RAF Old Buckenham - USAAF Station 144

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

TM0793 : Old Buckenham Airfield - Memorial by Evelyn Simak TM1192 : Memorial  in church by Evelyn Simak  Memorial garden

Old Buckenham aerodrome was built during 1942/43 for the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Eighth Air Force and given the designation USAAF Air Station 144. It was designed as a Class A bomber base and the main contractors were Taylor Woodrow Ltd. The airfield had three concrete runways (the main runway being 1,800 metres/6,000 feet long), 50 aircraft dispersal loops and two T2 hangars. The dispersed campsites provided accommodation for 2,894 personnel.

The 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), flying B-24 Liberator bomber aircraft, arrived in December 1943 and entered combat in February 1944, their main task being the bombing of strategic targets. Together with Station 114 (RAF Hethel) > Link and Station 124 (RAF Tibenham) > Link they formed the 2nd Combat Bomb Wing, one of five wings assigned to the 2nd Bomb Division. From March until July 1944, after having transferred from RAF Tibenham, the American actor James "Jimmy" Stewart served as the Group's operations officer, briefing on the operational aspects of missions. He shared a small house situated near the Officers Club with the station's commander, Colonel Ramsay Potts. The actor Walter Matthau (Walter John Matthow) was also stationed at Old Buckenham during this time. He served as a radioman-gunner.

TM0793 : Jimmy's Café by Evelyn Simak .......  Jimmy's Cafe (1)  Jimmy's Cafe (2)

Jimmy's Café, situated adjacent to two aircraft sheds (one a Blister hangar moved to its present location by the entrance to the flying field from the aerodrome's Technical site), is named after Jimmy Stewart. The café's interior was designed by the American interior stylist Signature Hamilton. A newly constructed Nissen hut, the 453rd Bombardment Group Museum, reportedly houses the largest collection of 543rd memorabilia in existence, is situated adjacent to the new memorial garden with its figure-8 path, where the 453rd Bombardment Group's memorial stone is now also located. Ceremonially opened in November 2015 and opened to the public at Easter 2016 it is currently open to visitors every weekend from 10am until 4pm as well as by private appointment.

TM0793 : The 453rd Bomb Group Museum by Evelyn Simak ...............  453rd BG Museum (6)  453rd BG Museum (7)

 453rd BG Museum (1)  453rd BG Museum (2)

 453rd BG Museum (3)  453rd BG Museum (4)

The following operational squadrons were based at Station 144:

732nd Bombardment Squadron
733rd Bombardment Squadron
734th Bombardment Squadron
735th Bombardment Squadron

The 453rd Bomb Group flew missions against marshalling yards, aircraft assembly plants, a fuel depot, railway centres, an ordnance depot and oil refineries in Germany and also participated in a concentrated attack against the German aircraft industry in February 1944. Towards the end of the war they ferried cargo, gasoline, blankets and rations to France and dropped ammunition and medical supplies near Wesel in Germany. Their last combat mission was flown in April 1945. The 453rd Bomb Group is documented to have flown 259 missions and dropped 15,804 tonnes of bombs. 58 aircraft were lost and 366 servicemen lost their lives serving from Old Buckenham.

A memorial in the church of All Saints in the village of Carleton Rode, approximately three kilometres to the south-east of the flying field, is dedicated to 11 men killed on February 9th 1945 when two aircraft based at Old Buckenham collided in mid-air, with the B-24 Liberator "Worry Bird" (42-50703) crashing near Bury's Hall Farm, killing 1st Lts RG Rollings and ME Stump; 2nd Lt EE Check; T/Sgts JP Eubank and EW Amburn; and S/Sgts JE Sharp, RW Adkins, ET Soine, DE Robertson, EC Erker and WL Starbuck. The other aircraft involved, "Spirit of Notre Dame (42-95102), managed to land safely.

On the occasion of a veterans' reunion in May 1983 an extension to the Old Buckenham village hall was dedicated as a memorial to the members of the group who lost their lives serving in the UK. The room contains various topical displays and memorabilia and a bronze plaque with the names of all who are remembered. A black granite memorial in the form of a tailplane from a B-24 Liberator bomber aircraft is located near the current entrance to the modern airfield. In October 2012 the stone was relocated to a newly designed memorial garden nearby.

