P-51D 55thFG Wayne

    P-51D 55thFG Wormingford 1944
    Lt. Wayne Rosenoff

A Brief History of the USAAF:
Brigadier General James Allen of the United States Army Signal Corps authorised the formation of an Aeronautical Division in 1907, although this consisted almost entirely of balloons and airships. Overall control remained with the Signal Corps until 1918 when, later in that year, the then president, Woodrow Wilson, ordered the establishment of a Division of Military Aeronautics. This became a tactical extension to the United States Army and was re-named the Army Air Corps in 1926.  It wasn't until 1935 that the General Headquarters Air Force (GHQAF), under the command of Hap Arnold, was established as an air defence and tactical striking force. Fighter and Bombardment Units were separated in 1940. A re-formation of this organisation, The Army Air Forces, came into existence in early 1942.

As in many other parts of the world since the end W.W.I , great attention had been made to training the new air force. But, as in nearly all cases, little or no attention had been paid to either night operations or those conducted in poor visibility. The principle heavy bomber in use at this time was the Boeing B-17, later named the Flying Fortress. It was believed that the protective fire afforded by this heavily armed aircraft when flying in close formation would be sufficient to deter fighter attacks.Thus it was considered that a daylight strategic bombing role could be carried out over Europe.

In the late sumer of 1942 RAF airfields were handed over to be used by the heavy and medium bombers of the arriving 8th and 9th USAAF. These were later joined by their belatedly deployed fighter escorts. The American Forces were to join the RAF in the strategic bombing of Germany. New airfields were also being built to accommodate yet more bombardment and fighter Groups assigned to the American forces. Much of Britain became a second home to tens of thousands of American airmen who were not only expected to cope with the war, but with the local population as well. They were to find at a terrible cost that having trained only for a daylight role, pin-point bombing accuracy, painstakingly carried out in the clear and uncontested skies of Arizona was to be confounded by the cloud-covered skies of Europe together with a waiting and battle-hardened Luftwaffe.

Such was the faith in the defensive armament of B-17 that no plans had been made for escorting fighter cover. The mistake was realised too late as appalling losses were taken in the early missions. By this time Bombardment Groups of B-24 Liberators had joined the strategic bombing force. In the absence of any American fighter aircraft, RAF fighter cover was provided deploying Boulton Paul Defiants with "Moonshine" radar jamming equipment. However, the range of the fighter escort was insufficient for selected targets in Germany. For the next six months of the war, until January 1943, 8th USAAF bombing raids were restricted to occupied western Europe. By August 1943 American Fighter Groups flying P-38s and P-47s fitted with external fuel tanks were established to provide cover as far as the German border and after the raid, an escort home, but it wasn't until the introduction of the P-51 long-range escort in 1944 that adequate protection could be provided deep into Germany.

Unlike their RAF counterparts, USAAF bomb crews trained together before deploying to the UK and an aircraft was allocated to them which they later flew over the Atlantic to the UK. Many had by then named 'their' aircraft and added appropriate artwork, ofte copying the Vargas' magazine illustrations. However, on arrival the aircraft was immediately separated from it's crew to be made battle-ready at Burtonwood near Liverpool. The crew were split between the four bombardment squadrons to gain experience and to fill empty spaces. Most never saw 'their' aircraft again.




Lockheed P-38L Lightning
Kingscliffe, August 1943

This was the first military aircraft to be developed by Lockheed. Designed as a high-speed interceptor, the Lightning was first flown in 1939 entering service in 1941 with both the USAAF and RAF.
  The Lightning however, was under powered and by the time of its introduction was, in many respects, inferior to other aircraft in the European theatre.
 When the 8thUSAAF first deployed in the UK in 1942, the P-38 Lightning was the principle fighter in use prior to the introduction of the P-47 Thunderbolt and the later P-51 Mustang.

