The first formally recognised, sustained, powered, heavier-than-air flight in the UK took off 110 years ago.
Glendon Bulmar Booth hailed from Sydenham, south east London. Glen completed his Eric at Brockley County School in Ladywell before embarking on a career with the County of London Electrcity Company. Glen also joined the RAFVR in 1938. He was called up full-time when war was declared. 15 July 1940 was a miserable, rainy, dank […]
A documentary about a very brave young man who fought for his country and was then rejected by the very same people he fought for.
Video biography of F/Lt František Truhlář who was to suffer sever burns in two separate aircraft crashes during WW2. The first when he was an air-gunner with 311 Sqn when Wellington N2771 crashed at Bentley Priory 16 October 1940. His extensive burns caused him to become one of two Czechoslovak RAF airmen who required plastic […]
As the year draws to close and we spend time with our loved ones, I would like to just wish you all a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year.
Another year has passed and looking back, we realise how quickly time passes. I am amazed how my own blog has gone from strength to strength, how my own writing has developed, from early posts that were merely a couple of paragraphs to more recent ones that are 2-3000 words long – a big change for me! I must admit I have a slight cringe when I read some of those early posts; as time has gone on I have started to revisit them (and the places they are about) and make some updates.
I would like to take time to thank each and every one of you who has read, commented and stayed with me during this journey, it has certainly been an experience I don’t want to forget.
This year, the blog surpassed 21,000 visitors and 50,000 views whilst not huge in comparison to some, it is certainly far more than I ever thought it would, and I appreciate each and every one.
Some notable posts/events you may have missed:
Hearbreak on Christmas Eve – the sad loss of Brigadier General Frederick W. Castle (posted December 2015), whose awarding of the Medal of Honour, reflected the determination and personality of one of Eakers “Original Seven”. He chose to leave a safe position for a combat role, taking on the demoralised 94th, leading them into some of the Second World War’s most ferocious air battles.
The Last Word to Guy Gibson – also posted last year, a poignant word written in Gibson’s book.
In October 2015 we saw the end of an era, with the grounding of Avro Vulcan XH558. After an eight year reign as Queen of the skies, she finally bowed out after the three main technical companies that support her, withdrew their support. In her last flight on October 28th 2015, she completed a short 15 minute flight, the culmination of 228 flights and 346 hours flying time. A landmark in British Aviation history.
A number of British airfields were earmarked for development or planning applications, amongst them are the former: RAF Kings Cliffe, RAF Downham Market, RAF West Raynham, RAF Denethorpe and RAF Coltishall, with further applications affecting former RAF Dunsfold, RAF Bourn and RAF Wellesbourne Mountford. So what does the future hold for Britain’s airfields?
Early 2016, Aviation Trails was nominated for the Liebster Award by The Aviation Site and I was honoured to accept this award and in November it was nominated by Historypresent for a further writing accolade. Sadly this slipped off the list, but I would like to offer my sincere thanks for this very kind nomination.
With the total number of Trails standing at almost 40, I have visited what must be over 100 airfields; in addition a large number of memorials, and many great museums, and there are still many, many more of each to get to.
The interactive map has been useful to many readers outside of Britain hoping to find places where loved ones served, and a few people have contacted me which has hopefully helped trace some information thus filing in some gaps.
All in all it has been a marvellous year for AviationTrails, I wish to pass on my gratitude and thanks to each and every one of you.
So without further ado, a very Merry Christmas to everyone and a peaceful and safe New Year!
As we leave both Swanton Morley and Hingham behind, we head directly east crossing the main A11 toward Wymondham and Mulbarton. Here we visit another former USAAF base now home to Lotus cars. We stop off at RAF Hethel.
RAF Hethel (Station 114)
RAF Hethel was initially designed for the RAF but, like so many airfields of the Second World War, it was transferred very quickly to the USAAF for use by the bombers of the Eighth Air Force. Construction of the site began in 1941 and wasn’t complete when the first units arrived in 1942.
