Station142...Deopham Green, The History
Updated: Aug 24, 2021
You may have already gathered that Out There are a little bit more than a “share and scare” group, we enjoy the research and history side just as much as the investigations, it’s so important to get some understanding of the background behind each investigation, and to share that along with the investigations themselves.
The main idea behind these support posts, is to expand on the investigation videos we are making, and allow interested parties, to look a little deeper into the airfields, and the history behind them, along with more detailed information about the investigations.
Video of course, is an excellent medium to share what takes place when we investigate, but its not always the best way to share all of the information that we collate, about the sites we visit, or some of the more technical data we look at when we undertake an investigation, that’s why every single Ghost Airfield investigation will also have more support material on here, with some episodes also having complimentary podcasts too..
I decided the best course of action, is to put together two separate posts, in part one we will take a look at Station 142 itself, and the 452nd bomb group that was stationed there, and part two will pick up on the investigation in more detail.
So we did a lot of digging, and it's time to share some of the information we unearthed .
Station 142....The Base Location
2 miles North of Attleborough
OS reference TM030990
Base ID code DG Station number 142
I made a short video, overlaying the aerial image from 1946, over a modern day satellite view from Google maps, to give you some idea of the scale of the base.
The first sign there would be a USAAF base in the Deopham Green area, was when authority was given in late March 1942 to acquire land at Deopham Green for construction of a bomber satellite base for Station 115 at Shipdham. Work was expected to start in September of that year, with John Laing and Sons being given the task of construction.
The base was to be built to Class A specification, for hand over to the USAAF when the work was completed
Deopham Green (Station 142) was built-in 1942-43, to Class A standard and consisted of the usual three concrete runways in a triangular formation, the main runway of 2,000 yds running NE-SW, to allow aircraft to land into the prevailing wind, with two further runways NW-SE and W-E both of 1,400 yds, these being used to allow safe takeoff and landing from either end when the wind was blowing from other directions All three were linked by a perimeter track with fifty-one dispersed hardstands (forty-nine loops and two pans), and two T2 hangars, one to the north and the second to the south-west of the airfield. The accommodation sites, 13 in all, lay to the west and south-west and could accommodate around 2,900 personnel. A mix of communal sites, sick quarters and accommodation blocks were spread widely to avoid injury through attack. The bomb site and fuel stores were situated to the south-east well away from the accommodation area.
Considering the size of the base, there is not an awful lot of it left now. Like many of the old USAAF stations, Deopham Green has returned back to nature, the land going back to being used for agriculture, the buildings slowly decaying away.
All that remains are a few pieces of the original concrete runways, hiding amongst the fields of crops, the perimeter track is still there in places, along with a few of the spectacle dispersal loops.
Sadly, very few of the original buildings still remain, at Site 5 on the map, there are a few buildings including the former Nissen hut library which still has some murals on its walls, the gymnasium and chapel ( which saw use as a morgue too), and the former mess hall. The sick quarters at site 13 are still standing too, A few other buildings survive around here in modern-day use. Others are mere shells and in great danger of falling down, and being lost forever.
On a quiet corner of the Attleborough road, under some sheltering trees, stands the memorial to the brave men of the 452nd Bombardment group, who flew missions out of Station 142, across the danger filled skies of Hitler's Third Reich.
A Series of Images from Deopham Green
We wanted to share a few more images with you all, click the arrow to view the next image.
452nd Bombardment Group (Heavy)
With the base now completed, it was time for the USAAF to move in, and during December 1943 and January 1944, the base became home to the 452nd Bombardment Group (Heavy), which was part of the 45th Combat Bomb wing of the USAAF 3rd Air Division
The 452nd was made up of four separate squadrons
The 728th, the 729th, the 730th, and the 731st
Along with the bomber squadrons came a whole plethora of support units, all required to keep the aircraft flying, the ground crew who repaired the damage, loaded the bombs, checked the engines, and the 101 other jobs that kept the 452nd planes flying, in total some 2900 personnel, both men and women would be required to undertake this task.
