In January 1942, about a month and a half after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Eighth Air Force was formed in Savannah, Georgia at the Chatham Armory located at Hunter Field. The next month, Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker set up Eighth Air Force Bomber Command Headquarters at High Wycombe, England, about forty miles west of London. By May, Major General Carl A. “Tooey” Spaatz assumed command of the Eighth Air Force. On June 25, he established Eighth Air Force Headquarters at Bushy Park, fifteen miles southwest of London.
General James H. Doolittle assumed command of the Eighth Air Force on January 6, 1944, and by D-Day on June 6, the Eighth Air Force was composed of forty heavy bombardment groups. Twenty-one of these were B-17 groups and nineteen were B-24 groups.
There were three divisions of Eighth heavy bombardment air force bases in England. The First Air Division was comprised of twelve air bases, or stations. All but one of the First Air Division Stations were located in the English Midlands, with only one in East Anglia, the 381st Bomb Group at Ridgewell. All twelve First Division stations were B-17 bases.
The Second Air Division was comprised of fourteen air bases, all of which were located in East Anglia. All fourteen were B-24 bases. However, the 492nd Bomb Group started out as the 801st, a special operations group also known as the Carpetbaggers, and were originally based in the Midlands. They were re-designated as the 492nd in August 1944 and moved to East Anglia.
The Third Air Division was comprised of fourteen air bases, all of which were located in East Anglia. Nine were B-17 bases and five were B-24 bases.
The 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) was part of the First Air Division and was located in the English Midlands near Grafton Underwood. On May 9, 1943, the 384th Bomb Group, under the command of Budd J. Peaslee, began their move to England, arriving the first week of June 1943.
The 384th’s first assignment in WWII within the Eighth Air Force was to VIII Bomber Command, 1st Bombardment Wing, 103rd Provisional Combat Bomb Wing. On September 13, 1943, the 384th’s assignment was designated as VIII Bomber Command, 1st Bomb Division, 41st Combat Bombardment Wing (Heavy). On January 8, 1944, their designation changed to 1st Bombardment Division, 41st Combat Bombardment Wing (Heavy). And on January 1, 1945, the 384th was designated as part of the 1st Air Division, 41st Combat Bombardment Wing (Heavy).
In addition to the Eighth Air Force’s forty bombardment groups, the Eighth also had fifteen fighter groups. According to Donald L. Miller in “Masters of the Air,” at peak strength, the Eighth had 2,800 heavy bombers, over 1,400 fighter planes, and approximately 200,000 personnel. The 200,000 number was at peak strength. More than 350,000 Americans served in the Eighth during the war.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016