On the morning of 24th March 1944 at 5.50am, US B-17 Fortress crashed at Bailey Hill near Stambourne.
The bomber had just taken off, fully loaded, from Ridgewell Airfield on a raid over Germany, part of the 381st Bomber Group based at Ridgewell. The ferocity of the crash and its aftermath was likely due to the plane being fully loaded with both fuel and bombs, some of which exploded and others which were subsequently defused.
All ten crew were killed and a memorial can be seen in Birdbrook church and at the memorial near Great Yeldham, see the website above for details.
The explosion caused some damage to buildings in the village, including The Manse where 4 window panes were broken. Bear in mind, this is probably half a mile from the crash site itself at Bailey Hill.
Taken from the Birdbrook website and transcribed by Ann Millen from the village, here is an account and the damage report:
(Also see the website belonging to the 381st group, a site dedicated to those US airmen in the group.)
‘The Mighty Men of the 381st: Heroes All.’
By Chaplain James Good Brown
“Today, March 24,1944, we had one of our worst days since coming to England. We lost three planes on this Frankfurt raid. Immediately on take-off, Lieutenant Haynes’ plane crashed near the Ridgewell Aerodrome. I do not wish to remember what I saw, though these memories can never be erased from the mind. Lieutenant Kenneth T. Haynes Jr. had just taken off for the Frankfurt mission, and was attempting to gain altitude and was only four miles from the base when something went wrong. Prehaps we will never know what Lieutenant Haynes experienced on his first flight into combat. He was a new man on the base.
In the darkness, his plane plunged downward into the newly plowed field. Furrows could be seen in the earth where the four propellers hit, digging their way into the soil. The plane bounced, moved forward, then cut four more furrows in the soil. Just beyond this is the large hole where the bombs exploded. But the speed of the plane and the burst of the bombs sent the plane in a forward direction, scattering the parts over the entire field and into the woods beyond. The sight was unbearable!I could not fathom how the parts of a plane could be sent so far. The huge field was literally covered with small bits of the plane. The newly plowed earth was scorched from the burning gasoline, continuing its black path into the woods beyond. The wooded area was burned as though a prairie fire had swept it. The grass was burned black and the trees charred. But the parts, driven by the force of the bomb explosion, kept on going until they crossed the woods and landed in the field beyond. Here were two large wheat stacks.
These were sprayed by the gasoline which moved along the path, burning these stacks of wheat to the ground. Beyond the stacks were the propellers, twisted and bent.We searched for the four engines, finally finding them. They had been sent hurling through space to unbelievable distances.But my men — where were they? I walked across the entire field and into the woods looking for them. I dreaded every step I took. If the heavy parts of the B-17 were sent such distances, it can easily be imagined what happened to the bodies. Some were blown clear of the plane on the first explosion, being found near the bomb crater. Other bodies were hurled far into the wooded area ahead. Some of the bodies were hanging from the trees.No one but bomb experts was allowed near the scene in the morning hours.
Gerald Riesen, Armament Inspector, had to go into the area to defuse the bombs which had not exploded. What great courage this takes! Captain Eichenbaum, Head of the Ordinance Department, supervised the work. He has been a loyal member of the 381st since its first days in Pyote, Texas.In the afternoon when Captain Eichenbaum pronounced the area safe, the doctors and I went in an ambulance to the scene. We entered upon the difficult task of picking up the bodies. They were scattered everywhere. The painful task is to hold one of the lifeless bodies in your arms and to pick up bits and pieces in your hands. To see a body sprawled out on the ground, lifeless, ripped to pieces, black with burns, is an ugly sight that will never leave the memory.
One by one, we picked them up. Most of them were beyond recognition, with faces blown away. Some of the bodies were whole, though pierced and broken; legs and arms mangled, with heels torn off, and elbows sticking out. Poor fellows! I was so sorry for them! And I was sorry for their families back home! I must now write to them. But I can write no letter which can possibly remove their pain and heartache.Another body was together, but the head was a jellied mass, not recognizable. Identification was difficult. We picked up chunks of flesh mixed up in fliers’ clothing. We could not identify the body. We put together six bodies as best we could. The remaining four, we could not find at all. Parts of legs and arms and fingers and intestines were strewn over the entire area and into the woods beyond. Far into this woodland, we found a head. The whole head was soft and spongy.
There was no jaw left to identify the teeth. We had the head, but no body to which to attach it. it had to be placed on a pile.The entire afternoon was spent picking up and identifying bodies. They were taken to the base hospital where they were placed in a row – six of them, lying there in the evening twilight. The hospital staff had to undress them, removing the shreds of clothes. The underclothes were inside the compound fractures of the legs, tangled up with large bone. The orderly had to cut the underclothes from the potruding bone. I stood and looked at them. Why not? They were my men. I had loved them. They were somebody’s son, husband, or brother. How would they feel? These were the thoughts in my mind.
My prevailing thoughts were for these men themselves. They were robbed of life. They wanted to live. They cherished life as much as I now cherish life. And – they deserved to live. But we so-called human beings took their lives. Perhaps the Almighty can forgive. I cannot.”
