect on what happened in war-torn East Anglia 80 years ago, it takes some believing…thousands of acres of land used to build airfields for Americans where they could launch attacks on Nazi Germany.

And it all took place with such speed and efficiency at a time when we were fighting for our lives. So many men, women and children had been killed in the bombing raids which left parts of our region in ruins.

It was time for our comrades from across the 'pond' to head our way -  and what a difference they made, but at such a cost. By the time victory was declared in 1945 around 7,000 of them had lost their lives.

STRIKE ONE! GIs demonstrating baseball at the Wellesley Road “reccer” in 1943.
Picture: MERCURY

STRIKE ONE! GIs demonstrating baseball at Wellesley Road in 1943. - Credit: Archant Library

The Second Air Division of the United States Army Air Force was established in Maryland in June 1942 – a mere six months after Pearl Harbour and five months after the establishment of the Eighth Air Force, which came to the region.

Its HQ was set up at Old Catton, Norwich, on September 4, 1942, and after a short period at Horsham St Faith moved to Ketteringham Hall in December 1943, remaining there until the end of the war in Europe.

The division included five bomb wings divided into 14 bombardment groups. It also had five fighter groups in Debden, Boxted, Steeple Morden, Wattisham and Bottisham.

There were airstrips and stations built across Norfolk, Suffolk and neighbouring counties in a matter of months. An amazing feat in peacetime, let along during a world war.

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Most of these young Americans had never left home before and were shocked to see how we were struggling to survive.

Just imagine the noise the huge Flying Fortress and Liberator bombers made when they took off and landed – so many never returned, being shot down over enemy territory.

These planes were had a there-and-back range of 2,100 miles, were armed with seven 0.50 calibre guns, loaded with four 2,000lb bombs, and normally had a crew of six to 10.

Blacked out Lib: one of the bombers at Oulton specially converted for its night time missions in sup

Blacked out Liberator: one of the bombers at Oulton specially converted for its night time missions in support of Bomber Command’s operations over Germany. - Credit: Submitted

DJ Yanks book - ready for take-off

Ready for take off - Credit: Submitted

The first mission was flown on November 7, 1942 and the final one on April 25, 1945.

In the hundreds of missions, a total of 199,883 tons of bombs were dropped on enemy installations in all parts of Europe, from Norway in the north to the shores of the Mediterranean in the south, and from Poland and Romania in the east to the shoes of the Atlantic in the west.

The division’s gunners destroyed 1,079 enemy fighters while 1,458 Liberators were lost.

So what did the locals make of these strange-talking strangers?

Writing in the East Anglian magazine in the 1950s on Americans in Suffolk, G H Rose commented:

“We found them to be well-behaved, quiet, friendly and of finer physique. We realised that they were a little homesick and we listened to many a life story from them.

“The first Sunday after they moved in their padre called upon us, introducing himself as Lieutenant Stoudt. He was most ingratiating and embarrassingly free with gifts.

“He took me to HQ and introduced several officers including one, McCorkle, a big Texan. He came back to view the cottage, which is the wonder of all the troops.

“They never ceased to exclaim at the strange phenomenon of a thatched roof.

“Tea had been prepared for the padre and McCorkle but they refused to sit down with us until they had returned to camp for their “C” rations in exchange for hospitality.

“There appears to have been a strict rule in the US forces. They had been advised during their training, no doubt, that British people were on short commons.

Norwichwartimeworld war twoamericans treat local children to parties on the airbases

World War II Americans treat local children to a party on the airbase in Norwich. - Credit: Submitted

“A few days before Christmas (1943) in time for the children’s party, our American friends sent two large baskets full of toys and sweets which they received from home.

“They also rigged up electric lights on the Christmas tree and helped in entertaining the children. Many were the good offices performed by these temporary East Anglians."

If you have special memories of the East Anglian Yanks I would love to hear from you at derek.james2013@gmail.com