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A page from the Duxford Diary showing the aftermath of the 19 July 1944 crash.

This month marks the 70th anniversary of one of Duxford’s most tragic events – the crash of a visiting B-17 of the 95th Bomb Group, which killed 14 men. We’ve been back through the 78th Fighter Group’s records to add some different perspectives to this well-recorded incident.

19 July 1944 began much as any other for the 78th Fighter Group. After breakfast in the Officers’ Club and a briefing in their room on the south side of what is now Hangar 4, the pilots strapped themselves into their P-47s. By 0709, 49 were airborne, led by Major Ben I Mayo. Two hours later they were in action, strafing airfields. Several enemy aircraft were destroyed by the Group’s pilots, but not without loss: at approximately 0930, Major Norman D Munson, was killed. His wing man, 1st Lieutenant Kinsolving, later described what happened:

‘Major Munson came around again for a second pass. This time he set another twin engine aircraft on fire, but just as he did so, his plane was evidently hit by flak for his ship nosed down, hit the aerodrome at a slight angle and burst into flame. The flaming wreckage slid 100 yards off the aerodrome.’

Norman ‘Doug’ Munson, son of Warren and Sarah Munson of Plattsburgh, New York, was 24 years old.

The 78th arrived back at Duxford a few minutes after noon. As the Duxford Diary reported, ‘as usual after a big day, nearly everyone on the base was feeling pretty good.’ Around 1400, a B-17 landed. Its captain, Lieutenant Sasser, a friend of one of the 78th’s pilots, offered to take some of Duxford’s men for a ride in the aircraft – ‘Ready Freddie’. Several jumped at the chance, and by around 1430 were airborne.

What happened next caused the largest loss of life in a single incident in Duxford’s four decades as an operational airfield.

Captain John E. Lingenfelter’s 1042nd Signal Company submitted a report which described the tragedy:

‘Men from the base…climbed aboard a visiting bomber for a ride around the field. The bomber careered off the neon beacon on top of one of the hangars; lost its wing which crashed in front of the officers’ club; dropped one of its rubber auxiliary tanks through an empty Nissen hut and then crashed into the barrack of the 83rd where it burned, killing all on board and one man in the barrack. The barrack was completely demolished and all aboard the plane were burned beyond recognition.’

As well as the bomber’s crew – Sasser, Victor L Mintz, James A Heil Sr. and Francis J Bradburn – there were eight of Duxford’s men inside the B-17: Martin H Smith Jr., John B. Putnam Jr., Donald M. French, Ellsworth J Seesz, John F. Hamilton, John D. Gorman, Anthony C. Loguidice, Frank L Wojcicki, and Wilbur K. Edwards.  Ernest Taylor was in the barracks when the aircraft hit.

Identifying the dead proved to be a harrowing task, as the 1042nd report describes:

‘The accident…had caused considerable confusion in identification of the bodies whose dog-tags were melted with the heat or were lost in the crash. To eliminate any further difficulties along that line a check on dog-tags was made in the mess hall on the twenty-first by Colonel Williams and Major Floyd. Anyone unable to show his tags was ordered from the mess hall to get his dog tags.’

The deaths affected everyone on the station. This was reflected in the reports submitted by each section at the end of the month. Staff Sergeant William H Roberts wrote:

‘It is with the deepest regret that I am closing this month’s contribution on a note of sadness. The tragic accident that happened on our field… affected us very deeply, inasmuch as two of the three men lost from our squadron worked in our department. As a eulogist I am sadly lacking, however I would like at this time to express the department’s felicitations and high esteem for S/Sgt Donald French and Pfc. Wilbur K Edwards. Both men were of the highest moral character and as such accorded our respect. Their ability and willingness to work was exemplified by the proficient manner they performed their duties. They have departed in body but their ethereal presence will always remain.’

