Anatomy of Station 153 – The Control Tower

Between 1941 and 1945, three million U.S. servicemen and women passed through Great Britain. 500,000 of these were Army Air Corps, with the majority (350,000) members of the Eighth Air Force.  The effects of this “friendly invasion” were long lasting.  50,000 British women married Airmen… and female service members took more than a handful of British men captive too!  The bases that remain in East Anglia are a reminder of this short but important part of history.  

“The Control Tower has been called the ‘Nerve Center’ of a bomber airbase. Orders to take off, priority landings, directions of landing, etc., were issued from the Control Tower. The Control Tower personnel had direct communication with standby emergency units such as fire-fighters, ambulance personnel and engineering people who handled large mechanical equipment. They also maintained close communication with the Operations, Communication, Armament, Base Security and Base Headquarters people.”  The 24 hour control tower operations, described by Richard H. Perry, Pilot and Operations Officer, were critical to the success of the 390th Bomb Group.   

The control tower (also referred to by the British as a Watch Office) at Station 153 was of the common design.  This 28′ by 33′ building, constructed with 4 ½” x 9” English brick using an “English Bond” pattern resulting in 14” thick walls, was two stories high, 18’ total from the ground floor concrete slab to the pre-formed concrete roof. The standard complement of personnel at an Eighth AF control tower was three officers and about 50 enlisted personnel. The enlisted personnel were highly trained specialists and included air traffic controllers, radio operators, weathermen, rescue personnel, alert crews, and administrative staff.

 

Ground Floor

Floor Plan of Control Tower 1st FloorWeather is critical for flight, and it was especially important in the United Kingdom. A weather detachment, manned in shifts by three commissioned forecasters, two enlisted forecasters, five observers and two weather clerks, was located on the ground floor.  These men were a detachment of the 18th Weather Squadron,  and were responsible for reading the weather instruments in the nearby weather instrument shelter – maximum and minimum thermometers, a wet bulb thermometer (to measure humidity), a thermograph (which made a continuous chart of the temperature for each 24 hours), and a hydrograph (which made a continuous chart of the humidity for each 24 hours).

Every hour, this information was recorded and transmitted to the Eighth Bomber Command, and every six hours these forecasts were collected and transmitted back to each base to be plotted on weather maps. A briefing room would have been used for briefing pilots on weather.  The duty pilot’s rest room allowed for weary pilots to get a little rest and relaxation in during quiet moments.

Along with the meteorological office of the weather detachment, a duty pilot’s rest room, a watch office, and a switch room were located on the ground floor.

Man sitting at control tower radio overlooking flightline on WWII bomber base

 

1st Floor

Floor Plan of Control Tower 1st FloorThe main control room, fronting the balcony, was the heart of air traffic control.  The flight controllers provided flight clearances, and directed takeoffs and landings. They also communicated with British Royal Observer Corps lookout stations, British Anti-Aircraft and Searchlight units, Air/Sea Rescue units, and Fighter Command Air Defense headquarters. A controller’s rest room with cots and entertainment, like dart boards, helped personnel stay focused during long shifts and decompress during high stress operations. 

Edward E Hodgson, Tower Operator with the 30th Station Complement, described life in the tower. “Most people thought that our sole responsibility was to work our 390th Bomb Group aircraft on and off the field. This was the main job but interspersed with that job was a number of other important activities. We monitored frequencies and were on standby for any emergency landings for RAF aircraft in trouble. We often got a call from the RAF Plotting Center putting us on yellow or red alert depending on how close German Fighters, following the RAF home, were to our base…”

 

Image of two story Control Tower, a part of today's Parham Air Field Museum.

The 390th Bomb Group Memorial Air Museum is housed in the original wartime Control Tower of Framlingham, Station 153. It is a tribute to the endeavours of the 390th Bomb Group, 8th United States Army Air Force and other Allied airmen operating from bases throughout East Anglia, during the Second World War. 

Want to read more?

https://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/in-the-footsteps-of-the-mighty-eighth-15806031/

https://airforceescape.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/As-seen-in-AFMF-Journal-Eighth-AF-Tower.pdf

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