RAF Rackheath - USAAF Station 145

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


The aerodrome was built on the estate of Sir Edward Stracy by John Laing & Son Ltd to the specifications of a Class-A heavy bomber airfield, for use by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). The main runway was 1,800 metres long and a major mains power line had to be put underground to clear the flying approaches. The station opened in March 1944 as USAAF Station 145.

The base was used by the 467th Bombardment Group (Heavy) which became the third group in the 96th Combat Wing, Second Bombardment Division (later Air Division) of the Eighth Air Force of the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe (USSTAF). The other two BGs in the 96th Combat Wing were the 458th BG, based at RAF Horsham St Faith (Station 123), and the 466th BG, based at RAF Attlebridge (Station 120) > LinkExternal link.

The 467th, which soon became known as the "Rackheath Aggies", brought with them 58 B-24 Consolidated Liberator bomber aircraft, one of which, called "Witchcraft", was later to become famous, holding the record for the most combat missions (130) for this type of bomber in the Eighth Air Force. A road on the Rackheath Industrial Estate, which occupies the former Technical site, is named after it.

In the Group's history book, the aircraft is described thus: "The 467th had no one hero but did have a 'hero' aircraft and crew that maintained it. "Witchcraft," a B-24H, Serial No. 42-52534 of the 790th BS(H) flew on the first Group mission and on the next to last, a total of 130 missions without once failing to reach its assigned target, the record for 8th Air Force Liberators. Her ground crew consisted of Crew Chief Joe Ramirez, Assistant George Dong, Mechanics Ray Betcher, Wait Elliott and Joe Vetter, a real 'League of Nations' representation. Much credit has to be given the crews who flew "Witchcraft" to the record, they never turned back before reaching the target for mechanical or personnel reasons. "Witchcraft" received over 300 flak holes, had thirteen engine changes, had to go to the Sub Depot twice for repairs. But in her remarkable career not a man was injured or killed in her. "Witchcraft" returned to the United States in June 45, one of five original Group aircraft that did so."


The operational squadrons of the 467th BG were:

788th Bombardment Squadron
789th Bombardment Squadron
790th Bombardment Squadron
791st Bombardment Squadron


The unit was mainly employed in the bombing of strategic targets such as the harbour at Kiel, chemical plants in Bonn, textile factories in Stuttgart and power plants at Hamm and other objectives. It also occasionally supported other missions, and on D-Day participated in the bombing of shore installations and bridges. During the Battle of the Bulge the unit attacked German communications and in March 1945, during the assault across the Rhine, it attacked enemy transportation. After the war had ended, the 467th was given the honour of leading the Victory Flypast over High Wycombe on 13 May 1945.

The Group flew 212 combat missions, 5,538 combat sorties, an average of 26 aircraft effective per mission and dropped 13,353 tons of bombs. 'Only' 29 aircraft were lost in action, which was the lowest loss rate of any Group of the Eighth. 242 personnel were however killed in action or in the line of duty. The Group set an unsurpassed record for bombing accuracy and had the best overall standing for bombing accuracy in the Eighth. The last combat mission was flown on 25 April 1945 and in August 1946 the 467th was disbanded. A memorial stone commemorating the Group was dedicated in 1990. It can be found in Liberator Close, at the end of Bidwell Road (off Wendover Road), on the Rackheath Industrial Estate. The ashes of navigator Earl Roy are reported to also be buried here.


TG2813 : 467th Bombardment Group memorial stone by Evelyn Simak

TG2813 : View along Bidwell Road from Liberator Close by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : Liberator Close (road sign) by Evelyn Simak


An earlier memorial to the 467th Bomb Group, comprising a plaque and a bench, was dedicated in 1983. It can be found at the foot of the village sign in Salhouse Road, which on its right-hand panel features a B-14 Liberator, a wind sock and a Watch office. Nearby, the gates given to the village in 1986 by the Coffey Crew can be seen at Holy Trinity, the village church. The original gates were however damaged by a lorry and a new set of gates were dedicated in 2008. A small room inside the church is dedicated to the 467th BG with the exhibits being mainly photographs and prints. A Roll of Honour listing all the 647th bomb group's men who lost their lives during the war can be seen on the chancel south wall.