The Orderly Room’s Bill Brennan paid a moving tribute:

‘Death took one of the finest members of the squadron this month. A soldier whose quiet manner and devotion to duty will never be forgotten by any of us. Cpl Anthony C  Loguidice was an average G.I. He came from Albany, New York. He had been with the outfit ever since it was activated down at Esler Field. His duties were with the Transportation Section, where he worked diligently for a year and a half. Two days before he was killed he was promoted to the grade of Cpl.  A promotion which he sweated out for nearly a year. His death was one of those strange unexpected events that no-one but the Almighty can explain…To us it seems strange that “Tony” should die in this way because he always wanted to be a gunner so he could get a crack at the enemy. He had excellent grades and was an expert with a gun. A new regulation put out by Fighter Command stating that no one would be taken for gunnery duty if he wasn’t trained in the States prevented his being a gunner. Many things we will forget about “Tony” but never his quiet efficient manner, his hearty smile, and his always ready to lend a hand attitude.’

Sergeant Jacobs of the Transportation Section also remembered Tony Loguidice:

‘This month of July 1944 will  always live in the memories of Sgt Jacobs and the men under his supervision for it was Wednesday…of this month that Tony Loguidice, one of the original gang in this section lost his life in the tragic crash of the Flying Fortress. With the loss of Tony we also lost Johnny Gorman of the Transportation Section of the 1671st Ordnance Co., along with eight other enlisted men, the co-pilot of the B-17, Lt Putnam and one other pilot of the 84th Fighter Squadron. Loguidice will always be remembered by the Transportation Section as a man who was not only a perfect soldier but also a shining credit to his family and his home town Albany, New York.’

A page from the Duxford Diary: ‘Memorial service was held in Chapel following Sunday’

The funerals on 22 July were moving experiences for the men who attended, as Captain Lingenfelter’s company’s report recalled:

‘The usual Saturday morning inspection of the twenty-second was eliminated so that members of the field might attend a funeral mass at 0730 hours in honour of the men who died in the disaster of the nineteenth. That afternoon all men who desired to attend the funeral were relieved from duty and a convoy of ten or twelve trucks left the field for the Cambridge Military Cemetery at 1500 hours.

The members of the field who attended the funeral will long remember the scene with its…flag-covered coffins; its volleys and taps and many a man thanked God, as he left the cemetery overlooking Cambridge in the distance, for protecting him who might even then be slowly sliding from beneath the flags to rest in the soil of England.’

Duxford today, showing the site of the destroyed barrack block.

With thanks to Anne Hughes for archive research. To read more about the tragedy on 19 July, please also see this website, run by 78th Fighter Group historian Curt Shepard. It contains several pages of the original accident reports, and photographs of some of the men who lost their lives.

 

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An image taken by the 78th Fighter Group's John Taylor, captioned 'Looking toward motor pool'

This photograph was taken from the airfield lookout post, which in 1944 was on the south east corner of the 82nd Fighter Squadron’s hangar. It shows the ‘motor pool’ and, in the foreground, other workshops and support facilities.

The proverb that begins ‘For the want of a nail…’ is often quoted to illustrate the importance of every cog, no matter how small, to the eventual success of an operation. Our latest extract from the 78th Fighter Group’s records illustrates how everyone had a part to play in the Group’s success, and in the overall success of the wider undertaking that was D-Day.  If the actual words of the proverb, a version of which is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, weren’t at the forefront of Staff Sergeant William F. Roberts’s mind when he wrote his June 1944 report, I think he would nevertheless have appreciated its sentiment:

‘As I start this month’s Squadron History I can’t help but be impressed by the significance of the importance that June 6, 1944 will play in the History of the world. I realize of course that this contribution is concerned only with the happenings of our squadron, but I am going to take the privilege of digressing for a moment to offer a few words of praise to everyone concerned in the stupendous undertaking that took place on that memorable day.

After months of planning, down to the minutest detail, the venture was a great success and obviously will continue as such. Being connected with supply I am naturally impressed with the magnitude of the job of acquiring and accumulating the staggering amount of supplies that was the prime requisite so necessary for the landing and subsequent holding of the beachhead. In last month’s history I erroneously stated that the Group was discontinuing the use of 150 octane petrol. It seems that I was sadly misinformed, not only has the 82nd Squadron continued to use this petrol but the entire group is using it. The most difficult part of the task was the siphoning of 12,000 gallons, due to the old type tank not having installation suitable for drainage. Our petrol boys have been pretty much on the ball inasmuch as they had the additional duty of refuelling some fifty transient planes from the beachhead. It was necessary to replenish their supply to the extent of 32,000 gallons that night, a job that kept the men busy all night.

