156 Sqn RAF – a 15% chance of survival!

Due to high losses, 156 sqn became known as the ‘chop’ squadron and consequently,  morale fell. With a 15%  chance of survival, morale continued to be an issue and the station was stood down for a short period. In a desperate attempt to bolster the men’s spirits and raise morale, a royal visit was arranged for the Queen. Read more about RAF Warboys and the valuable work they did here.

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Warboy’s Church Memorial to the Pathfinders.

Plan a Trip to a WWII Aviation Heritage Site and Write a Guest Post

Where did the summer go? It was here, and now suddenly, the days are shorter, the sun less bright, and it’s autumn. Before the winter arrives, why not plan your own ‘aviation trail?’ It doesn’t even have to be a series of airfields. It could just be one. It could be a memorial, or a museum that tells the story of a part of Britain’s most impressive aviation history. It’s a lovely time for a road trip. The leaves are changing, the air is crisp and cool, and Britain’s aviation heritage is waiting… for you.

Have you ever wanted to write something of interest to you? To share with others your thoughts, impressions and words, and to actually see them in print? Here is your opportunity!

‘Aviation Trails’ is inviting you to take an autumn journey to an RAF airfield(s) or other aviation heritage site of your choice. While you are there, remember to take along a notebook to jot down some thoughts and ideas, and of course, take some photographs. If it is an airfield, as you walk about, try to imagine it as it must have been when it was bustling with activity during the days of World War II, when the roar of Merlins vibrated through the air, so often, it became the norm. If it is a memorial or a museum, take time to consider the sacrifices made by those brave men and women and how their lives and the lives of their loved ones, were forever altered by the course of World War II.

When you return home, have a go at writing your very own blog post. Do you know any stories about this airfield, memorial or museum that you have heard over the years? Is there someone in your family who served in the RAF or USAAF and was stationed at one of these airfields?  Since Andy last visited some of these airfields, have there been changes you noticed? We would love to hear some of your stories, to learn what you know, and then to be able to share that with our readers.

Once you have completed your post (and be sure to include a few photographs), submit it to: aviationtrails@yahoo.co.uk – We will have a look and consider your piece for publication as part of ‘Aviation Trails’ as a ‘Guest Post.’

This is one of the final weeks for aviation-related events as it is the autumn half-term break for most of the schools across England. Due to this, there will be some airfields offering ‘Open Days’ for museums, as well as other special events that encourage people to visit before the season comes to a close.  I will try to include some of those details below, but it is always best to check out the websites on your own beforehand to find out about opening and closing times, admission fees, etc.

For this post, I’ve decided to focus the suggestions on Lincolnshire, also known as “Bomber Country’. Many of these airfields, museums, memorials and attractions were covered by Andy in Trail 1: Lower Lincolnshire, so you can find additional information and links to museums and such on that page. To have a look, see the link here.

Some of the more well-known airfields and attractions in Lower Lincolnshire include:

  • RAF East Kirkby (Open Mon. – Sat. 9:30 am-5:00 pm through end of Oct.). Also. special event on Sat. 1st Nov. 2014: Lancaster night, taxi runs and fireworks).
  • RAF Woodhall Spa
  • RAF Coningsby (Andy provides very helpful information about the viewing area around Coningsby, so take a look at the link above for his Trail 1).
  • Thorpe-Camp Visitor Centre (Open Sundays 1:00-5:00 pm through end of Oct. and by appointment). Also, on Wed. 29th Oct. 2014 – Coningsby Spotters Get Together).
  • Dambusters Memorial
  • The Petwood Hotel (of Guy Gibson fame)

That being said, you might be in an entirely different county. Please do not feel left out! There are many areas Andy has yet  to have the opportunity to visit, and we would LOVE to hear about an RAF airfield, memorial or museum in a county not covered on one of the ‘aviation trails.’ Please feel free to visit one near you, and then write about what you know; tell us about the stories you have heard, or tell us about your family member who once bravely served at one of these airfields.

Before long, these RAF airfields will be but a distant memory. You will no longer have the opportunity to visit as you do now. Inevitably, as we have seen all over England (e.g. Manston Airport), these treasured places of Britain’s aviation past will be developments with rows of  houses and not a remnant of their once glorious past or the brave men and women who served to protect their beloved England.

So, do not miss your chance to visit an RAF airfield, a memorial or a museum, and give yourself a chance to be the writer you always wanted to be.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to email us.

Marcella M. Beaudreau (@LadyofShalottMA)

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Autumn leaves at Downham Market

 

17 Trails Around Britain’s Lost Airfields

As a youngster, I was fascinated by aircraft, the Second World War and the airfields that the brave young men of the RAF and USAAF  flew from. A mixture of nationalities, they gave their lives without hesitation or question.

