In the closing stages of World War II, East Anglia provided a large number of airfields from which the allies conducted the bombing war against Germany.
There were inevitable crashes all over East Anglia. The Stour Valley was no exception, and the crashes described here provide a typical sample of stories
In the first half of 1944, three aircraft were shot down, or crashed, at the Wales End road near Cavendish.
On the 31st of March 1944, a Short Stirling ,No. 104 of No 1657 of heavy conversion R.A.F. Stradishall took off for a training flight with a pupil crew of seven men. This was a solo flight with no instructor present and the crew were very shortly to finish their course prior to being posted to a Lancaster Squadron of No 3 Group Bomber Command.
The weather was cold and snowy and very soon the old aircraft was in trouble due to heavy icing and with one engine failing. It was soon obvious that there was little chance of getting back for a safe landing and the pilot, F/Sgt Charles “Chuck” Washer ordered his crew to bail out, not a nice experience for a young crew.
However they were well disciplined and all exited safely coming down along the Suffolk / Essex border. John Mercier, the rear gunner, came down at Belchamp St Pauls with Daryl Cooper (mid upper gunner) nearby. Jack Case landed in a farmyard and slightly injured his leg. “Chuck” came down near Ridgewell, having been chased by his aircraft as it completed it’s last flight. “Chuck” saw it flash as it hit the ground north of Cavendish in Suffolk.
All the crew survived and were commended by their C.O., as although they had written off an old war weary Stirling, they had saved themselves and their value as an operational crew was far more.
They were all posted to No 75 (New Zealand Squadron) at Mepal in Cambridgeshire and flew a complete tour of operations. The Stirling had not crashed outright but had circled down and made a reasonable landing on it’s own, bouncing through a hedge and breaking into several parts across the next field.
Eye witnesses speak of belts of ammunition draped from trees and the narrow lane running in petrol from the fractured tanks. The aircraft came down at approximately 21-15 to 21-30 hours.
|K. Burmester||air bomber||U.K|
|D. Cooper||mid upper gunner||N. Z|
|J. Casey||wireless operator,||Australia|
|N. Melor||flight engineer|
|J. Mercer||rear gunner.|
This information was kindly made available by Jock Whitehouse of Haverhill.
On Thursday July 20th 1944. a B-24 Bomber of the 836th bomb squadron from the 487th bombardment group based at Lavenham airfield had taken off at the start of a practice flight to check bomb sight tracking etc.
Not long into the flight it collided with another aircraft, a B-17G Flying Fortress also based at Lavenham. The B-24 crashed at Cavendish and the B-17 not far from its base home base at Lavenham airfield.
All of the crew were killed, they are listed below.
They were buried at Cambridge in the American Cemetery, Plot numbers in brackets.
|Pilot||1st - Lt Paul M. Stults||Presumed buried at the end of August 1944 (P-2-15) ) 0-420234. U.S.A. Arlington National cemetery. Fort Myer, Va.|
|Pilot||1st - Lt David L. Ozbolt||(J-6-17) (0-680279) U.S.A. Florida|
|Co-Pilot||2nd Lt Thomas Eldridge||(J-6-170) Cal. Cambridge F-3--38|
|Navigator||1st Lt Charles A. Heil||(J-6-21) 0-703250 Mo. Cambridge E-3-54|
|Navigator||1st Lt Donald King||(J-6-21) 0-687861 U.S.A. PA.|
|Bombardier||1st Lt Lester R. Walters||(J-6-24) 0-694823 U.S.A. Tex.|
|Gunner||S/sgt William Sherman||(J-6-23) 36425078 U.S.A. Ill.|
|Ground Crew||Sgt William L. Milliken||( J-6-18) 33434576 U.S.A. P.A. Died of wounds on 12th August 1944 Buried in Cambridge Plot J-10-22.|
|Ground Crew||S/Sgt Robert S. Baker||(J-6-19) 34598850 U.S.A. NC.|
|Bomb Sight||T/Sgt Pete J. Casttillo||18057597.|
Ernest Playle was ploughing a field near by and was an eye witness to the crash.
There was a practice bombing range on Ducks Hall land nearby, which consisted of about ½ an acre of concrete material, two American servicemen lived in a cottage at Ducks Hall and had an observation tower on the hill before you go down the hill to Robbs farm in the field about 100 yards. The American servicemen would climb the tower and would give results of the bombing run etc to the airmen.
When the crash happened two airmen baled out and landed in the field on the left hand side leading to Robbs farm on the hill. It is believed the rest of the crew were killed.
Local people today can recall the two Americans who serviced the bombing range, one was called “Herman” and that they rode about in a jeep and used it frequently to visit local pubs.
As a 15 year old lad working at Brook Hall, Foxearth, cutting nettles in the stackyard, I heard an explosion and looked towards Foxearth and saw these two aircraft, one crashing and the other going off in flames, I remember thinking it was going to crash on Foxearth (G.H.)
This is all that could be found about the 20th of July 1944 crash. Details were compiled in good faith and we apologise for any errors or omissions.
Information kindly was provided by Roland Andrews of Sudbury.
The resumption by the Luftwaffe of their mini-blitz in the spring 1944 was code named “Steinbock”. This saw large numbers of bombers over the British Isles; more than had been seen for many months.
The night of 21/22 of March saw around 95 aircraft sent out to attack London. Four of the raiders were brought down on land.
