THEN: Early 1944. Pilots lounge outside the Officer's Mess. A near-perfect "Then
and Now" picture. Notables include Don Blakeslee (upper right), and Johnny Godfrey (lower right). Jack Raphael,
sitting to Godfrey's right, was a artist/historian's dream; a professional photographer, Jack logged many late hours
in the darkroom at Debden as a member of the Debden Photo Club. His son Dave has preserved Jack's scrapbooks, and made
them available to me for duplication. Look for the highlights of Jack's collection on "The Raphael Collection" pages on this website. (Jack L. Raphael)
And NOW: I'd like to begin our tour by thanking the men who made my visit
possible, and most pleasant and enjoyable. Here I am on the Officer's Mess steps with Regimental Sergeant Major Tony
Ballans of 22 Headquarters & Support Sqdn/33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal). Tony had returned
home from an inspection tour in Afganistan only the day before, but still took time out for us. It is fitting that
the current occupants of Debden, now known as "Carver Barracks", are among the world's most experienced EOD experts.
They educate and work closely with the armies of other nations, including the United States. This is especially
so during times of coalition force actions, such as the current 'unpleasantness'. Tony not only politely corresponded
with me for several months prior to my visit, but took time out of his very busy schedule to give us an extensive and
educational tour of the site on our last day there. These men are very well aware of Debden's proud past, and I felt
good knowing the site is still in the hands of the best of their occupation. (Sam Winefordner)
The other man who went above and beyond the call of duty with us was 33 Regiment's Provost Sergeant,
Phillip Johnys (here we are on the Officer's Mess steps). Phil accompanied us on an extensive tour of the airfield proper
on our second day, then surprised us with a tour of several of the buildings, including the Officer's Mess. We went
inside and discussed several "Then and Now" photos of the Mess with Phil and Captain John Foran. We enjoyed wonderful
tea, snacks and conversation, including Capt. Foran's retelling of several Officer's Mess ghost stories! (Winefordner)
Several months before my visit to Debden, I sent several copies of my newly-published One-Man Air
Force prints to the base to help decorate their walls. Here I am with one of these prints, which proudly hangs
in the hallway of the Officer's Mess. (Winefordner)
THEN: World War II-era shot of the outside of the Officer's Mess. Looking NW.
And NOW: From almost the same angle, the Officer's Mess has changed very little. The
attached building on the left (with a matching building out of the picture on the right) housed single officers during WWII.
THEN: A wartime shot of 4th Fighter Group officers enjoying a meal in the main dining
room of the Officer's Mess. The Mess (excluding attached living quarters buildings on both sides) is shaped like a squared-off
"U". This shot looks northerly across the eastern arm of the "U". The white-coated waiter at the far left center
is standing in the doorway to the kitchen areas. (USAF)
And NOW: Same room, same function, still immaculate.
THEN: April 11, 1944. General Eisenhower stopped in at Debden during a whirlwind tour
of several 8th Air Force bases. While on station, "Ike" presented Col. Don Blakeslee and Capt. Don Gentile with the
Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor. After the ceremony, the General hopped a ride in
a "Droop Snoot" P-38 Lightning, then settled down to lunch in the Officer's Mess main dining room. Can you
name some of the famous faces seated here? (USAF)
And NOW: The same northeast corner of the dining room, 58 years later. (Winefordner)
THEN: A wartime shot of the Married Officer's Quarters on the east side of the technical
site. "Single" officers were sometimes billeted in rooms in these houses upon arriving at Debden while awaiting a permanent
room in the quarters adjoining the Officer's Mess. The luxury of steam heat was a pleasant surprise for the new arrivals.
Shot looking easterly. (USAF)
And NOW: Remarkable, isn't it? Same buildings - still there. My two favorite
8th AF groups are the 4th, and the famous 91st Bomb Group, which settled in at Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire after a
quick move from the rather spartan Kimbolton. It was and is my good fortune that both bases have been under military
control in one form or another since the war, and as such presented relatively little change from their wartime appearances.
However, as will be discussed in more detail later, this is about to change here at Debden as many of the original buildings
will fall to the contractor's wrecking ball within the next year - to be replaced with more modern units or done away with
altogether. Both stations were Permanent-type Royal Air Force installations constructed before the "American Invasion"
of 1942, with their attendant "luxurious" brick-walled and steam-heated living conditions, which I'm sure contributed to their
longevity. Contrast this to the majority of 8th Air Force bases, which were temporary in construction - and
comfort! No longer needed after the war, many of these sites reverted back to the farmland they once were - enthusiasts
and veterans of those fine Mighty Eighth fighter and bomber groups have nothing but farmland and remnants of
runway and peri-track to bring back the memories.
THEN: Wartime view of Station Headquarters, located just inside the Main Gate at Elder Street.