My interest and love of this period extended to the Cold War, to fast jets and amazing feats of aerobatics that defy logic and gravity. I would badger my parents into visiting a nearby airfield when on holiday, I would stand eyes skyward watching as the roar of a jet came and went. Books were collected, photos gathered and dreams made.

As an adult, I started visiting these old sites, and more recently began the blog chronicling my experiences for those who wish to share them with me.

So far, I have covered 17 trails, which include  over 40 airfields ranging from Lincolnshire to Kent, Norfolk to Northamptonshire. As I travel further afield, my experiences, the people I meet and the stories I find, never fail to amaze me.

Why not come on a voyage of discovery and nostalgia; choose a trail; see what part they played and see what remains of those places today.

Click on the links below to see some of the pages in the site.

Choose your Aviation Trail.

See the memorials to these people.

Read about heroic tales and acts of bravery.

Find out about the inspiration behind my love of aviation, my father.

View the interactive map.

DSC_0025Mepal peri track south of the Airfield

to sort 412

A breakdown of USAAF Wings of WWII

In the latest chapter of deciphering the USAAF structure, we take the various Commands and break them down into combat wings. These wings form the front line services, and many spanned times from as early as the First World War to current times. Some had short if virtually none existent lives.

The linage is way too complicated in many cases for an in depth analysis, so here we see those units who were formed prior to, or during, WWII.

Some will have been disbanded with the cessation of conflict, only to be reformed a few months later under a new designation or as part of another. Again some references are included, but most will stop at the end of the Second World War. http://wp.me/P4xjD9-Cf

The 490th BG – a claim to fame!

The 490th BG (H) were based at RAF Eye (Station 138) and had several ‘claims to fame’.

Adorning their aircraft, was some of the most provocative nose art of any USAAF aircraft. Seemingly uncensored, like other aircraft of the mighty Eighth, they wore full length nudes and made references to prostitutes of the day – unheard of at the time.

RAF Eye is now an industrial estate, where wind turbines have replaced the propellers of lumbering B-17s, the runway remains in its entirety but the threat of further development continues to increase.

RAF Eye is part of Trail 14

Photo: 490th Bomb Group, USAAF via Eric Swain (via http://www.controltowers.co.uk/e/eye.htm)

16 Air forces Covered the Globe

The USAAF was an enormous organisation, employing some 2.5 million people during the Second World War. Its influence ranged form the United States West Coast, through Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, the Pacific and back. Organising something as big as this, especially during war-time, was a logistical nightmare.

I have made it a personal challenge to figure out how it all slotted together and have managed, in a small part, to assemble a guide to the various complicated air forces and its overall hierarchical structure.

The challenge continues, but so far it’s not bad. Maybe you could shed some light on this huge organisation and unravel its hidden mysteries. See it here.

P-51 ‘Princess Elizabeth‘ at Duxford

Princess Elizabeth was originally the P-51B ’42-106449′ of Lt William T Whisner, and latterly Lt Robert Butler, 487nd FS, 352nd FG, Eighth Airforce, and was lost to Flak on June 6th 1944. The ‘Blue Nosed Bastards of Bodney‘ gained a remarkable reputation, and were to become one of the most successful Fighter Groups of the Eighth Air force. Bodney today.

The only navigator to receive the MOH in WW2

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Robert Femoyer 711th BS, 447BG

Flying from RAF Rattlesden, Suffolk, England, navigator 2nd Lt. Robert E. Femoyer earned the Medal of Honour for action whilst on a mission to Merseburg. During this operation, he showed the highest level of dedication to his crew, performing a selfless act of bravery whilst being severely and fatally wounded.

Born October 31st 1921, Huntington, West  Virginia, USA, he was the eldest child of Edward and Mary Femoyer. and attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia.

On 11th November 1942 Robert Femoyer enlisted and joined the Reserve Corps. He didn’t take up active duty until the following February when he began his basic training at Miami Beach, Florida. He joined the Army Air Corps in that same month and became a cadet at the University of Pittsburgh. He received his commission at the AAF Navigation School at Selman Field, Louisiana in 1943 and graduated, without gaining his wings, in 1944.

With his second lieutenant bars firmly under his belt, Femoyer received his first posting; and in September 1944 he left with the 711th Bomb Squadron as part of the 447th Bomb Group, Eighth Airforce. As a navigator he would determine routes and ensure the safe flight of his aircraft and other crew members to the bomb target and home.

