RAF Hardwick - USAAF Station 104

Text © Copyright Evelyn Simak, June 2014
Images are under a separate Creative Commons Licence.

The aerodrome at Hardwick was built by John Laing & Son Ltd especially for use by the USAAF. It consisted of four miles (6 km) of surface drains, thirteen miles (19 km) of drains, thirteen miles (19 km) of roadways, five miles (8 km) of sewers and seven of water mains. A total of 4,750,000 bricks were used in construction of the camp. The aerodrome comprised more than 200 large and small buildings and it had three aircraft hangars. During the height of war when combat personnel and aircraft numbers were almost doubled, between 2,700 and 2,900 personnel served at Station 104. The smallest accommodation huts measured 16 by 24 or 30 feet and were heated by wood and coal burning stoves referred to as "tortoise" stoves by the British and as "pot-bellies" by the Americans. Coal was rationed to one bucket per day, with the size of the bucket being in proportion to the size of the hut.

The first occupants were the men from the 310th Bombardment Group (BG), flying B-25 Mitchell medium bombers and staying at Hardwick for a short time only from September to November 1942. The group was replaced by the 93rd BG (Heavy) which arrived from RAF Alconbury in December 1942 and became known as "Ted's Travelling Circus", named after Edward J "Ted" Timberlake who was the commanding officer from 26 March 1942 until 16 May 1943, and the first USAAF heavy bomber combat group commander promoted to wing commander and the rank of a general. In September 1944, General Timberlake transferred from the 2nd Wing, based at Hethel > Link to the 20th Wing headquarters at Hardwick. One of his officers was Lt Col James "Jimmy" Stewart, the American actor, who served as Timberlake's chief of staff.

The 93rd formed part of and is the oldest B-24 bomb group in the 8th Air Force, flying Consolidated B-24 Liberators as part of the strategic bombing campaign and staying at Hardwick throughout the war until June 1945. From Hardwick they flew more than 330 missions, joining other Liberator B-24 bomber groups in supporting the Allied invasion of occupied Europe.

The following squadrons were assigned to the 93rd BG:

328th Bombardment Squadron
329th Bombardment Squadron
330th Bombardment Squadron
409th Bombardment Squadron

USAAF station units also assigned to RAF Hardwick were:

461st Sub-Depot
18th Weather Squadron
5th Station Complement Squadron
Headquarters (20th Combat Bomb Wing)

Regular Army station units included:

1094th Quartermaster Company
1248th Military Police Company
1675th Ordnance Supply & Maintenance Company
885th Chemical Company (Air Operations)
2031st Engineer Fire Fighting Platoon

The 93rd was one of the three 8th Air Force B-24 groups to be sent to North Africa (on 12 December 1942) in support of 12th Air Force and only the 329th Bomb Squadron remained behind, retained for a special mission. While the rest of the group was in Africa, the 329th Squadron was moved to Flixton aerodrome > Link where their aircraft were fitted with sophisticated electronic navigational equipment that allowed "blind bombing" through overcast and the men trained for a new project called "Moleing", which entailed individual bombers striking cities by bombing through the clouds in an attempt to upset the German air defences and to provoke air raid warnings in order to disrupt production in that the warnings would prompt factory workers leaving work to seek shelter. In addition to the "Moleing" missions, the 329th also flew missions with the 44th Bomb Group, which had arrived in England shortly after their parent group.

The 328th, 330th and 409th bomb squadrons were initially based at Tafarouri in Algeria, but the base was not suited for the heavy bombers and they only conducted two missions before being moved Gambut Main in Libya, a station which was assigned to 9th Air Force. There they remained until 22 February 1943 before returning to Hardwick until 26 June 1943. In late June 1943 the group was sent to 9th Air Force at Bengazi, Libya, for Operation "Tidal Wave". On 1 August 1943 they participated in the famous mission against the oil targets at Ploesti, Romania, before returning to Hardwick on 27 August 1943. After their return, the group resumed bombing missions with the 8th Air Force and the 44th Group, which at the time was the only other B-24 group in England. The 93rd transferred back to the United States after the war and became one of the first ten combat wings in the newly established Strategic Air Command. The 93rd lost 100 B-24 Liberators and crews during 396 mission flown. An additional 40 aircraft were lost in accidents.

