Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wretham Hall as remembered by Albert G. Homeyer, 368th Fighter Squadron pilot, 359th Fighter Group

Wretham Hall, one mile from East Wretham Airfield USAAF Station Number 133, six miles northeast of Thetford in Norfolk. Photo courtesy of Thomas P. Smith: Archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association.

The Royal Air Force requisitioned Wretham Hall, located approximately one mile from the airfield, for use as an officers’ mess. East Wretham and its various hangars and buildings as well as Wretham Hall officially transferred to United States forces in July 1943 with the three fighter groups arriving that autumn.

“When we first occupied the lodge, we had bat boys whose duties were to shine our boots, make up the bunks, hang up our clothing, keep the room clean, etc. They were found to be in the way and also none of us were accustomed to being waited on hand and foot, so to speak, so they were dismissed after the first week or so and probably went back to the RAF.

The sleeping accommodations supplied were old iron double bunk beds with mattresses consisting of three pillow-like sections and during the night they would slide apart making it very uncomfortable. Within a few days regular mattresses appeared. I was awed by the bathrooms which were all marble motif. I believe there were about four bathrooms on each of the second and third floors. Each being large enough to accommodate about six people. Being a ladies hunting lodge there were bidets which were unfamiliar but we found could be used to wash ones feet. Before we arrived hundreds of mounted deer heads had been removed from the rooms and stored in the attic. I wonder what happened to them?

I was told the lodge consisted of 365 windows, 52 rooms and 4 entrances.

The outside surroundings were a game preserve. When one walked out the front entrance there were pheasants feeding and they were as tame as chickens. About a mile to the west was an artillery range and there were hundreds of shell holes, and in the walls of the holes were rabbit holes or nests. Every so often a couple of us would get our skeet guns and go shoot a dozen or so rabbits and give them to the enlisted personnel and they would have a barbecue.”


Description of Wretham Hall archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association. Posted here and on the 359th Fighter Group Facebook page by Janet Fogg.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

England at Last!

Northeast of London in Norfolk, the heart of East Anglia, East Wretham airfield was rapidly built in the early days of the war and became operational in March 1940. It consisted of grass runways, the northeast to southwest measuring 5,640 feet and north northwest to south southeast at 4,200 feet.

East Wretham Airfield, England 5 February 1946 Source: Royal Ordinance Survey. Annotations on photo from Freeman, Roger A., Airfields Of The Eighth, Then And Now, 1978. This artistic work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain.

The Royal Air Force requisitioned Wretham Hall, located approximately one mile from the airfield, for use as an officers’ mess.

Wretham Hall, one mile from East Wretham Airfield USAAF Station Number 133, six miles NE of Thetford. Courtesy of J. McAlister: Archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association

East Wretham and its various hangars and buildings as well as Wretham Hall officially transferred to United States forces in July 1943 with the 359th Fighter Group and the 85th Service Group, comprised of the 1833rd Ordnance Supply and Maintenance Company, 1065th Quartermaster Company, 49th Station Complement Squadron, 395th Service Squardon, and the 1101st Signal Company, arriving on October 19, 1943. East Wretham was assigned USAAF designation Station 133.

"We Take Over" from the photo archives of Howard Fogg

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The U.S.A.T. Argentina. Men on all the decks, in the scuppers, men are everywhere!

On October 7, 1943, 359th Fighter Group HQ personnel and the 368th Fighter Squadron, Howard Fogg's squadron, boarded the U.S.A.T. Argentina in New York Harbor.

The 369th Fighter Squardon boarded the Thurston and the 370th Fighter Squadron boarded the Sloterdyjk, once a Dutch motor vessel.

Image of the Argentina from a 1952 postcard

The U.S.A.T. Argentina (originally the Pennsylvania) was built in 1929 for the Panama-Pacific Line, sailing from New York to San Francisco via the Panama Canal. Following a remodel in 1938 she was re-christened the Argentina by the American Republics Line. After her refurbishment, the Argentina carried 475 passengers and 380 crew. She was Hull 329, with Official Number 229044, 613 feet long, 80 feet wide, and measured 20,614 gross tons, 33,000 tons when loaded.

Though she was set to sail on January 3, 1942 for South America, on December 27, 1941, the Argentina completed her last pre-war voyage when she arrived in New York. Approximately 200 passengers had booked passage and were in the Line’s offices completing baggage declarations when the Navy and Maritime Commission notified the steamship company to cancel the sailing – officials refused to discuss their actions.

On January 23, 1942, the Argentina departed from New York as the flagship of six troop carriers. She was then enlarged to hold 4,000 troops, and began Atlantic convoy duty.

She was double-loaded when the 359th boarded her on October 7, 1943, carrying nearly 7,000 men. Men were everywhere, on all the decks, and in the scuppers.

On October 17, 1943 the Argentina anchored in Liverpool Roadstead shortly after dark. On Monday the 18th, she sailed into the Mersey River and docked at the Mersey floating dock about 4:15 P.M. Debarkation of the men of the 359th began at 5:15 A.M. on Tuesday, October 19th.

By November, 1945, the Argentina had transported 175,592 service men to or from the ETO in fifty-six voyages. On January 26, 1946 she carried a different passenger list when 452 brides, 30 of them pregnant, 173 children, and a war groom sailed from Southampton, England for New York. Stormy seas forced them to arrive a day late, but on February 4,1946, the tired GI brides from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Malta were met by their husbands, a band, Mayor O’Dwyer, and 200 newsmen as this first “official war bride ship” pulled into harbor.

On May 6, 1946 the Argentina returned to civilian operations and in November was reconverted to liner service at Bethlehem Steel’s Shipyard. De-activated in 1958, the Argentina was ultimately sold to Peck Iron and Metals for scrap in 1964, then re-sold to Luna Bros. and scrapped in Kearny, New Jersey.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

October 2, 1943: Camp Kilmer, New Jersey

Excerpt from the Diary of Lt. Howard Fogg:

Our route was varied to say the least. First, we traveled to Greenfield, thence Troy, thru Albany, down the West Shore to Weehawken, thru the yards to a junction with the Pennsylvania at Jersey City. A GG1 (Pennsylvania Railroad electric locomotive) hauled us into Kilmer at 4:00 P.M.

To call this place huge is rank understatement. It’s breathtaking, with huge loading platforms, miles of buildings, and more. There are thousands and thousands of men. Every PX is jammed and every theatre full. Really an impressive array of manpower surrounds us, and, for once, efficient Army organization. Excellent food albeit cafeteria style. Good Bachelor Officer Quarters, better than Westover. There’s gambling and cards, galloping dominoes, and streams of whiskey.

U.S. Army Photograph of Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.

Camp Kilmer was a staging area and part of the New York Port of Embarkation for troops heading to the European Theater of Operations. The wooden buildings were painted bright contrasting colors for camouflage, similar to the Dazzle camouflage used on ships during World War I. Over 2.5 million soldiers were processed through Camp Kilmer to the ETO or back home.