Category Archives: World War 2

The Memorial Library’s extraordinary special collection is devoted to the history of the 2nd Air Division. We like things to do with World War 2, B-24 Liberators, the East Anglian airfields they flew out of, the American GIs who lived there, and the English families who hosted them. Here is where we write about those and let you know how we’re keeping history alive.

The Friendly Invasion – Visit East Anglia

Seventy-five years ago the first of over 300,000 US servicemen arrived in the east of England to fight what was to become America’s longest battle of World War Two.

For the locals, their welcome presence signalled the biggest cultural and landscape impact of any event since the Norman Conquest almost 900 years earlier.

A rural backwater would soon be changed by the United States Army Air Force personnel, who brought to rationed England previously unknown items such as Coca Cola, chewing gum, peanut butter, Swing music and nylons. It was as if, just like in The Wizard of Oz, a monochrome landscape had suddenly gone technicolour.

The Friendly Invasion, as it became known, has left an indelible mark on East Anglia, and the sacrifices and bravery of those men have not been forgotten. The Eighth Air Force, The Mighty Eighth, suffered 26,000 fatalities, 3,000 more than the Marines in the Pacific, with a loss of 4,145 heavy bombers.

They are remembered at the American Air Museum at Imperial War Museum Duxford, at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, the Second Air Division Memorial Library at Norwich and at many airfield museums across the region, all staffed by dedicated volunteers determined to honour those from across the Atlantic who fought to preserve democracy, liberty and free speech.

Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker was the first to arrive on February 20, 1942, in civilian clothes, via Portugal. What was to follow became the greatest air armada in history. Their first mission was on July 4, despite their own planes not having arrived. But so determined were they to go on that symbolic date that they borrowed RAF bombers!

Later in the war, at peak strength, The Mighty Eighth could dispatch over 2000 four-engine bombers and more than 1000 fighters on a single mission.

‘This is a story that is unique to East Anglia,’ says Pete Waters, executive director of Visit East Anglia, the region’s tourism organisation which has created a new Friendly Invasion project working with US and UK museums and memorial groups. ‘But it is not as well-known as the road from D-Day to Berlin, or the campaign against the Japanese.’

Visit East Anglia is hoping that the announcement that a new HBO series based on Donald L Miller’s Masters of the Air book is being made by the production companies of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg will encourage more Americans to discover the rich heritage their forebears created.

‘Masters of the Air is entirely about the Mighty Eighth in East Anglia. We want Americans to come and see where Grandpa Joe came to serve and where Grandma Mabel maybe came from,’ adds Waters. ‘This is a story as much about social history as military.’

East Anglia’s links with America stretch back to the Founding Fathers – the highest percentage of passengers on The Mayflower came from the region. Abe Lincoln’s family came from the East of England, Thomas Paine, who wrote the pamphlets that arguably saved the Revolutionary War for George Washington, was born in the East of England, as was John Rolfe, who created The Special Relationship by marrying Pocahontas in the first inter-racial church wedding in north America and whose tobacco crop helped save Jamestown from bankruptcy. Where it not for Rolfe, Americans might now be speaking Spanish, French or even Dutch!

‘In inviting Americans to the region to experience The Friendly Invasion, we also want them to enjoy our contemporary visitor offering,’ says Waters. ‘We have wonderful links golf courses, two whisky distilleries, medieval castles, ‘Downton Abbeys’ in abundance, two cities in medieval Norwich and university Cambridge that are great for shopping, culture and arts, this is the rural home of the Royal Family, and, of course, we have superb spa hotels, fabulous fine dining, afternoon teas and quaint country pubs.’

After Band of Brothers aired on HBO, tourism in Normandy saw a 40% uplift in visitors from the US. Visit East Anglia is hoping that can be replicated with Masters of the Air.

‘In 1942 Americans came to the east of England,’ adds Waters. ‘Now we’d like to invite Americans back. They can be assured of a welcome as warm and friendly as their compatriots received seventy-five years ago.’

