USAAF, 8th Air Force, 2nd Air Division; 1943-1987

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USAAF, 8th Air Force, 2nd Air Division; 1943-1987

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  • Eighth Air Force of the United States Army Air Force
  • 8th Air Force of the United States Army Air Force

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Dates of existence

1943-1987

History

Part of the United States Army Air Force 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force.
The United States Eighth Air Force (hereafter the 8th Air Force) was composed of three Air Divisions, each with fighter units and maintenance organizations to support the bomber operations. The 1st Air Division (in the Huntingdon area) and the 3rd Air Division (in Suffolk and Southwest Norfolk) were equipped with Boeing B-17 Fortress bombers. The 2nd Air Division (based in Norfolk and northeast Suffolk) flew Consolidated B-24 Liberators (hereafter B-24s).
The 2nd Air Division evolved out of the reorganization of VIII Bomber Command into the 8th Air Force. Starting as the Second Bomb Wing, it became the Second Bomb Division and after a fighter wing (the 65th Fighter Wing) was assigned, in September 1944, it was redesignated the 2nd Air Division in January 1945. At full strength, the 2nd Air Division had 14 bomb groups all of which are represented in this archive. Each airbase was occupied by a single bomb group consisting of four flying bomb squadrons, a squadron having an average complement of 12 to 16 B-24 aircraft and 200 combat airmen. For every man in the air there were approximately another seven to ten on the ground engaged in support activities ranging from cooks, clerks, mechanics, armourers, medics, military policemen and administrators. Total personnel on a bomber station varied between two and three thousand.
During the Second World War, the 65th Fighter Wing's, main role was to escort bombers attacking industrial targets, weapons sites and transport networks in Europe. They also strafed and attacked enemy airfields and other targets. A typical fighter group had three fighter squadrons of about 30 aircraft. The 65th Fighter Wing mostly flew P-51 'Mustangs' or P-47 'Thunderbolts'.
The 2nd Air Division was engaged primarily in strategic bombing against enemy targets in Europe between 7 November 1942 and 25 April 1945. During this period, Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command concentrated on night attacks while the 8th Air Force operated mainly in daylight. A total of 95,948 sorties were flown in 493 operational missions by the 2nd Air Division's B-24s, dropping 199,883 tons of bombs. Targets ranged from Norway in the north, to Poland and Romania in the east, while several Mediterranean countries were reached from temporary bases in North Africa. In addition, 10 crews of the 458th Bomb Group were specially trained in the use of Azon experimental smart-bombs, although this experiment was later abandoned. Six 2nd Air Division groups received special presidential citations for outstanding actions and five airmen received the Medal of Honor (the highest United States award for bravery), four posthumously. In combat, the 2nd Air Division gunners claimed 1,079 enemy fighters destroyed against losses of 1,458 B-24s missing in action and others damaged in accidents. A total of 6,700 men serving with the 2nd Air Division lost their lives during the conflict. A typical tour of operations was initially 25 missions, later rising to 30, and finally to 35 missions. At one time, the chance of an individual airman completing a tour of operations was as little as one in three.
The 2nd Air Division also took part in non-combat 'trucking' missions flown by pared down crews without bombardiers and gunners to deliver fuel and cargo supplies to land-based forces in France. In addition, the 492nd Bomb Group were known as the 'Carpetbaggers' for their flying of low-level, night-time, special operations to deliver supplies to resistance groups in enemy occupied countries. Towards the end of operations in the European Theatre, trolley missions were flown to take ground crews and dignitaries on low-altitude flights to see the results of combat missions on the ground.
The B-24 'Liberator', nicknamed by some as the 'Ugly Duckling', had a wing span of 110 feet (33.5 metres) and a gross weight of more than 30 tons. B-24 crews commonly personalised their aircraft, giving them names and painting the noses with individual artwork. The crew varied from eight to ten men and would typically include the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radio operator, engineer, bombardier and gunners.
After take-off, large formations of about 20 to 40 bomber aircraft, would assemble behind a uniquely marked, and usually brightly coloured, assembly ship (otherwise known as a formation or lead aircraft), while climbing to operational altitude. Such an assembly was despatched from a single airfield and joined with other formations to form a division column of perhaps 500 to 600 bombers. On reaching the target, each formation released its bombs on the aim and signal of the lead aircraft. Lead navigators were more experienced and were assigned to different lead crews when their particular skills were required. H2X radar (or 'Mickey' set named for the supposed resemblance of the early sets to Mickey Mouse) was an American development of the British H2S radar, the first ground mapping radar to be used in combat. Those missions where bombing was done by H2X were called 'Pathfinder missions' and the crews were 'Pathfinder crews'. In combat areas the 'Mickey' operator directed the pilot on headings to be taken, and on the bomb run directed the aircraft in coordination with the bombardier.
Flying the B-24 was dangerous and uncomfortable for the airmen. They endured cramped conditions on a mission, which usually lasted between four and ten hours, and were exposed to constant noise and vibration. High altitudes necessitated uncomfortable oxygen masks and temperatures could reach down to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The aircraft were vulnerable to enemy anti-aircraft fire ('flak') and fighter attacks, but many crew members were able to parachute to safety over land (becoming eligible for membership of the Caterpillar Club) or to bail out or ditch over sea (becoming eligible for membership of the Goldfish Club). Other downed crew members successfully evaded enemy capture (often with the help of allied resistance movements) to return to duty or were held as internees if captured in a neutral country. Others were captured by enemy hands and held as prisoners of war. Some of these prisoners were among the approximately 80,000 Allied prisoners of war compelled to take part in 'forced marches' between camps westward across Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Germany, from January to April 1945.
