The 94th Bomb Group at Earls Colne, 1943.

Bad Penny 94th Bomb Group Bury St Edmunds Earls Colne Rougham
The 94th BG were only at Earls Colne for a short period of time. They arrived from Bassingbourn on May 27th 1943 and departed on June 13th for their new base at Bury St.Edmunds. This photo claims to be taken on 14th June 1943 at Bury although this was not recorded as a mission day. Photo 408480 from Roger Freeman's collection at the American Air Museum.

The 94th Bomb Group was not one of the first across the Atlantic (7), but arrived as part of the ‘second wave’ of Eighth Air Force units in April 1943. Commanded by Colonel John G.Moore, the 94th initially flew from Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire becoming part of the newly-formed 4th Wing along with fellow B-17 operators the 95th and 96th Bomb Groups. The first mission for the 4th Wing had been to St.Omer airfield, France, on May 13th, followed by the Belgian port of Antwerp the next day and Emden, Germany, on 15th. On May 17th, the 94th BG dispatched 21 B-17s as part of the 4th Wing attack on Lorient, Brittany and, on May 19th, the German naval port of Flensburg was targeted by 64 4th Wing B-17s. For the last 94th operation before moving to Earls Colne, the three original 4th Wing B-17 Groups were joined by a fourth Bomb group, the 92nd, for a second raid on Emden. The Luftwaffe had noted the USAAF ‘designated lead bomber’ system and, as the 94th’s primary B-17 approached Emden, German fighters attacked head-on. The bombardier, who also functioned as forward gunner, started firing upon the fighters but his gun jammed in firing mode, throwing him backwards onto the bomb-aiming equipment. the Norden sight commenced the bomb drop sequence although the bombers were still well short of their intended target. Upon seeing the lead group releasing their bomb load, the following Fortresses also released their deadly cargo (2).

(7) The USAAF’s first operational combat aircraft, a B-17E of the 97th Bomb Group, arrived at Prestwick on July 1st 1942 and, by July 6th, Fortresses had arrived at Polebrook (Roger Freeman, Mighty Eighth).

94th BG B-17 'Slo Time Sally' flew from Earls Colne. Here the bomber and her crew are pictured with part of the bomb load. Picture is from the American Air Museum collection and is believed to have been supplied by the family of Sgt.Arlie Thompson who was tail gunner on 'Sally'. Sadly, he was killed in action on January 5th 1944.

The Fourth Wing, commanded by Colonel Curtis Le May, had made its operational base in the historic Marks Hall adjacent to Earls Colne airfield so the 94th’s move made geographical sense. However, the indications are that the airfield, although constructed with a Class ‘A’ 6000′ runway, wasn’t best suited to the heavy bombers. The auxiliary runways (12/30 and 07/25) were the regular 4200′ length but locals have described how aircraft returning from battle used to skim very low over the B1024 Coggeshall Road at the eastern end of runway 12/30 enabling a quick assessment of battle damage. The presence of the Bird-in-Hand pub close to this end of the runway also created an issue – how to keep the bar but remove the obstruction. The solution was simple but brilliant: the pitched roof was torn-off and replaced by a flat one. It may have been a temporary measure but the original roof line was only restored in the late sixties/ early seventies (8). In fact, it seems more likely that the damage estimation by local spotters related to the succeeding resident Bomb Group, 323rd, as the 94th BG B-17s only returned to Earls Colne twice operationally before moving to Bury St.Edmunds. However, it was the Fortresses which made the impression on the public – another, somewhat fanciful, local legend tells of the Boeing B-17s ‘bouncing in the sugar beet field’ to scrub off some speed before landing on the main runway.

(8) By the late sixties/ early seventies when the roof line was restored, the Bird in Hand had resumed life as an Essex country pub. Managed by Mr Eric Trodd and the formidable Mrs Trodd, the ‘Bird’ was a Free House for many years until it became a Ridleys pub. Bearing in mind its wartime history and the drinking clientele of the 1940s, the pub wall featured several photos of 323rd BG B-26s and their crews. After various attempts to modernise the dining facilities, the Bird was put up for sale in 2017 and, after standing empty for some years, was finally demolished in 2022. It had been a pub since 1862 when occupied by beer retailer Daniel Webb. Another lost piece of East Anglian history.

Bob Hope Earls Colne
Bob Hope visited Earls Colne and appeared in a concert at the airfield along with Frances Langford. Here, he is pictured in the cockpit of a B-17 - although this is may not be at Earls Colne, it is reportedly a 94th BG aircraft. Photo #3863 from Roger Freeman collection, American Aviation Museum.

