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Airmen’s Living Quarters at Grafton Underwood

Airmen of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in WWII who were based in Grafton Underwood, England were divided into four Bombardment Squadrons – the 544th, 545th, 546th, and 547th. Each squadron had a separate area of living quarters, primarily Nissen huts and tents. At least one crew occupied each dwelling, and often multiple crews. The officers and enlisted men had separate dwellings.

This area map of the base shows that the living quarters of the 545th, 546th, and 547th Bomb Squadrons were fairly close to each other with the living quarters of the 544th Bomb Squadron some distance southwest of the other three squadrons.

Click on the map to view full screen and click again to enlarge. Use your browser back button to return to this post.

The above map was obtained from the RAF (Royal Air Force) Hendon Archives and this and other Grafton Underwood Station 106 Air Base maps I publish come courtesy of many folks including Quentin Bland, Ken Decker, Robin Dodson, John Edwards, Kevin Flecknor, Mark Meehl, Fred Preller, and Matt Smith. Hardstand identifications and other keys and identifications are courtesy of Mark Meehl. The original maps may be viewed and downloaded from Fred Preller’s 384th Bomb Group Photo Gallery.

For a closer view into the separate living quarters area for each bombardment squadron, I am including a detailed map followed by the key to the numbered locations.

544th Bombardment Squadron (Site No. 8)

Living Quarters area for 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squadron

Click on the map to view full screen and click again to enlarge. Use your browser back button to return to this post.

Key to Numbered Locations

  • ARS Air Raid Shelter
  • 356-358 Officers’ Quarters
  • 359-360 Officers’ Latrines
  • 361 Picket Post
  • 362 Officers’ Ablutions & Latrines
  • 363-367 Sergeants’ Quarters
  • 368-370 Sergeants’ Latrines
  • 371-375 Airmen’s Barracks
  • 376-377 Airmen’s Latrines
  • 378-380 Airmen’s Barracks
  • 381-383 Sergeants’ & Airmen’s Ablutions
  • 384 M & E Plinth

545th Bombardment Squadron (Site No. 10)

Living Quarters area for 384th Bomb Group, 545th Bomb Squadron

Click on the map to view full screen and click again to enlarge. Use your browser back button to return to this post.

Key to Numbered Locations

  • ARS Air Raid Shelter
  • 436 Picket Post
  • 437-440 Officers’ Quarters
  • 441 Officers’ Ablution & Latrines
  • 442-447 Sergeants’ Quarters
  • 448-450 Sergeants’ Latrines
  • 451 M & E Plinth
  • 452 Sergeants & Airmen’s Ablution & Drying Room
  • 453-472 Airmen’s Barracks
  • 473-476 Airmen’s Latrines

546th Bomb Squadron (Site No. 11)

Living Quarters area for 384th Bomb Group, 546th Bomb Squadron

Click on the map to view full screen and click again to enlarge. Use your browser back button to return to this post.

Key to Numbered Locations

  • ARS Air Raid Shelter
  • 482 Picket Post
  • 483-485 Officers’ Quarters)
  • 486 Officers’ Ablutions & Latrines
  • 487-491, 493 Sergeants’ Quarters
  • 494-496 Sergeants’ Latrines
  • 497 Sergeants & Airmen’s Ablution & Drying
  • 498-518 Airmen’s Barracks
  • 519-522 Airmen’s Latrines

547th Bombardment Squadron (Site No. 9)

Living Quarters area for 384th Bomb Group, 547th Bomb Squadron

Click on the map to view full screen and click again to enlarge. Use your browser back button to return to this post.

Key to Numbered Locations

  • ARS Air Raid Shelter
  • 389-390 Officers’ Quarters
  • 391 Officers’ Ablutions & Latrine
  • 392 Fuel Compound
  • 393 Picket Post
  • 394-400 Sergeants’ Quarters
  • 401-403 Sergeants’ Latrines
  • 404 M & E Plinth
  • 405-425 Airmen’s Barracks
  • 426 Sergeants’ & Airmen’s Ablution & Drying Room
  • 427-430 Airmen’s Latrines

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

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WWII Timeline – Fall 1940

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at October – December 1940 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Fall 1940

October 3, 1940

Vichy France passed its own version of the Nuremberg Laws against the Jews.

October 7, 1940

Nazis invaded Romania, with their Jewish population of 34,000, with the pretext of protecting its oil fields from the British.

October 12, 1940

After many previous postponements, the Germans again postponed Operation Sea Lion until Spring of 1941.