4D+AT fell to the guns of Squadron Leader Bunting and his radar operator Flt/Reed in a Mosquito of 488 Squadron flying out of Bradwell Bay. They found the Germans with the help of searchlights and despite evasive manoeuvres and the release of “Duppel” foil strips to hamper the Mosquito's radar, the 9/KG30 was hit by two bursts of 20mm cannon fire.
The bomber went down in an inverted dive and exploded on impact in a field at Blacklands Hall, just to the north of Cavendish at 00:45.
R.A.F. intelligence travelled to Suffolk to inspect the crash site and reported that the Ju88A-4 Werke No 301522 had impacted at a very steep angle, the fuel tanks exploding and the engine and fuselage being buried in a crater 14ft deep.
The pilot Obfw. Mayer and radio operator Obfw Szyska were killed in the crash. Fw. Maser, the observer and Fw Elmshorst both baled out safely and became prisoners of war.
This was to be the third German to fall to Squadron Leader Buntings guns, the fourth would be a Ju-188, 25 minutes later over southern Essex.
Karl-Heinz Elmhorst recalled that he baled out at a reasonable height, giving him time to take his pistol from it’s holster and strip it, throwing the pieces to all points of the compass, so that it would not fall into enemy hands.
Local people say that one man baled out or was thrown out and found dead at Glemsford at the junction of Flax Lane and Hobbs Lane in the field on the corner going to Glemsford on the left hand side from Melford road. he was buried in Glemsford churchyard and taken back to Germany after the war.
A tip of the Junkers wing fell in a meadow at Claypits farm, Foxearth.
Information and photograph was supplied by Jeff Carless, of the East Anglian Aircraft Research Group
On the 20th of May 1944, thirty six aircraft, 487 B G Liberators, took off from the Lavenham airfield to bomb Leige.
Lt. Everett F. Goethe took his plane off from Lavenham but felt tremors from the airframe, take off was at 06-30 hours and assembly was over Lavenham, the Liberator climbed but suddenly they were falling, Goethe tried to pull her up but her number two engine had failed, suddenly they smashed into some trees and the aircraft burst into flames.
Police Sergeant Ronald Saunders of Long Melford heard the crash and leapt into his car and reached woodland near Kentwell Hall on the outskirts of Long Melford.
He knew one bomb had exploded and also feared that there would be more than one in the wreckage, he dashed passed the wreckage and warned a small group of civilians to stand back. Near the blazing plane he found one man lying in the leaf mould with his clothes and body alight.
The Sergeant called for support and was joined by Special Constable James Thompson who lived in the gamekeeper’s cottage. Farmer Robert Colson also responded, when the crash had occurred he ran to help but was blown off his feet by the explosion of the first bomb
They cut off the man’s clothing and others carried the man to safety. Sergeant Saunders continued to look for survivors despite the danger of more bombs going off and found another man who was carried to safety. Saunders then came on Bill Jefferies and led him from the scene.
The rescue services arrived and Saunders led them to the crash and impressed the USAAF doctors with his calmness.. Saunders said little to his family about the events that morning, but his courage and that shown by Robert Colson and James Thompson was recognised. The farmer and Special Constable received commendations form King George V1, while the Home Secretary, the Right Honourable Herbert Morrison endorsed a recommendation for Sergeant Saunders to receive the British Empire Medal. This was granted by the King and fostered the admiration, respect and friendship between the residents of East Anglia and the fliers who faced death on their behalf.
Many like Bill Jefferies inherited life long physical and emotional scars. Six of the crew died, Bill’s back was broken but he recovered to fly his 35 missions.
Sergeant Saunders, BEM, retired from the constabulary in 1959 and died 16 years later.
In 1963 the Ministry of Defence were still concerned about the threat of ordinance on the crash site that they refused a licence to recover the remains of the bomber for museum display. Ammunition and fragments still reside in the woodland, reminders of events one misty morning a long time ago.
The crew were—
The crash of the B 24 Serial No. 42-94788 844 Sqn. 489TH Bomb Group Halesworth
Flight Officer Robert Shager and crew crashed near Sudbury, the 486th Bomb Group base on the way back from Saarbruken, Luckily everyone bailed out successfully. Shager reported afterwards that he first lost manifold pressure on No 1 engine, then oil pressure on No 3 while still over the continent. After feathering No 3 and having left the formation, he had the bombs salvoed and turned for home. No 4 engine then began to throw out oil and he feathered the that prop after crossing the English coast.
With two engines out and another in danger of going, Shager ordered the crew to jump when they were down to 15000 feet. Co-pilot Harold Ward went out at 10,000 feet just before No 2 propeller ran away. With the plane in a tight spiral, Shager feathered his last functioning engine, No 1, and bailed out himself.
The Liberator crashed on a field at Cuckoo Tye Farm, Acton belong to William Miller,( the crash site is about 50 yards from the now Long Melford bypass (A134) opposite a lane leading to Cuckoo Tye Farm, on the left hand side towards Bury St Edmunds, near a sugar beet pad.
Again as a lad I saw the crash, I was carting mangels with a horse and cart from a clamp situated near the coach road at Brook Hall, Foxearth when I heard an aircraft in trouble and was watching closely but could not see as it was in high overcast, when it came out of the cloud in a slow spin, a parachute appeared and plane gently spun to earth, I remember being frightened as I thought the horse would run away with the explosion but there was hardly any noise only a 'crump!', (G.H.)
Information was supplied by Roland Andrews of Sudbury and Peter Miller of Cuckoo Tye, Acton. Again we apologise for any errors or omissions