RAF Thorpe Abbotts - USAAF Station 139

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


Construction of the airfield, which was initially planned as a satellite for RAF Horham in Suffolk, commenced in 1942, but because of the rapid build-up of the Eighth Air Force both airfields were handed over to the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). Thorpe Abbotts airfield was designated Station 139. The airfield area covered more than 600 acres and included three runways, 5.60 kilometres of perimeter track and fifty aircraft dispersals. The main runway was 1,920 metres (6,300 feet) long and one of the longest in the Eighth Air Force. At its peak there were about seventy B-17 aircraft and 3,500 personnel at the base.


TM1881 : 100th Bomb Group Memorial by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : RAF Thorpe Abbotts - 351st Bombardment Squadron plaque by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : The 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum - memorial plaque by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : The 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum (memorial) by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : The 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum (memorial) by Evelyn Simak


The 100th Bombardment Group (Heavy) arrived on 9 June 1943 and was assigned to the 13th Combat Bombardment Wing. Its operational squadrons were the 349th, 350th, 351st and 418th Bomb Squadrons. Major Marvin "Red" Bowman, the S2 Intelligence officer, describes in his diary entry dated 20 July 1943 the day when the station was handed over to the group by the RAF: This was quite a day for military pomp and ceremony; at noon the RAF handed the base over Thorpe Abbotts Air Station to Uncle Sam. A flagpole had been erected opposite headquarters and at noon a detachment of RAF lined up with a company of GI's. Squadron Leader D. Lawson, RAF liaison officer with the 4th Wing and Squadron Leader L. G. Bloomfield, Commanding Officer of RAF station, Thorpe Abbotts, represented the RAF. Colonel Neil B. Harding, Commanding Officer of the 100th, accepted the transfer to the USAAF. The troops presented arms and the British standard was lowered to bugle accompaniment. An American Color Guard raised the Stars and Stripes, while the RAF bugler accompanied with a RAF bugle call. All personnel were elated to see the Star and Stripes raised, signifying the changeover, but felt an American bugler could have been found to sound "To the Colors" making it even more impressive. (Source: LinkExternal link )

New crews were arriving all the time, replacing others lost or killed in action. S/Sgt Joe R Urice's crew from the 351st Squadron arrived on 29 December 1944: We were picked up at the small rail station (at Diss) by a 100th BG 6X6 truck and driven to the airbase in the open (no canvas cover) rear bed. Even with our heavy G.I. overcoats, the wind was uncomfortably cold on that trip. We checked in and the enlisted men were assigned to a 351st Squadron Nissen hut directly across the narrow street from the orderly room. The hut had been partitioned in half with two six-man [total of 12] flying crews in each end. There were three double-stacked wooden bunks on both of the long sides of this half hut. My estimate at this present date is that the room was approximately 30 ft long and perhaps 16 ft wide and wired for electricity (but no water). Electricity was of different voltage (220 V) than the standard 110V in the U. S. so therefore a basic transformer or resister was necessary to operate items such as American radios, etc. Heavy cloth curtains covered the windows on each side as well as at the door in order to comply with the nighttime "black out" rule necessary in England. In the middle of the room stood a British small metal coal burning stove about three feet in height, which was named a "slow but sure" "Turtle". (Source: LinkExternal link )


TM1779 : In building #261 by Evelyn Simak


The group flew B-17 Flying Fortress bomber aircraft, forming part of the Eighth Air Force's strategic bombing campaign, and soon gained the nickname "The Bloody Hundredth" due to its heavy losses. In 1944, the unit received their 2nd Distinguished Unit Citation (DCU), followed by a French Croix de Guerre with Palm for attacking heavily defended installations in Germany and for dropping supplies to French Forces of the Interior.

The group flew altogether 306 combat missions and lost 229 aircraft in action and in accidents. 768 officers and men were killed or missing in action and 939 were captured and became prisoners of war. There was a rumour that the group was singled out by the Luftwaffe after an incident which occurred during a bombing raid on the Messerschmidt factory in Regensburg: one of the aircraft was hit by enemy fighters and its undercarriage was lowered as a sign of surrender. The German fighters held their fire but when they flew alongside the hit aircraft, the gunners opened fire and shot down several of the enemy aircraft. Subsequent research has however revealed that the group had in fact never been singled out. A number of memorials dedicated to the 100th Bombardment Group or to individual squadrons and commanders can be seen at the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum.