The continued influx of parts to this station has helped considerably to alleviate the constant demand of the post technical supply departments. This is due primarily to the daily contacts being made by Major Dehm and M/Sgt Hubbard with our supply depot. A look at the daily status report will show the results of this effort. Our average for planes grounded for parts for the first 20 days of this month was less than two per day. We in supply think that figure rather good considering the amount of planes we handle, and the conditions that have been prevalent for some time.

Recently new ships that have been assigned to the group have been arriving with new type Hamilton Hydromatic propeller. As to the merits of the propeller I am not in a position to say, however there has been considerable difficulty obtaining the parts necessary for their repair. To combat this situation the group has changed several of the props over to Curtiss Electric propeller. There are some half dozen parts necessary for this change and so far we have met the demand. To meet the emergency M/Sgt Hubbard has set aside a complete kit of these parts in the event of another change over.

If we could foresee the trouble and deficiencies that arise and the cycle they take ours would be a happy lot. As an example, the latter part of last month saw a requisition for a Flight Indicator type C-7. Little did we realize the numerous requests about to descend on us for this item in the coming days. After a week of trying different depots and bases, without much success, Major Dehm and M/Sgt Hubbard were about to tear their hair out. Fortunately the situation was successfully coped with and the wheel has turned. Our supply depot being cognizent of our repleted stock for this item, has since remedied this situation and we now have a supply sufficient to meet a normal demand. We are awaiting with much trepidation the next sequence of events and the item it will concern.

Congratulations are in order to M/Sgt Hubbard and Pfc Hopgood on their birthdays this month. Major Dehm and all the boys wish them the best of everything. Pfc William “Bullethead” Drechsler has left our industrious group and transferred over to the sheet metal shop. The first thing the sheet metal boys did was to change Bullet’s, ‘Nom De Plume’, it is now appropriately “Rivet Head”. His T.O.file is being handled by Cpl Howell and Pfc Lobdell.

M/Sgt Hubbard’s untiring effort to keep our A.C.C. status report below a theoretical minimum was proven once again when he first contacted another P-47 base at Martlesham Heath in regards to acquiring two main landing wheels for Colonel Grey’s plane. It was only a matter of moments for Hubbard to fly to Martlesham and return with the wheels.’

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A view from the station lookout post to the south west corner of the airfield.

Duxford, as viewed from the station lookout post.

Captain John E Lingenfelter

Captain John E Lingenfelter

Captain John E. Lingenfelter’s 1042nd Signal Company was responsible for keeping Duxford connected to the outside world. It was an important job, and an ideal position from which to study how the 78th Fighter Group fitted into the whole D-Day operation. The report submitted by the company for inclusion in the Group’s history was one of the most detailed accounts of Duxford’s D-Day we are likely to find.

It paints a very good picture of the hustle and bustle of a busy USAAF station taking part in a huge operation. It explains how communications were handled at this pressured time, and illustrates how news of the landings in Normandy filtered back to the UK.It also shows how life on base carried on relatively normally, despite the momentous events taking place. I wonder how Harris, Hanley, DeCamilla, May, Millgate, Monahan, and Ruffalo reacted to being given a lecture on ‘Sex Morality’ on 6 June, of all days?

‘Headquarter 1042nd Signal Company Service Group APO 637 U.S. Army

Duxford, Cambridgeshire, England, June 1944

“D”   MONTH

The history making month of June has finally arrived and with it the opening of the Second Front – the long awaited for day which is to alter the destinies of both the armed forces of the United States and her Allies and the countries on the continent.

As the month opened preparations were being brought forward to the finishing stages and troops to take part in the invasion were now standing by waiting for the “H” hour. What preparations were being made were known only to those who were to play the major part in the landings and other air and ground units throughout England continued their routine duties with perhaps only an inkling that not too many days would pass before something “cracked”.

We were no exception, and our duties went on as usual. Passes were still on the taboo list and the field in general went to their duties with memories of dates, “Mild and Bitters”, and other forms of relaxation in near-by towns.

