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Duxford, D-Day and the 78th Fighter Group

IWM HU 31937

Pilots of the 82nd Fighter Squadron, 78th Fighter Group at Duxford in the summer of 1944, outside what is now Duxford’s Battle of Britain exhibition. From left to right, Troy Eggleston, Roland Wolfe, Winfield Brown and Larry Nelson. Eggleston was killed later that year.

It’s 70 years since the Allies launched Operation ‘Overlord’. The landings on 6 June 1944 were the culmination of many months of meticulous planning, preparation and work, and involved tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen.

Duxford played its part in the build up, execution and aftermath of D-Day, and over the next two months we’ll be looking back to the events of May and June 1944, focusing on the Duxford-based 78th Fighter Group. We’ll be tweeting and blogging to show how the 78th spent their time at Duxford, on and off duty.

The 78th moved to Duxford in the spring of 1943. RAF blue swapped with USAAF ‘pinks and greens’, and the Stars and Stripes replaced the RAF flag on Duxford’s flagstaff.

IWM HU 51427

Duxford’s new USAAF Commanding Officer, Arman Peterson (right) with the commander of the remaining RAF personnel at Duxford, S L Matthews. Peterson, a very well-respected leader, was shot down and killed only a few months after this photo was taken.

The 78th were equipped with P-47 Thunderbolt fighters. Their job was to escort the fleets of USAAF heavy bombers – based at airfields in East Anglia and elsewhere in the UK – to their targets in occupied Europe. As the war progressed, the role of the 78th expanded to include ground attack missions, as the Allies set to work crippling the German air force in preparation for the liberation of Europe.

D-Day marked a new phase in the war for everyone engaged in the conflict in Europe. The tweets and blog posts that follow will show in ‘real time’ how the 78th contributed to what General Dwight D. Eisenhower called ‘this great and noble undertaking’. They will be a mixture of quoted sections of the 78th’s own records and our summaries of the Group’s activities.

During these two months, the 78th undertook a mixture of missions. They escorted bombers to targets  – some in the invasion area, some further afield:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBJCSeSaIPI

They also conducted fighter-bomber missions against targets such as bridges and communications centres. And they did a lot of ground-attack work, often on the way home from missions, and particularly against trains and other railway stock. This was ‘the most difficult mission of all’, as Hayden Richards told us in an interview several years ago:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQ6_gDbdwtE

Our information has been taken from a variety of sources. Looking through the 78th’s records has allowed us to pull out some interesting domestic snippets from the ‘Daily Bulletins’, which show how life at Duxford continued through May and June 1944.

An extract from the 78th Fighter Group’s records, signed by Stanley Markusen, PR Officer and Group Historian, recording activities in June 1944.

An extract from the 78th Fighter Group’s records, signed by Stanley Markusen, PR Officer and Group Historian, recording activities in June 1944.

For mission details, which form the backbone of these entries, we’ve drawn extensively on the work of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society, and from the intelligence summaries prepared by US VIII Fighter Command. Unfortunately, as the summary of 20 June 1944 reports, ‘this narrative was not issued for the operations concerning the period 5 June to 19 June 1944’, the time when the Group was at its busiest. We’ve therefore used other published sources, such as Garry Fry’s excellent Eagles of Duxford and Roger Freeman’s impressive  Mighty Eighth War Diary to help us fill in the gaps.

There are other great resources out there which have proved very useful. This web page, run by a tireless champion of the 78th Fighter Group, contains many fascinating MACRs (Missing Air Crew Reports) and other information, scanned documents and photographs. It’s possible to spend many hours reading these pages. They paint a vivid picture of the breathless dogfighting that took place over Europe in the summer of 1944. Some contain extra information. This one is particularly poignant, as it contains a letter written by the young airman’s father, as he attempted to discover how his son had died.

Little Friends is another mine of useful data with lots of fascinating photos of the Group and their aircraft.

I hope that the next few weeks of blogging and tweeting will give an insight into the 78th’s war, and show how D-Day unfolded for the ‘Duxford Eagles’.

 

 

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2 comments
  1. karen says: December 7, 201412:49 am

    Please Help! Would love this photo or any other which includes Winfield H Brown! or contact with anyone who might have ANY information about him or the golf trophy that was named for him after his death on 5/5/55 in a plane crash! we have been looking for years for the trophy! “Winnie” was my husband’s father! Thank you!! Karen L. Brown

  2. Carl says: March 9, 20155:05 pm

    Hi Karen – so sorry for the delayed response, I haven’t checked the blog for comments for a little while now. I can happily point you in the direction of some sources you may not have seen – if you email duxford@iwm.org.uk and mark the email for my attention (Carl Warner) I’ll see that we get in touch and share. In the meantime, if you have a look at Winfield’s page on our new website:

    http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/237793

    You’ll see that it’s very much a ‘stub’ which we would be delighted if family members could begin to update with any information from your side. It would be good to collaborate on this.

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