October 22, 1940

Twenty-nine thousand German Jews were deported from Baden, the Saar, and Alsace-Lorraine into Vichy France.

October 23, 1940

Spain’s Fascist leader, Francisco Franco, met with Adolf Hitler at the Hendaye Railway Station near the Spanish-French border in Hendaye, France. In the seven- to nine-hour meeting, Franco and Hitler could not come to an agreement for the conditions for Spain to join the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. The only outcome of the meeting was the signing of a secret agreement in which Franco committed to entering the war at a future date he would choose and Hitler gave vague guarantees that Spain would receive “territories in Africa.”

October 28, 1940

Italy invaded Greece from Albania, which Mussolini justified by claiming that Greece had attacked Albania.

In Great Britain, 489,000 children were evacuated from the London area.

October 31, 1940

The Battle of Britain air war ended in defeat for Nazi Germany and proved Great Britain’s air superiority.

November 1940

The Krakow Ghetto was sealed off with 70,000 Jews inside.

November 5, 1940

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was re-elected to his third term as U.S. president.

November 11/12, 1940

The Battle of Taranto took place overnight between British naval forces and Italian naval forces. The British Royal Navy launched the first all-aircraft ship-to-ship naval attack in history using aerial torpedoes from the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious in the Mediterranean Sea against the battle fleet of the Italian Royal Navy anchored in the harbour of Taranto. The raid crippled the Italian fleet at Taranto. The Japanese noted the superiority of naval aviation over the big guns of the battleships as they planned their Pearl Harbor attack.

November 14/15, 1940

The city of Coventry, England was bombed many times during WWII, but the most devastating attacks occurred on the evening of November 14 and continued into the morning of November 15.

November 20, 1940

Hungary joined the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan.

November 22, 1940

The Greeks defeated the Italian 9th Army.

November 23, 1940

Romania joined the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, Japan, and Hungary.

November 24, 1940

Slovakia joined the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, and Romania.

December 9/10, 1940

The British began a western desert offensive in North Africa against the Italians.

December 29/30, 1940

President Roosevelt delivered his Arsenal of Democracy speech on December 29 in a radio broadcast to the United States, Europe, and Japan in which he pledged to supply Great Britain with war materials. He began his address at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time from Washington D.C.

Before his re-election, Roosevelt pledged during the campaign that America would not declare war on the Axis unless it were attacked. He held to that promise, but during his almost forty minute speech, made a case to provide military support to Great Britain and warned,

If Great Britain goes down, the Axis powers will control the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the high seas. … It is no exaggeration to say that all of us, in all the Americas, would be living at the point of a gun.

On the evening of that same day, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) firebombed London. Keep in mind, London is five hours ahead of Washington, D.C. I don’t know what time the bombing started in London that evening, but it likely started before Roosevelt started his radio address.

It was London’s most devastating air raid of the Blitz at the hands of the Nazis and the resulting fire from approximately 100,000 bombs dropped from one hundred thirty-six German bombers became known as the Second Great Fire of London. The raid focused on a part of the city with churches, offices, warehouses, and other non-residential buildings.

Hundreds of fires burned in London, but firefighters saved much of the city from the destruction caused by the exploding bombs even as the bombs rained down all around them, and even while hindered by a water shortage. St. Paul’s Cathedral was in the midst of the smoke and flames and could not be seen well during the firefight, but in the end, when the flames died down and the smoke cleared, the cathedral still stood.

Ernie Pyle, the Pulitzer Prize–winning American journalist and war correspondent, witnessed the raid in London and wrote,

Into the dark shadowed spaces below us, while we watched, whole batches of incendiary bombs fell. We saw two dozen go off in two seconds. They flashed terrifically, then quickly simmered down to pin points of dazzling white, burning ferociously…

The greatest of all the fires was directly in front of us. Flames seemed to whip hundreds of feet into the air. Pinkish-white smoke ballooned upward in a great cloud, and out of this cloud there gradually took shape—so faintly at first that we weren’t sure we saw correctly—the gigantic dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. St Paul’s was surrounded by fire, but it came through. It stood there in its enormous proportions—growing slowly clearer and clearer, the way objects take shape at dawn. It was like a picture of some miraculous figure that appears before peace-hungry soldiers on a battlefield.