The main part of the museum is housed in the restored former Watch office. Local resident Mike Harvey had the idea to preserve something in order to remind people of the airfield's history after a group of veterans had re-visited the airfield. Permission to restore the derelict Watch office was obtained from the landowner, Sir Rupert Mann, and in 1977 a 999 year lease was obtained. Over the years a few more buildings were purchased to house all the displays, some of which are accommodated in the Engine shed which originally used to be the Night flying equipment store. Two Nissen huts as well as a Pickett Hamilton (originally from Martlesham Heath) fort have been purchased from other airfields. Over time the museum has acquired a varied and interesting collection of artefacts, documents, photographs, uniforms and service equipment. The original teleprinter room of the Watch office has also been recreated.


TM1881 : The Watch office of RAF Thorpe Abbotts - now a museum by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : The Watch office of RAF Thorpe Abbotts - now a museum by Evelyn Simak

TM1881 : The 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum (interior) by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : The 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum (interior) by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : The 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum (display) by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : The 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum (window) by Evelyn Simak


The Engine shed, originally the Night flying equipment store, and the adjoining Nissen hut, called the Sad Sack Shack, house the larger exhibits such as engine parts, a Willy's Jeep and a mural which came from RAF Bottisham in Cambridgeshire.


TM1881 : A Pickett Hamilton fort by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : The Engine shed by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : The Engine shed by Evelyn Simak

TM1881 : The Engine shed (display) by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : The Engine shed (display) by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : The Engine shed (display) by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : The Engine shed (display) by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : The Sad Sack Shack (display) by Evelyn Simak


The Museum's shop and café are housed in the Varian Centre which was named after Horace L Varian, Secretary of the 100th Association and formerly Group Adjutant and Ground Executive. The small Pyrotechnics store was incorporated into this Nissen hut when the latter was extended.


TM1881 : The 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum - Pyrotechnics store by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : The 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum - the Varian Centre by Evelyn Simak


Thorpe Abbotts had a photography unit (on Site 2), its own bakery, tennis courts and even a clay pigeon shooting range. The 100th BG was supported by a number of units: the 838th Air Engineering Squadron; the 662nd Air Material Squadron; the 412th Air Service Group; the American Red Cross; the 869th Chemical Company; the 216th Finance Section; the 2110 Fire Fighting Platoon; the 1285th Military Police; the 1776 Ordnance Company; the 592nd Postal Unit; the 83rd Service Group; the 456th Sub-Depot; the 1141st Quartermaster Company; the 18th Weather Detachment and a Royal Air Force Detachment.

All the dispersed sites were situated in fields to the south of the flying field. The Communal Site A was situated in an area which today forms part of Billingford Wood, just north of Upper Street, but in the 1940s this area was not wooded. A number of buildings have survived on this site, such as the Red Cross girls' hut, the boiler house and water tower which adjoined a shower block, a water treatment plant and a Standby set house which could accommodate up to three diesel generators providing electricity back-up. A borehole pump house is also still in place.


TM1780 : USAAF Communal Site A, Upper Billingford by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : USAAF Communal Site A, Upper Billingford by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : USAAF Communal Site A, Upper Billingford by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : USAAF Communal Site A, Upper Billingford by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : USAAF Communal Site A, Upper Billingford by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : USAAF Communal Site A, Upper Billingford by Evelyn Simak

TM1780 : USAAF Communal Site A, Upper Billingford by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : USAAF Communal Site A, Upper Billingford by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : USAAF Communal Site A, Upper Billingford by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : USAAF Communal Site A, Upper Billingford by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : USAAF Communal Site A, Upper Billingford by Evelyn Simak


Site 1 was occupied by the men of 351st squadron. The site adjoins Common Farm which is located in Billingford Upper Street at the south-western edge of Billingford Wood. A handful of buildings including a prefabricated concrete barrack hut designed by the British Concrete Federation, and brick-built blast shelters have survived on this site but a number of concrete platforms where buildings once used to stand can still be found.


