Photo story

10 Incredible Photos Of American Servicemen At Duxford In The Second World War

The US Eighth Air Force's 78th Fighter Group was based at RAF Duxford between April 1943 and October 1945. The following 10 photos show the kinds of things they got up to when Duxford was the place they called home.

All of these photos are on the American Air Museum website. They are part of the Roger Freeman Collection of 15,000 prints and slides, acquired by IWM in 2012. Roger Freeman was an aviation historian and East Anglian native who had a lifelong interest in the aircraft of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) and the servicemen who made Britain their home during the Second World War.

The stories of the people and aircraft in these photos are in many cases only half-known. By putting them online, our hope is that people will share their knowledge, and we can then pool what is known about these people, places and aircraft to reveal more about life at Duxford over 70 years ago.

  • 1. Hitching a ride

    Pilots of 82nd Fighter Squadron, 78th Fighter Group, sit on the bonnet of a Dodge WC at Duxford air base in October 1943.

    From left to right: Captain Walker L Boone; Flight Officer Manuel S Martinez; and Flight Officer Jerry E Brasher, pilots of the 82nd Fighter Squadron, 78th Fighter Group, sit on the bonnet of a Dodge WC (weapons carrier) at Duxford air base in October 1943. Duxford's control tower can be seen in the background. Fighter pilots flew escort missions to protect the bombers from enemy aircraft. Flying on 11 February 1944, they received word that a lone B-17 Flying Fortress had fallen behind its formation and was under attack. Jerry E Brasher was part of the flight that responded. He reported bringing down one of the German Me 109s seeking out the stranded bomber: 'Using water injection I gained on him, firing all the time, seeing strikes at the wing roots and behind the cockpit. The enemy aircraft lost speed and chandelled up to the left. I followed firing intermittently and saw him jettison his canopy. I fired another burst and he rolled over on his back at about 1,000 feet. I was about 800 yards behind at this time. I continued my turn and saw him floating down in a parachute and his ship hit and burn in a wooded section. I climbed back to 18,000 feet with my wingman and proceeded home.'

    Image © FRE 282

  • 2. Getting the mail

    Lieutenant George T Hartman (centre) hands out mail to pilots of the 84th Fighter Squadron of 78th Fighter Group, August 1943.

    Lieutenant George T Hartman (centre, with pipe) hands out mail to pilots of the 84th Fighter Squadron of the 78th Fighter Group in August 1943. They are probably standing by the east end of Building 89, where they had their ready room. This building is now used for the Historic Duxford exhibition. Hartman was shot down and killed when returning from a bomber escort mission to La Rochelle on 5 January 1944. Several days later, his father George J Hartman received a telegram from the War Department saying that his son - and only child - was missing in action.

    Image © FRE 303

  • 3. Accidents on home turf

    Fire crews attend to the wreckage of P-38 Lightning at Duxford airfield, 10 February 1944.

    Fire crews attend to the wreckage of P-38 Lightning (CG-O, serial number 42-67667) at Duxford airfield on 10 February 1944. The aircraft crashed, according to the official caption, as the pilot Second Lieutenant Robert N Gore repeatedly 'buzzed' the field. The pilot survived but the aircraft had come down on top of a truck, the driver of which was killed. Gore was charged with involuntary manslaughter but acquitted in May 1944. He was, however, required to pay a $660 fine for damage to the aircraft.

    Image © FRE 308

  • 4. In the hangars

    Ground crew work to salvage parts from a P-47D Thunderbolt, which has been hit by a Luftwaffe cannon shell.

    Ground crew work to salvage parts from a P-47D Thunderbolt of the 83rd Fighter Squadron, 78th Fighter Group, which has been hit by a Luftwaffe cannon shell. It is likely that that the full serial number for this aircraft is 42-8479. This aircraft suffered Category E battle damage on 6 March 1944 when flown by Lieutenant John D Motsenbocker Jr on an escort mission to Berlin. When an aircraft returned from a mission with battle damage it was quickly categorised by the ground crew. The lightest damage, Category A, would usually be repaired on the hardstand, but for Category B and above the aircraft was brought into a hangar on base or transported to one of the Strategic Air Depots around the country.