The ground echelons of the 320th BG arrived at Hethel in September, poised and ready for training. Travelling across the northern sea route, they arrived long before the air echelons who, due to extremely bad weather, had to divert from their designated route to the longer Southern route, via Africa. As this was considerably further to fly, many of the B-26s, of these units did not arrive until well into the December.
Training of these raw crews became the responsibility of the Eighth Air Force – and raw they certainly were. The 320th had only been active since June 23rd that year, and within weeks they would be posted to North Africa once suitable airfields had been secured.
Construction work continued on Hethel throughout the latter stages of 1942 and into 1943; the number of hardstands rose from the original 36 to 50 giving a mix of both ‘spectacle’ and ‘frying pan’ types dotted around the three concrete runways. The main runway ran north-east to south-west with two smaller runways traversing east-west and north-west to south-east respectively. A large bomb store was located to the north-west, the opposite side to both the technical and accommodation areas both of which were to the south-eastern side of the airfield. That all important commodity, fuel, was stored to the south, and three T2 hangars would eventually provide room for aircraft maintenance away from the bitter 1940’s winters.
With the 320th away in North Africa, Hethel was operationally quiet, but the summer of 1943 would once again bring changes.
Oil had long been considered a major target, reduce your enemies oil supplies and you reduce their ability to function. Stopping these supplies however, was going to be no easy task. The mighty German war machine was using oil located in the far eastern regions of Europe, located at the very edge of any major allied aircraft’s range. This gave the Luftwaffe plenty of time to attack, on both the inward and outward journeys. With round trips in excess of 2,000 miles, they would be dangerous and difficult missions for any crews. Polesti in Romania would become synonymous with oil production and a major target for the allied forces. To reach it, crews would have to fly from North Africa at very low-level, something they had not even thought possible let alone trained for in B-24s. In the summer a plan was hatched to do just that, a low-level bomber raid by B-24 Liberators of the Eighth and Ninth Air Force launched from bases in North Africa.
Hethel and the 389th would play their part in this daring plan. The first vanguard of the 389th led by Brigadier General Jack Wood, arrived at Hethel on June 11th 1943, followed by the air echelons of the four squadrons: 564th, 565th, 566th and 567th over the next two weeks. The ground echelons travelling by ship, would arrive some time later. Urgency was the key word and so as to not lose valuable training time, ground crews were drafted in from nearby Shipdham (93rd BG) and Hardwick’s 44th BG.
This change in tactics, from high-level to low certainly perplexed the crews of the 389th. New top-secret bomb sights had been trialled over The Wash to the north of the Norfolk coast and they had been successful in their operation. Extensive training operations were put in place to prepare the crews for the forthcoming operations. So intense was this low-level training, that two B-24Ds collided over East Anglia, ’42-40687′ piloted by 1st Lt. Edward Fowble, and ’42-40774′ “Heaven Can Wait” piloted by 1st Lt. Harold James, struck each other. Whilst both aircraft managed to return to Hethel, one of the navigators, 2nd Lt. Charles Quantrell sadly lost his life. Eventually on the 31st June, the crews left Hethel, to join those they had worked so hard with, they flew via Portreath to their destination in Libya. From here they would undertake a multitude of missions including the support of the Sicily invasion before going on to attack the infamous oil refineries at Polesti. Whilst in Libya the 389th would earn many distinctions including a posthumous Medal of Honour to Lt. Lloyd H. Hughes (s/n 0-666292) for his determination in dropping his bombs on target even though his B-24 was burning ferociously. The 389th would also receive the Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) from Lt. General Spaatz and hence forth become known as “The Sky Scorpions“.
Whilst the main sections of the 389th were out in Libya, the remaining Hethel units were reduced to training and Air-Sea rescue missions, ironically searching for downed B-17 crews, something the Liberator would prove to be invaluable at.