On his fifth and final mission , and only a few days after his 23rd birthday, on November 2, 1944, the 711th attacked an oil refinery at Merseburg, near Leipzig, Germany. The B-17 he was in, was battered, hit several times by flak, and had two of the four engines damaged. The aircraft was difficult to fly and the navigational instruments were left almost useless. Femoyer himself had received shrapnel wounds to his side and back, was bleeding heavily and in a great deal of pain.

The B-17 quickly lost both height and speed and was forced to leave the formation, making it more vulnerable to attack from fighters, but Femoyer was not going let his compatriots down.

Deciding to turn for home the pilot asked for a route.  In response, Femoyer, determined to keep a clear head, refused all medical assistance before planning their escape route home. He insisted he was propped up so he could read his maps, the injury to his body making sitting extremely difficult. Guiding the pilot safely around heavy flak zones, they eventually reached the safety of the English coast, where then, and only then, did Femoyer allow morphine and other medical aid to be administered. The pilot managed to guide the stricken aircraft home where upon landing at RAF Rattlesden, Femoyer was removed from his post, weak and having lost of lot of blood, and taken to hospital where he sadly died about an hour later.

For his valour and courage he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honour, and his citation read:

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty near Merseburg, Germany, on Nov. 2, 1944. While on a mission, the bomber, of which 2d Lt. Femoyer was the navigator, was struck by three enemy antiaircraft shells. The plane suffered serious damage and 2d Lt. Femoyer was severely wounded in the side and back by shell fragments which penetrated his body. In spite of extreme pain and great loss of blood he refused an offered injection of morphine. He was determined to keep his mental faculties clear in order that he might direct his plane out of danger and so save his comrades. Not being able to arise from the floor, he asked to be propped up in order to enable him to see his charts and instruments. He successfully directed the navigation of his lone bomber for 2 1/2 hours so well it avoided enemy flak and returned to the field without further damage. Only when the plane had arrived in the safe area over the English Channel did he feel that he had accomplished his objective; then, and only then, he permitted an injection of a sedative. He died shortly after being removed from the plane. The heroism and self-sacrifice of 2d Lt. Femoyer are in keeping with the highest traditions of the 447th Bomb Group and the U.S. Army Air Corps.”

The body of 2nd Lt. Robert Edward Femoyer was returned to the United States to his adopted Florida home, and was buried in Greenlawn Cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida, Section 8, Lot 2.  Florida historical resources list him as one of their own war heroes. His college, Virginia Tech, named a building the ‘Femoyer Hall’ in his honor in 1949 and in 2001, a stretch of West Virginia Route 152 from the Fifth Street crossing with Interstate 64 to the Huntington city limits, was officially designated Robert Femoyer Boulevard. Numerous air force bases have also named streets in his honour.

Robert Femoyer was the only American navigator to have received the Medal of Honour during service in World War Two and remains a Florida hero to this day.

Few, if any, photos survive of Femoyer, but others of his squadron are at: http://www.447bg.com/Contacts.htm

For other heroic tales click here.

RAF Rattlesdon today

RAF Rattlesdon today

Source compiled from U.S. Air Force Office of History.

B-17 – A Fascinating Film of ‘A Bit O’ Lace’

RAF Rattlesden, was home to the 447th Bomb Group, this consisted of the 708th, 709th, 710th and 711th Bomb Squadrons.

Possibly the most famous aircraft from this group was the B-17 ‘A Bit O’ Lace’ immortalised by Airfix as their 1:78 scale model.

I recently had the good fortune to come across this film on ‘You Tube’, taken by one of the crew members of ‘A Bit O’ Lace’.  It was taken at various points during the war and gives an insight in to the lives of the young crew of the B-17 during World War 2.

The film includes, scenes around bombed London, RAF Rattlesden and on missions over Europe, the exact locations are not clear.

The film also includes a Lancaster, believed to be N0. 100 Squadron Lancaster III ED587, HW-V, which shot down  on the night of 9th/10th March 1943 over Munchen.

Other ‘guest’ aircraft include P-51s and P-47s.

The film is priceless.

I visited Rattlesden earlier this year and it appears in Trail 15.

Their memories lay in tatters.

Losing more aircraft to accidents than enemy action, in over 170 bombing missions, the 34th never received any unit decorations.

Based at RAF Mendlesham (Station 156) in Suffolk, the memorial is dilapidated and vandalised and the brass plaque has been stolen. Plans are afoot to rectify this, but it takes time and money to honour the fallen.

Mendlesham is part of Trail 15 which tours central Suffolk, England.

RAF Mendlesham

RAF Mendlesham