Though the war is wrapping up in April 1945, and there are only a couple combat missions with most flight activity being supply hauling, the light-heartedness of the memoirs in the 2nd Air Division Archive is a story in itself. A story of how, for many people, the war became part of every day life and wasn’t even at the forefronts of people’s minds. April 1945 seemed almost more abuzz with excitement for Easter.
Does this light-heartedness represent the quickness with which people can become desensitised so that even something as dramatic as a world war becomes normal? Or is some of this perhaps a self-preservative sort of denial of the worst of the war and trying to focus on normality as people are known to do as a coping mechanism with duress?
The archive is full of fond recollections of experiencing a new country and the privileges and kindnesses afforded to service personnel.
This cheery attitude in England is contrasted to the experiences on missions. Their tribulations in the air were threatening and tragic and demanding of courage.
Of the 355th, on April 7th attacked Duneberg and Krummel and on the way home, a Mills and Plowman were seen to disappear while penetrating cloud cover and never heard from again. Surely such harrowing events stuck with men even when they enjoyed times on the Broads.
The 2nd Air Division made a significant impact on weakening the enemy, harassing their industrial bases and modes of transportation, causing great difficult in movements of men and material and forcing relocation to only semi-prepared bases. This constant strafing decreased the morale of German fighters significantly and undercut their will and ability to launch effective offensives against Allies.
Throughout April, and especially by the middle of the month, raids such as at Esterwerda, Brandenburg and Munich by USAAF proved that the enemy had little to offer in resistance. The war was coming to a close. This of course meant little to servicemen as until they received surrender, they would continue to put themselves in danger of injury and death. High command saw the war as wrapping up but this would not be felt by the 2nd until later that month.
In the desperation of the waning of the Third Reich, the pilots of the Sonderkommando Elbe were instructed to ram allied planes should conventional attacks fail and this was followed on the 7th of April by one Bf109, causing the deaths of fifteen American airmen.
Casualties continued throughout this last month, poignantly, some not even being in combat but due to accidents in Britain and engine failures on the return home.
The last combat sortie was on April 25th when the marshalling yards of Salzberg, Bad Reichenhall and Hallstein as well as an electrical transformer plant at Traunstein were targeted. Thankfully this mission passed without losses due to the ruinous state of the Reich at this point.
In the end the Americans departure from East Anglia was almost as rapid as their arrival. They did leave behind an incredible legacy which we celebrate particularly now as we join with other nations around the world to commemorate Victory 75. For many of the American service personnel of course VE Day was not the end, August saw Victory in Japan Day and the long Second World War finally came to an end in September 1945.
This blog was compiled by a guest blogger who completed work experience with the American Library in 2020 and edited by the library team.