Throughout the Second World War, the American strategic bombing campaign in Europe was predominately based in East Anglia. By May 1942, 127 sites in this rural, flat, agricultural region in the east of England had been identified to serve as airbases for the United States Army Air Force (USAAF). As the quick erection of these facilities was essential to the war effort, work began on constructing a new base every three days in the fall of 1942. By the summer of 1943, this building programme resulted in USAAF fighters and bombers flying from 130 new or adapted East Anglian airfields.
Often larger than the small towns and villages which surrounded them, these bases were the home to as many as 3,000 American GIs. It has been estimated that between 1942 and 1954, there was at any one time around 50,000 USAAF personnel stationed within 30 mile radius of the medieval cathedral at the heart of the city of Norwich.
It was inevitable that this ‘friendly invasion’ was to have a considerable and lasting impact on the people of East Anglia and the young GIs. When the Americans first arrived in the region in 1942, the only experience most British people had of their Allies was what they had seen in the movies. Despite some cultural differences, a special bond was formed between the GIs and East Anglia. Through archaeological techniques, Operation WALBEA will be able to provide a unique insight into the lives led by the GIs whilst stationed in England.