TM1780 : Concreted road leading to Site 1 by Evelyn Simak

TM1780 : RAF buildings on Site 1 by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : WW2 relics near Billingford Wood by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : Remaining RAF buildings on Site 1 by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : Old RAF building by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : Old RAF building by Evelyn Simak

TM1780 : Overgrown blast shelter by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : Overgrown blast shelter by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : Concreted hut platform by Evelyn Simak


Site 2, located near the south-western edge of Billingford Wood, was used mainly by the Military Police. The photo laboratory was also located there. The Technical site adjoined in the north-west and was located to the south of the perimeter track, in an area that is now part of Middle Wood. At the time this site was in use no wood was growing there. Nothing much would seem to have survived on this site but several large and now very overgrown hardstandings can be glimpsed in the passing from Wood Lane. The Speech broadcast centre appears to be the only building still standing on the adjoining Administrative/HQ site which was sandwiched between the Technical site in the north and the Communal site B in the south. Nearby there is a brick shelter which used to protect a transformer (M&E plinth).


TM1880 : Ditch in woodland, Upper Billingford by Evelyn Simak TM1880 : USAAF Headquarters Site, Upper Billingford by Evelyn Simak TM1880 : USAAF Headquarters site - Speech broadcast centre by Evelyn Simak TM1880 : USAAF Headquarters site, Upper Billingford by Evelyn Simak


No trace remains of Site 3, which was occupied by the airmen of the 349th squadron. It was located in the fields east of Kiln Lane south of Grove Farm, skirted by the road in the west and by what is now a farm track in the east. The concreted road leading into this campsite and linking it with Site 4 is still in place but the buildings have long since been removed and the field has returned to agricultural use.

Site 4 accommodated the enlisted men and the mechanics of the 350th squadron. The combat officers were apparently housed on the sites originally intended as the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) quarters, sandwiched between the two Communal sites. The only building which has survived here is a large prefabricated concrete hut designed by the British Concrete Federation (BCF) and used to be one of the officers' quarters. On its walls some faded graffiti can still be discerned, some of which is believed to date from after the war. An M&E plinth, surrounded by brick walls protecting the transformer within, can be found further to the south on the edge of a wood; its blast wall has by now completely collapsed. A couple of brick-built blast shelters have also survived on this site.


TM1779 : In building #261 by Evelyn Simak TM1779 : In building #261 by Evelyn Simak TM1779 : In building #261 by Evelyn Simak

TM1779 : The only building still standing on Site 4 by Evelyn Simak TM1779 : RAF Thorpe Abbotts, Site 4 by Evelyn Simak TM1779 : RAF Thorpe Abbotts, Site 4 by Evelyn Simak TM1779 : RAF Thorpe Abbotts, Site 4 by Evelyn Simak TM1779 : In building #261 by Evelyn Simak

TM1779 : RAF Thorpe Abbotts, Site 4 by Evelyn Simak TM1779 : RAF Thorpe Abbotts, Site 4 by Evelyn Simak TM1779 : RAF Thorpe Abbotts, Site 4 by Evelyn Simak TM1779 : Carved into a tree by Evelyn Simak TM1779 : Concreted road linking Sites 3 and 4 by Evelyn Simak


Site 5, of which nothing has survived, accommodated the airmen and mechanics of the 418th squadron. This site was located in the fields to the south of Common Farm at Upper Street. The concrete road leading to the site is still in place; it turns off the public footpath leading past Common Farm.

Site 6 provided accommodation for the Sub-depot officers, the men from the 662nd Air Material Squadron and of the 1776th Ordnance Company. After the war, the huts on this site were modified for use as homes for displaced people. Only one of the end walls of the guard hut beside the entrance to this camp off Kiln Lane still stands, albeit overgrown. Adjoining it are a number of very dilapidated huts in various stages of collapsing. Several blast shelters can be found nearby. Like almost all of the other sites where buildings can still be found today, trees and shrubs have sprung up and become established and large patches of brambles have run wild, filling the space between the buildings which originally stood in open fields.


TM1779 : Camp site entrance/exit by Evelyn Simak TM1779 : Dilapidated Nissen hut by Evelyn Simak TM1779 : Dilapidated camp site building by Evelyn Simak TM1779 : Falling to pieces by Evelyn Simak TM1779 : Old brick structures (detail) by Evelyn Simak


The two WAAF sites adjoined the Technical site in the south-west, with the southern-most site having been located in the area now occupied by crop fields belonging to Grove Farm. Only a toilet block remains.

