Old Buckenham Airfield
|Historical Name of Location||Old Buckenham, England, United Kingdom|
Contributor: Alan Chanter
ww2dbaseOld Buckenham airfield was constructed 1.5 miles to the south west of Old Buckenham, Norfolk, England, United Kingdom during 1942-43 by Taylor-Woodrow Ltd as a base for the heavy bombers of the USAAF 2nd Bombardment Division. Most of the airfields constructed after 1940 were provided with three intersecting (concrete with partial wood-chippings) runways. The main one was 2,000 yards long with a standard width of 50 yards, and was sited roughly south-west to north-east, which suited the prevailing winds. The other two runways were 1,400 yards long and the three were connected at their ends by a perimeter track which contained the concrete hard standing for fifty dispersed aircraft. Although not all wartime airfields were built to a standard basic design most of the American bases were very similar in plan and construction. The most dominant feature on all airfields was the control tower (known as the watch tower at RAF stations) that controlled aircraft arrivals and departures. This was typically a two storied concrete building with a railed balcony from where staff could observe the flights. All airfields were supplied with two T-type (transportable) hangers plus the odd blister hanger for maintenance and local repairs. The station headquarters, technical stores, sick quarters and briefing room were most frequently constructed from precast concrete slabs while the mess rooms and living accommodation for 421 officers and 2,473 other ranks were generally simple Nissen huts (sometimes, in early days, just tents) located well away from the airfield, which made ownership of a bicycle a most prized possession. One or two tall and rather ugly water towers and the inevitable wind sock were other notable features on every wartime airfield. For obvious reasons the bomb and ammunition stores were sited well away from the working and living quarters, and finally the firing butts were located at the furthest point of the airfield near to the end of the main runway.
ww2dbaseThe 453rd Bomb Group, equipped with B-24 Liberator heavy bombers, which had been activated in the USA in June 1943 under Colonel Joseph A. Miller arrived at Old Buckenham (or US Station 144 as it was officially known) in late December 1943 and would remain there, as its sole operational unit, for the duration of the its active career with the Eighth Air Force. The 453rd Bomb Group would form a part of the Second Bomb Wing, joining the 389th Group based at Hethel and the 445th at Tibenham. Its four subordinate squadrons consisted of the 732nd Bomb Squadron (Lightman), 733rd Bomb Squadron (Tripup), 734th Bomb Squadron (Dizzy) and 735th Bomb Squadron (Bowfinch). The group's first few weeks in Norfolk consisted of the slow process of familiarizing both aircrew and ground personnel with the area and operational procedures in addition to attending lectures and briefings on English social customs before being permitted to leave their new home. On the 5 February 1944, the group was considered ready to undertake its first combat mission - an attack on a major Focke-Wulf assembly and repair plant at Tours in central France. The group successfully returning from this their debut mission without loss.
ww2dbaseOn 24 February 1944 the Eighth Air Force conducted a large and combined operation utilising all three of its divisions. The Second Division was allocated targets deep in central Germany with its main target being Gotha with its complex of Messerschmitt Bf 110 aircraft factories. Largely due to encountering different wind speeds the leading group found itself well ahead of the main bomber stream and, when over an hour from the target, it was attacked by large numbers of German fighters. Of the 239 aircraft despatched, on this seven hour mission, thirty-three failed to return (sixteen came down in Switzerland) - a 14% loss - with 327 airmen killed or missing. A very harsh day. The 453rd Bomb Group, however, were more fortunate, extricating themselves from the debacle without loss.
ww2dbaseThen on 18 March 1944 the Second Division was detailed to take part in a deep penetration raid to Friedrichshafen on the banks of Lake Constance close to the border with Switzerland. On arrival the B-24 groups found that the Germans had set up a very effective smoke screen and coordinated an extremely accurate flak and fighter defence. The 2nd Division lost 28 aircraft on this day including the 453rd Bomb Group's lead aircraft with Colonel Miller on board. On 8 April 1944 the group suffered its worst loss on a single mission, losing seven B-24 bombers shot down by determined Luftwaffe fighters around Braunschweig (English: Brunswick). For the next three months, nonetheless, they were more fortunate losing only the occasional bomber on a mission and during one major mission to Berlin came through the city's cauldron of flak completely unscathed.