For more details visit the website, visiteastofengland.com

First published in The American magazine (www.theamerican.co.uk) June 2017

 

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Filed under American History, Local Interest, Memorial Library, Uncategorized, World War 2

Baedeker Raids and Norwich – 75th Anniversary

By Danielle Prostrollo

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the first Luftwaffe raid of Norwich, part of the Baedeker raids that also occurred over Canterbury, Bath, Exeter, and York. The raids got their name from the Baedeker guidebooks which noted that these cities were of great cultural and historical importance. It is commonly accepted that it was from these guides that the Germans decided which cities to strike.

In honor of the anniversary we revisit a book review written by a former American Scholar. Snelling’s book is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about the raids and their effect on Norwich.

 

Norwich: A Shattered City by Steve Snelling

This highly informative and richly illustrated new book tells “the story of Hitler’s blitz on Norwich and its people” in 1942.

The book offers detailed accounts of the Baedeker raids that destroyed sections of Norwich, claiming 200 civilian lives. The images of the city’s familiar corners, parks, and streets register as shockingly unfamiliar in photographs from the time. Walking the beautiful, safe streets of our city today, it is hard to imagine other times.

Snelling’s book encourages Norwich’s modern citizens to pause and appreciate the city we might usually take for granted.

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Filed under Books, Local Interest, World War 2

In The Library: The “Witchcraft”

by Don Allen

The first thing visitors typically notice when they walk into the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library is the large model of the B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft” hanging from the ceiling. It’s an imposing site, giving the viewer a small glimpse of what it must have been like to see a B-24 flying overhead.

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View from the doorway into the Memorial Library

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View of the left side

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View of the right side

The model was graciously presented to the Memorial Library at its opening in 2001 by Mike Caputo, formerly a navigator with the 467th Bomb Group out of Rackheath, from which the “Witchcraft” flew during World War II with the 790th Bomb Squadron. Built to fly, the model is a remarkable piece of craftsmanship, with only minor differences from the real one which were necessary in order for it to fly.

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Photo of “Witchcraft” with groundcrew, C. 1944-45, from our Digital Archives. Notice the bombs signifying approx. 65 missions flown at that time

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Closeup of bombs painted on the side of the model representing missions flown, as well as the noseart of the “Witchcraft”

Each bomb painted on the side represents one bombing run. The “Witchcraft” flew 130 combat missions between April 10, 1944 and April 25, 1945, an Eighth Air Force record. Even more remarkably, the “Witchcraft” never suffered a single casualty during its run.

While the real “Witchcraft” was scrapped following the war, the memory and spirit of her and her crew live on with this model. So stop by and see her at the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library and learn more about this amazing aircraft.

For more pictures and correspondance relating to the “Witchcraft” visit our Digital Archives here.

 

 

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Upcoming Events!

We have an exciting summer of events coming up at the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library; from the UEA Lecture series focusing on the political climate of American current events to events exploring the historical role of Americans in East Anglia there is a talk for everyone.

A few of the historical talks coming up include:

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This session will allow you to get up close with American artefacts from WWII – perspex windscreen jewellry for an airman’s sweetheart to silk maps used in the event of emergency landing (or worse!). Come along and have a look at the different items and learn a bit of Norwich history.

 

Americans in East Anglia (12-5-17).JPG Recently we have launched our digital archive – a massive project that allows anyone to access the treasure trove of artefacts and memorabilia of the 2nd Air Division Memorial from any computer. This talk will not only show you how to navigate and search for items within the digital archive but also whet your appetite for the kinds of things that can be found – poetry, letters, diaries, photos, and so much more.

 

HUN Friendly Invasion Film Show (24-5-17).jpgA bit different from the digital archive, this talk at Hunstanton Library will showcase some of the film footage taken by and of the American airmen during their time in East Anglia. The archival footage is a fascinating way to put yourself in their time and will surely get you thinking about how life has changed in the years that followed!

 

We hope to see you at any (or all!) of the above talks this May. Please refer to the appropriate digital flyer for booking, location, and time details. 

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Filed under American History, Archive Items, Current Events, Local Interest, Memorial Library, Public Events, World War 2