Britain: A Military History Tour

By Kolb, Richard K. | VFW Magazine, January 2000 | Go to article overview

Britain: A Military History Tour


Kolb, Richard K., VFW Magazine


England and Scotland have a wealth of military history to share with American veterans. And with the advances in technology, the presentations are better than ever Here's a whirlwind tour.

Americans-for the fifth time this century-conducted military operations from bases in Britain. This time the bombing targets were located in the former Yugoslavia.

Operations over Kosovo highlighted a century-long alliance between the US. and the United Kingdom. Since the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, GIs and Brits have served together in WWI, North Russia, WWII, Korea, Cold War Germany, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia, and now in Kosovo and over Iraq.

During the spring 1999 air missions directed against Kosovo, U.S. bombers and re-fueling planes flew from Royal Air Force bases at Mildenhall, Fairford and Lakenheath. The 1,500-mile round trip took seven hours. Several units were involved.

Similar missions also originated in Britain during the Gulf War and Libya (1986). While America's stay in the Isles during WWII is well known, few Americans realize 40,000 airmen were stationed there at 16 airfields during the height of the Cold War. So links between American vets and the U.K. are strong.

MAKING THE MUSEUM CIRCUIT

Start your tour with London's famed Imperial War Museum. Approximately 80,000 Americans see this world-renown site every year. "Focus is placed on social history in many cases," said Press Officer Ruth Findlay, "including the experiences of vets from the Royal British Legion. This attracts a far wider variety of visitors.'

Historical displays cover WWI, WWII and "Conflicts Since 1945" (Cold War through Bosnia). Visitors can experience"The Trench" from WWI as well as WWII's "Blitz." Spectacular film footage brings the war home. And the Blitz is complete with the sights, smells and sounds of a German bombing raid.

Exhibits on the "Secret War" tell the fascinating story of the Special Air Service (SAS). Inspiring stories of Victoria Cross recipients are told in another gallery. Dramatic newsreel footage, combat art and interactive video are woven throughout the three-story museum, opened in 1920.

Head next to the American Air Museum, located at Duxford Airfield near Cambridge, about 50 miles from London. The Imperial Land Warfare Museum also is situated on airfield grounds. The Air Museum was opened in August 1997, and attracts an estimated 40,000 Americans each year. Some 65,000 Americans donated money to help build the museum.

Displays encompass WWI, WWII, the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam. Every type of plane from the U-2 to the B-52 can be found among the 150 historic aircraft on exhibit. Be sure to see the "American Airmen in Britain" section. Its Hall of Honor has eight panels listing the names of U.S. fliers killed while flying missions from the U.K. during WWII. Counting the Cost, a dramatic memorial sculpture, consists of panels lining the route to the museum's entrance. The 52 glass panels are engraved with aircraft outlines depicting the 7,031 planes of the U.S. 8th and 9th Air Forces (and also the Navy) lost in the war over Europe.

Like military history museums in the States, the American Air Museum is working hard to attract the general public. "Public interest in military history has declined, and that

includes aviation history," said Marketing Manager Frank Crosby. "It is a challenge to draw people in. Yet the American Air Museum does appeal to a wide range of people.

"Touring the museum is quite an experience. Word of mouth is our best marketing tool. As part of our effort, we provide talks to schoolchildren, numbering 35,000 annually.

"People in the states have heard of the American Cemetery at Cambridge, now we want them to include the museum in their travel plans. Our collection of aircraft is excellent. And this museum has already won five awards. We hope to include more interactive presentations in the future. …

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