Looking southwesterly. (USAF)
And NOW: Westerly view of the same building - still functioning as base HQ. Note the
Ivy covered walls!
Looking westerly at the earthen-walled Command Post/Bunker located immediately behind Station Headquarters.
Combat missions were monitored from here.
THEN: Looking northerly at the Main (South) Gate - Elder Street entrance. The
northeast corner of Station Headquarters is at upper far left, almost out of the picture. (Francis Grove)
And NOW: So long, fair Debden! As we left on the last day, I suddenly remembered
that I didn't have my "then and now" shot of the main gate. So, I drove across the street, got out of the car and took
this shot. Looking closely, one notices that other than the Security Forces "island" and the now full grown trees,
very little has changed.
THEN: 29 September 1942. 8th Air Force gets its first fighter group; indeed the
only U. S. fighter group to be activated in theatre. Brig. Gen. Frank O. D. "Monk" Hunter, Commander VIII Fighter
Command, and an officer believed to be Air Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, RAF (though he is not listed as one of
the visitors), face the assembled men and salute as Nos. 71, 121 and 133 RAF Eagle Squadrons are officially
handed over to the U.S. Army Air Forces. Air Chief Marshal Sir W Sholto Douglas of RAF Fighter Command was present as
well. The units became the 334th, 335th and 336th Fighter Squadrons of the 4th Fighter Group, and RAF Debden
Airdrome officially became Station No. F-356 of the 8th Air Force. Notice the steps in the background leading up
to a 400-man Dining Hall. (Bruce Zigler)
And NOW: Looking northerly at the same steps. Looks like they added a "shelf" on each
step to make them more shallow. The large concrete pad parade ground (mostly behind me in this picture) is still there,
but is used these days as a parking lot. When I was there, the southern quarter of the lot/parade ground was
fenced off by contractors - most likely something to do with the building demolition which was just beginning the week
of my visit!
Wartime enlisted men's barracks for 3 NCOs and 84 men. View to the north. This building (Building
no. 52), and it's twin beyond (Building no. 50), adjoin the street running alongside the western edge of the parade ground.
Two more like these are on the other (eastern) side of the parade ground - the other two were fenced off for demolition,
but the work hadn't started yet. I was told that the demolition was scheduled to begin the week I was there, and
it appeared that everything was on schedule. Most of the World War II-era buildings are coming down, with a few
exceptions such as the Officer's Mess and a couple of others which are in good shape.
Building no. 24. Looking southwesterly at the wartime Central Heating Station. The wartime water
tower (for steam heating) was attached to the western side of this building. Luxuries like this were enjoyed by those
groups like the 4th which were fortunate enough to be stationed at the "permanent" (pre-war built) RAF airfields.
Building no. 46. Wartime Ration Store (PX).
Wartime Works Services Complex. The parachute (drying) tower, from which so many "elevated" views
of the Debden technical site buildings were taken, was located on the other side of the tallest square block in
this photo. The tower was taken down in the late 1990s. Photo looking southwesterly.
Strafing chip marks on the northeastern corner of the Works Services Complex (see photo above this one).
An active Battle of Britain sector base, and always of particular interest to the Luftwaffe, Debden wears these wounds as a badge
of honor from one of the many times the base was attacked. Debden's subsequent residents have simply
painted over the chips through the years.
Southerly view of Debden's last remaining "C-Type" aircraft hangar as seen from the approach end of the
West runway. The two other hangars were demolished some time ago. This particular hangar was used by the
334th Fighter Squadron throughout the war. Sadly, I have it on good authority that this hangar will fall to the wrecker
sometime in 2003. The wartime firing butts were located to our left just outside the picture - directly across from
the hangar's doors. The big fence you see was added years ago to separate the main base (now known as Carver Barracks)
from the airfield areas; although the airfield areas (land, runways, perimeter tracks and parking spaces) have always
been under military ownership - and use. However, it has only been in recent years that one must seek permission (as
I did) to walk the airfield portion of the base. Prior to that, any and all could roam the airfield at will.
And before you ask, let me go ahead and tell you that there are no plans in the near future to "modernize" or "improve" the
airfield. The Carver Barracks EOD personnel use the vast landscape for training purposes, and I was surprised to find
out that several major motion pictures have filmed here as well. Empire of the Sun shot several scenes here,
and at nearby Bassingbourn, Full Metal Jacket did the same. There were others, but that's probably the two
best known films I remember our guides telling us about.
UPDATE: November 2003 - Paul Wiggins, my Debden reporter, just confirmed
to me that this hangar has been demolished completely . . .
Looking southwesterly at the eastern doors of 334's hangar. The current occupants of Debden refer
to this as "the blue building". At the far right of the photo is the perimeter track which ran in front of all three
hangars (this one was the northernmost of the three). The watch office (control tower) was located on the other side
of this hangar from our perspective here, but was demolished in the early 1970s. Photo taken from the recently installed
Rapelling tower. If you were to turn about 90 degrees to the left in this picture, you would potentially have a good
view of the Debden technical site. However, with the trees in full bloom, all I could see was a giant forest!
