“The Navy can lose us the war, but only the Air Force can win it. The fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of victory.” - Winston Churchill
The Americans' arrival at Horham airfield had a huge impact on surrounding villages including Redlingfield. The first combat unit arrived in October 1942 but it was on June 15th 1943 that the 95th Bombardment Group landed with their B-17 Flying Fortresses. They flew 321 missions from Horham until August 1945 when the airfield was returned to the RAF.
The airfield was closed in 1948 but you can still see parts of the base - the guard room is Denham Village Hall; the non-commissioned officer's mess has been restored by the 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association (click for the 95th BG Heritage Association website) and is now the Red Feather Club with its famous murals; and the base hospital is the 95th Bomb Group Hospital Museum (click for the hospital museum website). The base reached into Redlingfield with a sentry post in the village and a light, where Redlingfield Doorstep Green now stands, to guide aircraft at night. The Red Feather Club - which is now the official museum of the 95th in the UK - and the hospital museum are both open on the last Sunday of the month from April to October.
The 95th BG's slogan - Justice with Victory - was represented on their official patch and its tail insignia was a capital B in a square. The 95th was part of the Mighty 8th Air Force and was split into four bomb squadrons - their patches, pictured at the bottom of the page, are from left, the 334th, 335th, 336th and the 412th.
The 95th flew the first daylight B-17 bombing mission to Berlin on March 4, 1944 - 41 aircraft took off and only 36 returned. On November 19th 1943 a B-17 crashed in Redlingfield on take-off destroying Green Farm Cottages. Despite its full load of fuel and bombs there were no civilian casualties. All ten American airmen were killed. The last B-17 shot down in Europe was also from the 95th.
The 95th BG was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation on three occasions, the most of any Bomb Group. It suffered substantial losses of men and planes as the US attempted to prove the worth of daylight bombing. With limited fighter support at the beginning of the war the B-17s were at the mercy of the German fighters once across the Channel.
The 95th BG had the following casualties and PoWs: Wounded in Action, 62; Killed in Action, 554; Killed in Service, 20; Prisoners of War, 805; Interned in Neutral Country, 64.
Glenn Miller famously played one of the hangars at Horham Airfield on his final tour before his disappearance. Joan Millyard, who was in the Women's Land Army, told the BBC: “There were 25 of us at Moat House hostel and there was an American base about 4 or 5 miles up the road, Flixton it was called . . . The Americans were new over here and they'd ring the hostel and ask the warden if we could go to some of their dos, like a dance or thanksgiving party. It was gorgeous, we had things like ice cream and strawberries, and we hadn't had anything like that for ages and ages. They really made a fuss of us. One thanksgiving, they rang us up from Horham. Glenn Miller and his band were playing there and they said would we like to go. An American truck picked us up and we danced to the band, but it was very crowded as there were people from Ipswich and all round ... There was no alcohol at these do's just tea and coffee.”
Between 1942 and 1945 three million Americans passed through Britain. In 1944, for example, there were more than 71,000 Americans in Suffolk and for much of the later part of the war one in seven people in the county were from the US.
Coming to war-torn Britain must have been a shock to many of the Americans who were stationed over here. The War Department in Washington DC produced a handy little pamphlet called Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942. This book has been reproduced from the original typescript by the Bodleian Library. It has some charming observation on the Atlantic-wide culture differences. Such as:
‘the British don't know how to make a good cup of coffee. You don't know how to make a good cup of tea. It's an even swap.'
‘It is always impolite to criticize your hosts; it is militarily stupid to criticize your allies.'
‘Don't be misled by the British tendency to be soft-spoken and polite... they can be plenty tough. The English language didn't spread across the oceans and over the mountains and jungles... of the world because these people were panty-waists.'
Women in uniform were a completely foreign sight to the incomers and the author pointedly told his readers that when they saw a young woman ‘with a bit of ribbon on her tunic - remember she didn't get it for knitting more socks than anyone else in Ipswich'.
Many thanks to Edith and Eddie Coe and the 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association/Red Feather Club. Extracts also from WW2 People's War, an online archive of wartime memories contributed by the public and gathered by the BBC at www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar