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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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Jack ‘Farmer’ Lawson (centre)

Jack ‘Farmer’ Lawson (centre)

On this most romantic of days, we look at the occasions when cupid’s arrow has struck amongst the men and women working and living at RAF Duxford and the bitter-sweet consequences of love during times of peace and conflict.

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John Milne

We were saddened to hear that John Milne, one of 19 Squadron’s ground crew fitters, died recently.

John arrived at RAF Duxford on 11 March 1940 and served here during the build-up to the Battle of Britain. He was allocated to ‘A’ Flight, which was commanded by Flight Lieutenant Brian Lane, who was later promoted to Squadron Leader and Officer Commanding 19 Squadron. John was serving with ‘A’ Flight when Douglas Bader joined its ranks.

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No 611 (City of Liverpool) Squadron Auxiliary Air Force at RAF Duxford

On this day we remember all of the men and women who lost their lives while serving at RAF Duxford.

From the Historic Duxford team.

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On the Saturday of The Duxford Air Show, IWM Duxford was treated to a visit from a very special guest. Nancy Stannard, nee Bateman was a WAAF who served at RAF Duxford between 1939 and 1941. She worked in the Operations Room as a teleprinter operator.

I had been in touch with Nancy and her family for a while and we had arranged for her to come back to IWM Duxford, selecting September in the hope that the weather would not be too bad. As it was we were treated to glorious sunshine.

It was a great to be able to host Nancy on a return visit to Duxford. The place looked very different, particularly due to all the air show hustle and bustle, but there were some areas, such as the Operations Room that were still very familiar to Nancy.

Over a well-deserved cup of tea, Nancy told me some of her memories of RAF Duxford, the place she says she remembers best out of all the places she served as a WAAF. Nancy was one of the very first WAAFs to arrive at RAF Duxford and she remembers the station not being quite ready for them. So much so that she and the other women, who had arrived with her, were given airmen’s greatcoats to wear as they didn’t have any made for women!

Nancy also said she vividly remembers going to dances in the hangar, dancing to tunes like In the Mood.

Having had a lovely chat with Nancy and really getting to know what RAF Duxford was like for her during the early years of the Second World War, I asked her if she was happy to be interviewed in the commentary box at the air show. Although slightly nervous, Nancy rose to the challenge and gave a wonderful interview. It was so good in fact, it was replayed on Sunday making Nancy’s audience over 33,000 people.

Having worked her very hard, I finally let her and her family relax and watch the air show. It was a great pleasure to meet Nancy and to hear her tales of RAF Duxford. Every time I interview a veteran, the historic site where I work every day takes on a new little detail. I doubt I shall walk through the Operations Room now without thinking about Nancy and the number of times she would have walked down that very same corridor.

A great day spent with one of Duxford’s people.

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