The 2nd Air Division Headquarters was initially based at Old Catton, then at Horsham St. Faith's airbase, and from late 1943 it moved to its final base at Ketteringham Hall, six miles south-west of Norwich. Many members of the Women's Army Corps (WACs) were stationed at Headquarters, in addition to those stationed at airbases in Norfolk, where they usually undertook clerical and communication work.
Accommodation for enlisted men on an airbase was typically in a steel Nissen hut (similar to the American 'Quonset' hut), heated by a single wood-burning stove. Leisure facilities on the bases would typically include an officers' mess, canteen and theatre. American Red Cross (ARC) workers (usually female) also provided food and entertainment to the bases and at ARC Service clubs in cities across the country. Personnel were able to leave the base on short passes to visit local towns and villages, or spend time with local families. Longer leave furloughs were available and personnel would often travel to destinations across Britain; London and Edinburgh were popular. Some of the memorabilia collected by servicemen in this archive includes theatre programmes and tickets, photographs, postcards and short snorters. Short snorters are banknotes or, more commonly in this archive, small pieces of paper designed to resemble banknotes, intended to be signed by persons travelling together on a flight or at a social gathering. Various newsletters or 'poop sheets' were also printed by some bomb groups, and by Headquarters, to distribute important news and more light-hearted stories to service personnel.
Service personnel were restricted in what they could write home to friends and family, their mail being subject to careful censorship. In addition to normal telegrams and letters, a particular letter format called V-mail (short for Victory Mail) was also used. This was based on the British Airgraph system expediting the delivery of mail between those at home in the United States and those on active service abroad during the Second World War. V-mails were written on dedicated pro-forma letter-sheets which were then censored and photographed before being reduced to thumb-nail size on reels of microfilm. The film reels were sent by air freight to the United States, to receiving stations near the recipient for enlargement and printing, at about one-quarter of the original size on lightweight photograph paper, and delivery.
Some missions and military events are more fully represented than others in this archive. The following summary is not intended to be exhaustive, but to indicate some of those best represented in the records.
Ploesti, Romania:
The Ploesti oil refinery, in Wallachia, Romania, was a key target because of its role in supporting the German war effort; it was thought to produce up to a third of Germany's fuel. Ploesti was also at the very flight range limit of the B-24 Liberator bomber (approximately 2,100 miles or 3,400 kilometres). Under 'Operation Tidal Wave', five groups of B-24 Liberators were allocated the task of bombing Ploesti: three of these groups, the 44th, 93rd and 389th, were from the 2nd Air Division. This operation involved more than 170 B-24 Liberator bombers, which took off from temporary desert bases near Benghasi, Libya, on 1 August 1943.
The lead aircraft (the B-24 'Wongo Wongo', piloted by Lt Brian Flavelle), crashed into the sea and navigational errors meant that some aircraft took a wrong turn on approaching the target. The area was well defended by German anti-aircraft ('flak') guns, and the B-24s were without their own fighter support. The attack destroyed about 40 per cent of the oil fields' capacity, some of which the Germans were able to rebuild, but more than 50 B-24s were destroyed and over 500 men were killed or wounded. More awards for bravery were issued for this mission than for any other mission flown by the 2nd Air Division during the Second World War.
The 'Big Week' and D-Day:
Early in 1944, plans were forming for an amphibious invasion of continental Europe (named 'Operation Overlord') by the Allied forces. The invasion was planned for May or June 1944, and became widely known as D-Day. Control of the air was necessary for the success of the amphibious landing and a 'Big Week' of intensive bomber and fighter attacks on German air depots and airfields was ordered as part of 'Operation Argument', 20 February 1944-25 February 1944. 2nd Air Division crews were also active on the coast of northern France in the days leading up to D-Day, and on 6 June 1944, D-Day itself, with the 446th Bomb Group the first over the beachhead.
In anticipation of the increased numbers of casualties from the D-Day advances, the Station Hospital near Wymondham was ordered to increase capacity from about 834 to 1254 beds. On 12 July 1944, medical supply personnel prepared 200 stretchers in two hours ready for the first mass admission of these battle casualties from a hospital train at Wymondham Station. Eight hospital trainloads, 2099 patients, were admitted to the hospital in 1944.
The 'Night of the Intruders':
On 22 April 1944, aircraft from the 44th, 93rd, 389th, 392nd, 445th, 446th, 448th, 453rd, 458th, 466th and 467th Bomb Groups were returning later than was usual from bombing missions to Germany. The airfield lights acted as beacons and their stream was infiltrated by German fighter aircraft on what became known as the 'Night of the Intruders'. In total, 14 aircraft were shot down and bombs were dropped on Rackheath airbase, killing a member of the ground crew, Pvt. Daniel Miney. He is the only member of ground crew listed on the 2nd Air Division's Roll of Honor as killed in action.
Notes on information provided about individual combat airmen and ranks:
The rank and unit of service for personnel and the crew position (for aircrew) have been noted wherever possible, as they appear in the documents. It has not always been possible to add whole histories of military careers and the rank and service history provided may not reflect a later promotion, or change. If you have any factual corrections to information in the catalogue, please contact the Norfolk Record Office. Abbreviations for ranks used in this catalogue:
Brigadier (Brig.)
Colonel (Col)
Major (Maj.)
General (Gen.)
Captain (Capt.)
Technical Sergeant (T/Sgt)
Master Sergeant (M/Sgt)
Sergeant (Sgt)
First Lieutenant (1st Lt)
Second Lieutenant (2nd Lt)
Private (Pvt.)

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GB/153/NM/6923

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Created on: 11/08/2005 by Droip

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