    Image © FRE 3038

  • 5. Parachute packing

    Lieutenant William H Waldheim and Flight Officer Harding R Zumwalt lift a parachute down from the shelf.

    Lieutenant William H Waldheim and Flight Officer Harding R Zumwalt of the 83rd Fighter Squadron, 78th Fighter Group, lift a parachute down from the shelf. Flight Officer Harding Zumwalt had trained to fly Spitfires with the RAF and only transferred to the USAAF in 1943. He had been a professional trumpet player before the war and joined the Thunderbolt All-American Swing Band at Duxford. His need to wear glasses always made it hard for him to persuade medical boards that he was fit to fly. He found his ability with the trumpet a useful bargaining chip for keeping him in the air.

    Image © FRE 298

  • 6. Entertaining visitors

    The singer Bing Crosby performs for USAAF personnel in front of one of the hangars at Duxford, September 1944.

    The singer Bing Crosby performs for USAAF personnel in front of one of the hangars at Duxford, home of the 78th Fighter Group, as part of a United States Organizations (USO) tour. The photo was taken in September 1944 by Captain James G Robinson, who flew with the 339th Fighter Group, based down the road at Fowlmere.

    Image © FRE 5954

  • 7. Game time

    The 78th Fighter Group's Thunderbolts baseball team line up at Duxford, August 1944.

    The 78th Fighter Group's Thunderbolts baseball team line up at Duxford in August 1944. Games were played on a pitch on the north side of the base behind the Officers' Mess. Detailed reports were written for each inter-unit game. Here's an excerpt from the May 1944 report: 'The final game was a road trip played at 280 Station Hospital [Shortgrove Park, Newport, Essex], this time our boys had to overcome a 5 to 3 decision. Our star pitcher and the best in the ETO [European Theater of Operations] Duke Duca pitched swell ball in every game and in the last he turned hitting pitcher and the third inning he got two hits and a single and a home run. The baseball field is now in top shape after constant work and the back stop blown over by high winds has been replaced and we believe this field as good as any.'

    Image © FRE 300

  • 8. Hopping from base to base

    A shark-mouthed Piper L-4 Grasshopper of the 55th Fighter Group at Duxford.

    A shark-mouthed Piper L-4 Grasshopper of the 55th Fighter Group at Duxford. Light aircraft like this were used by officers to travel from base to base within the UK. As non-combat aircraft, the markings on these aircraft could be more light-hearted. The '6 7/8ths' number is not a squadron code but the hat size of Captain Gilbert G Morehouse, who used the aircraft as his hack to fly to other 66th Fighter Wing air bases like Fowlmere.

    Image © FRE 3061

  • 9. Training at Duxford

    No. 183 Mobile Training Unit parked up in the snow beside one of the hangars at Duxford air base.

    No. 183 Mobile Training Unit of the US Army Air Forces Western Technical Training Command, parked up in the snow beside one of the hangars at Duxford air base. Mobile training units were set up to keep ground and air crew up to date with developments in aircraft controls and functions without leaving their combat units. No. 183 Mobile Training Unit was at Duxford in November 1944 as 78th Fighter Group personnel were getting to grips with their new aircraft, the P-51 Mustang.

    Image © FRE 287

  • 10. New ships

    Men of the 78th Fighter Group get a look at newly-arrived P-51D and P-51K Mustangs at Duxford air base, December 1944.

    Men of the 78th Fighter Group get a look at newly-arrived P-51D and P-51K Mustangs at Duxford air base in December 1944. The 78th Fighter Group's distinctive checker-board nose cone markings have not yet been added and neither have the squadron markings. The P-51K with the serial number '44-11620' was to join the 82nd Fighter Squadron and be nicknamed 'Pedro's Boy', possibly after Staff Sergeant Pedro L Ortiz, who served with that squadron.

    Image © FRE 264