RAF Wendling - USAAF Station 118

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


Wendling aerodrome - known locally as Beeston airfield due to its proximity to Beeston village (civil parish Beeston with Bittering) in the Breckland district of Norfolk because all the dispersed campsites and the main entrance into the airfield were located there - was originally planned for RAF Bomber Command use. After its completion in 1942/43 however it was re-scheduled as a United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) heavy bomber installation and accordingly upgraded to USAAF specifications. It was the most northerly airfield of the Eighth Air Force's heavy bomber fields.

Constructed by Woodrow Taylor Ltd, the airfield was built in the classic A-shape with three concrete runways. The main runway was 1,800 metres (6,000 feet) long and aligned north-east/south-west. The runways and aircraft dispersals were connected by a concrete perimeter track. There were 20 loop-type and 20 frying pan-type hardstandings and two 2T hangars. The domestic sites provided accommodation for 2,900 personnel. A small contingent of British Home Guard soldiers were also based here. They were accommodated in a few scattered huts on the south side.

The 392nd Bombardment Group (Heavy), which was the fourth group flying B-24 Liberator bomber aircraft to arrive in England, moved in in the summer of 1943. The group was part of the 14th Combat Wing which included North Pickenham > LinkExternal link and Shipdham > LinkExternal link. Its operational squadrons were:


576th Bombardment Squadron
577th Bombardment Squadron
578th Bombardment Squadron
579th Bombardment Squadron


Each squadron was assigned an area on the field: the 576th were on the hardstandings in the north-west; the 577th were in the north-east; the 578th in the south-east near the bomb and ammunition store in Honeypot Wood and the 579th in the south-west.

The 392nd BG entered combat on 9 September 1943 and engaged primarily in bombardment of strategic targets on the Continent such as oil refineries, marshalling yards, railway viaducts, steel plants and gas works. The group also participated in the campaign against the German aircraft industry which took place in February 1944, for which they were awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for bombing an aircraft and component parts factory at Gotha. On D-Day their task was to attack coastal defences. The 392nd flew its last combat mission, ferrying food to the Dutch, on 25 April 1925, before returning home to the US after having flown 285 missions during which 184 aircraft were lost.

A granite obelisk monument to the men of the 392nd Bomb Group, dedicated in 1945, stands in a small plot beside the former entrance into the airfield, by the junction of Dereham Road and Herne Lane on the southern edge of Beeston village. A bronze plaque in the porch of St Mary's church in North Tuddenham commemorates the names of the crew of B-24 Liberator B24J 42-99979, 'Kentucky Baby' which crashed on North Tuddenham Common during assembly on 21 April 1944. Eight crewmen died, two were injured.


TF9015 : In commemoration of "The Crusaders" by Evelyn Simak TF9114 : 392 Bomb Group Memorial at Beeston by Evelyn Simak TF9114 : 392 Bomb Group Memorial at Beeston (detail) by Evelyn Simak TF9114 : 392 Bomb Group Memorial at Beeston (detail) by Evelyn Simak TF9114 : 392 Bomb Group Memorial at Beeston (detail) by Evelyn Simak

TF9015 : Beeston village sign by Evelyn Simak TG0512 : Liberator bomber crew Memorial in North Tuddenham by Adrian S Pye TF8915 : St Mary's church in Beeston by Evelyn Simak TF8915 : Small wooden cross in St Mary's church by Evelyn Simak TF8915 : St Mary's church (view east) by Evelyn Simak

John R Borchert, who served as a weather officer, recalls his time at Wendling in his published memoirs:

"On September 4th I joined 392nd Bomb Group as station weather officer at their base near Wendling, not far from Kings Lynn, northwest of Norwich. The 392nd had just arrived from the U.S. as the fourth B-24 group to go into action in Europe. The place was terribly raw, unfinished and unready except for the runways and "hard-stands" for parking the bombers, mixture of construction equipment and military equipment milling around in a sea of cold mud. I was the Station Weather Officer and also acting Group Weather Officer (i.e., staff to the group commander). The group went on to acheive [sic] an outstanding bombing record by March 1944. Pre-dawn briefings, dead-serious business as the group navigator and intelligence went over the route and target material with the flying officers and crews, and I laid out the weather forecast. For the sake of order, the group weather men like me were not allowed to deviate from the division/bomber command forecasts for the mission route and target. However, we were allowed to present our own forecasts for our local base weather at takeoff and return." (Source: John R Borchert Memorial website: LinkExternal link )