ww2dbaseThe early winter months of 1944 saw the 453rd Bomb Group engaged in numerous attacks on railway viaducts, marshalling yards and various oil installations in western Germany. However the harsh weather during that winter was not conducive to air operations. The air bases in eastern England suffered from frequent blankets of fog which closed airfields and several weeks of snow resulted in many accidents, which gravely effected the mood and morale of the group's aircrews. Then on 29 December 1944 the Second Division was detailed to bomb the Rhine bridges to prevent the enemy from bringing reinforcements and supplies forward during the fierce Ardennes battle. The 453rd Bomb Group were tasked with destroying the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany but in heavy driving rain and heavy cloud cover all the way to the target bombing such a relatively small target from 21,000 feet, even with radar, was always going to be a near impossible task. The bridge survived undamaged; which, of course, famously provided the Americans with their first entry point into Hitler's Reich. In fact quite a few operations over Germany during February and March 1945 were unsuccessful as a consequence of poor weather.
ww2dbaseThe group flew its 259th and last mission on the 12 April 1945, as it was earmarked for return to the United States, to re-equip with B-29 bombers for the war against Japan. During its time at Old Buckenham the 453rd Bomb Group lost fifty-eight aircraft in action plus another twenty-five from other operational causes. By the 9 May 1945 most of the American personnel had departed (one of the first groups to leave Norfolk) leaving just a token presence to conduct the final ceremony of lowering the Stars and Stripes and to hand the airfield over to the RAF. The Air Ministry, however, had little use for another airfield in the area and, apart from some use as a sub-site for maintenance, the airfield remained deserted. It finally closed on 20 June 1960 with much of the site returning to farmland.
ww2dbaseWithout doubt the group's most famous veteran was James "Jimmy" Stewart, the celebrated movie star, who was the group's Operations Officer from March to July 1944 and participated on a number of missions. Another celebrity who served at old Buckenham during the war was Walter Matasschauskayasky, now better known as Hollywood star Walter Matthau.
ww2dbaseWhat remains today of the old airfield, situated to the north-east of the village, is most of the main runway, some of the perimeter track and the odd hut. Part of the original runway is still used by light aircraft. It can be reached by taking the B1077 road from Attleborough to Old Buckenham, turning left at the village to the village hall which contains an extension subscribed to by members of 453rd Bomb Group and officially opened in May 1983 by Jimmy Stewart that contains a display of memorabilia relating to the group's time at the airfield, and a roll to honour to fallen comrades. Following the road for about another mile finds the flying club entrance on the left with its memorial stone located outside the flying club offices.
Graham Smith: Norfolk Airfields in the Second World War (Countryside Books, 1994)
Ken Delve: The Military Airfields of Britain - Norfolk and Suffolk (Crowood Press, 2005)
Dennis F. Lain: Memorials to the Mighty Eighth (Serendipity, 2004)
Last Major Update: Apr 2018
Old Buckenham Airfield Interactive Map
Old Buckenham Airfield Timeline
|5 Feb 1944||USAAF 453rd Bomber Group based at Old Buckenham Airfield (US Station 144) in Norfolk, England, United Kingdom was deemed ready for operations.|
|24 Feb 1944||USAAF 453rd Bomber Group based at Old Buckenham Airfield (US Station 144) in Norfolk, England, United Kingdom attacked aircraft factories at Gotha in central Germany without losses.|
|18 Mar 1944||USAAF 453rd Bomber Group based at Old Buckenham Airfield (US Station 144) in Norfolk, England, United Kingdom attacked Friedrichshafen in southern Germany.|
|8 Apr 1944||USAAF 453rd Bomber Group based at Old Buckenham Airfield (US Station 144) in Norfolk, England, United Kingdom lost 7 B-24 bombers around Braunschweig in central Germany.|
|29 Dec 1944||USAAF 453rd Bomber Group based at Old Buckenham Airfield (US Station 144) in Norfolk, England, United Kingdom was tasked with destroying the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany, but poor weather caused the mission to be a failure.|
|12 Apr 1945||USAAF 453rd Bomber Group based at Old Buckenham Airfield (US Station 144) in Norfolk, England, United Kingdom flew its final mission before returning to the United States for re-equipping with B-29 bombers.|
|20 Jun 1960||RAF Old Buckenham in Norfolk, England, United Kingdom ceased operations.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945