Arrival to Brampton
The first USAAF Heavy Bomber Wing HQ to be established was the first Bombardment Wing HQ at Brampton Grange in Huntingdonshire.
Brampton Grange, a large house in the middle of Brampton village was ideally
situated as it was in the centre of the group of airfields that were chosen to be the first USAAF Heavy Bomber Bases.
Prior to the Americans taking it over, the Grange had been used as the HQ of Number 7 Group RAF. However, although the house was large, many alterations had to be made so that it could perform its new role and accommodate all HQ Support Staff and facilities, Brampton Park was also taken over.
First Bomb Wing/Division Moves in
and Sets Up
and Sets Up
Colonel Bartlett Beaman as his executive officer, and it was to remain the only American Heavy
Bombardment Wing in Europe until May the following year. Polebrook and Grafton Underwood airfields were chosen to house the Wing's first bombardment group which was the 97th.
On the 19th August 1942, Brampton was officially activated as the First BW HQ. On 21 August Brigadier General Newton Longfellow took over command of the Wing from Colonel Duncan. and as more bomb groups arrived in the UK from the States, so the activity at Brampton increased. The 92nd BG with its B17s joined the Wing at the end of August,
initially at Bovingdon. In January 1943 it moved to Alconbury with a final move in September 1943 to Podington. The 301st BG also joined the Wing in August 1942 when it moved into Chelveston and Podington with its B17s. The following month it was transferred to the American Twelfth Air Force in North Africa but flew eight missions with the Wing before departing in November 1942.
During September 1942 five more Bombardment Groups came into the Wing and two were transferred out. The 91st BG with its B17s went to
Kimbolton but moved to Bassingbourn in October. The 303rd BG went to Molesworth, the 306th to
Thurleigh and the 305th BG to Grafton Underwood, all were equipped with the B17.
The 305th BG later moved to Chelveston in December 1942. The 93rd BG, which was a B24 Liberator
outfit, went to Alconbury but in December it transferred to the Second Bombardment Wing.
Like the 301st BG the 97th BG was transferred to the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa but it flew 14 missions with the Wing before departing in
Brigadier General Laurence S Kuter took over command of the Wing in December 1942. By this time Brampton Park had taken on a completely new look, roads had been completed and buildings of various shapes and sizes had sprung up amongst the trees. Work at the Grange was virtually finished
and a military policeman (MP) now stood guard at the main entrance door, checking the identity of all those who wished to enter. Stairs in the foyer led to the offices of the senior staff and a door at the rear gave access to the back of the building, where most of the sections that made the First BW a smooth running organisation were housed. The pulse of all missions beat in the operations block, which was the nerve centre of the HQ and the
entrance door was permanently guarded by an MP. It housed the highly secret war room where
the operations board was situated. This board, which was kept updated with the latest information, was constantly referred to, especially
while a mission was in progress. The war room was frequently visited by senior staff officers and two notable ones were Generals Spaatz and
Doolittle. Some of the busiest people within the HQ were the telephone and teleprinter operators especially when the Wing was planning or engaged in combat operations.
The specialist HQ staff in the operations block maintained a close working liaison with other USAAF HQs and with the RAF Bomber Command HQ at High Wycombe. Intelligence reports from various sources, including information obtained from aerial
reconnaissance photographs, would be studied to assist in the selection of primary and secondary targets. The predicted weather forecast also played a major role in the final decision. Once the planning of an operation had been finalised, the relevant orders were passed down the line to the Group Commanders who would then brief their crews.
After a mission had been completed, returning aircrew were debriefed and information would then be passed back up the line.
January 1943 started with another change at the top when Brigadier General Haywood S Hansell
Jnr took over command of the Wing. On 26 January 1943, 55 of the Wing's B17 Flying Fortresses penetrated
into Germany for the first time and attacked the U-board bases at Wilhelmshaven.
Wildwoods, on the Huntingdon Road about half a mile from the camp entrance, was used as the generals' quarters. Watermeadows was initially used to accommodate the wing commanders but was destroyed by by fire in 1943.
The Officers Mess was located in "the Big House", the building at Brampton Park which was once owned by Lady Olivia Bernard Sparrow, who also owned the Grange before she died in 1863.
A large Nissen hut was erected at the rear of the building and this was used as the dining hall. Enlisted personnel had their own large mess
hall, clubs and facilities in Brampton Park.