After the war the airfield was transferred to RAF Maintenance Command and used as a stand-by airfield until 1961. For the following couple of years the location was used by the USAAF as a radio facility, until it was closed and sold off in 1964. The land reverted to agriculture and some of the runways and concrete roads were lifted and crushed for aggregate. The main runway remained mainly intact, as did the perimeter track, the latter albeit much reduced in width. In a crop field north of the northern perimeter track the overgrown shooting-in butt is still in place. The subterranean Battle Headquarters, located about 165 metres to the north-west on the edge of another field, has been completely obliterated and no trace of the structure remains today. The runways are currently occupied by large poultry houses and many of the concrete tracks leading to and around the dispersed campsites are still in place.


TF9215 : The Shooting-in butt by Evelyn Simak TF9215 : The Shooting-in butt by Evelyn Simak TF9215 : The Shooting-in butt by Evelyn Simak

TF9315 : Poultry houses on the main runway by Evelyn Simak TF9315 : View along the old perimeter track by Evelyn Simak TF9315 : View along the eastern perimeter track by Evelyn Simak TF9315 : Poultry houses on the main runway (26/03) by Evelyn Simak

TF9214 : View across the flying field of RAF Wendling by Evelyn Simak TF9214 : The southern perimeter track by Evelyn Simak TF9314 : Turkey house on runway 31/13 by Evelyn Simak TF9215 : Stored on the perimeter track by Evelyn Simak TF9215 : View along the northern perimeter track of RAF Wendling by Evelyn Simak


The Technical site was located to the west of the flying field and almost all the buildings have long since been demolished. Only the concrete road leading to it is still in place. It is now the access road to Canister farmhouse, which during the time the airfield was active was situated in the middle of the Technical site because the farmer had refused to leave. The Watch office (control tower) was still standing in the 1980s but was finally demolished after having fallen derelict.


TF9114 : Access road to Canister Farm by Evelyn Simak TF9114 : Old concreted road by Evelyn Simak


The Administrative/HQ site (Site 2) adjoined the Technical site in the north-west. Today this area is occupied by the business premises of Ben Burgess Ltd, a John Deere tractor dealership off Dereham Road. The Operations block is still standing here although it has since been incorporated, intact and only slightly altered, into a much larger modern hangar which houses a workshop and offices. The Norden bombsight building can also still be found on this site which once comprised more than 100 buildings including a Fire Tender house, a Link trainer, a Photographic block, Respirator store and workshop, Floodlight trailer and tractor shed, Squadron Armoury, Gunnery trainer and a number of Squadron and Flight offices to name only a few.


TF9115 : Entrance to Ben Burgess tractor dealership by Evelyn Simak TF9115 : Hangar at Ben Burgess tractor plant by Evelyn Simak TF9115 : RAF building at Ben Burgess Ltd by Evelyn Simak


A short distance further north along Dereham Road was the location of Site 3, a Communal site. The only building to have survived here is the Combat officers' mess. It is located on the east side of the road. It is currently owned by a company called Jag Spares and used for storing Jaguar car parts and components. This building contains a significant mural covering one whole end wall. A couple of smaller murals said to depict the American dancer and actress Rita Hayworth can be seen on the wall of one of the other rooms. A Mission Board covered another wall entirely, and although some fractions at least of this painting would seem to still exist much of the paint has rubbed off and the wall remains mostly hidden behind storage shelves stocked with car parts.


TF9115 : Business premises in Dereham Road by Evelyn Simak TF9115 : Business premises in Dereham Road (USAAF mural) by Evelyn Simak TF9115 : Business premises in Dereham Road (USAAF mural) by Evelyn Simak TF9115 : Business premises in Dereham Road (USAAF mural) by Evelyn Simak TF9115 : Business premises in Dereham Road (USAAF mural) by Evelyn Simak


Several industrial companies now occupy the main area of this site, which spread out to across the road, which would have been closed to the public during the war, and is hence located on the west side of Dereham Road, ie across the road from Jags Stores.


TF9115 : Industrial units off Dereham Road by Evelyn Simak TF9115 : Stacks of blue pallets by Evelyn Simak TF9115 : Stubble field close to the centre of Beeston by Zorba the Geek TF9015 : View along Dairy Drift by Evelyn Simak TF9015 : New housing off Dereham Road by Evelyn Simak


Site 4 was another Communal site and like Site 3 it comprised various sports buildings and dining rooms as well as the base library. This camp was located at the south-western end of Herne Lane. Most of the buildings have since been demolished to make way for industrial premises. Only two very large and long Nissen huts remain in a wooded area near Herne Lane Farm, each forming part of one of the two Mess halls on the site. A Military Police guard post can still be seen nearby, albeit very overgrown. This post guarded the entrances of Sites 4 and 10.


