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The Second Air Division

  Introduction

Air power was a decisive force in securing the Allied victory in the Second World War.

The United States of America entered hostilities in December 1941. It was agreed with the British that until such time as an invasion of continental Europe could be undertaken, the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force would engage in strategic bombing against Nazi Germany.

Strategic bombing involved campaigns to destroy the industries and communications that directly or indirectly supported the enemy's war effort.

In the event, RAF Bomber command concentrated on night attacks while its American counterpart, the Eighth Air Force, operated mainly in daylight.

  The Second Air Division

The Second Air Division evolved out of the reorganisation of the VIII Bomber Command in to the Eighth Air Force.

Starting as the Second Bomb Wing, it became the Second Bomb Division and when the fighter wing was assigned in September 1944, it was re-designated the Second Air Division in January 1945.

The Second Air Division's first bombing mission was flown on November 7, 1942; the last on April 25, 1945.

A total of 95,948 sorties were flown in 493 operational missions by the division's B-24s, dropping 199,883 tons of bombs.

Targets attacked ranged from Norway in the north, as far east as Poland and Rumania, while several Mediterranean countries were reached from temporary bases in North Africa.

Six Second Air Division groups received special presidential citations for outstanding actions and five airmen received the Medal of Honor (the highest US award for bravery), four posthumously.

In combat the Second Air Division gunners claimed 1,079 enemy fighters destroyed against losses of 1,458 B-24s missing in action and many others lost in accidents.

Nearly 7,000 men serving with the Second Air Division lost their lives during the conflict.

At one point the chance of an individual airman completing a tour of operations (25 missions, later 30-35) was as little as one in three, so formidable was the flak (anti-aircraft artillery) and fighter defences of the German Luftwaffe.

There was also little safety margin in the heavily loaded Liberators if some mechanical or equipment failure occurred.

Besides the risk to life and limb, an airman had to endure between four to eight hours - and sometimes as much as 10 - in cramped conditions exposed to constant noise and vibration.

Much of the time the flight was at altitudes where uncomfortable oxygen masks had to be worn and temperatures down to -40oF necessitated heavy clothing to prevent frostbite. Such was the grim lot of a Liberator crew member.

For every man in the air there were another three on the ground engaged in support. Cooks, clerks, mechanics, armourers and a score of others performed duties; many of them menial but essential to the functioning of the group.

  Bomber groups

Each airfield was occupied by a single bombardment group consisting of four flying bombardment squadrons.

A squadron had an average complement of 12 to 16 B-24s and 200 combat airmen. Total personnel on a bomber station varied between 2,000 and 3,000.

The group was the basic operational unit of the air force and each had a numerical designation. At full strength the Second Division had 14 bombardment groups.

A cluster of three airfield groups (but sometimes two or four) made up a Combat Wing and the groups of a wing usually operated in support of one another.

  Fighter groups

The fighter contingent of the Second Air Division was the 65 Fighter Wing. This controlled five fighter groups based at airfields in Essex, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire.

A fighter group was composed of three fighter squadrons with about 30 aircraft each.

Fighter types in the Second Air Division were mostly North American P-51 Mustangs, but a single group flew Republic P-47 Thunderbolts.

  Headquarters

The Second Air Division Headquarters were at Ketteringham Hall, six miles south-west of Norwich.

However the command was originally at Old Catton, then Horsham St Faith, until late in 1943.

 

(This article was contributed by the late Roger Freeman, Second Air Division Memorial Trust governor.)

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