With the return of the Africa detachments, the Bomb Group was complete again, and missions over occupied Europe could begin once more from Hethel. Their first contribution to this new phase was to attack Leeuwarden, but cloud cover forced them to find alternative targets on which they unleashed their devastating load. With operation STARKEY about to commence, the 389th were ordered to target the Luftwaffe airfields in the St. Omer region, and then again six days later they visited St. Andre De L’Eure. The next day, the 389th were informed that they would be returning to North Africa this time in support of the Salerno beachhead. A blow to those crews who had only recently arrived here at Hethel.
With the group split again, Hethel based units would continue the fight on. As the renamed 2nd Bombardment Division, they now carried a large Black ‘C’ enclosed in a white circle on their tail fins and starboard wingtip, they would also fly the updated ‘H’ model B-24. With a nose turret, more experienced crews had their reservations about these aircraft, slower and heavier they were also colder due to gaps in the turret surrounds.
A number of strategic missions took these aircraft over occupied Europe many deep across the German Heartland. As 1943 drew to a close the 389th would attack dock yards at Vegesack, Danzig and Wilhelmshaven; targets at Munster, Breman, Emden and Kiel to name but a few. It was at Emden that the Luftwaffe fighters were trialling a new weapon, a bomb dangled on 100 feet of wire to catch the bombers. A rather poor attempt it nevertheless caused great concern for pilots having to fly through wires hanging in an already busy sky. To bring 1943 to a close, on the 30th and 31st December, the 389th were part of further large formations attacking both Ludwigshafen on the Rhine and the airfield at St. Jean D’Angeley respectively.
A new year brought little change, but with the introduction of H2X-equipped aircraft, bombing became more accurate, and new targets were identified; ‘No Ball’ operations began and attacks on German cities increased. Late February saw the 389th in action during ‘Big Week’, an operation designed to cripple the German aircraft industry by targeting both aircraft and component manufacturing sites.
With the lead up to D-day, operations would occur almost every day from June 2nd up to June 29th, there would be only six days in this month period where no missions were flown by the 389th.
November 1944 would bring another devastating blow to the crews of Hethel. A collision between B-24J ’42-50452′ ‘Earthquake Magoon‘ and another B-24J ’44-10513’ on November 21st over the local parish of Carelton Rode, saw the loss of 17 of the 20 crew men. A devastating blow that highlighted the need for good communication and careful flying in these close quarters.
Missions carried on and as the war drew to a close, fighter attacks became less effective but even more daring. Pockets of resistance were becoming a ‘nuisance’ and the need for the further ports led to an attack in the Bordeaux region. On April 14th 1945, 1,161 heavy bombers were sent to the area. The 2nd Air Division accounted for 336 of these aircraft, of which only two were lost; B-24J ’42-50774′ “Stand By” and B-24J ’42-51233′ “The Bigast Boid“.
In “The Bigast Boid” of the 567th BS, was pilot 2nd Lt. Edward Bush and his nine other crew members. The aircraft was seemingly hit by friendly fire from B-17s flying above, completely severing the aircraft in half at the trailing edge of the wing, resulting in total loss of control. In the subsequent crash all ten crew members were killed. Other pilots from the 389th who witnessed the accident, attributed the fires and crash to flares being dropped from higher flying B-17s, – such was the danger of flying in tight formations.
Eleven days later on April 25th, 1945 the 389th BG flew its final mission. The last target to receive the attention of the four squadrons was Salsburg, an operation that closed the books on 321 operational missions in five different versions of B-24. In total they dropped 17,548 tons of ordnance, lost 116 aircraft as Missing in action and claimed 209 enemy aircraft shot down. In 1945 they were awarded ‘best squadron’ on efficiency, an award that clearly reflected their attitude and dedication to the war effort.