The Station Sick quarters were situated in the northern part in the area that now forms part of Billingford Wood, to the north of Communal site A and near the aircraft dispersal points 47 and 50. Only a small toilet and ablutions block has survived here.

The airfield's sewage works were located in crop fields a short distance to the south-east of Grove Farm and the remains of its structures can still be found there, albeit now very overgrown. The works comprised a screening chamber, sedimentation tanks and percolating filters, a humus tank, sludge drying beds and a destructor and a tool shed. The footpath, for some time following the old concreted road built during WW2 and leading from Wood Lane through fields to the village of Swanton Abbotts skirts it. Like most others, this long disused site is very overgrown.


TM1779 : Old concreted road by Evelyn Simak TM1879 : Dilapidated building at the old sewage works by Evelyn Simak TM1879 : Dilapidated building at the old sewage works (interior) by Evelyn Simak TM1879 : The old tool shed by Evelyn Simak TM1879 : Moss-covered concrete road by Evelyn Simak

TM1879 : Rubble in the old sedimentation tanks by Evelyn Simak TM1879 : Old sedimentation tanks by Evelyn Simak TM1879 : Brickwork in disused sedimentation tank by Evelyn Simak TM1879 : Brickwork in disused sedimentation tank by Evelyn Simak TM1879 : Sedimentation tanks at the disused sewage works by Evelyn Simak

TM1879 : Sludge drying beds by Evelyn Simak TM1879 : Disused sewage works tank by Evelyn Simak TM1879 : Old sewage tank and pipe by Evelyn Simak TM1879 : Sewage pipes by Evelyn Simak TM1879 : Steel fence post by Evelyn Simak


On the other side of the flying field, the aerodrome's Battle headquarters has survived in good condition. It is a brick-built underground structure consisting of several rooms, with many fittings still in place. The slits in the concrete observation cupola above it offer good all-around views.


TM1981 : Observation cupola of the Battle Headquarters by Evelyn Simak TM1981 : WW2 Battle Headquarters by Evelyn Simak TM1981 : Observation cupola of the Battle Headquarters by Evelyn Simak

TM1981 : RAF Thorpe Abbotts battle headquarters by Evelyn Simak TM1981 : RAF Thorpe Abbotts battle headquarters by Evelyn Simak TM1981 : RAF Thorpe Abbotts battle headquarters by Evelyn Simak TM1981 : RAF Thorpe Abbotts battle headquarters by Evelyn Simak TM1981 : RAF Thorpe Abbotts battle headquarters by Evelyn Simak


The bomb storage area was situated in two adjacent woods marked on the map as The Whin Ground and Long Covert, to the south-west of the flying field and north of Brick Kiln Farm. A couple of very dilapidated buildings have survived on the edge of Billingford Wood. The bomb store consisted of a number of bomb storage bays incendiary bomb stores and a component store and was reached via a warren of service road leading off the southern perimeter track, which is still in place.


TM1780 : View along a concreted service road by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : Track past Billingford Wood by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : Crop fields by Dickleburgh by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : Track to Wood Lane by Evelyn Simak

TM1780 : Dilapidated Nissen hut by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : The old Flame Float store by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : One wall still standing by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : Remains of the Flame Float store by Evelyn Simak


On 27 June 1946, the airfield was returned to the RAF, and after years of inactivity was finally closed in 1956 and returned to agricultural use. The buildings fell into disrepair and in the late 1970s the major demolition of the runways and perimeter track began. Much of the perimeter track, runways and hardstandings were removed and the farmers are now using the remaining tracks for getting to their fields. One section of the perimeter track is now a public road and sections of some of the service roads serve as public footpaths.


TM1980 : Poultry houses and silos beside Mill Road by Evelyn Simak TM1980 : Driveway to Red Barn by Evelyn Simak TM1880 : Former perimeter track on Thorpe Abbotts airfield by Evelyn Simak TM1881 : View along the northern perimeter track by Evelyn Simak TM1780 : The old perimeter fence by Evelyn Simak

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The 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum is located in Thorpe Abbotts Road and it is open from 10am to 5pm on weekends and bank holidays from 1 March to 31 October, and also on Wednesdays from May to September > LinkExternal link. Two public footpaths follow sections of the concreted roads which used to link the various dispersed sites with each other and a section of the perimeter track now forms part of Wood Lane, a minor road linking Common Lane, Dickleburgh, with Upper Street, Billingford.



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