What was The Friendly Invasion?

During the Second World War the East of England became home to thousands of American air force personnel - over 350,000 in total. Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire would never be quite the same again. The Friendly Invasion, as it was dubbed, introduced a largely rural backwater to the big band music of Glenn Miller, peanut butter, chewing gum, nylons, donuts, jitterbugging, Coca Cola and much more.

JOLLY OLD ENGLAND

Their arrival from early 1942 had the biggest cultural and landscape impact of any event in East Anglian since the Norman Conquest, 900 years earlier. The Americans had heard about ‘jolly old England’; their hosts knew America as the land of cowboys and Hollywood. As one general said: ‘In all history, probably no two allies were as genuinely friendly to each other as the United States and Great Britain.’

More than 75 years later, we continue to honour, remember and reflect on the sacrifices and bravery of the Mighty Eighth Air Force who were in this region, and whose contribution to the Allies’ strategic bombing offensive helped turn the tide of war against the Nazis and free occupied Europe.

East Anglia looks forward to a Friendly Invasion II, where visitors are given as warm a welcome as their fellow countrymen 75 years ago.

390th Bomb Group, Parham, Suffolk
95th Bomb Group Museum, Red Feather Club, Horham

MILES AND MILES

Hundreds of miles of concrete runway were laid, using rubble taken from houses bombed in the London Blitz.

390th Bomb Group, Parham, Suffolk

SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP

The Americas were given such a warm welcome that 40,000 East Anglian women went to the United States at the end of war! In fact, two cruise liners were requisitioned to take them.

The Friendly Invasion -

JIMMY STEWART

Hollywood legend Jimmy Stewart, who flew out of Old Buckenham and Tibenham, was one of the few base commanders who actually led his men into combat, stating that he wouldn’t ask the servicemen to do anything he wasn’t prepared to do himself.

Jimmy Stewart, The Friendly Invasion

ACADEMY AWARD

He is revered as the only Academy Award winner to have seen active duty for his country. The first film he made on his return to America was ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, featuring a decorated American flyer wearing the uniform of the Mighty Eighth.

Paul Tibbets, The Friendly Invasion

FIRST AND LAST

One of the first B-17 pilots to arrive was Paul Tibbetts who would go on to be the pilot of Enola Gay which dropped the first atomic bomb – and so helped end World War II.

Segregation during WWII

SEGREGATION

The Americans brought with them segregation! It is shocking to us today, but some market towns were for black servicemen only, others had alternate days for black and white.

Segregation during WWII

CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT

Did the fact that black servicemen were served by white people here, and were given equality by East Anglians, help ferment the American civil rights movement?

B-17 Flying Fortress, The Friendly Invasion

INDEPENDANCE DAY

The American Air Force’s first official mission was on July 4, 1942. They were determined to go on that date for symbolic and propaganda reasons. Helping Europe regain its independence from Nazism on their own Independence Day.

Cambridge American Cemetery

STORIES OF THE TIME

One of the most poignant stories of the time was that of the man who should have become President of the United States, Joe Kennedy jnr. Flying out of Fersfield in Norfolk on a secret bombing mission to attack V-missile bases in France, he was tragically killed over Blythburgh Church when the plane he was flying exploded mid-air.

26,000 Americans of The Mighty Eighth Air Force lost their lives – more than the entire Marine Corps fighting in The Pacific when the Emperor’s troops were fighting to the death.

Today, they are remembered in many museums and memorials across this region, our shared heritage preserved by dedicated volunteers.

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The Friendly Invasion The Airfields