The senior NCO Club was located in a large Seco hut and it had a comfortable lounge and adequate
bar. A large Nissen hut was used for the Red Cross Aero Club and one of the favourite evening snacks
available here was tea and crumpets.
The local bar for the enlisted men was called 'Sloppy Joe's.
Cross, USO , and Services Squadron along with other organisations brought many shows to the camp theatre located across the road from the main entrance and these included such famous stars as Bob Hope.
There was also plenty of opportunity for sport, especially with the large expanse of grassed area available.
Such games as basketball, volleyball, baseball and American football were played and competition
games with other outfits were a regular occurrence.
A regular dance was held every
Saturday night in Brampton Village, at the Institute, which was the local headquarters of the British Legion.
An Agricutural Program was set up by the Division for all stations and the Headquarters had several gardens in Brampton where they grew their own produce. A trophy was presented by the Division to the station with the best garden.
Almost directly across the road from the main gate was a large building close to the roadway with a high brick wall parallel to the road. This became quarters for the US Women's Army Corps (WAC) personnel when they arrived at Brampton in late 1943.
In May 1943, Brigadier General Frank A Armstrong took over
command of the Wing from General Hansell.
It was also around this time that changes started to take place in the Command structure and three more Bombardment Wing HQs were formed at Brampton; the 40th BW in June, the 41st BW in July and the 45th BW HQ in August.
Also in August, Brigadier General Robert B Williams took over the reins from Gen. Armstrong.
Headquarters First Bombardment DivisionOn 13 September 1943 Brampton became the HQ of the First Bombardment Division (BD). At
the same time, two of the three Wing HQs that had been forming at Brampton during the past few months, plus the original First Bomb Wing moved out of Brampton and were designated 'Combat Bombardment Wing' (CBW) HQs.
In November the 401st BG arrived at Deenethorpe with its B17s. This was the last of the Groups to join the Division during 1943.
In 1944, Brampton was well established now as the HQ of the First Air Division and only one more outfit, the 398th BG, was awaited to complete its full complement.
The Command General and his staff
made regular visits to the Division's airfields, both formal and informal.
In mid October Brigadier General Howard M Turner moved to Brampton as the new Commanding General.
Later in the year he was promoted to Major General. He had a Chief of Staff and three Deputy Chiefs of
Staff who each had a team of specialists, to assist and advise them. They were responsible for
operations, administration and engineering maintenance - material supply. The CO of Brampton Camp was a Major and he and his staff
were responsible for providing support functions to the First Bombardment Division HQ.
Formation of the First Air Division
Formation of the First Air Division
On 1 January 1945 the
67th Fighter Wing amalgamated with the First Bombardment Division, which from then on was known as the 'First Air Division'. As the allied ground forces
plunged deeper into Germany the tempo of the bombing campaign increased, until the Division
was sending out record breaking numbers of Fortresses almost daily. Their main targets being the supply and communication lines of the enemy troops. Having the Fighters under their direct control made it easier for the HQ planning staff to
expedite coordination between the bombers and their fighter escorts.
The Commanding General of the First Air Divison was Major General Howard M Turner.
His senior staff officers at HQ Brampton were his Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Bartlett Beaman.
Colonel Charles E Marion was Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations with Colonel Clemens K. Wurzbach as Director. Colonel Guy V. Whetstone was the Deputy Chief of Staff for Materials and Maintenance and Colonel Fred C Slagle was
Deputy Chief of Staff for Administration.
The Station Commander of Brampton in 1945 was Major Aage B Nilsen. Various units, other than the HQ officers and HQ squadron personnel were attached or based at Brampton.
These were the 1,050th Signal Company, 311th Signal Company (A VN), 980th Military Policy Company,
(J8th Weather Squadron, a Women's Army Corps rN AC) detachment and the 525thArmy Air Force (AAF) band. From the fields and woods of 1942 to the Brampton of 1945 saw the base transform into a self sufficient community.
Shortly after Victory in Europe (VE) day, the First Air Division published a souvenir issue of their magazine called 'First over Germany'.
A copy was given to each member of the Division's staff, before they returned to the States, to keep as a memento
of their stay at Brampton.The last paragraph on page 6 sums up the USAAF' s bombing campaign
by stating 'This war of attrition was a major factor in the swift and final collapse of the Nazi war machine'.
With the end of hostilities in Europe, the repatriation of the Eighth Air Force was quick to commence.
In September 1945 the First Air Division HQ moved to Alconbury, the last American troops leaving Brampton in early 1946.