Approximately 180 degrees from this view is the Officer's Mess.
Here I stand inside this famous hangar - if these walls could talk! Of course, I had to chip some
of the plaster off the wall in one of the hangar offices. It's a shame to see her go, but this hangar has been neglected
way too long, and is to the point of presenting a safety hazard. Fortunately, as with the other two hangars, the footing,
or concrete pad foundation I'm standing on, will most likely stay put and serve as a foundation for a hangar/building
THEN: May 1944 - inside 334's hangar. Lt. Ralph "Kidd" Hofer's P-51B Mustang
"Salem Representative" goes through phase checks and is fitted for a new Malcolm Hood bubble canopy. Notice the Olive
Drab camouflage on the top plan view section of the rear fuselage. In May 1944, a few 334 FS natural metal-finished
aircraft received upper surface camouflage on the wings, fuselage, and horizontal tails . This was in anticipation of
the upcoming invasion, and the perceived need for camouflage for operating from airfields on the continent. As it was,
it was determined that the 4th would remain in England after the invasion. No 335 or 336 aircraft were so painted.
Oh, uh . . . , yes, those are whitewall tires on the Mustang. Just one of a variety of personal
markings some pilots chose to carry on their kites. (Joseph Ciciulla via Garry L. Fry)
And NOW: The same northeast corner of 334's hangar from a slightly different angle.
THEN: April 4, 1944. After her latest stint in the hangar to address nagging engine
write-ups, Don took Shangri-La up for a maintenance check flight. At the conclusion of this 30-minute flight
in the Debden area, Don buzzed up the North runway a couple of times, during which a famous series of shots was taken
by a couple of photographers. Probably the most reproduced, this frame was taken looking southeasterly as Don was
about 200 yards or so from the departure end of Runway 35. The photographer was standing in the grassy
area between the runway and the western side of 334's squadron peri-track, which loops around the north side of Runway
17-35. 334's hangar (the one still standing as of this writing) is clearly visible in the far right distance.
(USAF via Garry Fry)
And NOW: This wider-angled comparison shot of the same area (the 334th hangar is just out
of the picture to the right) was taken from further away - on the perimeter track behind the photographer in
the "Then" photo above. He took his shot from the grassy area in front of me in this picture. In WWII, Debden's
grass was kept very closely cropped so that aircraft could taxi on the grass to aid in forming up quickly for leader-and-wingman
formation take-offs. However, no such need exists today, so we can excuse the unmowed grass! It was very quiet
on the airfield as I gazed upon this scene, and the weather was quite beautiful as you can see, and as I tried to absorb
the fact that I was really looking over the actual scenery in the photo I had looked at hundreds if not thousands of times,
I cocked my head a little into the gentle breeze and thought I heard a faint sound - one so faint that it seemed to be reaching
across 58 years . . . oh geez, what am I saying? Not even a Merlin could do that!
April 13, 1944. At about 1635 hours, as the group was landing after the Schweinfurt mission,
Gentile decided to give the 336 FS dispersal area a real treat by "cutting their hair" with a couple of real low passes. There
was a large crowd gathered around his parking spot. The press was there as well - this was to be his last mission before a
short break back to the States, and everybody was out in full force to watch him come back. He gave the dispersal a real rattling
on his first pass, but after spotting the rather large crowd, he decided to make his next one something nobody would forget.
Circling around, he set up his second pass by diving down from the eastern side of the field. Don lined up, put his nose down
and leveled off just feet off the ground . . . he would have crossed just north of 334's hangar as he leveled off from his
shallow dive. He was seen flying extremely low on a southwesterly heading driving straight for the cameras set up around his
parking spot. At this point, Debden has a considerable "rise" or "hump" effect in the middle of the field due to the sloping
southern portions of the airfield (the area is surprisingly hilly as I found out in July 2002), and Don was so low
at the beginning of his run that he disappeared from view to those at the 336 dispersal at the southwest corner of the field
- he reappeared just before he crossed the southern part of the N-S runway. He crossed the runway right on the deck, and then,
witnesses said, the plane seemed to settle and Shangri-La's prop struck the grassy area about 100 yards in front of the 336
dispersal area. They later found numerous "chop" marks where the prop had dug into the ground ...
And NOW: The same westerly view of the crash site. My friend Sam Winefordner, Edward
Tetlow (his father owned this land during the war - indeed much of Debden airdrome was built on Tetlow land), and Keith Braybrooke
(local 4th Fighter Group expert - he watched them as a teenager in WWII) stand in for the wreckage. Notice the big tree
is gone (confirmed by Edward Tetlow that his father removed it after the war), and the small hedge seen behind the wreck is
now much larger. The tree was located where the blue object sits in the grass behind and to the right of the group as
you view them. The distant landscape is largely unchanged, however, making positve ID a cinch.