After the war the airfield was returned to Air Ministry control and served as a satellite for non-flying RAF maintenance units until it was closed in the summer of 1960. It had also been made available for the storage of surplus ammunition and from May 1945 until March 1950 had been placed under the control of 231 MU Hockering. 94 MU Great Ashfield, formerly based at Barnham > Link also used the site as part of the East Anglian Ammunition Area. A proposal dating from 1953 was for using it as a sub-site of 94 MU Honington, along with Hockering, Mendlesham, Attlebridge, Barnham, Rackheath, Great Ashfield and Little Heath, followed by a dramatic reduction in all ammunition storage sites. By 1958, 94 MU consisted only of Barnham and Old Buckenham, with 53 MU Pulham designated its parent from September 1956 to February 1958. During the following years, the land was gradually returned to agriculture and most of the concreted areas were lifted and crushed for aggregate although some of the old concrete roads, dispersals and some sections of runway are still in place. The wartime Watch office was demolished in the 1970s. Todays' flying is controlled from a modern control tower, sharing a building which also houses offices and the café; a runway caravan is apparently also in operation at times. The airfield is open to flying every day.

During the 1970s/80s the remaining 600-odd metres long section of hard runway was used by crop-spraying aircraft and presently the 126-acres site is a private airfield that is often described as being one of the most friendly in East Anglia. It retains a section of the east-west runway and there are also two grass airstrips. Old Buckenham Airfield is currently owned by Geoffrey Lynch, OBE, an aviation enthusiast who has pledged to keep aviation at the site. The airfield hosts the Norfolk Air Show, an annual event with military and flying displays. There is also a WW2 Flying Control Caravan which was used by many aerodromes to reduce the number of accidents especially on the runways, where it was commonly positioned on its own hardstanding near the touch-down area. The caravan was manned by an Aerodrome Control Pilot who was equipped with an Aldis Signalling Lamp and a Very Pistol to warn pilots of any danger.

 Old Buck

 Bofors anti-aircraft gun  FH70 155mm howitzer field gun

TM0693 : Supermarine Spitfire MH 434 by Evelyn Simak TM0793 : Armoured tracked vehicle at Old Buckenham airfield by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : A Mustang P-51D fighter aircraft by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : Aerobatic display at the Norfolk Air Show by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : A Catalina Flying Boat by Evelyn Simak

 Aircraft hangar  Blister hangar

One section of the NE/SW runway is currently occupied by a number of poultry houses belonging to the Airfield Chicken Farm, located west of Bunn's Bank. Some of the old concreted roads which used to connect the various dispersed campsites with each other and with the airfield proper are still in place, now in farm use. Bunn’s Bank is a fragmentary earthwork running for about three kilometres along the southern and eastern parish boundary and is believed by some to have been constructed in the Saxon period whereas others think it dates from Roman times. Locals maintain that it was built by King Edmund in the 9th century, to help defend his 'royal town' against the marauding Danes. Today, Bunn's Bank serves as one of the reference points on the airfield's flying circuit and forms the northern boundary of the downwind leg in bad weather conditions.

TM0893 : Poultry houses at Airfield Chicken Farm by Evelyn Simak TM0893 : Fields by Old Buckenham airfield by Evelyn Simak TM0894 : A clamp in the making at Airfield Chicken Farm by Evelyn Simak TM0793 : Shed in pasture south of Old Buckenham airfield by Evelyn Simak TM0894 : Poultry house at Airfield Chicken Farm by Evelyn Simak

The temporary buildings on most of the dispersed sites have long since been demolished or dismantled but several substantial buildings have survived on the former Communal site on the Bunn's Bank Industrial Estate which is strung out along the north side of Bunn's Bank Road, after which it is named, to the west of the airfield. The Institute (building 190), Grocery & Local Produce Store (building 191) and the Tailors, Barbers & Shoemakers Shop (building 193) can all still be seen here. The Squash Court (building 197), the Gymnasium (building 196), the Standby Set generator house (building 199) and the Picket post (building 230) beside the entrance have also survived. Apart from the Picket post, the buildings have been converted to light industrial use. During WW2 the road passing the site was known as Miller Road, but the Americans stationed at Old Buckenham referred to it as Riverside Drive, presumably after Riverside, California, where they had completed their Phase training. The track leading into the former Communal site from the eastern end of Bunn's Bank Road and to the Mess site 2, and to Burgh Common further to the north from there, was soon christened 'Overshoe Lane' because it was reportedly only passable when wearing overshoes due to the deep mud covering it.