Wingspan 52ft 0in
37ft 10in
Weight 21,600lb
Engines 2X1,475hp Allison V-1710 111/113 inline pistons
Max. Speed 414mph
Ceiling 44,000ft
Armament 4X .5in Browning MG 1X 20mm cannon
Bombload 2X 1,600lb external
Crew 1


Bell P-39 Airacobra
 350thFG Duxford Cambs
October 1942

 This Fighter Group was formed in October 1942 from some of the many US pilots serving in the RAF. The 350th Fighter Group trained in the UK and after assignment to 12th USAAF left for north Africa in January 1943.
 The Airacobra saw little action in Europe, only one RAF Squadron being equipped with the type for a short period. The short range and constant design problems combined to limit operational use although it was used with rather more success in the Pacific theatre.
  Nearly 5000 Airacobra’s were shipped to Soviet Forces in Russia where they were used effectively against armour as ground attack aircraft.

Wingspan 34ft 0 in
Length 30ft 2in
Laden Weight 8,200lb
Engine 1,200hp Allison V-1710-85 12 cylinder inline piston
Max. Speed 399mph
Range 750 miles
Armament 1X37mm cannon in hub. 2X .5 in nose decking.
4X 0.762mm in wings
Bombload 1X500lb external
Crew 1


Republic P-47D Thunderbolt
361st FG 8 USAAF
Bottisham, Cambs 1943

 First flown in 1941 Thunderbolts were the largest single-seat interceptors of the war. In Europe they flew escort to USAAF bombing missions together with P-51 Mustangs and P-38 Lightnings.
Known affectionately as the "Jug" The poor rate of climb and maneuverability of the Thunderbolt was compensated for by their ability to absorb heavy battle damage.
The purpose of the coloured engine cowlings was to clearly distinguish the Thunderbolt's profile from the Fw190 during combat. It had been found that the radial engine in each case was similar and many fatal mistakes were made.
P-47s were deployed at Bottisham prior to the Group’s conversion to P-51 Mustangs.

Wingspan 40ft 9 in
36ft 1 in
Laden Weight
Engine 2,300hp Pratt&Whitney R2800 59 Double Wasp 18 cylinder radial
Max. Speed 428mph
Ceiling 42000ft
1260 miles
Armament 8X 0.5 Brownings
Bombload 2000lb
Crew 1


North American P-51B Mustang
355FG Steeple Morden
Herts 1943

The P-51B was the first variant of this outstanding aircraft to use the Merlin engine in favour of the earlier Allison engine for which it had been designed and which had given the Mustang poor performance at altitude. All had white painted spinners, forward cowlings and stripes on the wings, tailplane and fin to distinguish the aircraft from the Bf109, as several fatal mistakes had been made. Fighter Groups assigned to the Eighth Air Force were equipped with the P-51B, in place of the P-38 Lightnings and P-47 Thunderbolts in mid-1943.
355th FG based at Steeple Morden, Herts were notable in having destroyed more enemy aircraft in ground-strafing attacks than any other Fighter Group.

Wingspan 37ft ¼ in
Length 32ft 2in
Laden Weight 11,200lb
Engine 1,380hp Packard V-1650-3 Merlin 61 12 cylinder V type
Max. Speed 441mph
Ceiling 41,900ft
2080 miles
Armament 4X .5 Browning MG53-2
Bombload 2X1000lb external
Crew 1


North American P51D Mustang
339th FG
Fowlmere, Cambs 1944

 Designed, built and delivered in 117 days by a company that had never before built fighter aircraft, the P-51D Mustang became one of the most successful interceptors of WW2 and first flew in 1940. Early models powered with Allison engines were later replaced by aircraft with Packard Merlin engines.
  The 55thFG originally flew P-38 Lightnings when based at Nuthampstead but converted to Mustangs shortly after their move from to Wormingford in Essex.

