By John Archer
John Archer, as a teenager, often cycled to Thorpe Abbotts from his home in Bungay early in the morning, carrying his lunch, to watch and record the take-off of a mission. He still has his carefully annotated records of the planes that took off and landed. "I have tried to capture and put into words," he says, "some of my thoughts and experiences during my boyhood days near Thorpe Abbotts, home of the 100th Bombardment Group (H), when it was part of our life here in WWII." Now the acknowledged historian for the 8th Air Force in England, he has hosted many people when they returned to the Base, and was our guest at the Milwaukee Reunion in 1973.
Horace L. Varian
0700 It’s still dark, the engines of the B-17’s are being run to a constant pitch all round the countryside. Lights are flashing everywhere from vehicles on the move around the perimeter to the hardstands.
0715 Engine noise has dropped, being replaced by the sound of screeching brakes, gives me the reminder that once again the B-17’s are on the move for position, ready for take-off on another mission.
0720…Just daybreak, the lead B-17 is airborne with the rest of the Group following at regular intervals.
0730 Looking to the South, the 95th Bomb Group (Horham) are already forming up with tail-end Charlie still trying to catch up.
0800 The sky is alive with B-17’s and B-24’s, all forming up in race track fashion over their own bases. Hundreds of different color flares are seen giving a sight never to be forgotten.
0820 The B-17’s of the 100th Bomb Group have gained enough height to now be seen pulling contrails in the clear sunshine.
0830 The Groups are now formed up in Wing position, and making a last big circuit around the area, eventually heading out Eastward for the Coast.
0835 A B-17 heads in from the opposite direction with one engine dead. He has aborted the mission.
0900 The last of the various groups disappears into the distance, shining in the sun’s rays, their outlines getting smaller, and the noise dying away.
0930 After two hours or so of continuous activity, the surrounding countryside settles down to the daily routine once again. Loaded gasoline tankers rumble by, Air Force trucks loaded with bombs, fuses, fins, etc., make their way to the base to replenish the stocks which are now used up as fast as they bring them in.
1030 A single B-17 takes off, does several passes over the field, two or three touch and goes, the finally lands. (I assume it is training flight or a flight test.)
1100 Dozens of P-47’s in formations of fours streak out towards the coast.
1115 Another B-17 comes in to land, looks like a new one, as no markings are seen. Probably a replacement.
1200 Another single B-17 takes off and goes through the same routine as the earlier one.
1215 Hazy sunshine turning to overcast skies, visibility down to about one mile.
1245 During my lunch, I hear a B-17, run outside to find it above the overcast, must be from another Group stationed farther inland.
1330 Getting a bit uneasy as I observe the weather closing in, knowing the Group is still out, and the conditions will be against them on the return to base.
1400 Almost without warning a group of B-17’s appear to the North of the base, still looking good after their long haul over Germany. With strained eyes I observe they are from the 388th Bomb Group, "K" on fins. The 100th won’t be long now, I guess!
1415 Several scattered groups now appear. The 95th are on circuit and breaking for landing over to the south at Horham. Everything appears to be happening at once. A B-17 appears overhead, makes a short landing at Thorpe Abbotts, not one of the 100th. It seemed to be having difficulty. Glad to make it down, I guess.
1420 At last the Square D group comes into view. I count 26..27..a lone one, 28—yes I would say they’ve had a good day. I never did hear how many failed to return on these occasions, but I guessed many empty beds would be at Thorpe Abbotts some days.
1500 I assume everybody is now safely down, although one or two had to make two or three passes. As I cycle around the base I observe The All American Girl has made it back once again, but Hang the Expense has made a mess of Farmer Draper’s barn! Pausing to talk a while with a lonely Air Policeman on sentry watch, we exchange a few stories, and as it starts to rain, I bid him farewell and make for my home which is a short distance from the base.