THEN: Looking easterly at the wreck in the Tetlow field. Howe Wood in the background.
(USAF via Garry Fry)
And NOW: Myself, Edward Tetlow and Sam Winefordner add perspective to this comparison shot.
Howe Wood in the background. (K. Braybrooke)
THEN: The wreck of "Shangri-La" was brought from the Tetlow field to one of the blister hangars
of the 45th Air Engineering Squadron. There were five such blister hangars belonging to the 33rd Air Service Group's
squadrons located across Elder Street from the base. In this view, possibly the most famous P-51 Mustang of all time
is seen in the early stages of a complete salvage of all useable parts. The mechanics I talked to at the 2001 Reunion
said she sat here for about 3 weeks or so. Possibly the only parts left of her, a few flight instruments presented to
Gentile before he left Debden for good, sit at the USAF Museum in Don's box in Collections storage. In the
mid-1990s I personally viewed the contents of this box, which held many items donated by the Gentile family that were not
on public display. (USAF)
And NOW: Several of the blister hangars remain - now used as farm buildings. Looks
like they added front and back walls to this one, the northernmost hangar. View looking easterly. As an aside,
these hangars and "taxiways" were home to Hawker Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain!
THEN: John Ferra, Gentile's crew chief, based all "his" aircraft throughout the war on the
PSP hardstand located at the northern edge of the taxi loop leading to the southernmost 336 Fighter Squadron 2-ship parking
bay. Here, in one of the most famous Mustang shots of all time, Don Gentile cranks Shangri-La for the mission
of 8 April 1944. He came back from this show with his last three victories, one of which is depicted in my One-Man
Air Force painting. Notice the Auxiliary Power Unit still plugged into the right side of the aircraft.
The APU provided the significant battery power needed to start the ship, thus saving the aircraft's onboard battery from the
"stress". Shot looking northwesterly. (USAF)
And NOW: Pretty much the same northwesterly view, except looking at the two photos side by
side it appears that the "then" photographer was squatting down, giving a slightly lower aspect view of the scene. After
Gentile "bounced" Shangri-La off the grass about 100 yards due east of this point, he "flew" directly over
this area. In Don's logbook he makes no mention of the crash, merely noting below the April 13th entry, "Left England
for (the) good old USA". In the end, his total operational (combat) time came out to be 333:35 hrs; total
combat sorties: 184; total Spitfire time: 262:45; total P-47 time: 281:10; total P-51 time:
96:30. Total time in his logbook after this mission: 3,036:10.
THEN: Extremely rare shot of Gentile and Shangri-La taxiing north along the southwest
peri-track just after turning left off his corner hardstand. Photo looking easterly. Notice that the rudder appears
darker in relative value. Don't let this mess up your model . . . the rudder is "thrown" to the left at this moment,
and careful examination of the sun position puts the visible rudder surface (a relatively flat plane) in shadow.
So don't go painting your model with a dark(er) rudder! (Elwood Jensen via Garry Fry)
And NOW: Looking southerly at the same portion of peri-track. Gentile would be coming
right at us in this photo as seen in the "then" shot above.
THEN: Don leans against Shangri-La's prop after parking the kite on his usual corner
parking spot. View to the southeast. The farm building visible underneath the wing is a barn on Rickett's Farm,
owned by Edward Tetlow (see photos of Edward above). It's still there! Edward and his wife treated us to a nice
lunch in the adjacent house, then Edward took us into the barn and showed us a bent up Hamilton-Standard propeller blade
from a 4th FG Mustang which had gone through the south fence and into his farm property in 1944. He didn't
find the blade until years later! Edward gave us some empty .50 cal. shell casings from the crash . . . (USAF via Garry
And NOW: Here I stand on the same corner hardstand. The barn is hidden behind the now
high hedge which almost completely surrounds the airfield areas. You can get a feel for the hilly ground Debden airfield
is on by looking at the rolling landscape behind me. For those of you with a diagram of Debden, the concrete "entranceway"
to the right is the top part of the loop leading to the southernmost 2-ship brick parking bay. The perimeter track going
away and then turning off in the distance to our left is the southwest "corner" of the main peri-track going all the way around
the airfield. This shot is great because it shows, typically, the kind of shape the airfield is in,
i.e., 98% of the original wartime runway, taxiway and parking space "floor plan" is still there, but it's overgrown with scattered
trees and high grass in most non-concrete places. Still though, it's light-years more than any other major 8AF fighter
airfield shows of it's former wartime outline.
