The East of England, otherwise known as East Anglia, is where the Eighth Air Force, who after three years of daytime bombing of strategic targets in Nazi-occupied Europe became Masters of the Air, were based between 1942-45.
Today, their legacy and memory are maintained by volunteers at various Control Tower museums and memorials in Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire whose opening days vary.
There are a few sites that operate normal opening hours
IWM Duxford and the American Air Museum
IMW Duxford in Cambridgeshire is a companion site to the Imperial War Museum London and Churchill War Rooms and hosts the impressive American Air Museum, housed in a separate Norman Foster-designed building and home to the largest collection of American military aircraft on public display outside North America.
The American Air Museum stands as a memorial to the 30,000 members of the US Army Air Forces who died while flying from Britain during World War II. It tells the story of the people whose lives were shaped by American airpower over a century of war.
Over 850 objects including equipment, uniforms, keepsakes, and photographs, illustrate the individual experiences of 85 people from over 100 years of Anglo-American history. From Private to President these people’s lives have shaped, or been shaped, by their experiences of war.
The highlight for those interested in the Eighth Air Force is a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, the type flown from the East of England during World War II. The B-17 Flying Fortress was an American four-engined heavy bomber developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps. A fast and high-flying bomber of its era, the B-17 was used primarily in the European Theatre of Operations and dropped more bombs than any other aircraft during World War II.
The American Air Museum has an impressive archive that is open to the public.
The wider Duxford site itself is Britain’s largest aviation museum. Originally an RAF airbase, it houses in three WWI double bay hangars around 200 aircraft, military vehicles, artillery and minor naval vessels in seven main exhibition buildings.
The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial at Madingley
The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial site was donated to the American Battle Monuments Commission by the University of Cambridge and contains the remains of 3,811 of our war dead. 5,127 names are recorded on the Walls of the Missing. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified. Most died in the Battle of the Atlantic or in the strategic air bombardment of northwest Europe.
Set in 30 acres, the cemetery lies on a slope with the west and south sides framed by woodland. From the flagpole platform near the main entrance, the great mall with its reflecting pools stretches eastward.
As well as the burial area, the site includes the Walls of the Missing, a memorial with chapel, two huge military maps, stained glass windows bearing the state seals and military decorations, and a mosaic ceiling memorial honouring the dead.
A 4,000-square-foot visitor centre has interpretive exhibits incorporating personal stories, photographs, films, and interactive displays, that will give visitors a better understanding of this critical campaign that contributed to the Allied victory in Europe during World War II.
American Library, formerly the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library, at the Norwich Forum
A memorial to the 2nd Air Division, Eighth Air Force, United States Army Air Forces, The American Library is hosted in the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library in the impressive glass-fronted Forum building in Norwich city centre.
The Second Air Division evolved out of the reorganisation of the VIII Bomber Command in to the 8th Air Force. Its first bombing mission was flown on November 7, 1942; the last on April 25, 1945 and in that time it lost nearly 7,000 men.
The American Library is a wealth of documentation, books, films and objects that are accessible to the public.
Airmen’s Bar at The Swan, Lavenham
At any time, you can also visit the Airmen’s Bar at The Swan at Lavenham, ideal for lunch or an overnight stay. Lavenham is worth seeing – it’s the best-preserved medieval village in England.
Royal Observer Corps Operations Room at The Guildhall, Bury St Edmunds
Bury St Edmunds Guildhall contains the only surviving World War II Operations Room of the Royal Observer Corps (ROC) – an unsung group of local heroes who were the ‘eyes and ears of the RAF’ during the Battle of Britain.
It was in this room at The Guildhall that the ROC remained on duty, day and night, tracking incoming enemy air raids and friendly aircraft alike alerting both the RAF and US Air Bases including Rougham. The atmosphere crackled with the tension, concentration and teamwork of this most dedicated group of men and women. It is estimated to have saved 5,000 allied airmen’s lives throughout the War.
The Control Tower at Thorpe Abbotts, home of the 100th Bomb Group.
Memorial sites and museums
Please remember that currently these sites are operated by committed volunteers who give freely of their spare time to ensure the legacy of the Eighth Air Force’s actions flying from the East of England during World War II is maintained.
We have highlighted the main museums and memorial groups in the section below – please scroll through to find ones you are interested in.
If you wish to visit, please get in touch with the individual locations.
You can book a bespoke tour of the region with Cheryl Cade.