Tibenham Airfield - 445BG

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Tibenham Airfield

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RAF Tibenham - USAAF Station 124

Royal Air Force Station Tibenham or more simply RAF Tibenham is a former Royal Air Force station located 13.5 miles southwest of Norwich and 5.8 miles north of Diss, Norfolk, England.

The airfield was built up during 1941/42 as a standard heavy bomber airfield with a main runway 6,000 ft long (1,800 m) (03-21) and two secondary runways 4,200 feet (1,300 m) in length (08-26, 15-33). It had an enclosed perimeter track containing 36 frying-pan type hardstands and fourteen loops. Two T-2 hangars were constructed on the eastern side of the airfield and adjacent to the technical site. Accommodations were constructed for about 2,900 personnel. Tibenham was assigned USAAF designation Station 124.

The first American units at Tibenham were the personnel of two Martin B-26 Marauder squadrons of the Twelfth Air Force 320th Bombardment Group (Medium) which were en route to La Senia Airfield, Algeria in November 1942. They had no aircraft and their stay was a matter of only a few days. During the summer of 1943, Tibenham was assigned to the 2d Bombardment Wing (later the 2d Air Division) and was used by a few Consolidated B-24 Liberator training aircraft, but it was not until November that the first combat units and their aircraft arrived.

Tibenham became home to the 445th Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the United States Army Air Forces Eighth Air Force. The 445th arrived from Sioux City Army Air Base, Iowa on 4 November 1943. The 445th was assigned to the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing, and the group tail code was a "Circle-F".

Its operational squadrons and their respective squadron ID letters were:

  • 700th Bombardment Squadron (IS);

  • 701st Bombardment Squadron (MK);

  • 702d Bombardment Squadron (WV);

  • 703d Bombardment Squadron (RN);

The group flew B-24 Liberators as part of the Eighth Air Force's strategic bombing campaign.

The 445th BG entered combat on 13 December 1943 by attacking U-boat installations at Kiel; only fifteen crews were considered fit for this mission which was heavily defended area. The unit operated primarily as a strategic bombardment organization until the war ended, striking such targets as industries in Osnabrück, synthetic oil plants in Lutzendorf, chemical works in Ludwigshafen, marshalling yards at Hamm, an airfield at Munich, an ammunition plant at Duneberg, underground oil storage facilities at Ehmen, and factories at Münster.

It occasionally flew interdictory and support missions. It helped to prepare for the invasion of Normandy by bombing airfields, V-weapon sites, and other targets. The unit attacked shore installations on D-Day, 6 June 1944 and supported ground forces at Saint-Lô by striking enemy defenses in July 1944. During the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944-January 1945 it bombed German communications. Early on 24 March 1945 dropped food, medical supplies, and ammunition to troops that landed near Wesel during the airborne assault across the Rhine and that afternoon flew a bombing mission to the same area, hitting a landing ground at Stormede.

On occasion the unit dropped propaganda leaflets and hauled fuel to France. Awarded the Croix de guerre with Palm by the French government for operations in the theater from December 1943 to February 1945 supplying the resistance.

By far, the 445th's most notorious mission is the Kassel Mission of 27 September 1944. In cloud, the navigator of the lead bomber miscalculated and the 35 planes diverted from the rest of the 2nd Air Division and proceeded to Göttingen some 35 miles (56 km) from the primary. After the bomb run, the group was attacked from the rear by an estimated 150 Luftwaffe planes, resulting in the most concentrated air battle in history. The Luftwaffe unit was a Stormgruppen, a special unit intended to attack bombers by flying in tight formations, up to ten fighters in line abreast. This tactic was intended to break the bomber formation at a single pass. The 361st Fighter Group intervened, preventing a complete destruction of the Group. Twenty-nine German fighters and 26 American planes (25 B-24 bombers and 1 P-51 Mustang) went down in a 15-mile radius. Only four 445th planes made it back to the base; two made emergency landings at RAF Manston, two crashed in France, one in Belgium, another crashed near RAF Old Buckenham—representing a 88.5% total casualty rate.

The 445th Bomb Group flew its last combat mission on 25 April 1945. It departed Tibenham and returned to Fort Dix AAF New Jersey on 28 May 1945.

James Stewart, the film actor, was 703rd Squadron Commander with the 445th when it arrived at Tibenham. He flew 10 operational missions with the 445th Bomb Group before being transferred to the 453rd Bomb Group at RAF Buckingham in March, 1944.

The following photo gallery contains pictures taken by 8th Air Force Combat Camera personnel as well as pictures taken by 445th men.  These pictures were provided courtesy of the Norwich Gliding Club which operates out of the former 445th air base at Tibenham.

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