TG2812 : Memorial plaque to the Coffey Crew by Evelyn Simak TG2812 : Rackheath village sign by Evelyn Simak TG2812 : Holy Trinity church - the Coffey Crew gates by Evelyn Simak TG2812 : Holy Trinity Church in Rackheath by Evelyn Simak TG2812 : Holy Trinity church - Roll of Honour by Evelyn Simak TG2812 : 467th Bomb Group memorial plaque by Evelyn Simak

TG2812 : Holy Trinity church - RAF Rackheath museum room by Evelyn Simak TG2812 : Holy Trinity church - RAF Rackheath museum room by Evelyn Simak TG2812 : Holy Trinity church - RAF Rackheath museum room by Evelyn Simak TG2812 : Holy Trinity church - RAF Rackheath museum room by Evelyn Simak TG2812 : Holy Trinity church - RAF Rackheath museum room by Evelyn Simak TG2812 : Holy Trinity church - RAF Rackheath museum room by Evelyn Simak


The airfield was closed to operational flying in 1945 but used for storage by the RAF until 1959, and then by a crop spraying business for some years during the 1960s. The flying field quickly returned to agriculture and much of the concrete runways, perimeter track and hardstandings were removed and broken up for aggregate. A fragment of the north-south (ie the main) runway can be seen from Muck Lane, a minor road to the north of the flying field, linking the A1151 (Wroxham Road) with the railway station and the village of Salhouse further to the east. This road was closed during the war as it ran across two of the three runways.


TG2813 : Fields by Rackheath by Evelyn Simak TG2814 : The remains of a runway by Evelyn Simak TG2814 : Remains of runway lighting by Evelyn Simak TG2814 : Old fuel tank by Evelyn Simak TG2814 : From runway to farm track by Evelyn Simak TG2814 : A section of runway by Evelyn Simak


The Watch office, derelict for many years, was saved from demolition and finally completely restored in 2007 by Tilia Properties Ltd, who have been based on the airfield since the very beginning of the industrial estate. The Watch office was officially opened on 1 October 2007 by Mrs Charlotte Shower, widow of the late Colonel Albert J Shower, the wartime base commander. The building, which is located at the eastern end of Witchcraft Way, currently houses luxury offices. A public footpath leads past it, traversing the former flying field, now crop fields, in north-easterly direction.


TG2813 : Witchcraft Way (road sign) by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : The former Watch office at RAF Rackheath by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : The former Watch office at RAF Rackheath by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : The former Watch office at RAF Rackheath by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : The former Watch office at RAF Rackheath by Evelyn Simak


The Technical site, adjoining the flying field in the west, is today occupied by the Rackheath Industrial Estate, where a small number of original buildings can still be found, albeit modified and converted for light industry. The two major structures on the aerodrome were two T2 aircraft hangars, one of which was situated on the Technical site and the other further to the east near to Salhouse railway station. The latter was dismantled many years ago but the former can still be seen in Hudson Close, the southern extension of Wendover Road, albeit much modified and re-clad. It is currently (2014) used by Solus Garden & Leisure Ltd.


TG2813 : Hangar on the Rackheath Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : Earl Road (road sign) by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : Bidwell Road (road sign) by Evelyn Simak TG2713 : Wendover Road (road sign) by Evelyn Simak


The few other original buildings still standing on the industrial estate today are much modified and hence no longer readily recognisable. The NFE (Night Flying Equipment) store can still be found in the neighbourhood of the Watch office. It was re-clad and has received a modern roof. The eastern side of the Crew lockers and drying room building still looks original but the adjoining interconnecting complex has received a modern exterior as well as a new roof. The Main workshops and stores, which were housed in Nissen huts remained unchanged until recently but have since been removed. Like the other remaining buildings they are located at the southern end of the industrial estate and can be found by the junction of Hudson Close and Dewing Road.


TG2813 : Industrial building on the Rackheath Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : Industrial building on the Rackheath Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : Old RAF building by Evelyn Simak

TG2813 : Old RAF stores by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : Site of the Main Stores by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : Old RAFstores (detail) by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : Industrial buildings on the Rackheath Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : Industrial buildings on the Rackheath Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : Site of the Main Stores by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : Old Nissen hut by Evelyn Simak


Wendover Road, the estate's major access road, commemorates the US airbase where the 467th BG was formed. A number of other roads on the industrial estates were named after personnel stationed here, including one named after Colonel Albert J Shower, the base commander. There are also the B-24 Coffee Lounge, in Wendover Road, named in memory of the Liberator bombers who flew from the aerodrome, and Witchcraft Way, named after a Liberator bomber. A small secondary industrial site on the west side of Green Lane West was named Mahoney Green, commemorating Lieutenant Colonel James Mahoney, the deputy group commander.


