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The reverse side of a commemorative postal cover recognizing the U.S. Army Air Force’s 801st/492nd Bomb Group, known as The Carpetbaggers. The collectible covers featuring new Royal Mail stamps on the front, will be sold to raise money to help preserve World War II history.
The reverse side of a commemorative postal cover recognizing the U.S. Army Air Force’s 801st/492nd Bomb Group, known as The Carpetbaggers. The collectible covers featuring new Royal Mail stamps on the front, will be sold to raise money to help preserve World War II history. (Image Courtesy of Bletchley Park Post Office)
The reverse side of a commemorative postal cover recognizing the U.S. Army Air Force’s 801st/492nd Bomb Group, known as The Carpetbaggers. The collectible covers featuring new Royal Mail stamps on the front, will be sold to raise money to help preserve World War II history.
The reverse side of a commemorative postal cover recognizing the U.S. Army Air Force’s 801st/492nd Bomb Group, known as The Carpetbaggers. The collectible covers featuring new Royal Mail stamps on the front, will be sold to raise money to help preserve World War II history. (Image Courtesy of Bletchley Park Post Office)
On Tuesday, with the release of the Royal Mail’s new stamp series “The Sky at Night,” featuring paintings of astronomical phenomena, the Bletchley Post Office unveiled a cover with the stamps pasted over an original picture of a mission by the 801st/492nd Bomb Group - known as the Carpetbaggers. The group, which dropped agents and supplies behind enemy lines during World War II, flew many of its missions in planes painted black and guided by moonlight.
On Tuesday, with the release of the Royal Mail’s new stamp series “The Sky at Night,” featuring paintings of astronomical phenomena, the Bletchley Post Office unveiled a cover with the stamps pasted over an original picture of a mission by the 801st/492nd Bomb Group - known as the Carpetbaggers. The group, which dropped agents and supplies behind enemy lines during World War II, flew many of its missions in planes painted black and guided by moonlight. (Image Courtesy of Bletchley Park Post Office)

RAF MILDENHALL — A secretive World War II bomb group that flew low-level night missions to drop spies and supplies into enemy territory was honored with a commemorative stamp package released Tuesday.

The special operations unit, the U.S. Army Air Force’s 801st/492nd Bomb Group, known as the Carpetbaggers, flew hundreds of missions over German-held France, Belgium and Denmark in 1944-45 in modified B-24s designed to allow them to make clandestine drops in dangerous territory.

This week, the 801st/492nd received special recognition from Bletchley Park Post Office, a historical organization based at a former secret British code-breaking facility.

The post office designs and sells commemorative “covers” — collectible envelopes featuring new Royal Mail stamps — to aid with preservation costs for its own museum and other World War II historical groups.

On Tuesday, with the release of the Royal Mail’s new stamp series “The Sky at Night,” featuring paintings of astronomical phenomena, the post office unveiled a cover with the stamps pasted over an original picture of a Carpetbaggers mission. The 801st/492nd group flew many of its missions in planes painted black and guided by moonlight.

“What we’ve done is to link the theme of the stamps … to the Carpetbagger missions,” said Terry Mitchell, a volunteer at Bletchley Park. The package is for collection only — not for use in the Royal Mail.

Bletchly Park also decided to donate proceeds to help renovate the Carpetbagger Aviation Museum in Northamptonshire, about 75 miles west of RAFs Mildenhall and Lakenheath.

“I … heard that these guys were having trouble with one of their buildings over there,” Mitchell said.

The museum is on the defunct Harrington airfield, once the landing strip used for the series of daring missions to keep supplies flowing to the French and to drop special agents behind enemy lines, said Thomas Ensminger, a historian and author working on his third book about the Carpetbaggers.

Originally formed in late 1943 from a group of anti-submarine pilots, the initial Carpetbaggers flew out of RAF Alconbury. Overcrowding at the base and the addition of more planes to the 801st/492nd forced the unit to move to Harrington, to the west, Ensminger said.

To make the missions possible, engineers modified their B-24s by removing the ball turret on the belly of the plane, making what was called a “Joe hole,” said U.S. Air Forces in Europe senior historian Bill Elliott. The name came from the nickname for the agents that jumped out of the holes, parachuting into enemy territory to work as spies or saboteurs with the Resistance, he said. Women agents were called “Janes.”

In addition to painting the planes black, the pilots also were given state-of-the-art technology to locate drop and landing zones in complete darkness, Elliott said.

They flew in low, just a few hundred feet above the ground, slowed to near-stall speed and sent the agents through the Joe hole, or pushed the supplies out the side, all in the black of night.

“I guess, in a way, this is kind of the beginning of special operations,” Elliott said. “These were very gutsy operations. These were very, very dangerous operations.”

The toll in lives and the mission-success rate tell that story. Only about 70 percent of supply and “body” drops were successful, Ensminger said. Carpetbagger planes were shot down by German fighters and anti-aircraft fire, or crashed in their low-altitude runs.

But the unit also took its operations further, performing clandestine nighttime landings behind enemy lines in C-47s to pick up agents, intelligence officers or members of the Resistance, Elliott said.

“They were certainly pioneers,” he said.

Getting thereDirections: Exit 3 off the A14 west of Kettering. Straight through roundabout three miles and hang a right at the Y. Look for the turn on your left.

Hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Admission: 4 pounds ($8) for adults and

2 pounds ($4) for children

Web site:http://www.harringtonmuseum.org.uk

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