Original Eighth Air Force Badge
The Mighty Eighth
The USAAF in wartime Britain

In January 1942 the USAAF was made up of four separate air forces, located in different regions of the USA and designated the First to Fourth. On January 2nd the Fifth Air Force was inaugurated but within days was re-designated the Eighth Air Force as plans were drawn up for engagement in hostilities on a world wide basis. It was eventually decided that the infant Eighth would form the nucleus of a build up of forces in the UK. In February 1942 a small advance party set up HQ in High Wycombe at Daws Hill Lodge.

The USAAF believed in the importance of strategic air bombardment as a war-winning concept. It was to be carried out in daylight by a planned 60 combat groups made up of 33 heavy, medium or light bombardment groups, 12 fighter groups for air cover and 15 observation or transport groups.

In July 1942 the first American B17 bombers and P38 fighters and crews arrived in Britain and by mid 1944 the Eighth Air Force had grown to become the biggest military air fleet ever seen. By this time, it had 122 bases, 200,000 personnel, 2,000 four engined bombers and 1,000 fighters.
Because of this vast organisational growth from absolutely nothing over 2 years, the command structure was also to change and evolve, as were the identification markings displayed on the aircraft. For this reason, most of the generalisations in this commentary must be treated with caution.

At first, the bomb groups were divided into the First and Second Wings. By October 1942 there was also a Third and Fourth Bombardment Wing. By June 1944 The Eighth US Army Air Force heavy bombardment groups were split into three air divisions.

The 1st Air Division covered Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. Their aircraft were identified by a triangle on the tail.
The 2nd Air Division was mainly in Norfolk and was predominantly flying B24 Liberators. The Headquarters of the 2nd were located at Ketteringham Hall, some 3 miles north east of Wymondham. Second Air Division planes carried a circle on the tail.
The 3rd Air Division of the 8th US Army Air Force had its Headquarters at Elveden Hall in Suffolk. Its aeroplanes carried a square on the tailplane.
Elveden Hall was first occupied by the 3rd Bombardment Wing from September 1943. It became the full HQ of the 3rd Air Division in January 1945 until August 1945, when it returned to the USA.
Broadly speaking the 3rd Air Division flew B17 Flying Fortresses out of Suffolk, but included B17 bases like Deopham Green, Fersfield and Thorpe Abbotts, in Norfolk. Some units had short periods flying B24's.

B17 Flying Fortress Aeroplane Markings. Planes of the 3rd Air Division carried a square on the tail. The tail plane markings of triangle, circle and square were used on their own from 1942 to 1944. They contained identification letters denoting the Group. For example a square with an A was the 94th from Rougham, a B was the 95th from Horham and C was the 96th out of Snetterton. K in a square represented the 447th at Rattlesden.
These markings were extended in 1944 by coloured bands on the tail and stripes and chevrons on the wings, in an attempt to improve identification over longer distances.
As a general rule a squadron was made up of around 10 to 12 planes. There were normally 4 squadrons in a Bomb Group. A bomb group was usually based on one home airfield, although there were cases like the 388th at Knettishall who had a satellite station at Fersfield in Norfolk. Three Bomb Groups made up a Combat Wing and an Air Division could grow to around six or seven wings.

Fuddy Duddy re-created

The 8th Air Force
Aeroplane Markings
Example of Fuddy Duddy of Rattlesden Airfield

B17 Flying Fortress
  • 3rd Air Division
  • 4th Bomb Wing
  • 447th Bomb Group
  • 708th Squadron
  • "Fuddy Duddy"
Air Division The square on the tail denotes the 3rd Air Division. This Division was mainly located in Suffolk, with its headquarters at Elveden Hall.
Combat Wing The 4th Combat Wing were easily recognised by the yellow tail plane and fins.
Group (and hence base) A Square with the letter K denotes the 447th Group at Rattlesden. The green bands and the blue wing chevrons also denote 447th.
Squadron Details Normally squadron markings were on the fuselage such as BS or IQ, but none of the Rattlesden planes were marked in this way. Instead the four squadrons used coloured engine cowlings as follows:-
  • Yellow - 708 squadron,
  • White - 709,
  • Red - 710,
  • Blue - 711.
Call Sign E for Echo shown on tail fin.
Aeroplane Serial Number The serial number, in this case 297400, was located on the tail. The left most digit denotes the year of construction ie 1942.
Fuddy Duddy Such unofficial names were not allowed on military aircraft. However, many crews either adorned their planes themselves, or got other artistic personnel involved. In at least one case, a civilian Red Cross nurse was a well known painter of 'nose art'.
History of Fuddy Duddy The original B17 Fuddy Duddy flew 96 missions and was destroyed in a collision over Mannheim in Germany on 30th December 1944.
The plane illustrated here is a restoration of a B17G into the colours of Fuddy Duddy. This second reincarnation of Fuddy Duddy is a converted water bomber, serial number B17G-85-DL 44-83563.
This picture by Armand Miale is of the converted plane, now located at Genesco in New York State.
The 447th Bomb Group Memorial Association uses this picture as a postcard.


Reference books consulted
The Mighty EighthRoger Freeman
Memories of the EighthGeorge H Fox
Action Stations East AngliaMichael Bowyer
Historical Highlights USAFESnyder and Harrington

Most of the information on The Mighty Eighth
was supplied by Ernest Osborne and adapted
for the St Edmundsbury website by
David Addy in 1997.


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