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Bomb Group: The Eighth Air Force's 381st and the Allied Air Offensive over Europe

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I admire James Holland for his ability to convey military history so well. Unfortunately, I just don’t have his capacity to write the number of books he has. He’s a veritable writing machine. For books covering aviation, I highly recommend Sagittarius Rising by Cecil Lewis, First Lightby Geoffrey Wellum, and Combat Crew by John Comer. Three outstanding books by three very brave individuals.

An intimate history of a B-17 Bomb Group at the heart of the US Eighth Air Force's daylight bombing offensive against Hitler's Germany. On April 23, 1945, a B-17G, 43-38856, flown by a two-pilot crew was transporting 29 servicemen. Many of the men had been at Ridgewell since the 381st arrived in June 1943. Keep in mind the usual crew complement of a B-17 was 10 men.

If you could meet any figure from history, who would it be and why? Also, if you could witness any event throughout history, what would it be?

Paul’s first book, US Air Force Bases in the UK, retraced the concrete paths of 50 of the UK’s past and present American air force bases. The book examines how the so-called “special relationship” has helped shape the land we see today. According to Paul Bingley, the chairman of the museum, it was the life’s work of Tony Ince, who had been a local schoolboy during the war. As part of the trip, he walked the parts of the base that had been the athletic fields, the hangars, and looked for the area where his uncle’s billet had been.When the war in Europe ended in 1945, the 381st returned to the U.S. Ridgewell Airfield was closed and the land returned to private ownership as a farm. The only parts of the base that remain today are the roads and a Nissen hut that had been the hospital. Actor Edward G. Robinson (second from right) enjoys a cigar in the Ridgewell Officers’ Mess, 1944. [Courtesy: Ridgewell Airfield Commemorative Museum] The Essex Gliding Club continues to use Ridgewell during the summer months, and has even painted one of its gliders in the markings of the 381st. It has also given pleasure flights over the base to veterans and their relatives,” he said.

Most certainly the First and Second World Wars. Almost every British family had some connection to those two events. Whether it be the social changes that took place, or the hardships that people suffered, some aspect of each war should be on every school curriculum. If I could witness any historical event it would have to be aviation-related. The Eighth Air Force’s 760th mission on Christmas Eve, 1944, would certainly have been a spectacle. Imagine clear skies extending all the way into Europe. Now visualise over 2,000 heavy bombers escorted by more than 800 fighters, all winging their way towards western Germany to strike at its airfields and communication centres. This “maximum effort” raid proved to be the largest air strike operation of the Second World War. Every American bomb group and all but two of its fighter groups took part. Despite the clear weather over Europe, it wasn’t the case in England. When the groups returned, bad weather over their home bases forced many bombers to divert. In the case of the 381st Bomb Group, its base at Ridgewell was open. The Essex airfield subsequently saw the arrival of more than 125 B-17 Flying Fortresses. With another 700 mouths to feed, Christmas turkey for the 381st’s men had to be supplemented by plates of Spam. After such a long and challenging day, I can just imagine there was many a glum face at Ridgewell. They really are walking in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers.” Sarah Allen, Ridgewell Airfield Commemorative Museum volunteer

We wanted to go for the 75th anniversary, but the pandemic got in the way,” he said. 1st Lt. John A. Silvernale and crew after completing their tour in March 1944. [Courtesy: Ridgewell Airfield Commemorative Museum] Remembering the Bomber Boys My uncle was one of 31 men killed just 15 days before the end of the war in an airplane crash on the Isle of Man. They were heading to Northern Ireland for a week’s leave.” Deadliest Crash on the Isle of Man Consult museum archives. Museums may have detailed information about military groups. For example, if the city has or had a large military component during the war, there is a pretty good chance the local museum will have photographs and records from that time.

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