Trail 14 – Central Suffolk (Part 1)

Norfolk and Suffolk The first of Suffolk’s trails take you from the northern eastern corner of Suffolk between Lowestoft and Stowmarket through the centre in a south-westerly direction. Another USAAF rich area it boasts some interesting history and some of the most beautiful countryside this county has to offer.

If travelling from Norfolk, we go south toward Stowmarket stopping first at Flixton, near Bungay.

Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum.

The Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum was opened in May 1976, following the setting up of the organisation by local enthusiasts. The Museum was opened by the soon to be president, the late Wing Commander Ken Wallis.

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International Elements are Well Represented With a Mig 15

The museum is found not far from the USAAF site at Bungay and houses a great deal of memorabilia and artefacts from there. Because of the bases links to the USAAF, Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm, it hosts a number of aircraft of different origins.

Over the years the site has grown, collecting mainly through donations, artefacts from various bases located in Eastern England, an area they have primarily focussed on.

The museum is located behind the ‘Buck Inn’ and as it grows space is becoming limited. There is free parking and entry, donations being more than welcome to help with the upkeep and acquisition of new materials.

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EE Lightning Used for Gun and Missile Testing

On entering the site, you are greeted by a number of Aircraft including a Gloster Javelin FAW.9R, North American F-100D Super Sabre, Dassault MD-452 Mystere IVA, De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.1 and a number of other international exhibits.  Including those outside and inside, they boast some 66 aircraft including cockpits and parts of aircraft, a truly remarkable feat.

The Cold War and ‘V’ force is also represented with cockpit sections of each the Vulcan B.2(K) XL445, Victor K.2 XL160 and Valiant B(K)1 XD857, Bloodhound missiles and Eastern Bloc examples. Buildings are split into sections each representing a different era or area of aviation.

The famous late Ken Wallis is also represented, although following his recent death, some exhibits have been removed and are sadly not going to be returned.

The site really speaks for itself, so we won’t dwell here, but if you are in the area, perhaps looking for the nearby base, this is a welcome addition and a remarkable place to visit.

For more information visit the official website.

From the museum, we travel the short distance to RAF Bungay.

RAF Bungay (Flixton) (USAAF Station 125)

Bungay survived under a number of different names: HMS Europa II,  RAF Flixton,  RNAS Bungay and USAAF Station 125, however throughout its short life it remained primarily under the control of the USAAF.

Activated on March 15th 1942, the first arrivals were B25s of the 310th BG, who stay was short-lived, moving to North Africa later that same year. The next group was relocated from nearby RAF Hardwick, the 329th BS of the 93rd BG with their B24 Liberators. Known affectionately as Ted’s Travelling Circus (after the CO, Colonel Ted Timberlake) they undertook intruder missions codenamed ‘Moling’ and experimented with the navigation aid ‘Gee‘. Following the return of the 329th to Hardwick,  Bungay became the subject of expansion. With three intersecting runaways of 6000 ft, 4440 ft and 4200 ft, the airfield also composed of a total of: two T2 hangars, 50 hard stands, 4 Defence sites, and numerous communal and admin sites.

The first residents following the expansion were Liberators of the 446th BG (H) nicknamed “The Bungay Buckaroos”. Their posting here commenced on 4th November 1943, and was made up of  four squadrons of B-24s – the 704th, 705th, 706th and 707th; all of which formed the larger 20th Combat Wing of the Second Bombardment Division, Eighth Airforce. The remainder of this division were those from Hardwick’s 93rd BG and Seething’s 448th BG.

NE SW Runway

The remains of Bungay’s NE-SW runway looking north-east.

The 446th operated from here until their last mission on 25th April 1945 flying a total of 273 missions in which they lost a total of  only 58 aircraft. A further 28 were lost to ‘other causes’ often covering pilot error, mechanical failure and the like. In total they dropped some 16,800 tons of bombs over a total of 273 combat missions. Some of these included the wars most fiercesome targets, including Breman (16th December 1943) Brunswick and Osnabruck on 22nd December. The 446th also participated in bombing raids in support of the Normandy invasion on that famous day in June 1944.

After the 446th departed, the airfield saw no further major flying, being used for maintenance and ordnance storage. Ownership passed between the Fleet Air Arm and Air Ministry over a number of years until eventually being sold off in 1961.