TG2813 : Albert Shower Road (road sign) by Evelyn Simak

TG2813 : The B-24 Coffee Lounge by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : The B-24 Coffee Lounge by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : The B-24 Coffee Lounge (interior) by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : The B-24 Coffee Lounge (interior) by Evelyn Simak


A modern building today stands in the footprint of the former Quartermaster's office, situated by the junction of Hudson Close and Dewing Road on the southern end of the estate. Three plaques can be seen affixed to its wall, one commemorating the 467th Bombardment Group (Heavy) Ancillary Units and another in the memory of Private Daniel E Miney, who was killed in action on 22 April 1944, when intruding enemy aircraft had bombed the airfield. The third plaque informs that the building was erected in 2002 on the site of the Quartermaster Office.


TG2813 : Industrial building on the Rackheath Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : Industrial building on the Rackheath Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak

TG2813 : Plaque commemorating the 467th Bombardment Group HVY Ancillary Units by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : Memorial plaque to Private Daniel E Miney by Evelyn Simak TG2813 : Plaque on an industrial building by Evelyn Simak


The dispersed campsites associated with the aerodrome were located in the grounds of Rackheath Park, about one kilometre to the south-west of the flying field, and provided accommodation for 500 officers and 2,400 enlisted men. The living standards however were not what the Americans were accustomed to as there was no sewerage system, and although the living areas did have ablutions blocks and running water, there were no sophisticated toilets either but rather primitive latrines instead, and bathing was available only on the Communal site.

Twelve men were housed in each Nissen hut. The huts had concrete floors and wooden end walls, with two windows and a door at each end and a small porch at the main entrance. The more permanent personnel were housed in prefabricated concrete huts designed by the British Concrete Federation. The Mess halls were housed in large inter-connecting Nissen-type huts. Large Seco huts were used for briefings and headquarter-type functions. Brick-built blast shelters, surrounded by earth mounds for protection, were scattered randomly throughout the living and working areas.

A few of the buildings which have survived on some of the old campsites contain wartime graffiti and drawings, with the artwork ranging from the depiction of Walt Disney characters to personal mission boards, ie recordings of missions flown, and the names of some of the men who were accommodated here for some time during the war. The current owners are looking after these 70 year old relics very well indeed.


TG2712 : WW2 USAAF artwork by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : WW2 USAAF artwork by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : WW2 USAAF artwork by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : WW2 USAAF artwork by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : WW2 USAAF artwork by Evelyn Simak

TG2712 : WW2 USAAF graffiti by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : WW2 USAAF graffiti by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : WW2 USAAF graffiti by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : WW2 USAAF graffiti by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : WW2 USAAF graffiti by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : WW2 USAAF graffiti by Evelyn Simak

TG2712 : Barrack hut graffiti by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : Eight bombs in a row by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : Barrack hut graffiti by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : Missions flown 70 years ago by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : WW2 graffiti by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : "Sack Time" by Evelyn Simak


Rackheath Hall was built in 1852-4 for Humphrey Stracey and during WW1 housed the 64th Highland Division officers' school. The Stracey family sold the estate in 1950 and the hall had since become run down until it was converted into an antiques shop, sold once again in 1990, and restored and converted into luxury flats in 1998 under new ownership. Nothing but a rusty skeleton remains of the gate piers flanking the driveway leading into the park and to the hall, which the American airmen based here during WW2 used to refer to as the Golden Gates. The gate piers and screen were made in circa 1850 by Cottam and Hallen of London and exhibited at the Great Exhibition 1851.


TG2712 : Rackheath Hall by Evelyn Simak TG2712 : Rackheath Hall (north elevation) by Evelyn Simak TG2613 : The remains of the Golden Gates by Evelyn Simak TG2613 : The remains of the Golden Gates by Evelyn Simak TG2613 : Access road to Rackheath Hall by Evelyn Simak TG2613 : Lodge by the entrance into Rackheath Park by Evelyn Simak


Rackheath Park, where all the domestic sites of RAF Rackheath were located, is bordered by Green Lane West in the east and by Salhouse Road in the south. The extensive grounds of Sprowston Manor, today a hotel and golf club, adjoin in the west. During WW2, Sprowston Manor had been requisitioned by the Army and housed the Forward HQ of the Norfolk Division (later redesignated 76th Infantry Division) of Eastern Command.

KML

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