TM0693 : Industrial estate in Bunn's Bank Road by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : Industrial estate in Bunn's Bank Road by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : Business units in Bunn's Bank Road by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : Business units in Bunn's Bank Road by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : Entrance to the industrial estate in Bunn's Bank Road by Evelyn Simak

 Picket post  Institute  Institute  Institute

TM0693 : Converted Standby Set generator house by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : Nissen hut on Bunn's Bank Industrial Estate by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : The old gymnasium by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : The former gymnasium by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : Breckland Mowers by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : The old Squash Court by Evelyn Simak

No original buildings remain on the other two sites, Mess site 1 and Site 3 (accommodation), also located along this road, one now forming part of the industrial estate and the other built over by houses (an air raid shelter has however survived in one of the gardens). At the eastern end of the road, however, the Guardroom at the old entrance to the Technical site, the Fire Tender house adjacent to it, and the building housing the generators powering the runway lighting (building 66) can still be found.

A small memorial stone dedicated to Flt Lt Eric William Harper, RAF, stands in the high grass of the small garden in front of the old guardhouse, which also served as the kitchen and mess and after the war was used by No. 94 Maintenance Unit which he commanded when the unit was based at Old Buckenham. LAC John Davies, who served under Flt Lt Harper, recalls that a total of 30 RAF airmen were stationed there at the time. He also recalls that a number of Americans operated a radar tracking station located on the old Admin site a short distance further to the north-west. The meadow separating the two sites was used as a baseball field by the Americans. Members of both units went drinking together in the pubs of nearby Attleborough.

 94MU Memorial

 Guardroom  Fire tender house  Generator house

On the former Administrative/HQ site, situated in a crop field adjoining the industrial estate in the east, the Operations block, the Norden bomb sight house and a couple of adjoining structures are also still in place and appear to be in good condition, albeit modified for agricultural use. The buildings housing the Station offices and the Crew briefing room would appear to have been removed, as were two latrines and the Picket post situated at the site entrance.

TM0694 : Buildings in fields by Bunn's Bank by Evelyn Simak TM0694 : Farm buildings by Evelyn Simak TM0694 : Norden bomb sight building by Evelyn Simak TM0694 : Converted farm buildings by Evelyn Simak TM0694 : The Operations block by Evelyn Simak

The Sick quarters, located in a field to the north of the Communal site, was razed to the ground and the field has long since reverted to agricultural use. Crops are also growing on the locations to the north and south of Bunn's Bank Road where Sites 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 (all accommodation) and Mess site 2 were located. The concreted track leading to Site 1 is now a public footpath linking Bunn's Bank Road and the village of Old Buckenham, about two kilometres further south. Some of the officers were quartered alongside this path in Maycrete huts, with 16 men sharing one hut. The 733rd enlisted men's quarters, located on Site 4 at Burgh Common, comprised huts with asbestos roofs and rendered brick walls and were shared by 12 men and their assorted pets, which in one case were a dog, a skunk and a monkey.

TM0693 : Footpath to Old Buckenham by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : Wheat crop field south of Bunn's Bank by Evelyn Simak

Another concreted road a short distance further to the east leads southwards, terminating at the WAAF's (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) accommodation site, which would seem to still have its full complement of mainly prefabricated concrete buildings, including a bath house and a shower block complete with water tower and boiler house. This was Site 7 and although it had been earmarked as a WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) camp it was in fact occupied by the 735th Bomb Squadron flight crews and ground personnel, as no WAAF women were ever stationed at the base. Some of these buildings have since been converted to private dwellings. Site 8, another site originally assigned to use by the WAAF, adjoined a short distance further to the east.

TM0693 : Old concreted road by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : Old prefabricated concrete buildings by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : Buildings on the old WAAF site by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : Buildings on the old WAAF site by Evelyn Simak TM0693 : Prefabricated concrete huts by Evelyn Simak

The station's bomb storage area was located in the fields north of the northern perimeter track. No trace remains in the fields south of Heron Farm where the bomb dump was situated, but the concreted tracks and hardstandings would appear to still be in place, serving as farm roads.