THEN: Gentile and SSgt. John Ferra, his dedicated crew chief, confer prior to a flight. (USAF)
And NOW: The format is horizontal instead of vertical, but this photo was taken looking
to the west from just about the same spot as the one above. Changed a little, hasn't it? The "mound" of earth
in front of the trees in the background was put there sometime in the mid to late 1990s, as far as I can tell from aerials
THEN: Looking southerly at Mustangs in front of 334's dispersal headquarters
being run up by the chiefs prior to a "show". The aircraft in the foreground (QP-O) belongs to 334's commander, Maj.
Louis H. "Red Dog" Norley, Jr. February 1945. (Edward Nelson via Garry L. Fry)
And NOW: Looking northeasterly at one of those rectangular-shaped parking spots on the eastern
THEN: March 1945. Bubbletop Mustangs sit on a loop hardstand located on the
eastern 334 perimeter line. Looking northeasterly. (L. Nitschke via Garry Fry)
And NOW: Same parking spots . . . Sgt. Phil Johnys and Sam look for the long-gone P-51s.
fellas . . . I already looked!
THEN: May 1944. Arguably the most flamboyant "character" in the annals of the 4th Fighter
Group, Lt. Ralph Kidd Hofer of Salem, Mo. flew with the group from September 1943 until his death in combat on July 2, 1944.
A former Golden Gloves boxer, Hofer scored his first victory on his first mission! "Kidd"
went on to tie (with Jim Goodson) as the 4th's top-ranking ace of all time with 15 aerial and 14 ground victories.
Here he taxis his famous P-51B Salem Representative southward along the eastern 334 peri-track. Check out the
whitewall tires! The North-South runway is the darker area just beyond the Mustang. Photo looking westerly.
And NOW: Phil Johnys (right) and I survey the eastern 334 perimeter track during our
walk-around of the 334 area. Hofer's Salem Representative was just behind us on this very peri-track when
the "Then" photo above was shot. The E-W and N-S runway intersection is directly behind my hat. Photo
looking southerly. (Winefordner)
And NOW (again): As Ralph Hofer and Salem Representative taxied on a little further
down the 334 peri-track, seen here at the extreme left of the frame, he would have come upon this intersection with
the E-W parallel taxiway. The E-W runway is located just on the other side of the trees on the right.
Sometimes kites departing from the West runway would form up for 2-ship takeoffs on this taxiway and in the
(formerly) mowed grass where the trees are now on the right; this was during dry conditions, of course. During damp
conditions, the planes would simply go all the way down this peri-track (heading away from us) to the beginning
of the West runway for mag checks and takeoff. Photo looking easterly along the E-W parallel taxiway.
THEN: December 1943. P-47 Thunderbolts with 108 gallon "babies" form up to
depart from the West runway. Photo looking northerly from the top of 334's hangar. Notice the distant perimeter
track (with the Jugs coming towards us) - this is the E-W parallel I talked about in the preceding photos.
(Grover Hall via Garry Fry)
And NOW: Same area looking northwesterly from the new rapelling tower. The West runway
runs off to the distance. The 334 hangar is just outside the frame to the left. Notice the fenceline (not there
in WWII), and the mother pushing the baby stroller (pram) through the gate, on the exact spot the mighty P-47s were shaking
the ground in the "Then" picture above. Up until a few years ago, visitors to this station could
get on the airfield unescorted, even though the property was still owned by the Ministry of Defence. To keep
the curious out of the very active Carver Barracks, the current name for the site, a perimeter fence, as seen here,
was built around the main building areas. While planning for my own visit, I found out that the entire area, buildings
and airfield, are now strictly off limits without prior permission. Fortunately, the current leadership of Carver
Barracks are very proud of their heritage, and with 6 months "warning" of my visit, everything went very smoothly for
us as you can readily see by these pages (by the way, all these photos are about 1/4 of the shots I took).
THEN: November 1944. The 4th Fighter Group's first 2-seat P-51 conversion for Operational
Training Unit duties, WD-2 - 43-12193 (War Weary), has just cleared the fence while landing on the East runway (10).
This kite was later painted overall red with light blue trim in Spring 1945. Gaw-dee! (Joe Sills via
And NOW: The same spot also looking northerly. On our last day, RSM Tony Ballans asked
me if there was anything else we would like to see. Well, since you asked . . . There were several "Then
and Now" shots (such as this one) which I had forgotten (gasp!) to take on the previous two days. So, we loaded up with
a driver in one of their vehicles, and went around getting the shots I needed to complete the photographic tour. This
is a typical scene . . . we drove around, I said "Stop", and we all got out and I ran to the appropriate "Then and
Now" position. When we got back to Tony's office, he was good enough to call a friend of his at Bassingbourn since we
wanted to see that famous station (also military controlled - still) as well. Thanks again, Tony!