With the departure of the air echelon at the end of May 1945 and the ground echelons from Bristol, the unit was given 30 days ‘R and R’ before inactivation in September. Hethel like so many airfields was then handed back to RAF Fighter Command who stationed a small number of Squadrons here before disbanding them. In September 1945, 65 Sqn and 126 Sqn were here with Mustang IVs. 65 Sqn stayed taking on Spitfire LF XVI E models before moving to Spilsby in early 1946. 126 Sqn left, had a months stay at Bradwell bay and then returned here, also taking the Spitfire LF XVI E and eventual disbandment in the following March.
Five Polish squadrons then came to Hethel. During the period March to December 1946: 302, 303, 308, 316 and 317 each stayed bringing with them Spitfire XVIs / Es, Mustang IIIs, and IVs, before all being disbanded in the December 1946.
Some technical activity on the site became almost token in comparison and eventually, after being used for repatriation and displaced persons purposes, Hethel was closed and sold off. After laying dormant for a number of years, the majority of the site was bought by Lotus Cars, the company who own the ‘airfield’ today using part of the main runway and perimeter track for testing their high performance cars. The remaining accommodation areas were bought back by the local farmer and are now used for chicken farming, or left allowing the woods to envelop what is left of the accommodation sites.
Considering the role of the Lotus factory, access is generally good. Look for signs for ‘Lotus Engineering’ and drive along the road passing the Lotus site. This was the main entrance to the airfield, separating the ten accommodation and defence sites (on your right) from the main airfield to your left. On the right hand side are some of the former Defence site buildings, now used by small industrial units, the Lotus factory taking over the main technical area including the control tower. On your left is one of the original three hangars. Continue on past the Lotus entrance along the road as far as you can. To your right is a wood, this once housed Communal Site 1 and beyond this the other accommodation sites. A footpath allows access through here where a small number of buildings can be seen albeit enveloped in very dense undergrowth. The road along here eventually turns into a farm, and private property, however, the chapel and Gymnasium are located along this road and have since been turned into a museum. Access to the museum is through this gate. Beyond, the road turns into a footpath and utilises the former perimeter track linking to the main runway to the north. This runs alongside the track now used by Lotus.
From here turn back, return to the main road and turn right. Follow the road parallel to the former east-west runway and turn right. Keep going following the road round, eventually you come to another T2 Hangar. Not originally erected here, it was moved at some point from elsewhere, but is perhaps one of the better examples of airfield archaeology left on the site that is ‘accessible’.
Whilst the majority of Hethel has been removed or utilised by Lotus, it makes for a fascinating trip. The museum, run by volunteers, opens infrequently but I believe offers a fabulous insight into life on the base during the war. One of the more stunning aspects of the exhibition is a number of murals painted in 1944 by “Bud” Doyle. A small memorial is also located at the museum in honour of those who served here.
Hethel was once a heaving airfield, it has now taken on a new sound, but the memories of those brave young men still linger in the Norfolk air; the trees sway to the tunes of their music and their lives rest peacefully at last, honoured in the churches of the nearby Norfolk villages.
Sources and notes
While in the area, visit All Saints Church at Hethel, a memorial headstone dedicated to the crews of Hethel is located in the churchyard with a Roll of Honour inside the church itself. It also contains a Roll of Honour and extracts from ‘The Attlebridge Diaries’, for those who flew as part of the 466th BG from nearby RAF Attlebridge.
A plaque and small stained glass window in All Saints Church, Carelton Rode, commemorates the deaths of the seventeen airmen killed in a mid-air collision in November 1944.
The Hethel Museum was closed on my visit, but a blog site gives some details of the exhibits along with the restricted opening time information.
I recommend: Freeman, R.A., “The Mighty Eighth“, published by Arms and Armour, 1986 which has proven to be a valuable source of background information.
Also Joe Baugher’s website, for serial numbers of the USAAF aircraft.
Hogan’s Heroes, the CBS sitcom about life in a German prisoner of war camp during World War II, debuted September 17th, 1965. Our family was living in Burnt Hills, New York, a small, bedroom community upstate just a few miles north of Schenectady. I was fifteen years old and just starting the 10th grade.