A memorial commemorating the 93rd BG was erected on Airfield Farm which after the war was built on Communal site A. A plaque on a wooden cross situated on the edge of a field a short distance north-west of Burntoak Farm, just south of the airfield, commemorates the crew of B-24, number 42-50597 of the 93rd BG, 2ADA, who lost their lives here on 19 December 1944, when their plane crashed in fog during take-off in an attempt to deliver air support to ground forces in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. Another memorial stone can be found in Henham Park (Suffolk). It was erected by the 6th Earl of Stradbroke and commemorates the crews of two Liberators from the 93rd which on 29 March 1944 crashed in the vicinity, killing all 17 on board. 19 USAAF rescue personnel were killed when the aircrafts' bombs exploded in the heat of the ensuing fire.

TM2690 : 93rd Bomb Group memorial at Hardwick airfield by Evelyn Simak TM2489 : A simple cross at a field's edge by Evelyn Simak TM4477 : The memorial was erected by the 6th Earl of Stradbroke by Adrian S Pye

In April 1945, Hardwick was taken over by the RAF and put into care and maintenance status. It was closed in 1962. Most of the buildings were of the temporary type, ie mainly Nissen huts. The Control tower and other brick buildings were demolished and the huts dismantled but the runways continued to be used by crop-spraying aircraft. The land was returned to agriculture and farm buildings were erected on some of the hardstandings.

TM2590 : View across the site of Hardwick airfield by Evelyn Simak TM2490 : Farm entrance at Shelton Common by Evelyn Simak TM2491 : Farm track along fields by Evelyn Simak TM2590 : Tractor and slurry bowser by Evelyn Simak TM2591 : Old straw bale by Evelyn Simak

Local residents recall that even in the 1960s there was very little left of the airfield buildings and of the few remaining buildings the Operations block, air raid shelters and M/E plinths have also since been demolished, as was the Battle headquarters. The Technical site adjoined Spring Lane, a rural road linking the villages of Hempnall and Alburgh and skirting the eastern edge of the airfield. The domestic and WAAF sites were situated in the fields to the east of Barondale Lane, and along Barford Road in the hamlet of Topcroft Street, further to the east. On one of the two neighbouring WAAF sites two brick buildings have survived whereas all the Nissen huts adjoining in the north, which can clearly be seen in old aerial photographs, have long since been dismantled. Most of this site is now a wood.

TM2691 : Ex-RAF building in Barford Road by Evelyn Simak TM2691 : RAF huts near Hardwick airfield by Evelyn Simak TM2691 : Huts on the former WAAF campsite by Evelyn Simak

The WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) site 1 was located only a short distance further to the west from here. The area where the accommodation and mess buildings stood on is currently occupied by large sheds belonging to Barford Farm. Only one of the original barrack huts remains standing, converted to farm use. The water tower is all that remains of a second building which stood nearby until a few years ago. It was demolished in 2010, together with the derelict mess hall adjoining it.

TM2691 : Old RAF building on Barford Farm by Evelyn Simak TM2691 : Old RAF building on Barford Farm - detail by Evelyn Simak TM2691 : Old water tower on Barford Farm by Evelyn Simak TM2691 : Ex-RAF building on Barford Farm by Evelyn Simak

The bomb storage area was situated in the north-eastern corner of the airfield and the remains of the large brick structure of one of the airfield's fuel stores can be seen from Spring Lane. The concreted track leading to it is still in place and the structure is overgrown but in good condition. It is a large circular platform with a sloping, concreted surface and a brick wall surrounding it. A concrete track leads around it. Nearby is an air raid shelter. Another cracked concrete track still traverses a small wood off Room Lane, leading to the south-western edge of the airfield. A second bulk fuel installation was located right beside this track, about half-way into the wood. No trace remains.