Our company, not being intended for a landing unit, continued its operation of the field communications and saw the opening of the anniversary of a year-and-one-half in England. Little changes took place the first few days of the month and the only one to have any bearing took place on the first day of June when Sergeant James R. Peterson arrived at two in the afternoon from Raydon for Permanent duty with the Headquarter unit. Sergeant Peterson had been held up along with many other Cadets and had been returned to our Department. Immediate preparations were made by Captain Lingenfelter to bring him back to the parent unit to fill a shortage which he was qualified for and to bring him back to his buddies First Sergeant Don and Staff Sergeant James O’Leary and Technical Sergeant Stanley M. Doll with whom he enlisted in February of 1942.

With Peterson’s arrival he was assigned to teletype duty and relieved the pressure in that department which had been working on doubled-up shifts for the last few weeks of May.

Instructions began to pour in over our teletype machine in regards to what would be required of communications during the forthcoming operations against the continent. One such teletype on the second of the month informed us that when the time arrived it might be necessary to reduce the amount of telephone traffic passed over trunk circuits. In areas where this would be necessary a procedure would be brought into force by the Theatre Commander by the issue of code words “Minimize Telephone” to Commanders concerned. This Minimize Telephone procedure which was passed on to our telephone operators through Staff Sergeant McKay, Section Head, provided a control whereby all incoming calls within the same exchange would be permitted in the normal manner. Further control specified that “outgoing calls to another switchboard would be permitted only from specifically designated extensions which were to be marked on the switchboard according to instructions issued previously”. This meant that only those officers authorized by these previous instructions to make “Clear the Line” Priority 1, or Priority 11 calls would be permitted to make any outgoing trunk calls in areas in which “Minimize Telephone” is in effect. Normal conditions in service would be restored by the Theatre Commander when the situation warranted it, the teletype stated. The British Services were being governed by a similar procedure which were to be brought into Force in the same areas controlled by their exchange.

With this information being passed on to the operators on the second of June other changes were taking place within the organization. Not only were rumours prevalent but a certain uneasiness was noticeable throughout the field and our unit was no exception. With all the rumours and wild guesses it is safe to say that not a single soldier even would guess that four days from then thousands of soldiers would be storming the beach-head of Normandy. On the afternoon of the second we were to see a change take place in our own company when our Supply Sergeant, Technical Sergeant Stanley N. Doll was sent to the 280th Station Hospital at Saffron Walden along with Private Ottis E. Williams. Doll had been previously been hospitalised seven times because of his infected tonsils and this time was being sent to have them removed. Williams was being sent for a physical check-up.

The restriction which has been placed on the field on the twenty-eighth of May was still in effect on the third of the month and all rumours were hastily forgotten around 1530 hours on the fourth when a Tannoy announcement informed all personnel that there would be a “Liberty Run Tonight”. The men who had been looked up for approximately a week began to storm all orderly rooms for passes and were soon headed for town with a little or no idea that the invasion was soon to break.

The usual duties were resumed the following morning, but at 1400 hours that afternoon we all found ourselves confined to the field once more. By this time it had become more or less a habit and not too many men gave it a second thought. They picked up their carbines, helmets, ammunition and gas-masks and struck out for their planes and shops while wondering how they could inform their girl-friends that they would be unable to keep that date.

About the same time that this restriction was placed on the field we received orders from Headquarters informing us that Privates Williams and May had been promoted to Privates First Class for the first promotion of the month. That evening the majority of men headed for the theatre and the Red Cross and it was during the movie that the “wheels began to spin”. Tannoy after Tannoy was made for all of the Officers from the Commanding Officer on down to the Medical, Ordinance, and Mess Officer, together with various crews of the squadrons.

With all the interruptions the movie finally ended and when the men filed from the theatre they beheld a sight they would never forget. All of the planes were parked into groups and all were moved from the revetments to the center and edges of the field where the crews had already begun to paint the invasion stripes across the wings and fuselages. Ordnance trucks were rushing back and forth between the bomb and ammunition dumps and the revetments with their loads of bombs and ammunitions. Activity was everywhere and our telephone operators and teletype men were getting the heaviest load of traffic in all of the time that the board had been in operation under our supervision. Additional men were sent to the radio room, switchboard, and teletype rooms to stand-by and give relief to the men who snatched a few breaks to sip coffee and snacks distributed by the Red Cross girls.

