October 10, 2001
This page describes what is left of the former 8th Air Force Base at Hardwick. An associated page here describes my visit with Maurice Hammond at Hardwick to look over his Hardwick based Mustang (the former RNZAF NZ2427).
Base 104 Hardwick, Norfolk
The next day as we made our way toward Suffolk, we detoured to have a look at the remains of Hardwick Airbase in daylight. Although the triangle of runways still appear on the ordinance maps ( see www.multimap.com - search on Hardwick), only three-quarters of one runway still remains. This is in use (although not by Maurice Hammond who operates from grass). The main buildings like the control tower are long gone. However, on the surrounding farms there are a number of dispersed buildings.
On the farm we had visited the night before is the CO's house, and adjacent is a memorial to the 93rd (Heavy) Bomb Group. The memorial was dedicated on May 25, 1987. While I was photographing the memorial, David Woodrow appeared and we talked some more about the history of the place. He had grown up there as his father had leased the farm after the war, before buying the property.
Apparently poor or waste land was preferred for requisitioning, and when this was unavailable pasture was preferred over cropping land. When land was requisitioned, the occupants had 48 hours to move along and anything left was leveled. Navvies did the work, and were paid 10 pound a week at a time when the average farm labourer would be making only two. Many of these were (as has been the case for centuries) Irish immigrants.
The base at Hardwick was operational from December 1942, and the 93rd had settled in by February 1943. The 93rd Bombardment (H) group was part of the 20th Combat Wing of the 2nd Air Division of the 8th Air Force, and eventually consisted of the 328th, 329th, 330th and 409th Bomber Squadrons. The 93rd had been the first B-24 Unit in Europe, arriving in September 1942, and subsequently based at a number of Stations in England and North African before making Hardwick their permanent home until June 1945.
Some links with details relating to the history of Hardwick can be found at :
93rd Bombardment Group (H),
Hardwick, Norfolk. 93rd Bomb Group,
93rd Bomb Group Museum , and
2nd Air Division Memorial Library, Norwich .
One of the former base roads can be seen at left. At centre is the 93rd memorial with the former Base CO's house beyond. At left is a close up of the memorial which was dedicated on May 25, 1987.
As noted above, the farm we visited was the site of one of the dispersed barrack areas. Today the former CO's house is still in use (that's where the meeting had been), but many of the other building are in poor repair. The bricks were of cheap quality, although David did note that the render appeared to be about 2:1 cement. No skimping there. He is in the process of converting some of the buildings for farm use. The original walls are being bricked around to preserve the original fabric. (One of the former Sergeant's messes is becoming a pig sty). I was surprised at the wartime design - I guess it wasn't what I'd seen in the movies. I hadn't expected the buttressing. I guess it was simple. strong, and cheap. The asbestos roofing without any spouting wasn't a surprise. We did notice that many of the farm roads dated from the war. Apparently the roads and runways were 12' concrete, with the perimeter tracks being twice as thick. The original asphalt coverings have gone however.
The building at left is a former Sergeant's mess. The other two pictures are barrack blocks. Note the effects of 50 years on the building fabric. The roads are still functional.
After talking to David, we moved on to the Nissen huts that form the home of the 93rd Bomb Group Museum. The museum opened its doors in 1991, and houses 8th Air Force material, with memorabilia from the 93rd Bomb Group and various items recovered by the East Anglian Aircraft Research Group. (A 489th Bomb Group and RAF Museum are nearby). It is only open one day a month (the third Sunday), so I wasn't able to get in. I did have a good peer through the windows, and looked over some of the items outside - these included a Merlin from a P-51 that had dived from 23,000' after the pilot bailed out. More details on the Museum can be found here.
Left: A general view of the Nissen Hutts. Centre: some of the recovered material. Right: Looking back past more wartime buildings toward the area where the memorial is located.
I found the visit quite enlightening. As my previous experience of these wartime bases was limited to books and movies, I didn't really have a mental picture of just how big these wartime bomber bases were. The buildings on the farm are at least two kilometres from where the triangle of runways were. Extrapolating that for the rest of the dispersed sites, and the base was fairly large. A map of the base can be found on the Museum website.
Thankyou to David Woodrow for his time in discussing the history of the airfield, and to Maurice Hammond for helping with details for this page, and Seth Reeder fo updates on the 93rd's website.
© 2002 Phillip Treweek, all rights reserved