Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memories of 44 - Lest We Forget

Following-on from yesterday's post, my thanks to Tony Ovenden for sending over the records of two Liberator bombers that crashed in Thanet in 1944.

From one of the documents, it's clear that one of the two aircraft, from the 392nd USAAF bombing group (BG), - Based in East Anglia near Wendling, Norfolk, - crashed off the the beach at Westgate on 27th April 1944. The other, from the 446th BG, - Station 125, Flixton - crashed at Foreness Point, both following a raid over Germany.

It's clear that the censor did not pass the report for the Thanet Gazette and until now, I had no idea of the incident, which had the Westgate aircraft ditch on the beach to avoid the town.

Thanks to the internet, we can discover more about the men and the missions involved on that day.

Returning debriefings gave an account that the Westgate aircraft had been hit by flak with one man bailing out at 1930 hours, and the ship finally crashed landed at sea near Westgate-Kent with (5) of the crew killed and (4) injured in the crash. The date of this final 392nd de-briefing account was 1 June 1944. No other information was given in these general reporting at the time though one member, Sgt. Kent, who had bailed out earlier, was taken as a POW.

After the war, Sgt. Kent, one of the surviving crewmen and the only POW, gave the following account of the crew’s plight in a report given 9 March 1946:

"We took off from England about noon after a very quick briefing which only the Pilot and Navigator attended. I was flying as spare Radio Operator at the time and did not know any of crew members until that day. We bombed an airfield in France and were very near the French coast on our return trip when we were struck by flak.

The plane started in a slow spin (and) the Co-Pilot left his position and started pulling off (his) flak suit and oxygen mask. The Engineer prepared to leave his position in the upper turret. It was my duty to clear the flight desk, open the flight deck doors and the bomb bays, which I did and stood waiting for orders. The plane was still dropping and the Engineer came out of his position trying to get his feet on the cat-walk where I was standing. In order to make room for him and for the Co-Pilot who had left his position, I was forced to bail out. I delayed opening my parachute for several thousand feet and then looked around expecting to see others about, but saw none nor could I see any plane going down. While a prisoner, I heard in a round-about-manner that the plane had kept on in a rather long coasting dive until it hit in the Channel a little way from the English shore; and that one man at least (had) survived the crash. I give you the above information with an open mind as it came to me from fellows who had been in the same outfit (392nd) as I, but might have been speaking of an entirely different case...".

The following members of this aircrew are interred in the U.S. National Overseas Military Cemetery at Cambridge: Ross; Aughinbaugh and Rich. There is no information listed for Sgts. Munford and Fink. Both Ross and Aughinbaugh are shown to have been awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Purple Heart.


Tony Beachcomber said...

Simon, I never realised that such detailed military aviation information is available on the internet. It is also satisfying to see local information and internet information match up to produce a excellent account of what happened from two different sources.

Anonymous said...

anon again!

Perhaps an extra moment of silence for these brave chaps on Rememberance Sunday would be in order.
Perhaps more might have got out or been saved if they had been able to go for a Manston landing.

Jeremy Jacobs said...

Really interesting post Simon. Where do you get this stuff from? Margate Civic Society?

Corporate presenter

DrMoores said...

Scans from Tony Ovenden and some modest research on my part to tie it all together!

Tony Beachcomber said...

In 1995 I found a piece of air craft at Palm Bay. I took it to John Williams who was curator of the Margate Museum at the time. He identified the piece as being American by the inspection marks. The only record of a American bomber crashing at Palm Bay was a B24 liberator crashing 27/04/1944. The only information in the Museum Archive was the censored Gazette Report. I took the story to the Gazette and it was published on 25th August 1995.
As a result many eye witnesses to the Palm Bay crash came forward. By all accounts it was horrific, with the B24 crashing onto the edge of the cliff and bursting into flames with crew members dying of horrific burns in the arms of their resucers.The eye witnes's set up a group headed by Arthur Pay who wanted to erect a memorial on the crash site, they eventualy opted to raise money for a bronze memorial statue in memory of all Allied airmen who died during WW2. They raised the money and a statue was unveiled by the Queen Mother outside the spitfire and hurricane museum on 18th July 1997.
There is detailed research on the Palm Bay crash available in the Margate Museum but very little on the Westgate crash,