Hello everybody, I was recently asked to help research the details surrounding the death of a reader’s grandparent lost during World War II while flying operationally. The operation in question concerns No.455 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force attached to RAF Coastal Command flying Hampden TB.Is and took place on January 11th 1943. The information I […]
The amazing story behind ‘My Gal Sal’. The remarkable return from her icy grave.
Another story from Clarence Simonsen President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a man of great change and foresaw the United States being drawn into the war in Europe long before 7 December 1941. The President knew the aeroplane would play an enormous part in winning such a world war and made plans for expansion of the […]
March 5th 2016 marks an incredible 80 years since the first flight of the Supermarine Spitfire. The first prototype, K5054, designed by Reginald J. Mitchell, took off from Eastleigh Aerodrome on March 5th 1936 and while it may have looked a little rough around the edges it was unmistakably a Spit’ with its beautiful wing shape and […]
Aviation Trails was nominated for the Liebster Award by The Aviation Site and I’m honoured to accept this award. Apart from school, it’s probably the first award I’ve received ever!
Since stared blogging, I’ve met both literally and electronically, a wide range of people from around the world who have become my blogging friends, all sharing a common interest.
Blogging has allowed me to record and share my passion – aviation, it has been a life long love even though I never learnt to fly! My one regret!
I would like to thank The Aviation Site for the nomination, it was a kind and thoughtful nomination for which I am very grateful. Please do go and take a look at their blog.
The sites I have chosen offer a range of interests, fun and facts, many are aviation related, but not all, diversity being the key to an interesting and fruitful read. They are all worthy of a visit as are many others.
Rules of the award
A blogger can nominate up to 10 other bloggers, then create a post announcing the nomination. The nominated bloggers should have less than 3,000 followers. The first blogger then asks 10 questions to these bloggers. If the nominated bloggers accept, then they create their own post accepting the nomination & linking back to the first blogger, answering the 10 questions, then nominating more bloggers and asking a new set of questions. The award keeps getting passed on so that readers can discover new blogs.
Here are the answers to the 10 questions posed to me:
- Which is your favourite city? – A difficult one, but I do love the history and romance of Liverpool.
- If you were a vlogger, what would you vlogg about? – Aviation Naturally!
- Who is you favourite artist? – At the moment I really like the watercolours of Thomas Schaller. They are stunning!
- Who is your inspirational blogger and what do you like about them? – All that I follow, they have all inspired me and taught me so much about the world, about history and of course writing!
- Who is your favourite poet? – Sadly not an area I know a lot about! I like a wide range of more traditional poetry, especially war poetry, it has passion and feeling.
- What is the most embarrassing character you dislike in a person? – being moody.
- What is your top priority on your bucket list for this year? – To visit the last site where Glenn Miller flew from.
- What is your best music, movies and author? – I’m getting old and my tastes are mellowing, I do listen to a lot of ‘mellow music’ on Spotify. I also have to admit I like ‘girly’ films but it would have to be: ‘Battle of Britain’. My favourite author would have to be Michael Morpurgo. As a teacher I love reading his stories with the children.
- What is the advice you would give to new bloggers? – Persevere and be passionate about what you write!
- what is your favourite dish? – A Sunday roast, I love it!
I nominate the following blogs for the Liebster Award, please do check them out if you haven’t already:
- Air War World War II
- Keep Calm and Remember
- 20th Century Battles
- Violet Wells
- John Knifton
- Aces Flying High
- My Lancaster Stories
Here are your ten questions!
- What is your strongest quality?
- What or who inspired you to start blogging?
- If you could change one thing in this world, what would it be?
- Is time travel important to you?
- What scares you most?
- The weekend is yours to do whatever you wish, what would you do, money being no object?
- What was your favourite book as a child?
- How often do you smile at strangers?
- Do you prefer music or art?
- If you had three wishes, what would the third wish be?