The East of England – and Suffolk in particular – is an area of the country rich in aviation history, thanks in no small part to the presence of the American Air Force (USAAF) here during the Second World War.
Windmill Lodges, who offer relaxing hot tub holidays in Suffolk, makes the ideal holiday break for anyone who wants to learn more about this part of Suffolk’s (and Norfolk’s) recent history. Here we look at some of the aviation museums and bases which you can visit during a holiday with us.
The Real Story of the Americans in East Anglia
Apple TV+ have just announced that their new Masters of the Air mini-series, which is set in East Anglia and has been executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, will be screened early next year. The story has been adapted from a book of the same name and follows the actions of the 100th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.
Although the series is set in East Anglia, Masters of the Air wasn’t actually shot here but in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire instead. However, despite the change in filming location, the American wartime presence in both Norfolk and Suffolk was very real.
At the war’s peak, more than 70,000 servicemen and women from the US were based in Suffolk (and almost as many in Norfolk). The air crew were flying bombing missions to the heart of Germany between 1942 and 1945, and most of them were part of the USAAF Eighth Air Force.
There were bases at (among others) Honington, Wattisham and Martlesham Heath, which were already RAF stations; and also at Framlingham, Horham, Lavenham, Bury St Edmunds, Mendlesham and Halesworth.
One or two of these bases still function as RAF airfields; others have long since been demolished or replaced. Others, listed below, live on in the form of museums and heritage sites – which you can visit if you want to learn more about this so-called ‘Friendly Invasion’ of Americans, who introduced East Anglia to chewing gum, doughnuts, peanut butter, jitterbugging and the music of Glenn Miller.
In all cases you are advised to check the museum websites for opening times and any special events.
Parham Airfield Museum
Less than six miles south-east of Windmill Lodges, Parham Airfield Museum sits on a former USAF base and is a great admission-free museum to visit.
It’s actually two museums rolled into one. One museum is dedicated to The 390th Bomb Group Memorial Air Museum, part of which is pictured above, which honours the sacrifices made by 1,500 American servicemen. Around half were killed or missing in action, and the other half ended up as Prisoners of War. This museum includes recovered aircraft engines, uniforms, photos, documents, combat records and memorabilia. The Chapel Room also houses a Veterans Wall, where returning airmen from the 390th and other local USAAF bases have signed their names.
The second museum is The Museum of the British Resistance Organisation, who would have organised domestic resistance had the country ever been occupied during the Second World War. It includes a cramped underground bunker which members of the BRO would have occupied and carried out their resistance work from.
The museums are both generally open Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays from April onwards, and Wednesdays during the summer months (from June to August).
The Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum, Flixton
The Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum in Flixton, around 20 miles to the north of our Saxtead base, isn’t really a USAAF-themed museum; however it’s still a great place to visit for aviation and wartime history enthusiasts.
Although it has memorabilia dedicated to the 446th Bomb Group of the USAAF, it also has sections devoted to the Royal Observer Corps, the RAF Air-Sea Rescue and the Fleet Air Arm. Like Parham Airfield Museum, admission is free and it’s open every Sunday from February through to November.
493rd Bomb Group Museum, Debach Airfield
The base at Debach Airfield, home of the 493rd Bomb Group Museum, was one of the last USAAF airfields to become operational in this part of the world. The base’s first official mission took place on D-Day, 6th June 1944.
Although much of the airfield land has been returned to arable farming (its first use), the control tower and some nearby buildings, notably a Nissen Hut, are now a museum telling the base’s wartime story.
This museum is near Woodbridge and around 10 miles south of our location in Saxtead. It’s open the last Sunday in the month between April to September.
Martlesham Heath Control Tower Museum
If you want to go a little further afield, then Martlesham Heath Control Tower Museum is just under 20 miles south of us, just on the outskirts of Ipswich.
The airfield has been home to a variety of military and air force units – notably RAF – but in the Spring of 1943 the 356th Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Force was stationed here, flying Mustangs and P-47 Thunderbolts (which escorted the heavier bombers).
The control tower museum is open on Sunday afternoons from April through to October.
Horham 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association
Horham Airfield (around six miles from us) was home to the 95th Bomb Group in the Second World War.
The museum, maintained by the Horham 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association, is housed in restored buildings known as the Red Feather Club and tells the story of the Group, including a model of the airfield as it was in the Second World War, uniforms, artwork and a roll of honour of all those who served.
This museum is open on select Sunday afternoons from April to September, so be sure to check their website before you visit.
Airfields in Norfolk
There are a number of former USAAF bases over the nearby county border in Norfolk, for those looking to explore a little bit further during their Windmill Lodges break.
These include the Old Buckenham Airfield, which has a functioning air strip, hosts air show events throughout the year, and a museum on the 453rd Bombardment Group. This museum is around 30 miles north of us, near Attleborough.
There is also the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum between Dickleburgh and Thorpe Abbotts, which was the home of the ‘Bloody Hundredth’ (the main focus of Masters of the Air). This museumis open at weekends from March to October and is around 20 miles north of us, near Diss.
Hot Tub Holidays in Suffolk with Windmill Lodges
Windmill Lodges makes the perfect base from which you can visit all of these bases and museums (and there’s plenty more to see and do in Suffolk as well). And, at the end of the day, you can relax in your own private hot tub.
All of our holiday lodges in the heart of East Anglia have coal-effect fires, leather sofas, a fully equipped kitchen and an en-suite bathroom and have been awarded either 4 or 5 stars from Visit England.
To check on the latest availability, follow this link.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons