Tibenham’s Beginning – Second World War
Without the USA’s entry into the Second World War in 1941, there would have been no Tibenham airfield – and consequently no gliding club.
The American Eighth Army Air Force was formed in January 1942, but the WW2 build up in England was quite slow due to the need to construct the airfields to operate from. Ultimately the USAAF occupied 18 Norfolk airfields, including the one constructed at Tibenham between 1942 and 1943. It wasn’t until the autumn of 1943 that the aircraft of the 445th Bomb Group finally arrived – their mission, precision daylight bombing of targets in Germany in support of the RAF’s night bombing activites.
The 445th launched it’s first daylight bombing mission on 4th November 1943. In total the 445th flew 280 missions and 6,323 sorties. 576 airmen were killed in action and a total of 138 bomber aircraft were lost. Their final mission was on 25th April 1945 and by 28th May 1945 the crews and their aircraft had flown back to the USA. The late movie star James Stewart was a wing commander at the base.
The airfield is thus a memorial to all of the US airmen of the 445th Bomb Group who lost their lives during the Second World War. It continues to be a place of pilgrimage for the relatives of those airmen who served at Tibenham and a number visit the site each year.
In July 1945 the Royal Air Force took over the airfield and in 1952 the RAF sold off parts of the airfield to local landowners. In 1955 the main runway was lengthened to take jet aircraft but no units were assigned to the base. Tibenham was finally closed as an air force base in 1959, but the Norfolk Gliding Club was formed and paid rent to the Air Ministry to use the Airfield.