Herbert Arthur Bradley, Jr, arrived at the Old Buckenham aerodrome on 23 February 1944; his recollections are as follows:

"A concrete perimeter track or roadway enclosed the three airstrips--a combination taxi-way for aircraft and a service road. Hardstands, parking areas for aircraft, connected to the perimeter road at irregular intervals. They were so located as to lessen losses of bombers and men if the field were to be bombed or strafed by enemy aircraft, which did occur on at least one occasion.

The Control Tower was the hub of activity and control of operations once the bombers came to life on the hardstands in preparation for departure. It was a two-story [sic] brick building - a square block-house with a flat roof used for observation of the bombers on take-off and upon landing. There was a second observation deck - a second lower balcony or veranda on the second story level of the building. Adjacent to the Control Tower was the floodlight trailer and tractor shed, the fire truck shelter, ambulance, and on a tall pole, a wind sock. The weather station was in the lower level of the Control Tower ... Upon entering, one found the Operations Room grim and businesslike ... They were equipped with telephones that linked the bomb group with other groups, with wing headquarters, with division command, and with the whole complex of the day's mission. The Duty Officer sat at his table, writing notes.

To the west of the Control Tower lay a large cluster of many buildings, large and small, known over-all as the Technical Center. ... This area included the armory, fire station, photographic block, bombsight center, parachute re-packing building, crew locker and drying room, gas defense [sic] center, broadcasting building, guardhouse, squadron and flight office, gunnery teacher, Link trainer, one of the two large hangers, and a variety of workshops and other administrative and service buildings. Somewhat removed from this area was a group of buildings that included the Group Commander's offices, operations block and crew briefing buildings.

The base had two hangers [sic]. These buildings were 25 feet high, 120 feet wide, and 240 feet long - a floor area of 28,800 square feet. They were always alive with action and sound. The scene was of many men hard at work attending to the B-24 bombers. Propellers were turned slowly as starters moved them around, then suddenly, smoke boiling out of the exhaust stacks, the engines spat back angrily and the internal explosion began the work of frenzy beneath the cowlings. All manner of work was always going on: a new turret being eased into place, a new propeller being bolted into its shaft -all of this activity to ready the bombers for the missions to come.

Continuing on to the southwest on the perimeter road, there were a number of hardstands - a word probably coined by the British to whom a plane "stands," while to an American a plane is "parked." In any case there were sufficient hardstands to accommodate fifty or more bombers. The ground crews serviced the plane out where it stood (was parked) - often in very disagreeable weather. At some bases ground crews were allowed to build a "shanty" out by the hardstand. The GIs went to great length to equip their shanty and sometimes preferred it to their crowded Nissen hut accommodation.

At the southwest end of the main runway there was a beacon - surely a welcome sight to many a returning crew. Around the bend of the perimeter road were additional hardstands and an area for storage of aviation fuel. A second hanger [sic] with a number of adjacent buildings was located in this section of the field. Beyond that were more hardstands and a second aviation fuel storage location. Fuel stored at the two places totalled 144,000 imperial gallons--172,944 U.S. gallons. Each B-24 bomber normally held 2,343 U.S. gallons of fuel.

Along the perimeter road on the north side of the field there were two notable features: a quite large bomb dump and an ammunition dump, and probably a fusing point building. Firing or "shooting-in" butts were located there also, just beyond the end of a hardstand area.

An additional area of the Old Buckenham airbase is seen to the west of the technical site previously described. The barrack area was an important feature here. Seven scattered sites can be identified as clusters of barracks. There may have been more that are not identified on the map. The Nissens for housing airbase personnel were structures that looked like tin cans split lengthwise--half-cylinder buildings of corrugated metal. The ends of the half-cylinder were enclosed with brick with a door at one end, a window at the other end. Perhaps as many as 135 of these buildings were provided as housing for officers and, separately, for enlisted men ... The huts for officers housed eight men--the officers of two crews. The huts for enlisted men housed twelve men ... There was electric lighting, although there was delay in installing it in some areas.

Washrooms, showers (often cold), and latrines were provided. They were at a considerable distance for most personnel but even if one had a bike, the North Sea cold that embraced everything, discouraged going. The mess halls and other communal facilities were even more distant."

--Source: "Always out Front - The Bradley Story", pp 95/96 LinkExternal link


Please note that some of the sites described above are on private land and should only be accessed by the respective owners' permission.

My grateful thanks go to John Davies for sharing his information about the MT Section where he had worked after the war.

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