TM2591 : Old concrete track by Evelyn Simak TM2591 : WW2 fuel storage area by Evelyn Simak TM2591 : WW2 relic by Evelyn Simak TM2591 : WW2 air raid shelter by Evelyn Simak TM2490 : Old concrete track off Room Lane by Evelyn Simak

The Control tower and the Technical site were located on the east side of the airfield and the Headquarters (Admin) site was situated in a field east of Barondale Lane. Further to the north-east were Sites 3 and 6; the former adjoining Bush Wood in the east, now the location of the Museum, the latter adjoining the wood in the west. Site 2 was situated to the east of Communal Site A (now Airfield Farm). Site 4 adjoined Site 3 in the south-east. Site 5 was strung out along the western edge of Long Wood. This wood was felled after the war and the area it occupied is now in agricultural use. Scattered concrete rubble can still be seen in the hedge which today separates a crop field from the old concrete road, now a farm road and footpath. The small brick-built sewage pumphouse (building #51) is the only surviving building here. Site 1 adjoined it a short distance further in the south. West of Site 1 was the Communal site B, and a short distance further to the west were the Sick quarters, a short distance south of Communal Site A. A short distance further west from here was the Motor Transport yard of which a large hardstanding remains, now in farm use.

TM2590 : View across the site of Hardwick aerodrome by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : Footpath following concrete WW2 road by Evelyn Simak TM2590 : Hardstanding near Airfield Farm by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : Path to Barondale Lane by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : Road to Airfield Farm by Evelyn Simak

TM2690 : A wide hedge by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : Overgrown building on Site 5 by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : Overgrown building on Site 5 (interior) by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : Overgrown building on Site 5 by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : Concrete rubble in the hedge by Evelyn Simak

TM2690 : Footpath past Airfield Farm by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : Old concreted track by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : Oilseed rape crop by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : Straw and silage bales stored on hardstanding by Evelyn Simak TM2590 : Access road to Airfield Farm by Evelyn Simak

The sewage works were located centrally in the fields between the northern edge of Bush Wood and south of Barford Road. A public footpath following the old concreted service road leads past the site of which nothing remains.

TM2691 : Path past the old sewage works by Evelyn Simak

Airfield Farm was built on part of the area occupied by Communal site A, where the men of the 329th Bombardment squadron were based. The site was spread out on the south-western corner of Bush Wood, a wood that has since been felled to make way for agricultural land. A number of buildings have survived here such as the Sergeants' mess hall, the Squash court, a few accommodation huts and the gas decontamination block. Most of these buildings have been converted to farm use, some housing livestock and others being used for storage. The farmer's family occupies one of the buildings which was converted into a dwelling house. An adjoining building serves as a small memorial museum and is also used for veterans' reunions. One of the original runways, on the other side of Barondal Lane, is still in use as a private airstrip.

TM2690 : The decontamination block by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : The decontamination block - interior by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : The decontamination block - interior by Evelyn Simak

TM2690 : Mess hall on Communal site A by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : The former Squash court by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : The sergeants' mess hall by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : Ex-RAF building on Communal site A by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : Ex-RAF buildings on Communal site A by Evelyn Simak

Several Nissen huts, located a short distance further along to the north-east on Site 3, were restored and currently form part of the 93rd BG Museum. The exhibits range from displays of WW2 memorabilia to items of aviation archaeology such as engines and sections of undercarriage, recovered from crash sites. Hut 1 contains USAAF memorabilia and artefacts. Hut 2 serves as the 93rd Squadron and RAF Memorial Room where, amongst other items, original photographs, documents and uniforms are displayed. Hut 3 housed items related to the 489th Bomb Group, which in the winter of 2012 were moved to the Halesworth Airfield Museum > LinkExternal link. Hut 3 now contains a Red Cross cabinet, an American uniform cabinet and an original B-24 Liberator radio operator section.

Refreshments are on offer in the Mess Hall. This is not the original Mess building but one of two brick buildings on the site. It served as a crew rest room. As it was restored by using material from the derelict building adjoining it no trace remains of the latter.

TM2690 : 498th Bomb Group Museum at Hardwick Airfield by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : 498th Bomb Group Museum at Hardwick Airfield - exhibit by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : 498th Bomb Group Museum at Hardwick Airfield - exhibits by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : The Mess Hall by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : 498th Bomb Group Museum at Hardwick Airfield by Evelyn Simak

TM2690 : The 93rd Bomb Group Museum at Hardwick airfield by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : The 93rd Bomb Group Museum at Hardwick airfield by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : The 93rd Bomb Group Museum at Hardwick airfield by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : The 93rd Bomb Group Museum at Hardwick airfield by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : The 93rd Bomb Group Museum at Hardwick by Evelyn Simak

The museum is open on every third Sunday of each month from May to October, from 10am to 5pm.

