Thursday, February 16, 2012

Liberator Crash Update

I've written and researched a great deal about the Liberator bomber crash in Westgate, with the help of local enthusiasts and historians and last week. I  was given an excerpt from  H.W. (Bill) Hambidge's memoirs written in 1974, which described the bomber crash of 27th April 1944 at West Bay.

There has been some discussion as to who reached the stricken bomber first and rescued the crew members and this type-written document should now put this to rest. There's much more detail about this wartime incident, which I have slowly pieced together, elsewhere on this weblog and of course we now have a memorial to the crew, overlooking West Bay and the United States embassy have been sending their airforce attache to join in our local Remembrance Day ceremony.

2/Lt. Weinheimer managed to regain control of the aircraft, for which he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) but, badly damaged, the aircraft attempted to reach the relative safety of the English coast and finally crashed-landed at 8:10 PM, one hundred yards from the beach at West Bay (the crew had practiced beach landings as part of their training in Texas before going to England). This aircraft was completely destroyed by the impact, its undercarriage ripped apart on the chalky limestone shallows, just before sunset as the tide was ebbing, along a line that can still be seen at low tide. An official USAAF photo of the wreckage was taken on the following morning and is reproduced here

It's of vital importance to collect information from eye-witnesses to the history of out town and store photographs and stories on the internet before the details are lost forever.

In his memoirs, Bill Hambidge writes:

"My son Dick refused to be evacuated.. sic.... one evening when he and his pals were outside the Ingleton hotel doing their gymnastics, they heard a loud noise of an aircraft, followed by a terrific sound like a crash, round the cliffs to the east of West Bay. Dick said he ran as fast as he could across the sand and over the rocks to where he could see a crashed aircraft.. When he reached the crash, he helped one of the crew-men out of the water who was shaking like hell from shock and shouting out frantically.

'My buddies, my buddies, my buddies.' He offered Dick his sheath knife from his flying boot but he refused the offer saying, 'you might need it.'

The aircraft was an American Liberator bomber that was completely wrecked on impact.

Police and soldiers were soon at the crash. One soldier was wading about through the water and he bought out at least two crewmen but they both were dead. The pilot of the Liberator was taken out of the wreckage and gently rested on the port wing but apparently had a terrible wound to the back of his head and died shortly afterwards.

Dick, who was the first at this horrible scene did what he could and the police told him to submit his name and they would recommend him for a medal for his assistance but this never arrived.

Next day, Dick went again to the spot of the wreckage with the object of salvaging and bringing away any bits and pieces for his - aircraft - collection. He found an airman's fur-lined boot and later he removed the fur and had it sewn on the collar of his leather jacket, which he still has."

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