16. Sep, 2020

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Towards the end of March, the news came that Major Stewart had been promoted. When the announcement was made nothing was said about “flying too many missions”. The official word was that the 453rd Bomb Group needed an operations officer, and Major Stewart has been promoted to the job. So, after six months in the chain of command in the 445th, Major Jimmy Stewart got in his jeep and headed down the road on ten miles of narrow and twisting roads to take up his new duties at Old Buckenham.

That night, Stewart returned to operations, working with his team all night to plan the following day’s mission. At the briefing the 453rd discovered that their new operations officer was a good man with a pointer – a superb briefer. He knew the most intimate details of the mission, talked clearly, concisely, but in a low-key voice. He was easy to understand and to follow.

During the days of late April and the month of May – leading up to D-Day in early June – the combat crews flew almost daily, the ground crews kept the Liberators ready for flight, and all the Old Buckenham people felt the pressure and were proud of it.

On July 2nd Stewart was transferred to Second Combat Wing Headquarters at Hethel as General Timberlake’s executive officer. The staff work at Hethel was quite a contrast to combat duty at Tibenham and Old Buckenham. Stewart would remain at Second Combat Wing Headquarters for the remainder of the war, though he would often slip over to the 389th, the Pathfinder (radar) group also based at Hethel, or jump in his jeep and drive to Old Buckenham or Tibenham and fly occasional missions.

On June 1st 1945, just days after WWII ended in Europe, Colonel Jimmy Stewart, chief of staff of the Second Combat Wing of the Second Air Division, presided over a court-martial of two combat flyers of the Second Division who were accused of bombing neutral Switzerland. This was by far Stewart’s most important assignment at wing headquarters, and, because of the grave charges against the officers, perhaps the most significant of his wartime career.

On March 4th, 1945, only a short time before the war ended in Europe, an American B-24 Liberator on a bombing mission to Nazi Germany inadvertently bombed Zurich in Switzerland due to navigation problems in very bad weather.

The aviators were based and flew out of Wendling Airfield, north of the A47 at Wendling, near Dereham, Norfolk GPS: N52.699312º E0.848184º, and the location of the Court-Martial hearing? – nearby Ketteringham Hall, later to be owned by Colin Chapman, owner of Lotus cars.

Both flyers were cleared of the charges.

Stewart was overseas twenty-three months and flew twenty missions. He wore the Distinguished Flying Cross with cluster, the Air Medal with three clusters, six battle stars and a French medal.