Wingspan 37ft ¼ in
Length 32ft 2in
Weight 12,100lb
Engine 1,490hp Packard V-1650-7 Merlin 61 12 cylinder V type
Max. Speed 438mph
2080 miles
Armament 6X .5 Browning MG53-2
Bombload 2X1000lb external
Crew 1


Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress 'Dixie'
369BS, 306th BG
Thurleigh 1943

Lost with all crew 1 May 1943 over St Nazaire

 The B-17 has come to epitomise the 8th USAAF heavy bomber of WWII, although it shared this role with, lesser publicised, B-24 Liberator. It was designed to be easy to fly and maintain while being able to absorb massive battle damage.
 Thousands of B-17s and B-24s were named and elaborately decorated with modified Disney cartoons or pin-up designs from esquire and other men's magazines. These were faithfully copied by talented individuals, most often amongst the ground crew. Many of these named aircraft became famous.

Wingspan 103ft 9in
Length 74ft 9in
Laden Weight 72,000lb
Engine 4X 1,200 1820-97 Wright Cyclone Radial engines
Max. Speed 287mph
Range 2,000 miles
Armament 11/12X .5 calibre machine guns
Bombload 4,000lb
Crew 9/10


 Boeing B-17FG Flying Fortress
401st BS 91st BG
Bassingbourn, Cambs 1943

 The B-17G modification incorporated a chin turret and additional armament to counter the head-on attacks by Luftwaffe fighters. In addition however, there were other, less obvious differences. The waist gun platforms were staggered and many of the control surfaces were operated electrically rather than hydraulically, a distinct advantage at high altitude.
“The Peacemaker”, shown here was a veteran of 58 missions until an unexplained fatal crash at Weston, Herts while on an engine test flight. All six crew members were killed.

Wingspan 103ft 9in
Length 74ft 9in
Laden Weight
Engine 4X 1,200 1820-97 Wright Cyclone Radial engines
Max. Speed 287mph
Ceiling 35,600ft
Range 2,000 miles
Armament 13X .5 calibre machine guns
Bombload 4,000lb
Crew 9/10


Consolidated B-24J Liberator
445thBG, Tibenhan, Suffolk

June 1944

 More Liberators were produced than any other US aircraft. From the B-24G model on, all were fitted with a nose turret to combat head-on attacks by Luftwaffe fighters.  The B-24 never managed to attain the the glamour of the B-17 but was nevertheless faster, more versatile and could carry a greater bomb-load. The B-24 was able to carry out a greater variety of roles. It was regarded with suspicion by newly assigned flight crews but for those already experienced "The Flying Box-Car" was a popular and reliable aircraft.
 This 8thUSAAF aircraft 42-110037 operated from Tibenham and was flown by Capt. Sam Miller and crew on their 25th mission; the first crew to complete an operational tour in the Group.

Wingspan 110 ft
67'ft 2in
Laden Weight 65,000lb
Engine 4X Pratt &Whitney R-1830-65 radials
Speed 290mph
2000 miles
28,000 ft
Armament 10-13, .50 calibre machine guns
Bombload 8,800lb
Crew 8/10


Martin B-26 Marauder
397th BG
Rivenhall, Essex 1944

 The B-26 was said to have poor handling characteristics at low altitude and was therefore a dangerous aircraft in inexperienced hands. However, this attribute had more to do with poor pilot training than an inherent structural instability.. Efforts were made with later variants to reduce the high landing speed.
 The B-26 Marauder was a heavily armed medium bomber in use with the 9th USAAF and was used to carry out low level-attacks on strongpoints and bridges in tactical support of ground forces.
 This 596thBS aircraft, 42-96142 “Dee Feater” was lost after crashing in the UK following a raid on a railway bridge at Oissel in 1944.

Wingspan 71ft 0in
58ft 3 in
Laden Weight
Engine 2X 2,000 Pratt & Whitney R-2800-43 radial piston
Max. Speed 282mph
Armament 12X .50
Bombload 3,000lb
Crew 7