Friendly Invasion sites
The United States 8th Army Air Force (USAAF) arrived in Norfolk in 1942, quickly building miles of concrete runways as well as friendships with the locals.
where to experience the friendly invasion
The impact of this Friendly Invasion was enormous, and has left many lasting links between our two countries. Here are some of the places where you can find out more – and perhaps learn more about a relative who was over here.
Some of the smaller museums featured here only open on selected days, but would more than likely open for a group of Americans if contacted beforehand.
2nd air division memorial library, norwich
The library is based in the historic centre of Norwich within the modern Forum building. It is a lasting memorial to all those who served in the Second Air Division in the air or on the ground.
It has a lending collection of more than 4,000 books covering all aspects of American life and culture, plus a specialised section telling the story of the Division.
The library is a treasure trove of information on the Division, which was largely based in Norfolk and Suffolk. Its website has details of the 14 airbases used by the 2nd, including details of how and when to visit.
100th bomb group memorial museum, Thorpe abbotts
Due to heavy losses the Group became known as the ‘Bloody Hundredth’. Housed in the original airfield control tower and surrounding buildings, the museum tells a moving story full of the wartime experiences of those stationed at Thorpe Abbotts, near Diss. Since the 1970s this volunteer-run, fully accredited museum has been a star attraction in Norfolk.
453rd Bomb Group Museum, Old Buckenham
Hollywood star James ‘Jimmy’ Stewart was the first operations officer here, and is remembered with great affection in Norfolk. The museum is a recent addition, located on the still active airfield at Old Buckenham. It tells the story of the 45rd, which flew B-24 Liberators here from 1943-45.
Outside you can see other military artefacts from both the Second World War and the Cold War. The Jimmy Stewart cafe serves hot and cold food through the day.
James (Jimmy) Stewart (1908-97) was an American actor and military officer, known for his distinctive drawl and down-to-earth persona. Stewart starred in many classic films, and was nominated for five Academy Awards.
He served in England at bomber bases in eastern England, and visited this region frequently after the end of the Second World War. Stewart could have spent the war in safety due to his star status, but insisted on risking
his life on combat missions. He served at RAF Tibenham and Old Buckingham. He stayed on as a reservist after the war, rising to the rank of Brigadier General, and did not officially retire until 1968.
389th Bomb Group Memorial, Hethel
The exhibition is housed in the only surviving building of the era, the chapel/gymnasium. It features an original mural of Christ on the Cross and a wartime map of Europe in the Chaplain’s quarters next door. There are two reconstructed Nissen huts, which have extended the display space and added facilities for visitors.
City of Norwich aviation museum
Now the site of Norwich Airport on the outskirts of the city, Horsham St Faith hosted several USAAF units, including the renowned 56th Fighter Group, the 458th Bombardment Group and was headquarters of the 96th Combat Wing. The museum also tells the story of Horsham, plus the RAF bases at Sculthorpe and Coltishall. Plenty of aircraft to view. At the nearby Norwich Airport, there is a monument to the units based at the base during the war. Inside the passenger terminal is a memorial plaque.
raf oulton museum
The American 803rd Radio Measures Counter Squadron lodged alongside RAF bombers at Oulton. You can see remains of the airfield at tiny Oulton Street, plus a memorial plaque to the RAF station.
Just over a mile away is the wonderful Jacobean mansion Blickling Hall, worth a visit in itself for the historic house and its extensive parkland. On one ancient tree by the lake you can see names carved by former airmen from the 1940s.
Blickling’s former owner Philip Kerr, Marquis of Lothian, was Winston Churchill’s ambassador to the USA before his untimely death in December, 1940. You can visit the RAF Oulton Museum there for the full story, including a recreated crew room.
93rd Bomb Group Museum, Hardwick
In the grounds of the Hardwick airfield, 12 miles south of Norwich, and closely associated with Airfield Farm, the museum has three original Nissen huts with exhibits, and a brick building from an original on the site. It is used as a reception centre and “Mess Hall”.
seething control tower museum
The museum to the memory of the 448th Bombardment Group stands guard at the entrance to Seething airfield, a popular aviation field owned and operated by its own flying club. Inside the restored tower you can see exhibited and photographs over two floors, while there is a room set aside as a chapel. Open first Sunday of the month, May to October from 10am.
Norfolk & Suffolk aviation museum, flixton
On the Norfolk/Suffolk border is this museum, set near the site of the 446th Bomb Group base at Bungay. Unique artefacts and personal items of those who served there, plus murals from the 353rd Fighter Group base at Raydon in Suffolk plus a building dedicated to the Royal Observer Corps and Air Sea Rescue units.
lady jane memorial
On November 24, 1944, an American Liberator bomber, ‘Lady Jane’, was on a training mission when it got into mechanical trouble and crashed. The last act of 20-year-old pilot Lt Ralph Dooley was to avoid crashing on St John’s Catholic Cathedral and nearby houses, and thus avoid civilian casualties. His aircraft was lost along with all nine crew members. In 2010 a monument to the crew was set up at Heigham Street, Norwich, with nine white roses laid at the opening ceremony.