By the time the morning rolled around the news was pretty well known that the invasion was in progress and all men not on duty were huddled around radios to soak up every bit of news that came across. Finally the voice of the Supreme Allied Commander was heard issuing instructions to the French underground and to our own Allied Expeditionary Forces. The invasion was on and the pressure was off after many long months of waiting…

For the next few days our men settled down to work with a fervor long forgotten and spirits seemed higher than they had been for many months. The usual routine of duties filled the hours both during the day and night so that what little free time the men did have they were willing to roll into the ‘sack’. We suffered no losses or gains in our personnel until the eighth of the month when Private Edward May was sent to the 280th Station Hospital, making this the third hospital case this month. He was not a battle casualty or injured in any way as a result of the invasion, but was being confined because of a minor physical ailment.

We shortly received notice that our Radio Net would maintain complete radio silence which was complied with immediately. This was the only section in the company to fade into silence and while the operators and teletype section were being flooded with work the invasion rolled around to the tenth of the month with remarkable success being noted in all radio reports and news Bulletins.

As a special activity of the Special Service Section of the field all personnel throughout the base were kept informed daily by means of the INVASION NEWS BULLETIN which was posted all around the field. On the tenth this bulletin summarized the progress as follows: “Americans have taken two towns…St Mere Eglise, on the Cherbourg Road, and also another at the base of the peninsula. General Bradley in Command. More than 800 prisoners taken in one battle. Main Rail and Road Links to Cherbourg are now out.”

The results of the kills made by each of the squadrons was also published on the bulletin and on the tenth it stated that Lieutenants [Kuehner] and Baker of the 82nd had not returned from their missions. “Ground strafing of trucks and goods vans successful. At least two bomb hits on railway lines.” For the 83rd the following note was published: “8 locomotives damaged, four by Capt. Wilkes and by F.O. Oxley, McDermott and Mullins. A German Staff bus was destroyed also and at least 50 goods wagons strafed by Capt. Wilkes and Lieutenant [Allsteidt]. For the 84th it was noted that “Lieutenant Lloyd has not returned from mission Eight to ten tanks damaged and destroyed, five trucks damaged, one armoured car damaged, two flak towers damaged, railway yards and bridges bombed.”

That was the way the field stacked up for the first few days of the invasion and during all of this actual combat by the pilots our men felt that they were a vital factor in maintaining the proper communication and if possible be an aid in bringing these planes back safely to the field. Men no longer complained because they had to work an additional shift or because they weren’t getting the usual pass without sleep and were bragging with pride.

A few days prior to the opening of the invasion we had made arrangements for the use of the rifle range. We managed to obtain the range on the fifth of June and ran off our firing orders all in one day.

On the sixth of June at 1330 hours we had further duties to perform in the matter of bringing service records up-to-date and at that time Harris, and Strauss were read the Articles of War and Harris, Hanley, DeCamilla, May, Millgate, Monahan, and Ruffalo were given a lecture on Sex Morality. On the eighth of the month a film on Venereal Disease was shown at the Post Theatre at 1400 hours which was attended by all members of the organization. Those who were unable to attend at that time were scheduled for the following two days.

Two days later a General Order on “Prescribed Uniform” was issued and a Memorandum was posted prohibiting the wearing of black ties by any of our personnel in accordance with existing War Department Regulations and Theatre Directives.

Five days…passed since “D” Day and the field as a whole…settled down to a normal routine, but whether we know it or not we were doing a job which was a definite asset to the success of the invasion so far. This was borne out by a teletype on the eleventh which stated…

“It has been my recent privilege to transmit to you certain messages of congratulation from the Eighth Command. These messages are evidence of a real appreciation of your magnificent contribution in immediate support of the ground assault. It is possible at this time to state a few facts concerning this contribution which are considered to be of encouraging interest to all of you. In the five days following the initial assault the strength of the allied landings has been approximately as planned. Steadily growing forces are in contact with the enemy. The German has failed to oppose this operation with the strength expected and has failed to launch counterattacks of the violence planned for our ground commanders. The successful establishment and reinforcement of the beachhead and the comparatively low casualties suffered are considered due in large measure to the employment of bombardment required bombing through the overcase with a degree of accuracy normally associated with only highly successful visual operations, photographic reconnaissance reveals that this accuracy was obtained and that the purpose of the attack was achieved. It is now known that a German division was engaged in defensive manoeuvres in one of the assault areas. This fortuitous circumstance for the enemy retarded our ground success in this area but was largely mullified by the effectiveness of the air attack. The failure of the German to oppose the ground operation in anticipated strength, and his ability to make more than piecemeal counter attacks, is considered due to air interdiction of his lines of communication and to the incessant blasting of his dispersed elements by fighter forces of the Vlll Fighter Command. The Eighth Air Force can be proud of its major part in this air action.” Signed Doolittle.