Everyday life on the bases could be hard, far from home, with not the most ideal living conditions, this with the constant mission count put the aircraft crews, and their support groups under immense pressure. As the series goes on, we will be touching on what it was like to live on one of the bases, and the hardships, and the good times had by all
To cary out the missions, a suitable heavy bomber was required, which of course leads me very nicely into the aircraft that flew from the base. All four squadrons of the 452nd Bomb Group were equipped with the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress F and G variants. I could wax lyrical about the B-17, and believe you me, I could do that about all of the planes used both American and German and will cover off all of the aircraft used by the 8th AirForce, and some of their opponents, in a later post.
Lets just say for now, the plane had a reputation for being incredibly robust, and capable of still flying after losing three engines, or being shot to pieces. there were many crews who limped back to their home base in B-17s that really should not have still been airborne.
To give you some idea of what the aircraft looked like, here's a selection of images featuring a few of the 452nd Bomb Group B-17 Flying Fortresses that flew out of Deopham Green.
To help identify aircraft from the group, the planes carried a distinctive sign on the tail plane, and on the starboard wing, the 452nd Bomb Group planes carried the letter L in a square that could be painted either black, or white
With a large number of aircraft in the sky on some missions, it was vital that you stayed in your formation boxes, and being able to easily identify your own bomb group was quite important, I will look at the tactics used in more detail in another post.
For the USAAF, the missions were especially dangerous, the RAF mostly carried out bombing missions under the cover of darkness, to keep the maximum pressure on the Germans, the American raids took place in broad daylight, and were mostly centred on industrial sites, airfields, and as the war went on, to support ground troops in Europe after D-Day.
Heavily defended by anti-aircraft batteries, the dreaded flak, and by the skilled fighter pilots of the Jagdwaffe, none of the targets were an easy option, in fact some of them turned out to be complete nightmares to attack.
In the early stages of the air campaign, there were no fighter aircraft capable of escorting the bombers to the targets, and back, and the toll on bomber planes and crews was incredibly high, as the war went on, the losses were reduced, but the 8th Air Force was to lose a staggering 26000 men by the wars end.
With everything in place, it was time for the 452nd to enter the fray.
The first mission flown from Deopham Green took place on the 5th February1944, a 3rd Bomb Division operation with a combined force of 182 B-17s, despatched from: 94BG; 95BG; 96BG; 100BG; 385BG; 388BG; 390BG; 447BG; and 452BG to bomb the German air depot at Romilly-sur-Seine, but the target was obscured by clouds so the formations attacked the German airfield at Villacoublay, France as their secondary target. No aircraft losses reported, a gentle introduction, which was not destined to last very long, in fact it takes just three days for the full horror of the war to descend on the 452nd BG
"3rd Bomb Division: The railroad marshalling yards at Frankfurt, Germany were the primary target for 116 B-17s despatched from 3rd Bomb Division: 94BG; 96BG; 385BG; 388BG; 447BG; 452BG. 37 are effective at Frankfurt and another 68 bomb Targets of Opportunity in the Frankfurt area. 4 aircraft Failed to Return (FTR) - 2KIA 24POW 12EVD. 1 aircraft is Damaged Beyond Repair (DBR) when is crashed on take off - 10KIA. 1 airman is KIA in a returning aircraft."
The DBR aircraft was 42-39977 "Hard To Get", which came down in a field near to the town of Wymondham, just a few miles away from Deopham Green.
The aircraft had made a normal take off, and was climbing to join the squadron formation, it got to around 500ft, when it suddenly just nose dived at an angle of 45 degrees, and hit the ground around two miles east of the airfield.
A pilot in a nearby aircraft reported seeing a fire in the cockpit, this could well have been caused by a piece of electrical equipment near to the base of the top gun turret, that was prone to ignition. The cockpit would have filled with smoke, and the pilot would not have been able to see the instruments, and controls, let alone see out of the windscreen. Upon hitting the ground, the aircraft, full of fuel, and with a complete bomb load, burst into flames, two of the 500lb bombs. and eleven of the 100lb bombs detonated, and as you can imagine, not an awful lot was left of the stricken plane, and its crew of 10 men.
