A BRIEF HISTORY
East Anglia was involved on a larger scale than most people know in World War Two. So much so that in 1940, after the Dunkirk evacuation, Germany was setting their invasion sights on Great Britain for Operation 'Sealion'. Britain had established some of its most formidable defences all over the East Anglian coastline: barbed wire, land/sea mines, steel traps (steel implements in the sand) and hundreds of pillboxes that you often still see near coastal roads today. The region also had fall-back defensive lines if this invasion did take place. In fact, it was highly likely this could happen, as Hitler ordered Norwich City Hall not to be touched by bombing because he was hoping to use it for his grand podium!
East Anglia also participated in the war effort by hosting 350,000 American troops and airmen from 1942 - often referred to as the 'Friendly Invasion'. The United States chose this region because they needed a place that was close to German occupied France.
East Anglia also participated in the war effort by hosting 350,000 American troops and airmen from 1942
To house the extra troops there were around 100 US/UK airfields in the region. The 95th Bomb Group, 96th Bomber Group and 100th Bomb Group - inspiration behind Masters of The Air - are some of the most widely known.
MASTERS OF THE AIR
The new Apple TV series, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, and based on Donald L. Miller’s non-fiction book, Masters of the Air, tells the story of the 100th Bomb Group, based at Thorpe Abbots in Norfolk. From this airbase flew the famous four-engine bomber called the B17 'Flying Fortress'. It was nicknamed the 'Bloody Hundredth' due to the sombre reason that they faced many losses of planes and crew during the war. For example, on their first mission in June 1943 they lost three planes and thirty airmen.
It was nicknamed the 'Bloody Hundredth'
With episodes being released gradually, the first two are already available to watch and the next are highly anticipated. There will be nine in total, telling the story of the Eighth Air Force, part of the 100th Bomb Group.
"The force had one supreme aim: to bring the German war economy to a stop through high-altitude strategic bombing.", says Visit Bury St Edmunds.
MUST-VISIT MUSEUMS IN THE REGION
100th BOMB GROUP MEMORIAL MUSEUM, NEAR DISS
With Masters of The Air now being screened we imagine there'll be an increase in visitors to the bomb group it is depicting. However, please note that this museum is not open until March and currently just weekends.
Once open, expect to visit the control tower, and learn more about the Silver Dollar and Billy Boy planes, amongst other stories of the airmen who served at this base.
SUFFOLK REGIMENT MUSEUM, BURY ST EDMUNDS
near The Weeping Willow, Barrow
The East Anglian town of Bury St Edmunds was home to the Gibraltar Barracks, built in 1878, and housed the Suffolk Regiment up until their amalgamation with the Royal Norfolk Regiment (their barracks based in Norwich) in 1959. It then became known as the East Anglian Regiment.
Reopening this summer after an extensive refurbishment, there will be exhibits never seen before and stories of officers and soldiers, as well as major engagements in the history of the Suffolk regiment.
IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM DUXFORD, CAMBRIDGE
The Imperial War Museum, Duxford, is no secret to military enthusiasts as a top choice for discovery. A family-favourite too, particularly in summer when they host many flying events, this museum is one of those that you can go to time-and-time-again and still find new relics. One of our highlights is the The American Air Museum that tells the story of people whose lives were shaped by American airpower over a century of war.
PARHAM AIRFIELD MUSEUM, WOODBRIDGE
Situated in the place of a World War Two United States Air Force Station, the museum highlights how Suffolk was affected by the war in separate ways, through two museums: "The 390th Bomb Group Memorial Air Museum pays tribute to the 740 servicemen killed or 'Missing in Action' from this airfield and the further 754 who were taken as Prisoners of War" and The Museum of the British Resistance Organisation containing a replica secret underground bunker, shedding light on "Britain's best kept was secret". To find out what that is, you'll just have to pay them a visit.
ROYAL NORFOLK REGIMENT MUSEUM, NORWICH
Although The Royal Norfolk Regiment Museum research collection is housed at The Norwich Castle Study Centre, there are many artefacts on display at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery. From uniforms to medals, weapons to musical instruments, there's an array of objects on display that tell the stories of how this regiment spent their day-to-days.
Their archive also contains letters and private diaries, with particular material relating further back to the First World War and Far East Prisoners of War. Also, you may want to do basic research using their handy online tool here.
MUCKLEBURGH MILITARY COLLECTION, WEYBOURNE
On the Norfolk coast is this hidden gem. From post-war aircraft to tank demonstrations, there’s plenty to see and do at The Muckleburgh Military Collection, and you can top-off your visit with a stroll down to the beach afterwards. Situated on the former Royal Artillery Anti-Aircraft training camp it is one of the largest privately owned military collections in the UK.
It’s also just a short distance along the road from our new project, The Maltings, opening in the summer of 2024.
NORFOLK AND SUFFOLK AVIATION MUSEUM, NEAR BUNGAY
near The Westleton Crown
Open seasonally Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, this museum is on the site of the 446th Bomb Group and pays tribute to 456 airmen killed in action and serving at Flixton, Bungay, during World War Two. Run entirely by volunteers (with one paid member of team) it is a registered charity with over 60 aircrafts on show, some that you can go in. It is FREE admission, but donations are highly appreciated, and with so much to see, they are a popular stop-off on the way to the coast.
ROUGHAM CONTROL TOWER MUSEUM
near The Weeping Willow, Barrow
Uncover the history of the personnel who served in the 94th Bomb Group of 8th USAAF and how they fit into the story being told in Masters of The Air. It is free entry and open every Sunday from April until October, but you can also make appointments to visit out of season.
The museum is run by volunteers who can enlighten you with stories and insightful information about every day life at the base, but also the incredible story of the strategic bombing campaign by the B-17 Flying Fortress.
Tie in your visit to the museum with breakfast, lunch or dinner at one of our pubs.
With thanks to Timothy Simms-Baalham, Military Enthusiast
With credit to Suffolk Regiment Gallery, Suffolk Regiment Museum, Parham Airfield Wikipedia, WhichMuseum, Royal Norfolk Regiment, National Army Museum, Aviationmuseum.net for some images