Hopes that blockbuster Spielberg mini-series will use Kettering area locations for filming

Masters of the Air is the third in a TV trilogy including Band of Brothers and Pacific

Saturday, 23rd January 2021, 7:00 am
Holloywood A listers, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are behind the production scheduled to start this year
Holloywood A listers, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are behind the production scheduled to start this year

Northamptonshire's historic locations have been recced by a film company on behalf of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin production company for his latest highly-anticipated Second World War TV blockbuster.

Back in 2013, it was announced that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks were to follow up their acclaimed TV dramas Band of Brothers and The Pacific with a third series entitled Masters of the Air.

The drama, based on the book of the same name, will explore the experiences of US airmen of the Second World War through the eyes of enlisted men of the Eighth Air Force - the US bombardment group that first flew from their Grafton Underwood base near Kettering.

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Neill Howarth

Neill Howarth of The Friends of the 384th - a committed group of enthusiasts determined to keep the history of the US airfields alive - hopes that the TV show will be filmed in the original locations.

He said: "They had somebody come to have a look at Boughton House about 18 months ago. The production team has scouted the area and Boughton.

"Filming was supposed to start in March 2021 but of course with Covid everything is on hold."

Many locations associated with the US airmen's stay in the county from May 1942 remain largely unchanged, from Grafton Underwood village to Boughton House that provided a make-shift campsite for a GI tent city.

The operations room at Grafton Underwood

The sprawling Grafton Underwood base, built in 1941, was the first airfield in England to receive an Eighth Air Force flying unit, when in May 1942 personnel of the 15th Bomb Squadron took up residence. As a satellite airfield for Polebrook near Oundle, the airfield was then home to two squadrons of the 97th Bomb Group.

Equipped with the iconic B-17 'Flying Fortress' bombers, the airfield became home to succession of Bomb Groups, including the 305th, 96th, and 384th.

Over the years many US airmen have made the pilgrimage back to the county to visit the Geddington Road memorial erected in 1977 and the stained glass window in St James the Apostle Church in the village, dedicated to the fallen from the US base.

The Friends of the 384th group have organised trips for the handful of remaining veterans to return to the airfield to pay their respects and retrace the steps of their youth.

The current state of the Operations Block or 'Map Room'

They are hoping to set up a museum with a visitor centre with the base's former map room as a centrepiece.

In January 2020, an application to convert the old map room into a house was refused by Kettering Council citing that the building was a 'Historic Monument Asset'.

Neill said: "There were about 3,500 to 4,000 men stationed there. Air crews did their tours and went home but the admin and site guys stayed for more than two years. There was no nipping home.

"We have so much interest in the airfield from America from the children and grandchildren of those who were actually here. They can walk down where their fathers and grandfathers once walked.

The entrance to the base

"We are desperate for the museum to happen and we are very close to setting up a charity so that we can get a bank account for all the donations that have been pledged.

"The Americans are immensely patriotic and when they come over they feel so much connection. They are blown away by the idea of a museum."

It is hoped that the original 1943 operations block, or map room - the nerve centre of the base once covered in charts and chalk boards showing the movements of the aircraft - will eventually be renovated into its former state with a nissan hut to act as the first port of call.

Many US soldiers struck up friendships with local women and more than 140 marriages between GIs and Northamptonshire girls took place whilst they were stationed at Grafton Underwood providing deep-rooted family connections in the county.

Neill added: "It's exciting that this could happen and it's something to look forward to. If they were to come here and film it would be wonderful for the area and tourism for years to come."

The 384th Bomb Group flew B-17s from Grafton Underwood, Northamptonshire, between May 1943 and June 1945.

Some of the US airmen

They were engaged in daylight bombing missions over Germany as part of the Allies' efforts to destroy the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe by bombing aircraft assembly plants, ground strafing aircraft and hitting associated industrial sites.

The Group were awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations. The first was awarded to the 1st Bomb Division as a whole for flying without fighter protection to bomb aircraft factories at Oschersleben on 11 January 1944. The second was for bravery under fire when leading the 41st Wing on a mission to bomb an aircraft factory and airfield at Oberpfaffenhofen, southern Germany, on 24 April 1944.

Steven Spielberg's Amblin TV has been contacted for a comment.

Grafton Underwood base in 1943
An aerial shot of Boughton House showing the tent city