And NOW (again): After taking the first "Now" picture above, I handed Sam my camera, then
I ran up the East runway some for this photo . . . notice 334's hangar on the horizon to the right of the runway
. . . you have two "blobs" of trees, then the big flat hangar. (Winefordner)
Looking northerly along Runway 35. Notice the prominent "hump" effect due to the sloping southern
half of the airfield. Photo taken near the runway threshold. The technical site (buildings) are to our right,
and 336's dispersal area is to our left - both out of the picture frame. Elder Street is behind us.
THEN and NOW: The Cross Keys Hotel in nearby Saffron Walden was a favorite hangout for men
of the Eagle Squadrons and 4th Fighter Group. I would have put a "Then" shot here, but the building has hardly
changed since the war. We had several meals here during our stay. It's over 600 years old, but the
food was great!
THEN and NOW (above and below): The Rose & Crown was also a favorite hangout when the
men came to Saffron Walden . . . fire gutted the place post-war, and as you can see, it was rebuilt with a few changes.
A Boots Pharmacy now occupies the 1st (bottom) floor, and this is where I got my Debden film developed! (Old
photo Leroy Nitschke via Garry Fry)
(Above) Captain John Foran (left), myself and Sgt. Phil Johnys, along with Sam Winefordner, enjoyed
tea and snacks in the Officer's Mess lounge, largely unchanged from it's wartime role and appearance. (Winefordner)
THEN: January 1944. Taxiing southward on the western side of the 334 parking "loop",
P-47D 42-8644 QP-U "Lilliput" is about to turn left onto the East-West parallel taxiway. Photo looking easterly
as these Thunderbolts make their way to the West Runway (28). (Leroy Nitschke via Garry Fry)
And NOW: The same intersection as seen from the East-West parallel peri-track. The
hardstand in the "Then" photo above is to our immediate left in this shot. It's mostly grass now. Sam Weinfordner
and Sgt. Phil Johnys stand by our P-47, I mean, uh . . . rental car. The North-South runway, mainly hidden by the
tall grass, runs left to right in this view. It joins the taxiway right at Sam's shoulders. 334's hangar
can be seen just above and to the right of the car. Photo looking easterly.
(Above) Inside Edward Tetlow's barn. This is a Hamilton-Standard propeller blade from a 4th
Fighter Group P-51 which crashed through the Debden fenceline. It wasn't until years later that Edward found it deep
in the soil on his property while removing a tree! (Winefordner)
(Above) The most expensive airfield brick in the world, and it's all mine, finally!
All the fellow 4th FG buffs I had talked to who had already made the pilgrimage to Debden all mentioned getting a brick
or two to take home. Even if they would have, I didn't want somebody to give me an extra one, I wanted to get my own!
Several of the 2-ship parking bays are still there, or at least mostly there, as are several brick gun emplacements, etc.
As I studied my photos in preparation for the trip, it looked like the two brick revetments/parking bays for 336 were
still intact (they are) - the ends of the U-shaped revetments had brick retaining walls . . . that's where my brick would
come from . . . and here it is! The triangular shaped "wall" behind me is located on the south 336 bay.
This brick and many other bits and pieces I stuffed into my pockets are sitting in my studio today. (Winefordner)
THEN: View to the north, showing a P-47D (VF-V bar) running up in 336's south 2-ship
brick bay. Notice the photographer's shadow to the right of the image. That guy was standing on top of the revetment
wall just behind me in the photo above this one . . . Debden mechanics loved to get up on these bay walls as their planes
departed and returned - what a view!! (via Hoey)
And NOW: The precise spot the P-47 was running up (foreground). There were more than
a few of these 2-ship parking bays at Debden. 336 had two of them. This was the southernmost 336 bay. If
only the bricks could talk!
And NOW (again): Southwesterly view of, again, the southernmost 336 parking bay. The
P-47 in our "then" photo above was at the far end of the bay in this shot. My brick came from the triangular shaped
wall visible to the left of the tall tree. This shot was taken from an earthen wall made sometime in the mid to late
1990s. Don't know why the Army put it here, but if you're curious, that's why the elevated view from this location.
THEN: Aerial view looking northerly at the northern 336 parking "loop". There were
two such loops by 336's dispersal shacks. For the three "Now" shots below, I want you to first notice
the parking bay with the two P-51s at the left (western) edge of the loop. For the third picture, notice the
light-toned sidewalk (with a "kink" in it) in the lower left hand corner in this photo. Now, let's compare . .
And NOW: Looking southwesterly from the northern part of the parking loop seen
in the "Then" picture above. The two P-51Ds were parked in the bay to the right in this view. Also notice
the inner part of the loop to our left in this photo. What used to be mowed grass is now covered with tall brush and
trees. While the "floor plan" of this and most other parts of Debden's airfield areas are remarkably intact, the
trees and heavy brush here were a big surprise as good aerials I have, taken in 1994, show no growth in this area.
