The airfields

The Americans made use of ex-RAF airfields as well as newly-built bases.

The construction of bases for the 8th Air Force was part of the largest civil engineering programme ever undertaken in the UK.

Original plans called for 115 airfields to be made available to the Americans, of which some 90 were to be suitable for bombers and transports.  These were to have three concrete runways, the main one a mile and a quarter long, a perimeter track and concrete standings for 50 aircraft.  There were two or three hangars, workshops and accommodation for 2,500 personnel, plus fuel storage, electrical generation, water supply and sewerage.  Living accommodation was dispersed to ten to twelve sites in the surrounding countryside.

Sixty-seven bomber bases were built for the 8th.  Each base cost a million pounds (about £80 million today) and most were built in East Anglia.  The 8th transferred 29 bases to the 9th Air Force in 1943.

Grass surface runways were made available to 8th Fighter Groups but some used surplus bomber bases.

The remains of many wartime airfields can still be found throughout East Anglia.

Typical bomber base, 1944

  • One Bomb Group of four flying squadrons plus a Service Group or Squadron.
  • Total Group establishment - 72 B-17s or B-24s, including reserves, and 96 crews.
  • Average base personnel - 2,500
  • Fuel storage - 144,000 gallons
  • Ordnance storage - 3,000 tons of bombs.

Typical fighter base, 1944

  • One Fighter Group of three flying squadrons, plus a Service Group or Squadron.
  • Total Group establishment - 75 to 108 P-38s, P-47s or P-51s including reserves, and 75 to 108 pilots.
  • Average base personnel - 1,200
  • Fuel storage - 72,000 gallons
  • Ordnance storage - 1,000 tons of bombs

In addition to the flying bases, thousands of airmen were based at other locations around the UK. Country houses, halls, offices and other buildings were taken over and used to support the work of the flying Groups. Some were used as headquarters for senior commanders; others as hospitals for wounded airmen, or bases for truck and transport units; even teams of bakers had to be based somewhere!