Since then, minor flying has occurred, but gradually the airfield was reduced, buildings demolished and hard standings dug up. Little remains on the site bar some concrete from the main NE-SW runway, a little perimeter track and the odd smaller building.

Admin site

Admin and bomb site Site – now a decaying storage unit.

Tucked away down a country lane, Bungay is best found from the B1062. Stopping on the small country lane, Abbey Road, you can see along what is left of these parts. Now predominately agriculture, fields stretch where the Liberators once stood, trees adorn the admin areas and hard standings support tractors and other modern farm machinery.

A well presented memorial marks the site, the Airfield entrance now a farm and associated dwellings. A small plaque signifies a crash site at Barsham some 3 miles east and a superb museum at nearby Bungay (see above) houses a range of artefacts associated with the 446th and other Eights Air Force groups.

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A peaceful memorial garden to the 446th marks the site of Station 125

In a delightful part of the Suffolk countryside, Station 125 stands as a memorial typical of airfields of that time, to those many crews who never made it home.

After leaving Bungay, we head South West to another USAAF base, RAF Eye.

RAF Eye (Station 138)

Sitting alongside the main A140 south of Diss , Eye still has many features from its conception even though a huge industrial / retail complex has taken over its runways and hardstandings.

The Enourmous Main Runway at Eye.

The Enormous Main Runway at Eye.

Officially opened on 1st May 1944, Eye was one of the last USAAF airbases to be opened and consisted on the usual triangular layout of three runways. It was to have a short life of only one year but in that year managed to record one of the greatest success records of all the Eighth bomber groups.

The first and only group to arrive was the 490th Bombardment Group (Heavy) who were assigned to the 93rd Combat Wing. They operated 4 Bombardment Squadrons: 848th, 849th, 850th and the 851st.

The first mission took place one month later using B-24 Liberators, in which they carried out 40 missions before being replaced with the B-17 Flying Fortresses in the following August. Their missions  took them into the deepest parts of Germany, including Berlin, Hamburg, Merseburg, Münster, Kassel, Hannover, and Cologne as well as supporting the Normandy landings and attacking supply lines in the Battle of the Bulge.

A T2 Hangar Used for Storage

A T2 Hangar Used for Storage

The 490th can claim to have been involved in one of the wars final aerial battles in April 1945 in which they took on the new and deadly Me 262 jets. The Germans, in a last-ditch attempt to defend the homeland, manged to down four bombers before breaking off the attack.

By the time the war had finished, the 490th had completed 158 missions losing only 22 (40 in total ‘other causes’ being the reason) aircraft in combat; one of the lowest records in the whole of the Eighth Airforce. Immediately after cessation of the conflict,  the 490th continued to fly, supplying food and supplies to the people in the Netherlands and  other humanitarian operations involving allied POWs across Europe.

One other ‘claim to fame’ of the 490th, was that they had some of the most provocative nose art on any USAAF aircraft, seemingly uncensored unlike their brothers in arms. Aircraft wore full length nudes and made references to prostitutes of the day, all unheard of in other places.

A Former Gas Clothing Store now houses light Industry.

A Former Gas Clothing Store now houses light Industry.

The airfield finally closed when the 490th departed the following August (1945) and Eye returned largely to agriculture and more recently industry.

Evidence of the Eighth’s presence can still be seen today. Amongst the industrial units can be found a selection of buildings and more astonishingly one of the main runways intact in its entirety.

Now used at one end by industry, lorry parks and larger storage units, the other is open and shows signs of the local youths car driving activities. The full width of the runway gives you a real sense of the activity that went on here. The perimeter tracks remain but in a much worse state; overgrown and barely big enough to fit a tractor let alone a lumbering B24 or B17.

Within the industrial units can be seen a Gas clothing store, an electrical sub station and modified T2 Hangar. Further Nissen huts and concrete sub structures suggest the location of more structures long since removed. The admin blocks, Control tower and other buildings have long gone and whilst there may be the odd one surviving, they are buried deep in undergrowth or on private land and inaccessible. Unlike other bases in this area, Eye lacks a prominent memorial on the site, a real shame but perhaps one day this will be rectified and the sacrifice of those crews who never returned will be much better represented.

An electrical sub-station still used as was intended.

An electrical Sub-Station Still fulfills its Duty today.

From Eye, we continue south along the A140 for only a few miles and arrive at our next stop, and a new trail, RAF Mendlesham (Trail 15).

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