However, the thrill was no less . . . !
And NOW (again): Northwesterly view of the bay the P-51Ds were parked in as seen above.
I was standing just about where the "kinked" sidewalk joins the loop.
And NOW (again): Southwesterly view of the sidewalk remnants from the southwest corner of
the "loop" seen in the "Then" photo above. Notice the growth pattern in the far parts of the sidewalk follows
the "kink". The sidewalk led to the small grouping of buildings (long gone, unfortunately) which made up the 336
A small group of pilots and admin/intel folks stand outside one of the 336 dispersal shacks mentioned above.
The sharp-eyed among you will have already noticed Jim Goodson (2nd from left), Don Gentile (far right, wearing the British
life jacket), and Johnny Godfrey (tall man facing us wearing sunglasses). This whole area is now just brush and trees.
(G. Weckbacher via Hoey)
Looking easterly at the northernmost aircraft spot located behind (west of) 336's dispersal area.
These ancillary spots were accessed via a smaller taxiway, and most had blister hangars for sun/weather protection.
THEN: April 11, 1944. On the day of General Eisenhower's visit to Debden to present
Col. Blakeslee and Capt. Gentile with the DSC, "Ike" was treated to a demonstration of the Mustang's firepower at
the firing butts near the 334 hangar. Photo looking southeasterly. (Leo Schmidt via Garry Fry)
NOW: Looking northerly and down on the site of the firing butts from the newly-installed
rapelling tower used to train the modern day troops. The building holding sand for the butts is long gone, but the concrete
pads are still there as you can see. Today they sometimes use this as a heli-pad. The 334 hangar is about
90 degrees to my left in this shot. In the middle distance is the beginning (approach end) of the west runway (28).
Just beyond the runway is a post-war shooting range installed when Debden trained Military Policemen.
THEN: Spring 1944. Assistant Crew Chief Sgt. Jerome Byrge (left), and Crew Chief SSgt.
Paul Fox change the plugs on Capt. Nick Megura's P-51B ILL WIND, 43-6636, QP-N. This plane was lost
on 5-9-44 when Lt. Vernon A. Burroughs bailed out southwest of St. Dizier, France. He was a guest of the German government
for the rest of the war. Photo looking southeasterly. (J. Byrge via Garry Fry)
And NOW: Same view, but the "Then" shot above was taken standing on the hardstand's cinderbag
revetment wall, which gives it the elevated perspective. The cinderbag wall is still there, by the way - see the
photo right below this one. This hardstand is located on the westerly side of the big taxiway loop which goes around
the north side of Runway 35.
And NOW (Again): The same hardstand as seen looking westerly from the perimeter track.
Notice the cinderbag "wall" on the right. The ILL WIND photograph above was taken standing on this wall.
THEN: January 1945 - last winter season for the 4th FG at Debden. This eastward view
shows the big taxiway loop which goes around the north end of Runway 35. Much of 334 was dispersed along this big loop.
The runway, partially hidden by snow, is in the center of the "loop". (L. Nitschke via Garry Fry).
And NOW: This is the same junction of the peri-track and the beginning of Runway 17
as in the above picture, except a little closer. In this view to the east I am standing on the peri-track roughly
in front of the second-closest P-51D seen in the "Then" photo above. The beginning of Runway 17 can be seen to the right.
The hardstand on which the two Mustangs are sitting in the "Then" photo is still mostly there, but spare tires now grace
the exact spots the "Fifty-Ones" were sitting. This is the place (notice the tire barricades) that the current
Debden Kart Club races go-karts every so often. In my early planning for this trip, I posted a notice for any
kind of "help" they could give me on their website, and one gentleman, Paul Wiggins, responded enthusiastically. We
corresponded often, and still do, and Paul was instrumental in getting me in touch with Edward Tetlow. Thanks again,
Paul, and stop in and say "hi" to Edward for me next time you go karting!
After taking the shot above this one, I continued walking past the runway and then turned southward, following
the "loop". After a few hundred feet of walking southward, I turned around and shot this picture, which looks northerly
along the peri-track. The 334 squadron line shacks and "east side" parking spaces were to the right.
RSM Tony Ballans (left) treated Sam and me to lunch in the Warrant Officer's Mess on our last day.
This was in the middle of a very comprehensive tour of the current operations at this historic station. (Winefordner)
While driving (taxiing) around the airfield in my rental car, I had the presence of mind to pick up my camera
and snap off a shot. Here we are going south along the eastern "leg" of 335's big triangular-shaped main dispersal
area (see photo below). The "inner" part of the triangle is to the right. The beginning of 336's southwestern parking
area is down a little further at the group of trees on the right. The N-S runway roughly parallels our course here,
and is located (but not visible) at the extreme left of this shot.
THEN: April 1945. Looking northwesterly at the 335th Fighter Squadron "triangle" parking
area. In the photo above this one, I'm driving towards us on the perimeter track to the right in this picture.
