RAF Shipdham - USAAF Station 115

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


Constructed in 1941/42, Shipdham airfield was the first US heavy bomber base in Norfolk, and from September 1942 to June 1945 it was also the location of the headquarters of the 14th Combat Bombardment Wing, 2nd Air Division, VIII Bomber Command (later the Eighth Army Air Force).

The first unit to use the airfield was the 319th Bombardment Group (Medium), followed in October 1942 by the 44th BG (Heavy) with its operational squadrons

66th Bombardment Squadron
67th Bombardment Squadron
68th Bombardment Squadron
506th Bombardment Squadron

The 44th, known as the Flying Eightballs, was the first USAAF group to be equipped with the B-24 Liberator bombers and the unit received a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for an extremely hazardous mission against a naval installation at Kiel. The detachment also participated in the famous low-altitude raid on the Ploesti oil fields in Romania on 1 August 1943 and the group was awarded another DUC for its part in this raid which, due to the heavy losses encountered became known as "Black Sunday". The 44th BG flew its last combat mission on 25 April 1945 and returned to the USA in June 1945.

On the occasion of a veterans' reunion in 1992, a memorial plaque was erected at the derelict control tower which is situated beside the southern perimeter track on the edge of what is now the Shipdham industrial estate. A memorial dedicated to the crew of "Pappy's Chillun" of the 44th Bomb Group, 68th Bombardment Squadron which crashed on 21 April 1944 at Taverham Mill can be found at the crash site.


TF9907 : 44th Bomb Group memorial at Shipdham by Evelyn Simak TF9907 : 44th Bomb Group memorial at Shipdham - detail by Evelyn Simak TG1513 : WW2 Memorial by Evelyn Simak


After the war, the airfield became a prisoner of war camp until it was closed in 1947 and the land was sold to a local farmer. In 1969, planning permission was sought to re-open the airfield, and when obtained, two of the old runways, the approach road and the perimeter track were refurbished. The airfield opened to private flying in the summer of 1970 and is currently used by the Shipdham Aero Club. The clubhouse, situated on the northern edge of the airfield, is adjoined by a museum which is open every fourth Sunday in the month. In the field to the north of it the surrounding brick walls and the blast wall of an M &E plinth have survived.


TF9807 : View across runway 15/33 towards the Aero Club by Evelyn Simak TF9807 : Two runways crossing by Evelyn Simak TF9807 : Shipdham Flying Club and airfield museum by Evelyn Simak TF9807 : Hangar at the Shipdham Flying Club by Evelyn Simak TF9807 : Hangar at the Shipdham Flying Club - detail by Evelyn Simak


Buildings and structures have survived on several sites which were associated with the airfield. Many of the buildings on the Combat Wing headquarters site, situated about a kilometre to the south-east of the runways have been, or are currently in the process of being converted into private dwellings after having stood derelict and overgrown for seven decades. This was where Brigadier General Leon W Johnson, commander of the 14th Combat Bombardment Wing, was based, and where the headquarters personnel lived and worked.

The Officers mess on the site contains a number of murals created during this time by some of the men based here. The current owner has rescued and conserved these wall paintings and incorporated them into new, tastefully designed private dwellings which also retain numerous other original features.


TF9906 : The former Headquarters site at RAF Shipdham by Evelyn Simak TF9905 : Headquarters site at RAF Shipdham by Evelyn Simak TF9905 : Headquarters site at RAF Shipdham by Evelyn Simak TF9905 : Headquarters site at RAF Shipdham by Evelyn Simak TF9906 : Headquarters site at RAF Shipdham by Evelyn Simak


TF9905 : Headquarters site at RAF Shipdham - mural by Evelyn Simak

TF9905 : Headquarters site at RAF Shipdham - mural by Evelyn Simak TF9905 : Headquarters site at RAF Shipdham - mural by Evelyn Simak

TF9905 : Headquarters site at RAF Shipdham - mural by Evelyn Simak TF9905 : Headquarters site at RAF Shipdham - mural by Evelyn Simak TF9905 : Headquarters site at RAF Shipdham - mural by Evelyn Simak

TF9905 : Headquarters site at RAF Shipdham - mural by Evelyn Simak TF9905 : Headquarters site at RAF Shipdham - mural by Evelyn Simak TF9905 : Headquarters site at RAF Shipdham - mural by Evelyn Simak


About 500 metres to the south-east was Communal Site A, located on High Common. Only a small number of buildings remain. These are the generator standby set building and a pump house. A few air raid shelters have also survived on this site which is currently used for grazing cattle. The shelters are flooded and inaccessible. A public footpath traverses the site from east to west, linking the two minor roads skirting it.


TF9905 : Cattle grazing on the  former Communal site A of RAF Shipdham by Evelyn Simak TF9905 : WW2 air raid shelter by Evelyn Simak TF9905 : Flooded WW2 air raid shelter by Evelyn Simak TF9905 : The former Communal site A of RAF Shipdham by Evelyn Simak TF9905 : Disused RAF building by Evelyn Simak


Between here and the former Technical site further to the north, now occupied by the Shipdham industrial estate, was the location of the Sick quarters. The characteristic looped access road and the concrete hardstanding remain but most of the buildings have been removed and the site has been cleared of rubble. In the far corner the Ambulance garage and mortuary is the only building which has survived here - for the time being.


TF9906 : The former Sick quarters site of RAF Shipdham by Evelyn Simak TF9906 : The former Sick quarters site of RAF Shipdham by Evelyn Simak


The three original T2 hangars of the former Technical site remain, used as warehouses, on what is now the Shipdham industrial estate, situated at the south-eastern corner of the airfield. Beside the southern perimeter track, the Control tower has also survived, albeit in a derelict condition. No buildings remain on the former Admin site which was situated a short distance to the east.


TF9906 : RAF hangar on Shipdham industrial estate by Evelyn Simak TF9907 : The control tower at RAF Shipdham by Evelyn Simak TF9907 : Steps leading up the control tower by Evelyn Simak TF9907 : Inside the old control tower by Evelyn Simak TF9907 : View across the control tower upper deck by Evelyn Simak


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In 1944/5 the American poet Hyam Plutzik was stationed at Shipdham, where he served as the Information and Education Officer for the 44th Bombardment Group. He wrote two poems which were inspired by his time on the airfield: "On the Airfield at Shipdham" and "Bomber Base".

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My thanks go to the Adams family for their warm welcome and a guided tour of the Combat Wing HQ buildings they own and are in the process of restoring.


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