Tragic wartime mission remembered

An heroic mission that saw the biggest loss in action suffered by a bomb group was commemorated on Saturday with the presentation of new American and United Kingdom flags.

An heroic mission that saw the biggest loss in action suffered by a bomb group was commemorated on Saturday with the presentation of new American and United Kingdom flags.

The ceremony was held at Tibenham Airfield - now home to the Norfolk Gliding Club, and former base of the United States Air Force 445th bomb group which lost all but four of the 34 Liberators that took part in the historic raid on Kassel, Germany, on September 27, 1944.

Heavy cloud cover resulted in the bombers from Tibenham being separated from the rest of the task force, making them an easy target for the German fighter pilots who tore theirs planes to shreds.

Each bomber carried a crew of nine, and a total of 115 airmen were killed in action or died from their injuries. Two more lost their lives in crash landings and five were murdered in labour camps by Germans who were later brought to book for their crimes.


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The Rev Heather Potts, rural dean for the Tibenham group of parishes, who gave the address and prayers, said: “It seems absolutely unbelievable to speak of such things on this beautiful, peaceful day. We can only imagine the feelings of the people who were in this place receiving the news 64 years ago.”

She said there were many airfields in the area during the second world war and local people have very warm memories of the Americans who came to live in their midst. And she spoke of the friendship that had been forged after the war between a member of the Hitler Youth and one of the injured airmen he helped. The boy, who later lost his entire family in a bombing raid, was instrumental in setting up a German memorial site to the 445th in the 1990s.

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The American flag was presented by the USAF 100th Air Refuelling Wing, based at Mildenhall, whose honour guard performed the changeover. It now flutters proudly beside the new Union Flag, which was handed over by Air Marshall Sir Roderick Goodall, of the Royal Air Force.

He said: “It is a great privilege and pleasure to present the Union Jack to Tibenham and this memorial to the 445th. I have flown with and alongside the United States Air Force for most of my career. I admire them enormously.”

A total of 108 air crews from Tibenham were lost during the war - 30 on the Kassel Mission. It was the biggest loss in history to a single bomb group in a single day of action.

Sq Ldr Don Johnstone, who is a member of the gliding club, said: “The reason we are able to pursue our hobby or sport today is due in no small measure to the men and women who flew from these airfields throughout the East of England..”

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