(Francis Grove via Garry Fry)
And NOW: Looking northwesterly at the same "triangle" area. The PSP and wood matting
parking spots are long gone, of course, but one 2-ship bricked revetment bay remains relatively intact on the southern
leg of the triangle (see two photos below). The modern day "Debden Radar" in the distance serves nearby Stansted
Airport. This radar facility was not here during the war.
Looking westerly at the 2-ship parking bay located on the southern leg of
the 335 triangle.
Bomb shelter built into the rear earthen wall of the parking bay.
THEN: February 1943. South-southeasterly view of the 335 triangle from the north end.
The parking bay featured in several shots above can be seen in the distance at the upper right of this photo. In the
foreground, Spitfire AV-V sits in the parking bay at the north "apex" of the triangle. Notice the old Eagle Squadron
codes still on the Spitfires, which were simply repainted with the U. S. national insignias over the RAF roundels upon
the group's transfer to the USAAF in Sept 1942. It wasn't until April 1943 that the group was assigned the QP -
WD - VF squadron codes - beginning with the P-47 Thunderbolts. Although the 4th flew it's last Spitfire mission on April
10th, no Spits carried the "new" 8AF codes. (Don Young via Garry Fry)
And NOW: Again overlooking the 335 triangle area from the north - 59 years later. The semi-crumbled
and grassed-over remainder of the northern wall of the parking bay featured in the "Then" photo above can be
seen in the far right foreground here. This shot was taken outside of the bay and closer to the "corner"
of the triangle. Compare the distant parking bay at the upper right with the older photo.
again: Here's an easterly view of, once again, the northern apex of the 335 parking
"triangle". The triangle's northernmost brick parking bay is in the foreground. Squadron commander Maj. George
Carpenter is stepping into his new P-51 in this late February 1944 snapshot. Notice the half wiped off frost on the
wings. The place WD-I occupies here was the usual parking spot favored by Col. Don Blakeslee. In fact, the
closer P-47 appears to be Col. Don's old WD-C. I could not resist doing a small oil painting based on this
photo. See it here
. (via Hoey)
And NOW: This view is to the south of the same general area. The closer P-47 we see
in side view in the picture above would be facing us head on in this shot. The light blue "P-47" text locates the
The approach/departure radar serving nearby Stansted airport mentioned in one of the photos above is located
on the grounds of the airfield and is accessed via this gate located along the western perimeter. Photo looking northeasterly.
(Above) A simple candid photo of Phil Johnys and me standing on 334's perimeter track discussing "back
then - right here", but one that summarizes the whole trip for me, really. Here I am standing on Debden airfield,
a long held dream; we were blessed with great weather the whole week we were there; I enjoyed generous access to the facilities
through the selfless Sgt. Phil Johnys and RSM Tony Ballans, and last but not least I had a friend along to take photos too!
Inside the main entrance to Station Headquarters looking out at the main gate. This is still
a busy place!
Looking northerly at the "apex" of the 335 parking triangle.
Standing on the East-West runway and looking southerly at the taxiway intersection that leads down to 335
and 336 parking.
In an above picture, we see P-47D Thunderbolt Lilliput taxiing along the 334 perimeter.
This shot shows the pilot's view as he was about to turn left onto the east-west parallel taxiway. I don't think
he had a rental car in his way back then, though!
Keith Braybrooke, Edward Tetlow and I (pointing) compare period photographs. This was Don Gentile's
corner hardstand, where the famous P-51B Mustang Shangri-La was regularly parked. The "mound" in the near
background was not there during the war, but beyond the mound are trees which were there - the 336 FS dispersal huts
were located at the treeline. (Winefordner)
A brick retaining wall at one end of the north 336 two-ship parking bay.
Beginning of the West (28) runway. Notice the "half loop", which was attached to the left side
of the start of each runway for jeeps, flagmen, ambulances, etc. There are many shots taken from the tower and
334's hangar which show aircraft forming up here, at the start of this runway, just before making their takeoff runs.
View from just outside 336's south parking bay (where I got my brick!) looking out at the intersection of
the parking bay taxiway and the southwest corner of the main perimeter track.
Looking northerly along 334's winding perimeter track. This is the west side of the big loop around
the N-S runway. Parking spots to the left and right.
A derelict 334 parking spot - with a little wind over the grass, you can almost hear the engines running
. . .
Looking westerly along the east-west parallel taxiway from it's intersection with the North-South runway.
Looking southward along a Debden technical site street during my walking tour.
Looking northerly at the one remaining "C" hangar (334's) from the hangar line road.
Inside one of the 334 Fighter Squadron hangar offices - long abandoned. The windows to the left
faced the perimeter track, and I'm sure this room shook, especially when P-47s taxied by just outside!