On one of the other aircraft lost on this raid, was the Group Commander of the 452nd Lt Col Herbert O Wangeman, and this was to become a bit of a recurring theme, as the 452nd BG was to have no fewer than 9 different commanding officers in the 17 months that the group was in operation,, with a number of them being lost in combat air missions. The highest number of commanding officers in all of the 8th Air Force bombers groups
In all, the 452nd Bomb Group flew 250 combat missions from Deopham Green, those 13 men killed in action would rise to 441 men killed in action, by the end of their final combat mission on April 21st 1945, the five aircraft lost would rise to 110 aircraft lost in combat air missions, with another 58 being lost in other circumstances, which we will touch on a little bit more, in the Station 142 Investigation post.
The missions did not end there though, as elements of the 452nd BG took part in Operation Chowhound, dropping food supplies to starving civilians in the Netherlands, and their aircraft were utilised to bring back POWs from Europe..
The planes began to leave in June 1945, and by August the same year, the base stood silent and empty
In October 1945 the base was handed over to the RAF 258th Maintenance Unit, with the airfield finally closing in January 1948, with the land and buildings sold off.
Apart from having the somewhat dubious reputation of losing the most commanders, the 452nd Bomb Group had a couple of other memorable moments during their operational period at Station 142
First Lieutenant Donald Gott and Second Lieutenant William E Metzger Jr were each awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for remaining with their aircraft crippled during a mission over Germany on the 9th November 1944
For a full account of their heroic episode, click on this link https://www.argunners.com/secret-world-war-ii-b-17-lady-jeannette/
The group also won a Distinguished Unit Citation late in the war for a determined attack on German jet-fighter base at Kaltenkirchen, on 7th April 1945. The DUC awarded to the 452nd was the last ever DUC given to an 8th Air Force unit in WW2.
Sent on a mission to attack this important German airfield, the group was attacked by some 40 to 50 mixed German fighters, including ME262 jets, and possibly elements of the Sonderkommando Elbe. (I will be covering this unit in another post) Under intense pressure, from enemy fighters, and from the concentrated fire of FLAK batteries defending the base, they managed to complete their mission, and seriously damage the airfield.
I wanted to finish on a human story, and I came across this little gem whilst researching Deopham Green, Though Deopham Green was removed from the front lines of battle, it was not without its dangers. One threat was German V-1 rockets, which were designed to hit whatever they could after running out of a set amount of fuel. One landed near the station's explosives storage dump, and its most likely another V1 was responsible for the following story
I was born just down the road from the airfield at Sunnyside Farm Deopham my father was a small-hold farmer his name was Stanley Leverett. His small dairy herd was wiped out one night when a German bomb intended for the airfield exploded in the corner of my dads pasture where they had gathered for the night. My dad had named every cow in his small herd and one night in the local pub 'The Victoria', in Deopham, an American airman who dad had become friendly with asked him to write down their names, he later told my dad that before a raid on Germany they had written al their names on bombs they dropped during the raid. Thanks to the brave Americans dad felt he had got his revenge."
It's so lovely to think that Stanley's cows got their own back!
So, there we go, I do hope i have not bored you all stupid,its difficult to judge how little, or how much to include in these posts. Whilst I think its so important that people understand what we are trying too do, I am also conscious of the fact, that not everybody is that interested in the historical side of what we do as a paranormal group
Every airfield we investigate has a back story, all of them very moving, some of them are really quite fascinating too, and we want to share as much as we can.
As we continue our journey, from Station to Station, we will touch on so much more, trying to bring home a sense of reality, what it was like to live and work on our Ghost Airfields. Links you might like to explore
I would like to thank the American Air Museum and the IWM, for allowing us to use some of their image collection in this article.