That news looked and sounded good to all of us so with renewed energy we continue our work. On Tuesday, the thirteenth, another problem was made and Private Harold Sanks, Acting First Sergeant of our Detachment at Fowlmere, was promoted to Corporal. The following day our Supply Sergeant, Doll, returned from the hospital to resume his duties in that department.

The fifteenth of the month had slipped behind and with it the anniversary of our eighteenth month in England…

The remainder of the month saw little or no change in our duties although we did have a few shuffles in personnel which dropped to normal with the closing of the invasion month. One of these changes later in the month occurred on the eighteenth when Sergeant Peterson was sent to Thriplow with a slight touch of Neuralgia. On the twentieth of the month our Teletype Maintenance man was sent to Station 520 for a seven day course in Bomb Reconnaissance, and on the twenty-first Peterson was sent from sick quarters to duty at 0900 hours. Sergeant Crott returned to duty on the twenty-eighth of the month. It was also around this time of the month that we were sent another radio operator from Ajax to fill a shortfall in the Detachment “A” at Raydon. This was Private Saul Kaplan.

For the remainder of the month the teletypes continued to pour in over our machines and on the nineteenth the following message from Doolittle and Kepner was received:

“I pass on to you, adding my own appreciation to Admiral Kirk’s and General [Spaatz]’s, the following extract from a message from him: ‘The Air Cover has been so perfect in daylight that all we do is wonder which type is now going overhead – Spit, P-47, etc. A Great tribute. I desire that you notify all personnel involved.’”

[…]

The following last message of the month received by the Supreme Commander from His Majesty King George Vl was passed on in the following words:

“Today I have visited the beaches of Normandy which will be forever famous. All that I saw on my journey and on soil of France has moved me deeply. I have come home feeling an intense admiration for all those who planned and organized this vast project and the gallant and successful execution of it all its varied phases by everyone of those engaged in this great battle.”’

 

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A page from the 'Duxford Diary' showing 'Anglo-American Relations'.

A page from the ‘Duxford Diary’ showing ‘Anglo-American Relations’…

While the 78th Fighter Group planned their part in the liberation of Europe, many of the men were making their own plans for the future. Duxford’s Station Chaplain, Buford B Fordham, in his report for May 1944 explains how marriages were planned between the Americans and local women (‘Officers as well as Enlisted men are falling victims of Dan Cupid’). He also discusses the spiritual side of life ‘on base’, and muses that the bond forged between the Americans and British is ‘one good aspect of the war, which will lead to better understanding between our two peoples.’

‘As Station Chaplain I have seen “history in the making” as service men and British women have come to my office for marriage consultations. Being on the Board which makes investigations and recommendations, I see them all. In the month of May, which was typical, I had 17 such interviews, involving 38 people. A total of 9 marriages were actually consummated. In addition to myself there is the Squadron Commander and the Squadron Medical Officer. It is our function to make recommendations to the Station Commander who has been delegated the responsibility of approving or disapproving marriages involving American military personnel. For the most part our service men are marrying women who will be a credit to them wherever they go, and these marriages will undoubtedly contribute much toward favourable Anglo-American relations in the years ahead. Officers as well as Enlisted men are falling victims of Dan Cupid, and many of these couples- both officers and Enlisted Men have not only wives, but families. The sociological significance of these Anglo-American marriages is certain to be far-reaching. The contacts which we of the Investigating Board make with the parents of the girls involved, are often most interesting; and in a very few cases, rather pathetic.

Quite frequently we American Chaplains are asked to preach at nearby English churches. This month I conducted the evening worship service at the Congregational Chapel in Great Chesterford. There were 50 people present.

A number of men from this Station have been attending various civilian churches on Sunday evenings, as a result of what we call our “Church Run”. Churches visited include: St. Mary’s the Lesser in Cambridge, Congregational Church in Bassingbourn, Wesleyan Chapel in Cambridge, and a Presbyterian Church as well known as the famous King’s College Chapel, also in Cambridge. These experiences have religious, social and cultural value, and are greatly enjoyed by those who have been the “Church Runs”.