|Farm||Dodds Hall Farm, Birdbrook||F.St.G. Unwin||F.St.G. Unwin Toppersfield Hall||Barns etc. End of one barn moved outwards; approx 6 yds.weatherboarding off and broken; approx. 1 yd external plaster loose or off; few pantiles shifted.|
|Farm||Bailey Hill Farm||ditto||ditto||Stable & Granary. Pantiles shifted – some broken. Aprrox 1/2 yd. weaterboarding off. Open Cattle Yard. Approx. 6 yds. pantiles shifted. Horse Yard. 4 weatherboards off. 4 window panes and sash broken; 1/2 yd brick foundations moved. Granary. Glass in rear wall and one pane in front wall broken. Dutch Barn. One purlin smashed. Bullock Barn. 9 weatherboards off front, small hole through asbestos roof; few pantiles slipped on back addition roof. Implement Shed. Few pantiles lifted.|
|Dwelling House||Bailey Hill Farm||S. Fitch||ditto||External. Front; Few pantiles slipped, approx. 1 yd. external plaster off, 11 window panes and end window sash broken; bottom rail and weatherboard to porch door broken. Side. Approx. 5 yds. plain tiles slipped; approx. 2 yds external plaster loose and broken. Back. Approx 3 yds plain tiles slipped. Internal. Scullery; Cracks in wall plaster, approx 1/2 yds wall plaster off. Back living room approx 4 yds. wall plaster off. Spare Front Room; Cracks in wall plaster. Pantry; Approx. 1/2 yds ceiling plaster down. Landing; Approx 2 yds. ceiling plaster off. Back bedroom; approx 3 yds. plaster off.|
|Dwelling House||The Manse, Stambourne||Rev. F.A. Clements||Chapel Trustees per W. Grange, of, Tagley Farm, Stambourne.||4 window panes broken.|
|Greenhouse||Finkle Green||Mr. Clement (Occupier)||Mr. Bolton (Owner) Roseberry Villas, Birdbrook||18 panes of glass in greenhouse broken|
|Dwelling House||Albion Cotts. Finkle Green||Mrs. C. Friend||Mrs. C. Friend||Approx. 1/2 yd ceiling plaster down in left bedroom|
|Dwelling House||Wash Farm||Mrs C. Fitch||Capt. Walker, Moyns Park, Birdbrook||Back bedroom: ceiling cracked with loose patches. Front bedroom: ceiling cracked. Scullery: approx. 1 yd wall plaster loose or off. External: Approx 4 yds. external wall plaster loose.|
|Dwelling House||Wash Farm||Mr. C. Basham||Capt. Walker, Moyns Park, Birdbrook||Rear Main Roof: Some tiles slipped|
|Dwelling House||Wash Farm||Miss D. Fitch||Capt. Walker, Moyns Park, Birdbrook||Rear Main Roof: Some tiles slipped|
|Dwelling House||Wash Farm||Rev. H.V. Edmunds||Ecclasiastical Commisioners||17 window panes broken. Conservatory: R.V. Guttering down and some sashes and panes broken. Wood shed: Pantiles lifted. Barn: 1 Window pane broken: small piece weather board off.|
|School||The School||Essex County Council, Chelmsford, Essex||2 window panes cracked|
|Dwelling House||Birdbrook School House||Miss Schindel||Essex County Council||Back bedroom ceiling plaster loose or down: 3 window panes broken|
|Dwelling House||The Street||S.E. Cook||Capt. Walker, Moyns Park, Birdbrook||2 Window panes broken|
|Dwelling House||Brooklyn, The Street||S. Chapman||S. Chapman||1 window boken|
|Dwelling House||The Street||Miss A. Blacklock||Miss A. Blacklock||Approx 1/2 yd ceiling plaster down in lavatory & cracks|
|Dwelling House||The Street||K. Kendall||K. Kendall||2 window frames broken|
|Dwelling House||The Street||Mrs. W. Ralling||Miss L. Brown, P.O. Birdbrook||2 window panes broken|
|Dwelling House||‘The Moat’||Rev W.A. Norman||Rev. W.A. Norman||Kitchen: Small piece of ceiling plaster down and cracks. Dinning Room: Cracks to ceiling plaster. Left back bedroom cracks in ceiling plaster & 3 window panes broken. Greenhouse: 5 panes and 2 glazing bars broken.|
|Dwelling House||6, Council House, The Moat||L. Pannell||Halstead R.D.C.||Front bedroom Approx 1 yd. ceiling plaster down and cracks|
|Dwelling House||8, Council House, The Moat||D. Ralling||Halstead R.D.C.||Right bedroom: Approx 2 yds ceiling plaster down and cracks. Wall plaster cracked. Cupboard door requies easing. Left bedroom: Ceiling cracked badley. Landing: ceiling cracked badly.|
|Dwelling House||9, Council House, The Moat||B. Barnes||Halstead D.R.C.||1 window pane broken|
|Dwelling House||‘Three Chimneys’||J.G. Mascall||J.G. Mascall||Lounge: Approx 1 yd ceiling plaster loose and cracks. Front landing: Approx 10 yrds. ceiling plaster very loose or down. 1st Bedroom: Wall and ceiling plaster cracked. 2nd Bedroom: ceiling plaster cracked. 3rd Bedroom; Wall and ceiling plaster cracked. 4th Bedroom approx 11/2 yrds. ceiling plaster down, loose and cracked. Back landing: approx 1/2 yd. ceiling plaster down and approx. 1/2 yd. wall plaster off. bathroom; ceiling cracked. External: Approx. 4 yds. external wall plaster loose, some roof tiles slipped. Conservatory: 3 panes glass broken.|
|Dwelling House||Chimney Lane||Mrs. Page||Mr. Fenner, White Horse P.H., Ridgewell||3 Window panes broken. Few tiles shifted.|
|Dwelling House||Essex Hall||H.S. Chapman||H.S. Chapman||Back bedroom: Window frame moved; small area of plaster around cracked.|
|Dwelling House||Wesley End||S.N. ?||H.S. Chapman||Back bedroom: Approx 2 yds. ceiling plaster off and 4 yds. loose. 1 window pane broken.|
|Dwelling House||Stubbings, Birdbrook||Mr. Manning||Capt. Walker.||Landing: Ceiling plaster cracked. Front bedroom: window frame moved. 3 window panes broken.|