Next to Airfield Farm there is a grass airstrip, used by the "Hardwick Warbirds" whose beautifully restored aircraft are kept in an adjoining hangar, which also houses topical displays as well as a small section of inscribed concrete bearing the name "J Brennan" and the "Xmas 1943". It was found in the vicinity of Site 4 and is believed to have been part of a pathway. In the unit's history it was recorded that on Christmas morning 1943 the Protestant and Catholic chaplains (who shared the church building) conducted traditional services. Many of the men were then invited into British homes to celebrate the day, and for all those who remained at the station, turkey was served in the mess halls. This being the second year in the UK for most, the men hoped it would be the last.

The pathway leading to the pump house on the Communal site A also has an inscription, apparently two names - "Boyer" and "Lang" - written when the concrete covering a water pipe was still wet, on 2 August 1944. Two men with the name Boyer served in the 93rd BG. They were Charles N Boyer of Golden, Colorado, and Robert G Boyer of Penbrook, Pennsylvania. There was only one Lang - Charles F. Jack E Lang of Omaha, Nebraska, had already been killed in action. The unit history records that the 2nd of August 1944 was a busy day: a key railway bridge at Montereau near Paris had been attacked visually from 18,000 feet by 28 of the 93rd's Liberators, 14 of which were damaged by flak. Nine pathfinders of the 329th Squadron led other 2nd Division groups to tactical targets along the Channel between Dieppe and Calais. At 21.20 a damaged B-24 appeared at the aerodrome and seven men were seen floating to the ground on parachutes. The pilot, co-pilot and their navigator successfully brought the aircraft down to land. They were from the 448th Squadron, based at RAF Seething > Link. Another arrival was Lt Abraham H Schonier, the bombardier of "War Godess", who had been interned in Sweden and arrived with flight crews returning from a mission to France. All this whilst at Hardwick a water pipe was concreted over and two men wrote their names in the wet concrete.

TM2690 : RAF Hardwick - Airfield Farm by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : RAF Hardwick - Airfield Farm by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : RAF Hardwick - Airfield Farm by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : Written in concrete by Evelyn Simak

TM2690 : A Mustang P-51D fighter aircraft by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : A Harvard (T-6) aircraft - nose art by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : A Harvard (T-6) aircraft by Evelyn Simak TM2690 : A Mustang P-51D fighter aircraft by Evelyn Simak

No doubt a number of buildings were dismantled and re-erected at local farms when the aerodrome was closed. How many of these buildings have survived is not known but one can still be found a couple of kilometres to the north at Moat Farm on the outskirts of Hempnall.

TM2594 : Shed at Moat Farm by Evelyn Simak TM2594 : Shed at Moat Farm by Evelyn Simak

Roughly one kilometre further north there used to be a dummy airfield, spread out over a crop field between Bussey's Loke and The Green. The decoy is said to have consisted of several rows of electrical lighting made to look like flightpaths, designed to divert attention away from the real aerodrome. It was a so-called Q-site, meaning that it operated at night time. It had the number 172(a) and is believed to have been operational from 18 June 1942 until 31 March 1944. There were always a few associated small buildings situated a safe distance away from these sites, where the generators were housed and where the men operating the lights could seek shelter. One of these buildings is still standing beside a public bridleway off Bungay Road known as Nobb's Lane. Now very derelict and rusty, it is adjoined by an intact concrete platform, presumably the remaining base of a building of similar size, and several heaps of concrete rubble, presumably the remains of other hut bases all aligned in a row along the track.

TM2694 : Nissen-type hut beside Nobbs' Lane by Evelyn Simak ...  Q-site Hempnall .  Q-site Hempnall .  Q-site Hempnall


Please note that some of the sites described above are located on private land and should not be visited without the respective owners' permission. A public footpath follows the old concreted track which linked the accommodation sites with each other, but no trace remains of these sites today. My thanks go to Mr Woodrow and to the Peck family for kindly permitting access onto their land. Many thanks for the friendly welcome and a guided tour provided by the very knowledgeable and helpful volunteers at the 93rd Bomb Group Museum.

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