For the second time the St. Andrew’s St. Baptist Church in Cambridge has given us the use of its baptistery. This last month a S/Sgt. Of Headquarters, 79th Service Group, was baptized in a private service.

On May 30th a Memorial Day service was conducted on the Parade Ground at this Station.

A pleasant and profitable contact was made when some of us visited the Harvey-Goodwin Orphanage in Cambridge, leaving these children five boxes of candies, gum, etc., which the Officers of this Station contributed out of their personal rations. Earlier Enlisted Men made a similar contribution which was taken to British soldiers who were confined in a British hospital in New Market, England. (The White Lodge Emergency Hospital).

I had the opportunity of addressing a Baptist Minister’s Conference in the St. Andrew’s Street Baptist Church in Cambridge. This was an annual conference, and my subject was “The American Baptist Scene and World Baptist Future.” This was the third such occasion I have had of this nature in Cambridge.

I was asked to address a Church Women’s Rally in the Congregational Church in Duxford, England. There were representations from some six different churches present, and the attendance was approximately 100.

Further contacts were made with English civilians when I had some English mothers attend our Mother’s Day service held here on the Station; and as I later attended a Tea held in their honor, in the Aero Club at this Base.

With more than a year already spent in England I can say that we Chaplains have almost unlimited opportunities to come to know the country and her citizens better than would be possible under almost any other circumstances. We trust this will be one good aspect of the war, which will lead to better understanding between our two peoples.’

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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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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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IWM HU 045437

James Coward at Duxford in 1938.

Some sad news to report. James Coward, one of RAF Duxford’s pre-war No. 19 Squadron pilots, died recently, aged 97. He was with No. 19 Squadron when they received the first Spitfires to enter RAF service. He flew in the Battle of Britain, was wounded in combat, and even worked on Churchill’s personal staff.

I spoke to him and his wife two years ago. They met and married while he was stationed at Duxford, and the stories he was able to tell about life here before and during the war will stay with me for a long time.

We were very fortunate that he recorded his memories for his family. This excerpt concerns getting shot down near Duxford in August 1940:

 

“I pulled the ripcord pretty quickly and when my parachute opened I was swinging in a big figure of eight and I had this wonderful view of Cambridgeshire. I was over 20,000 feet and it was a beautiful clear day, I could see about 100 miles in all directions. It was absolutely wonderful and there wasn’t the sight or sound of an aeroplane anywhere, I was alone in the sky, everything had gone, quite extraordinary. I suddenly realised something was happening and I looked down and could see blood spurting out of my leg and falling slowly below me in a big figure eight. I realised I had to do something quickly so I had my helmet on with the cord hanging down so I put that round my thigh and latched it up with a half hitch and tightened it until I stopped the bleeding. I then found that holding my knee hard back under my shoulder I could keep the foot wedged under my bottom, which stopped the foot twisting about which was much more comfortable. I then floated slowly across the sky.”

IWM HU 045437

No. 19 Squadron at Duxford. James Coward is seated, on the right.

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Air shows have been happening at Duxford since the 1920s. This photo is of Empire Air Day, 1937. Thousands of people flocked to Duxford, just as they do for our air shows now.

Empire Air Day 1937, IWM neg no. HU048146

On Empire Air Day visitors were taken on tours of the site. They were also treated to flying displays of the latest RAF aircraft. These included aerobatic training displays, an air fight and even a blind flying demonstration. In the photo you can see Avro Tutors parked on the flight walk, just as you see the aircraft lined up at an air show today. Also open for inspection by the public were the station sick quarters, workshops, canteen and games room, dining room and kitchen.

Today, the air shows still hold the same fascination and excitement for visitors, as they did for visitors over 80 years ago. The aircraft though, can be a little different! The development of faster and more advanced aircraft such as the Hurricane and Spitfire and then the later jet aircraft all feature in the shows now held at Duxford. I think visitors to the 1937 Empire Air Day would be astonished at the range, speed and capabilities of the aircraft on show today.

This photo is also great if you like “people watching”. Have a really close look at some on the individuals on the ground. What are they doing? What are they looking at? What things do you like to do and see when you go to an air show?

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