WITH their combat missions completed, Eighth Air Force crews still based on European soil have been rather a glum lot during the past few months. Barracks, ready-rooms, and whole fields reflect their impatience with inactivity, their eagerness to return home or to go on to Pacific flying and fighting.
But one field is different. Valley, Wales, playing host to a highly transient traffic, is pervaded with the more contented air of anticipation-near-fulfillment. For this is the Final take-off point for heavy bombers on their way home.
Dubbed, inevitably and aptly, "Happy Valley," the field is operated by the European Division of the Air Transport Command, under Brigadier General Earl S Hoag. Here the unit commanded by Colonel James C Cochran of Riverside, California, billets, feeds, briefs airmen of the Eighth Air Force and dispatches them with the utmost speed to the United States.
Each bomber scheduled for Valley has undergone inspection at its home base by a special team of Air Transport Command officers and men. Life rafts, life belts, and other emergency equipment are checked carefully and planes are loaded under the supervision of ATC experts in weights and balances. Space receives maximum utilization. In addition to its crew of ten, each plane carries ten enlisted personnel, along with the mail of soldiers still in Europe.
The heavies usually arrive in the afternoon, are met by trucks which carry the crews to the terminal, where the American Red Cross provides coffee and doughnuts. WACs are in attendance to greet the men, to tell them where they can eat, get billets for the night, and convert their pounds and shillings to US currency. Crews are cautioned that a guard must be kept on their planes at all times, and are reminded to take along all personal belongings when they leave.
The men are restricted to the post for the night, sleep until early dawn, about 4:30 AM. Shortly after awakening, pilots, copilots, navigators, and radio operators gather for an hour-long briefing, which includes movies of the various stop-over and emergency fields on their homeward route.
Special briefings follow for radio operators alone, for pilots, and for navigators. Although the ships are to travel time-tested Air Transport Command routes over the Atlantic, the trip nonetheless requires careful planning. ATC provides each crew with printed and oral instruction to cover any contingency, supplies a pilot's handbook, flight plans, radio facility charts, briefing clearances, navigation flight logs, radio logs, cruise control charts and maps.
As their planes warm up, men on the Happy Valley flight line take their farewells with a jaunty "I'll buy you that beer in New York, Joe" or "Japan, here we come." Some sixteen or eighteen hours after they have arrived, crewmen of the Eighth leave Happy Valley, well-rested, well-fed, well-briefed. And their departure, too, is marked by the same Allied co-operation which the Eighth Air Force knew in combat over Europe, as British Coastal Command planes maintain a lookout for any bomber that might be forced to ditch.
This article was originally published in the October, 1945, issue of Air News with Air Tech magazine, vol 9, no 4, p 66.
The PDF of this article includes 4 photos showing crewmen, a B-24 and a B-17.
The original was printed on 9½ by 12¾ inch paper. Images have been reduced to fit on A-size paper. Photos credited to USAAF, ATC (US Army Air Forces, Air Transport Command.)