Ernie Pyle was killed by enemy fire on the island of Iejima, Japan (then called Ie Shima) during the Battle of Okinawa on April 18, 1945.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Battle of Taranto

Roosevelt’s Arsenal of Democracy Speech

Roosevelt’s Arsenal of Democracy Speech

Worst Air Raid on London

Second Great Fire of London

Most recent post from the series:

Summer 1940

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

The Grafton Underwood Airfield – Runways and Hardstands

In WWII, the 384th Bomb Group was based in the UK village of Grafton Underwood’s back yard. Seventy-plus years later, most of the war-era buildings are long gone, but their foundations lie sleeping, waiting to be uncovered and made visible again by the hands and aching backs of many who seek to commemorate this important place and the lives who passed through here during the long-ago war.

As the earth attempts to reclaim her once-peaceful space and erase the existence of the use of her land for war, efforts are ongoing to save what time has not yet destroyed or man has not yet demolished so that the history of this place will be remembered by future generations, generations of sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of those who served here.

We must not forget what happened here and why the people came to use this land for this purpose. We must remember their great deeds of valor, the lives lost, the lives saved, and learn a lesson about sacrifice and freedom.

The main reason for the 384th Bomb Group’s existence at Grafton Underwood revolved around the airfield’s runways, the point of take-off for mission targets and the point of return for the B-17’s and the weary crews that came home.

Take-off was normally early morning. Very early or the previous overnight, the ground crews readied the B-17’s with final repairs, filling fuel tanks, and loading bombs and ammunition.

After breakfast and briefing, the airmen arrived at their designated aircraft and performed final preparations for the day’s missions. The pilots ran through their checklists, the gunners checked the guns, and the navigators and bombardiers studied the route and coordinates for the bomb drop. Pilots started the engines and watched for the flare signalling departure.

The 384th Bomb Group’s first commander, Budd Peaslee, shared his memories of these mornings in the closing words of his 1963 book, Heritage of Valor. Commander Peaslee described not the look of the airfield, but the sound and feel of it when the 384th war machine was in full force and preparing for battle.

Commander Peaslee likened the sound of the B-17 engines to “musical thunder” and described the taxi and take-off of the flying fortresses as causing the “very earth to tremble.” He pronounced the source of the sound as “seeming to emanate from all things, visible and invisible,” and he compared the B-17’s “great deep-throated engines” to their later jet replacements’ “flat, toneless roar.”

Eighteen years after the 384th left Grafton Underwood at the end of the war, Peaslee described the runways as “ancient” and “weed-choked.” But those runways have not disappeared to this day. Fifty-six years past the publication of his book, and seventy-four years past the end of the war, the runways just north of the village can still be seen in satellite images.

After all of the B-17’s departed for the day’s mission and the business of waiting for their return began, the runway, though now silent, was the center of the group’s universe, the ultimate determiner of the mission’s success or failure.

On paper, the success of the mission was determined by how close the bombs had come to their targets and what kind of destruction the formation had brought to the enemy’s door. In reality, if one B-17 or one man had been lost and not returned to touch down on the runway or sleep in his bunk that night, the loss would be felt exponentially throughout the base, from crew mates, to cooks, to the Commander.

As soon as the last of the B-17’s wheels left the morning mist-covered ground, thoughts would turn to wonder how many would not return today. What familiar faces around the base would be no more? Eating, sleeping, socializing, and any other function of human life was secondary to the take-off and return of the B-17’s and their crews. The runway symbolized why the airmen were there, why the ground crews were there, and why the people of Grafton Underwood had to share the backyard of their pleasant village with this instrument of war.

This year’s 384th Bomb Group reunion will be the group’s eleventh junket to Grafton Underwood and other nearby WWII sites and will be my first. I will be able to see and stand upon the runways of which I have only imagined, have read about, and have seen in photos and on maps.

This map of the runways and hardstands was obtained from the archives at RAF Hendon and donated by Kevin Flecknor and Robin Dodson.

Site No. 1 Airfield – Runways and Hardstands

The runways and the fifty hardstands, where the aircraft stood ready, are detailed on the map as Site No. 1 Airfield.

The 384th Bomb Group was made up of four bombardment squadrons – 544, 545, 546, and 547. Each had a separate area of hardstands for their designated ships.

  • The 544th Bomb Squad was assigned Hardstands 1 – 9, 49, and 50.
  • The 545th Bomb Squad was assigned Hardstands 10 – 23.
  • The 546th Bomb Squad was assigned Hardstands 24 – 35, and 41.
  • The 547th Bomb Squad was assigned Hardstands 36 – 40, and 42 – 48.

Though the numbering system of division looks a little disjointed in a list, a review of where the hardstands are placed on the map will show why the division was made as it was. What’s not clear is why the number of hardstands was not more equally divided between squadrons. The 544th Bomb Squadron had the least amount, eleven, and the 545th Bomb Squad had the most, fourteen.

