The Friendly Invasion

Discover the impact of the Second World War ‘Friendly Invasion’ which transformed the rural landscape of Suffolk and left a lasting legacy.

Suffolk’s ‘Friendly Invasion’

At the height of the Second World War, Suffolk was the setting for a ‘Friendly Invasion’ which transformed the rural landscape and left a lasting legacy. The invaders were thousands of young Americans, part of the United States Army Air Force’s vast contribution to the Allies’ strategic bombing offensive being waged against Nazi-occupied Europe – the longest battle of the war.

By 1944, Suffolk echoed to the roar of B24 Liberators and B17 Flying Fortresses as huge aerial armadas took to the skies from a countryside so freckled with bomber bases that it became known as ‘Little America’. (Visit Suffolk)

Coca Cola and the Jitterbug

It is no exaggeration to say that the arrival of 50,000 US servicemen in Suffolk in 1942 had the biggest cultural and landscape impact of any event since the Norman Conquest.

Hundreds of miles of concrete runway were laid in a matter of months (it took 250,000 tonnes of concrete to build one runway), and there was the introduction to our rationed region of peanut butter, donuts, chewing gum, popcorn and Coca Cola, nylons, swing and the jitterbug too Masters of the Air: The Friendly Invasion of Suffolk | Visit Suffolk

95th Bomb Group Museum, Horham

The 95th was the first bomb group to carry out a daylight raid on Berlin. The museum is located on the site of the former NCOs’ club called the Red Feather Club. It features many personal stories and other artefacts within the museum, with original air raid shelters outside. There are two murals, along with the faithfully restored Brad’s Bar, which is used for club socials throughout the year.

The Swan at Lavenham

Atmospheric Lavenham feels like a medieval time capsule. Many US airmen congregated in 15th Century pub The Swan. An inspiring collection of signatures and other mementos adorn the walls of the Airmen’s Bar. You could always have a go at the Boot Record, a challenge to drink three and a half pints of ale from a glass boot in record time. Various British units inscribed the results on the wall, which you can read today. Lavenham itself was a former centre of the wool industry, bypassed by the Industrial Revolution, and retains many of its original buildings, including a medieval guildhall.

(Text taken from Visit Suffolk – Masters of the Air: The Friendly Invasion of Suffolk | Visit Suffolk)

Masters of the Air

The characters and events that defined the time, those airmen and the county have now been immortalised by Apple TV+ in their $275m Masters of the Air drama, based on Donald L Miller’s book and is the final instalment of Tom Hanks’ and Steven Spielberg’s World War II trilogy, following Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

The series, starring BAFTA and Golden Globe Best Actor and Oscar-nominated Elvis actor Austin Butler and Saltburn star Barry Keoghan, has been made by Tom Hanks’ Playtone and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin and began streaming January ’24.

To commemorate the release Visit East of England is updating and republishing its Friendly Invasion souvenir publication, giving an insight into The Friendly Invasion, how the Yanks and Brits interacted 80 years ago, and a guide to the memorial groups and museums, but also a unique visitors’ guide to the region, with itineraries and sections on destinations, accommodation, and things to do and where to eat. The original version can be found here >> The Friendly Invasion – Souvenir Publication by Visit East of England – Issuu