TF9014 : Old Military Police guard hut by Evelyn Simak


Detachment "A" of the 1287th Military Police Company was established at Wendling in late August 1943 with the detachment's commander also serving as the station's Provost Marshal. The roster comprised about 52 men whose responsibilities included to ensure the station's safety and security. There were two mobile patrols. The perimeter patrol carried the Officer of the Day on his rounds and assisted the aircraft guards in case of disturbance or fire. The outer circle patrol covered all villages located within an 8-mile radius of the aerodrome, with their duties including the checking of pubs for disturbances and ensuring that all military personnel were wearing proper uniform.

In the event of aircraft crashes, the 1287th formed a security perimeter around the wreck. The MPs served as sentries at all the station's entrances, checking the passes of all personnel entering and leaving and ensuring that departing military trucks had proper trip tickets. They also served as a fire watch and gas guard.


TF9014 : Old Nissen hut by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Nissen hut-type building (detail) by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Large hut on Site 4 by Evelyn Simak

TF9014 : Former Mess hall on Site 4 (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Former Mess hall on Site 4 (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Former Mess hall on Site 4 (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Former Mess hall on Site 4 (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Former Mess hall on Site 4 (interior) by Evelyn Simak


The Commanding Officer's house has also survived although it is now very dilapidated and overgrown. The 392nd Bombardment Group's commanders were Colonel Irvine A Rendle (January 1943), Colonel Lorin L Johnson (June 1944) and Lt Colonel Lawrence G Gilbert (May 1945) respectively. Lt Colonel Gilbert is said to have been one of the best liked men on the base and at 25 years of age he was one of the youngest lieutenant colonels in the bomber division. The station's executive officer, Colonel Joseph Bush, apparently also lived here for some time. The CO's quarters was a temporary brick building consisting of four rooms including two bedrooms with a small office each and a kitchen at one end, and there was an outside toilet beside the entrance. Like a number of accommodation huts dispersed on the various campsites this building would seem to have been used to house a civilian family for some time after the war.


TF9014 : The Commanding Officer's quarters by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : The Commanding Officer's quarters - outside toilet by Evelyn Simak

TF9014 : The Commanding Officer's quarters (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : The Commanding Officer's quarters (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : The Commanding Officer's quarters (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : The Commanding Officer's quarters (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : The Commanding Officer's quarters (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : The Commanding Officer's quarters (interior) by Evelyn Simak


The site located furthest away from the main airfield and the group of dispersed campsites was Site 5, where the Squadron headquarters was located. Several industrial companies now occupy this site which is located north of the minor road linking Fransham Road and Herne Lane. It is marked on maps as Drury Square. Modern aerial views show a number of concrete platforms where buildings once stood but nothing would seem to have survived there.

Site 6, the quarters of the 576th Squadron, was located in a field north of Dairy Drift, a minor road off Dereham Road. Besides a few air raid shelters nothing would seem to have remained on this site. Site 7, the 577th quarters, was situated in the field south of Dairy Drift by the junction with Dereham Road. This area is now occupied by industrial premises. Site 8 is believed to have provided accommodation for crew members of the 578th and 579th. It was located in the heart of Beeston village, on the west side of Dereham Road in an area still marked on maps as Race Court Farm. Racecourse farmhouse is now a private dwelling and many new houses have sprung up around it. Of the 16 Nissen huts on this site two can still be found here. A flooded air raid shelter has ingeniously been converted into a fish pond by cutting out a segment of its roof.


TF9015 : Racecourse Farmhouse by Evelyn Simak TF9015 : Air raid shelter on Site 8 by Evelyn Simak TF9015 : Entrance to Site 8 by Evelyn Simak

TF9015 : Nissen hut on Site 8 by Evelyn Simak TF9015 : Nissen hut on Site 8 by Evelyn Simak TF9015 : Nissen hut on Site 8 by Evelyn Simak TF9015 : Nissen hut on Site 8 by Evelyn SimakTF9015 : Nissen hut on Site 8 by Evelyn Simak


Another accommodation site was situated a short distance away from the road behind the school and opposite Site 8, on the north-eastern edge of the village. This was Site 9. The 578th quarters were located to the south of Herne Lane Farm, on Site 10. On this site the ground and air crews were housed in tin huts which have since been removed. After the war the tin sheds were for some time used to accommodate low income families for a time. A number of temporary brick buildings such as the Picket post, latrines and an Ablutions Block can still be found here. This site is now a private property.


