Tibenham at War
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445th BG
James Stewart

The agricultural land of East Anglia was ideal for building airfields: flat with few obstacles to aircraft, free-draining and with good weather.  Thus, once the importance of air power became evident in the Second World War, many airfields were built here, close to the enemy coast.  Lincolnshire played host to the RAF Squadrons of Bomber Command, bombing throughout the night, whilst Norfolk and Suffolk played host to the day bombers and fighter escorts of the USAF.

When war broke out, land at Tibenham was requisitioned for use as an airfield. and three intersecting concrete and asphalt runways were built, along with a domestic site.   Tibenham Airfield was home to the 445th Bomb Group, equipped with B24 Liberator heavy bombers.  Many bombing missions were mounted and losses were heavy.  Please see the links page for 445th BG resources.

In the Church is a memorial to the fallen from the 445th.

The most famous aviator at Tibenham was James Stewart.  He was very proud of his wartime service and kept in discreet contact with Norfolk Gliding Club as this extract shows.

Extract from Norfolk Gliding Club Air Show and Open Day Programme, Sunday 14th September 1975

Wings over Tibenham

It was different 32 years ago. . .

When you looked across the airfield, there would have been perhaps twenty or thirty of the big bombers in the olivedrab camouflage dispersed all around the maze of hardstandings leading off the perimeter track.

A distinctive feature of the Liberator was the enormous twin-finned tail assembly. Those of the 445th Heavy Bombardment Group based at Tibenham were each marked with a black "F' printed on a large white circle

Every time you first saw a B24 out on dispersal, the immediate impression was always that it had "bellylanded". This was because the low-slung fuselage under the high wing was only 20 inches above the ground. A 5,000-lb. bomb load was stacked horizontally on each side of the fuselage using racks that extended from floor to roof. The bomb-bay doors were unusual in that they were flexible slats which rolled upwards along a sliding track. When the doors were raised, a narrow catwalk, a few inches wide, remained, with a terrifying open chasm each side guarded only by a length of purple rope.

If you were young -- and foolish -- it was possible, by clinging to the bombs, to walk pigeon-toed across this connecting strip . . . from 10,000 feet the view was terrific

For ten months between 1943 and 1944, Tibenham was home to Lieut. Colonel James Stewart, D.F.C. Croix de Guerre. From this base he flew 20 combat missions in B. 24.H. Liberators and was Commander of the 703rd Bombardment squadron of the 445th Group.

Every time he led the group the never lost an aircraft or a man, but records show that Tibenham had 108 combat losses and suffered the highest single-mission loss of 30 aircraft on September 27th 1944.

Eleven weeks ago, Mr Stewart paid a private visit to his old base. The visit was kept secret so that he could relax and enjoy himself. After a brief tour of the runways he climbed aboard our red and white K.13 with C.F.I. Joe Podolski and took off for his first ever glider flight.

He later took another trip by glider and landed at RAF Coltishall to see the Hurricane, Spitfire and Lancaster of the Memorial Flight.

Back at Tibenham, he had a nostalgic stroll around the derelict control tower and watched the gliders soaring overhead.

It was different, 32 years ago.

 Tibenham Airfield was extended after the war to create one of the largest runways in Norfolk in preparation for the arrival of the B29 Superfortress, which did not happen and the airfield was returned to its pre-war owners.

For links about  the 445th BG and Norfolk Gliding Club, see the Links page.

To read more about James Stewart click here.