Thanks to Google Earth, we can see what the airfield map looks like superimposed on a map of the area today.

Image © 2018 Google

Note: Click on the images to open to full screen. (Then use your browser Back button to return to this post). 

Special Thanks to 384th Bomb Group Volunteers

The map of the runways and hardstands was obtained from the archives at RAF Hendon and donated by Kevin Flecknor and Robin Dodson. Hardstand identifications provided by Mark Meehl.

Note: The boxed numbers indicate the runway identifiers (magnetic compass heading to nearest 10 degrees).

Friends of the 384th

To view the progress of the Grafton Underwood Airfield building preservation and site cleanup and maintenance, please join the Friends of the 384th on Facebook.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

WWII Timeline – Summer 1940

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at July – September 1940 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Summer 1940

July 1, 1940

German U-boats attacked merchant ships in the Atlantic. The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign of WWII, lasting from 1939 to 1945.

The French government of Prime Minister Marshal Philippe Pétain moved to Vichy, France.

July 5, 1940

Great Britain and the French Vichy government broke off diplomatic relations.

July 10, 1940

The Battle of Britain began. After the fall of France, the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) conducted unremitting and highly destructive air raids over Britain from July through September 1940. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) successfully defended Great Britain in what has been described as the first major military campaign fought entirely by air forces.

July 14-15, 1940

The Soviet Union engineered a Communist coup d’états in the Baltic States after their June occupation.

July 17, 1940

The first French anti-Jewish laws were decreed by Vichy government Prime Minister Marshal Philippe Pétain. The laws were not mandated by Germany. They affected metropolitan France and its overseas territories. The measures designated Jews as a lower class and deprived them of citizenship and a right to hold public office. Many Jews were first confined to the Drancy Internment Camp before being deported for extermination in Nazi concentration camps.

July 23, 1940

Per the Soviet-German non-aggression agreement (also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) of August 23, 1939, the Soviet Union officially absorbed Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

August 3-6, 1940

The Soviet Union annexed the Baltic States as Soviet Republics after their June occupation.

August 3-19, 1940

The Italians occupied British Somaliland in East Africa.

August 8, 1940

Romania introduced anti-Jewish measures restricting education and employment, then later began “Romanianization” of Jewish businesses.

August 13, 1940

The German bombing of British airfields began. Eagle Day (Adlertag) was the first day of Operation Eagle Attack (Unternehmen Adlerangriff), the codename for the Nazi Luftwaffe operation to destroy the British Royal Air Force. It was an attempt to gain air superiority in preparation for the invasion of Britain by sea, code named Operation Sea Lion. The main target was RAF Fighter Command. The attack caused significant damage and casualties on the ground, but did not cause enough damage to the British Fighter Command’s ability to defend British air space.

August 15, 1940

Air battles and daylight raids over Britain continued.

Franz Rademacher, head of the Jewish Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ordered Adolf Eichmann to start the resettlement of a million Jews per year for four years to Madagascar as a police state under the SS. The “Madagascar Plan” project was later abandoned.

August 17, 1940

Hitler declared a blockade of the British Isles.

August 23/24, 1940

The first German air raids began on Central London.

August 25/26, 1940

In retaliation of the air raids on London, the first British RAF air raid on Berlin was carried out.

August 30, 1940

The Second Vienna Award was the second territorial dispute arbitrated by Germany and Italy. It assigned the territory of North Transylvania from Romania to Hungary. Losing North Transylvania forced Romanian King Carol to abdicate the throne to his son, Michael, and brought the dictatorship of Fascist General Ion Antonescu and his Iron Guards to power.

September 4, 1940

The America First Committee was established with the goal of keeping the United States out of WWII. Aviator Charles Lindberg was one of the most famous of it’s 800,000 members. The committee was disbanded four days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

September 7, 1940

The German Blitz against Great Britain began when the Luftwaffe began targeting civilian rather than British military targets.

September 13, 1940

Italian forces invaded British-controlled Egypt from Italian-controlled Libya.

September 15, 1940

The Blitz continued with German air raids on London, Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool and Manchester.

September 16, 1940

The United States military conscription bill passed and the first U.S. peacetime draft was enacted.

September 27, 1940

Germany, Italy, and Japan signed the Tripartite (Axis) Pact, an economic and military alliance. The “Axis powers” formally took the name after the Tripartite Pact was signed.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Madagascar Plan

Vichy anti-Jewish legislation

Adlertag

Most recent post from the series:

Spring 1940

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019