TF9114 : Piebald in pasture beside Herne Lane by Evelyn Simak TF9114 : Pasture beside Herne Lane by Evelyn Simak

TF9014 : The Picket post on Site 10 by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Ablutions block with boiler house by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Moss-covered concrete platform by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Temporary brick building on Site 10 by Evelyn Simak

TF9014 : Temporary brick building on Site 10 by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : WW2 buildings on Site 10 by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Rusty old chimney by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Temporary brick building on Site 10 by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Temporary brick building on Site 10 by Evelyn Simak


Sites 11 and 12 were earmarked for use by the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force). A group of Council houses now occupy part of Site 11, and Site 12, a short distance further to the west, is currently used by Scope Joinery Ltd. Two small buildings, a toilet and a shower block, have survived here. This site was also the Wendling headquarters for the American Red Cross.


TF9014 : Overgrown old building beside Herne Lane by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Overgrown old building by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Scope Joinery Ltd by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Old toilet block by Evelyn Simak TF9014 : Old building with bricked-up windows by Evelyn Simak


The Sick quarters - Site 13 - were located about 500 metres distant from the main airfield, and the small plot where the 392 BG memorial now stands formed part of this site. A further section is occupied by a private dwelling surrounded by a garden. Only an overgrown air raid shelter remains.


TF9115 : Concreted road in a field by Evelyn Simak TF9115 : View across the former Sick quarters by Evelyn Simak


The Sewage works were located beside Fransham Road, about three kilometres further to the west and they are still operational today, albeit modernised. Two small original pump houses have survived on this site, and one of the old circular sewage tanks is said to also still be in use.


TF8915 : Entrance to sewage works by Evelyn Simak TF8915 : Sewage works in Fransham Road by Evelyn Simak TF8915 : Sewage works in Fransham Road by Evelyn Simak


A wood to the south-east of the flying field was used for storing the station's bombs and ammunition. The wood is located on the west side of Honeypot Lane, a minor road linking the hamlet of Longham in the north with Wendling in the south. The wood is now an SSSI in the care of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and open to the public, although there is currently only one space for parking a car. The main track follows the course of the old concrete service roads which in the more overgrown areas are no wider than narrow trails. The bomb storage areas are very much overgrown and can hardly be seen, and the three buildings contained in the wood are situated off the beaten tracks and also very overgrown. These are the SAA (Small Arms Ammunition) store, the Component store and the Incendiary bomb & pyrotechnic store. The latter two structures are surrounded by high mounds of earth on all sides in order to limit the damage in case of an explosion. Two of the bomb storage locations consisting of six bays separated from each other by earthen blast walls can also still be found. They can best be seen during the winter months.


TF9314 : Track to the bomb storage area by Evelyn Simak TF9314 : Remains of  bomb storage in Honeypot Wood by Evelyn Simak TF9314 : Ex RAF/USAAF building  in Honeypot Wood by Evelyn Simak

TF9314 : Remains of the Incendiary bomb store by Evelyn Simak TF9314 : Incendiary bomb store (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF9314 : Incendiary bomb store (interior) by Evelyn Simak TF9314 : Overgrown mound by Evelyn Simak

TF9314 : Concreted track in Honeypot Wood by Evelyn Simak TF9314 : The Component store by Evelyn Simak TF9314 : The Component store by Evelyn Simak TF9314 : The component store (interior) by Evelyn Simak

TF9314 : Track past bomb storage bays by Evelyn Simak TF9314 : WW2 bomb storage bays by Evelyn Simak TF9314 : WW2 bomb storage bay by Evelyn Simak TF9314 : Track past bomb storage bays by Evelyn Simak TF9314 : WW2 bomb storage bay by Evelyn Simak

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Most of what remains of the airfield can be seen from the minor roads skirting it. Part of the northern perimeter track is a permissive bridlepath and can be walked. Honeypot Wood is open to the public but the remains of the bomb storage areas are best seen during the winter months when the nettles have died down. The only space to park a car is in front of the gated concreted track leading into the wood, right beside Honeypot Lane. My grateful thanks go to the owners of Site 10, Jag Spares, Scope Joinery Ltd and Ben Burgess Ltd for kindly permitting access onto their premises.


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