Snetterton Heath: The Falcon's Nest
Plagued by bad weather, June moped on for the first ten days at an unexciting pace. June 2nd was cold enough to set a record.
On the first of the month, Major Alexander (Sandy) Moffett was officially appointed Ground Executive Officer, and on the fourth, a mission was scheduled but quickly abandoned because of weather. The Group was learning about English weather. In winter, clouds would eliminate missions 60 to 80% of the time. Summer, at 50 to 60%, wasn't much better for the planners.
Most crews adjusted to "socked-in" conditions by attending ground schools or gunnery classes. Some lucky ones managed to squeeze in short practice missions. The luckiest, however, got 24-hour passes and took advantage of the fact that Andrews Field was much closer to London than Grafton Underwood had been. Their good fortunes permitted them to visit Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul's and Westminister Abbey -- not to mention Piccadily where the "Commandos" kept constant patrol.
Some crews made the best of these early, boring June days.
"After our first missions," writes Bombardier Ray McKinnon, "we realized that the factory-installed guns in the nose compartment were worthless. We immediately set about modifying the nose by installing another .50 calibre in the center, over the bombsight. The guns worked fine, but we had a lot of trouble with the ammunition feed. Some crews even installed two .50s side by side. Each fed from different sides with empties and belt hooks spilling out at the center."
McKinnon continues: "The guns came to us in wooden crates wrapped in plastic and coated with grease. Since we were doing the mods at the hardstands, the only way to get the grease off was by building a fire. I remember we used coat-hangers at the end of long poles to hold a gun over a fire. It worked too; although a few guns were ruined when the back-plate, not pure metal, melted. There were several other modifications especially in armor plating and more specifically on the bottoms of the crew members' seats -- for obvious reasons!"
It wasn't until the 11th when "June came bustin' out all over." And once more snafu seemed the order of the day. Aircrews had been rousted out of their sacks at 0600 for a mission. By breakfast time though, they were told that the mission had been scrubbed. Instead of flying they were to report to their barracks, clean them and pack their gear. They had to be at their NEW base by tomorrow!
Their new base! Hadn't they just arrived here?
To charter members like Howard Mason, a 338th personnel clerk, 96ers already felt like gypsies with a special talent for opening up new bases. After all, hadn't they already opened up two stateside bases at Rapid City and Pocatello? And now, here they were overseas only a month or so and at least the original 36 aircrews had gone from Grafton Underwood to Andrews Field. And now they were on their way to where? Why, to Snetterton Heath, that's where. What a charming, typically British name.
The Surrounding Villages
The 96th was caught up in a gigantic, geographical strategy designed to replace B-26 Marauder bases with B-17s. Up to now, medium bombers had been based in Norfolk and Suffolk. But now they would move south into Essex so that they would be closer to Continental Europe during the forthcoming invasion.
This massive move took a toll on everyone. Even the 386th Medium Bomb Group (B-2) had been at Snetterton only a few days before the 96th replaced them. In turn, the 322nd BG replaced the 96th at Andrews.
The "Heavies," Fortresses and Liberators, were moving into East Anglia. The medium bombers, evacuating East Anglia, were moving into that area already predetermined for the Tactical Air Force.
This was a game of musical chairs but it was being played out almost overnight and to the thousandth power.