The 94th’s first mission from Earls Colne was flown on May 29th 1943 with the Naval Storage Depot at Rennes the target. This was an important rail marshaling yard for the U-boat bases in Brittany and the 4th Bomb Wing operation was flown in conjunction with a 1st Bomb Wing attack on the St.Nazaire U-Boat pens and the 2nd Bomb Wing visit to the La Pallice U-boat base. The 72 B-17s of the 4th Bomb Wing took-off, assembled and then attempted to navigate to France using point-to-point navigation not supported by dead reckoning. They became lost and failed to make an adequate run-in to target. To complement this fiasco, three aircraft were lost and one landed at Northolt with a dead crew member on board. The next mission for 94th was not until June 11th when three of the 4th Wing groups headed for the naval yard at Wilhelmshaven. The USAAF’s daylight precision bombing was compromised by the German’s use of smoke buoys to virtually obliterate the target. The 94th despatched 29 B-17s, 25 were effective over the target and none were lost.

The 94th’s third and final mission from Earls Colne took off on the morning of Sunday June 13th 1943 heading for the U-boat yard and dock facilities at Kiel, Germany. The target was always going to be heavily defended by flak but enemy fighters also made their presence felt as soon as the B-17s crossed the enemy coast. The 95th Bomb Group, leading the mission, had lost seven or eight B-17s by the time they regained the North Sea coast and, by the time they reached Framlingham, only five of the original sixteen remained intact. The 94th BG had taken-off from Earls Colne with 26 aircraft, 22 had bombed the target and they had largely escaped the carnage experienced by the 95th. However, worse was to follow: heading back across the North Sea to their new home at Bury St.Edmunds, several of the Fortress crews decided that the threat of enemy aircraft had passed and it would be safe to strip and clean their guns. Within 30 miles of the East Anglian coast, the Fortresses were jumped by a dozen Ju88 night fighters which hastily dispatched nine of the American aircraft. The 4th Bomb Wing had undoubtedly acted as a magnet for Luftwaffe fighters which had given the 1st Bomb Wing an easy passage to the Bremen shipyards but neither mission had been spectacularly accurate with their bombing. The Fourth Bomb Wing’s loss of 22 B-17s definitely shook the composure of the Eighth Air Force.

B-17F Flying Fortresses operated by the 94th BG during their residence at Earls Colne. This information is summarised from David Osborne’s aircraft histories in ‘The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Story’ , Roger Freeman, Arms & Armour Press, 1998.

42-3259       Snafu

42-3280

42-3287        Dribble Puss

42-29682      Easy Aces            Ditched after Emden  mission, 21st May

                                                      owing to enemy action.

42-29686       Pie-Eyed Piper

42-29690       Old Faithful

42-29692                                      Crashed Rennes 29/5/43

42-29698       Hell’s Angel         

42-29699       Old Battle Axe

42-29700       Jimmie Boy

42-29708       Shackeroo

42-29710       Hell Below            Ditched in Channel 29/5/43

42-29711       Salty’s Naturals

42-29713       Bad Penny             See photo

42-29715       Klo Kay                  

42-29717       Mr Five by Five       See photo

42-29724       Little Minnie

42-29725       Hi-Lo Jack

42-29728       El Rauncho         

The crew of Mr Five by Five. Photo from American Air Museum collection and published under CCA license.
42-29728 El Rauncho 94th Bomb Group
42-29728 El Rauncho flew from Earls Colne. This photo shows her on 10th July 1943 when the 94th BG had moved-on to Bury St.Edmunds/ Rougham. Ref: 408525 from the American Air Museum Roger Freeman collection gives the location as 'an airfield near Bassingbourn'.

42-29733      Louisiana Purchase

42-29822      Visiting Fireman    Crashed N.Sea 13/6/43 after Kiel

42-29949      Sick Call                  Crashed N.Sea 13/6/43 after Kiel

42-29957     Helno Gal 2              Crashed N.Sea 13/6/43 after Kiel           

42-29961     Passionate Witch

42-29965

42-29970

42-29997      Sack

42-30113      Wolfpack               Crashed Renesburg 13/6 after Kiel

42-30145

42-30146      Cherokee   

42-30149      Spare Parts

42-30166      You Cawn’t Miss It   

42-30173      All American

42-30174      Lady Luck II

42-30200     Slo Time Sally   

42-30248

94th BG B-17 'Slo Time Sally' flew from Earls Colne. Here the bomber and her crew are pictured with part of the bomb load. Picture is from the American Air Museum collection and is believed to have been supplied by the family of Sgt.Arlie Thompson who was tail gunner on 'Sally'. Sadly, he was killed in action on January 5th 1944.

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