American Arrivals

Photo:Poster for the 2012 Exhibition 'American Arrivals' at the Manor House Museum

Poster for the 2012 Exhibition 'American Arrivals' at the Manor House Museum

By Kettering Museum and Art Gallery

Seventy years ago, during the Second World War, a friendly invasion occurred in Great Britain: the arrival of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) in 1942.

By late 1941, Britain was exhausted by the ongoing war, then approaching its third year. Although the United States of America (USA), had already assisted Britain with pilot-training opportunities and the lease of arms and military vehicles, it remained cautious over becoming involved in a, seemingly, European conflict.

On 7 December 1941, Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, and as a result, the United States declared war on Japan. As Germany and Italy were Japanese allies, the USA was brought wholeheartedly into the Second World War.  The involvement of the USA in the Second World War brought great relief to Britain.  Winston Churchill admitted that, after his conversation with Roosevelt, he himself “went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.”

By spring 1942, the landing of US troops in Britain was well underway. Although Roosevelt spoke metaphorically of boats and ships, it was in the air that the USA’s wartime involvement was most noticeable. One of the greatest challenges associated with the arrival of US troops was to build enough airfields, warehouses, depots and accommodation, to house these new ‘American Arrivals’. It was a difficult task in a country struggling to source enough land, to grow all its own food, and feed a population of 50 million.

At the beginning of the Second World War, Northamptonshire had very few air bases. By 1941, the number of RAF air bases in Northamptonshire had grown considerably. There were bases on the county border at Wittering and Peterborough, and also at Sywell. New airfields had been built at Croughton, Denton, Hinton-inthe-Hedges, Collyweston, King’s Cliffe, Polebrook, Chipping Warden, Grafton Underwood and Chelveston.

The arrival of the USAAF, in 1942, saw the stationing of the US Eighth Army Air Force first at Grafton Underwood and Polebrook, and later at Chelveston and Kings Cliffe. The presence of the USAAF in the county brought about additional airfield construction and, by 1944, Northamptonshire had six further airfields at Silverstone, Husbands Bosworth, Desborough, Deenethorpe, Harrington and Spanhoe. The total number of air bases in Northamptonshire had now reached 18. Of these, seven were used by the USAAF and were served by almost 20,000 men.  Two of these American air bases were located within the Borough of Kettering: Grafton Underwood and Harrington.

During the USAAF’s stationing in Britain, over 50,000 American airmen were killed in action or posted missing. The scale and intensity of the Eighth Army Air Force’s wartime contribution is reinforced by the fact that half the ‘Medals of Honor’, the highest American decoration for bravery, were awarded to airmen serving with the Eighth.

Whilst the involvement of the USA in the Second World War significantly increased Britain’s allied strength, it was in the areas where American servicemen were stationed that some of the most memorable and personal influences took place. Despite initial differences and tensions, the shared desire and determination to win a war against a common enemy, brought the Americans and British together.

By the end of the war, the influence of American servicemen in Britain had been far-reaching, both socially and culturally. Whilst both nationalities had enjoyed and endured many differences, Britain had been introduced to new American influences, regarding food and drink, entertainment, music, dancing and much more. For many Britons, getting to know the Americans had been a refreshing highlight of the war. Lasting friendships and legacies were made, and marriages between local girls and American servicemen had twinned families from Kettering Borough with those in states across the USA.

In 2012 Kettering Museum and ArtGallery were awarded funding by the Heritage Lottery Fund to commemorate Ketterings World War II Legacy; specifically focusing on the impact on American servicemen within the Borough.

This page was added by Kettering Museum and Art Gallery on 01/05/2013.
Comments about this page

23 Cromwell Road

In 1953 my father was stationed at then, Molesworth U.S. Air Force Base.  We lived for a short while in Woodford and then moved to Kettering at 23 Cromwell Road.  My memories are vivid and very pleasant of your city.

Just wanted you to know...

By Ron Quarto
On 01/05/2013

My father was based at Chelveston and met my mom at one of those dances. They married in 1951. Now I have tons of cousins,aunts,and uncles around the Kettering area!!!! Great place, love it!


By Tanya Satre
On 30/07/2014

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