23 August, 2011

23 August, 1944


438th AAA AW BN
APO 403 % Postmaster, N.Y.
23 August, 1944         0945

Wilma darling –

A shortie today – for reasons of entertainment and morale –– : my radio went phooey last night and if I can get the radio repair man to look at it now – I might get it fixed. Otherwise he leaves soon and generally doesn’t get back until dark.

Yesterday was a nice warm day again, sweetheart, and we went looking for a shower point. As usual – when we got to the spot – they had moved out – so we went looking for a creek, river or anything where we could wash up. We found a swell pond and had a swim and tried to wash up – but as usual with ponds – we ended up dirtier than when we started.

Today – if I can get my radio fixed – and out of the way – I’ll do some washing and then I’ll be ready for the next drive – whenever that may be. All else is well darling – except my love for you which can only be expressed as excellent, tops or the ‘ne plus ultra’. I do love you strongly, dearest – is what I’m trying to say – and in any language – you must know what I mean! Love to the folks, dear and

All my everlasting love ––


about The Freckleton Disaster

This information, including photographs, was excerpted from the Freckleton Disaster web site posted by the Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team (Copyright © Russell Brown & Nick Wotherspoon 2007).
At 1030 hours on Wednesday 23 August 1944, a B-24 Liberator named CLASSY CHASSIS II was cleared for take-off from Warton Airfield. The plane had been brought to the U.S. 8th Army Air Force's huge Base Air Depot (BAD) 2 for refurbishment prior to being allocated to the 2nd Combat Division. On this day, she was being test-flown before resuming service and this task fell to 1st Lieutenant John A. Bloemendal, one of BAD 2's regular test pilots, with T/Sgt Jimmie Parr as co-pilot and Sgt Gordon Kinney as flight engineer. The take-off was uneventful and the B-24 headed out over the Lancashire countryside, accompanied by a second B-24, being test-flown by 1st Lieutenant Pete Manassero. Over the radio, Bloemendal called Manassero's attention to the cloud formation towards the South-Southeast. It was a very impressive sight and looked like a "thunderhead" according to Manassero.
1st Lt. John A. Bloemendal, Test Pilot
Less than five minutes after the B-24s left, a telephone call reached the base from Base Air Depot 1, at Burtonwood, warning of a violent storm approaching the Preston area and immediately an order was issued recalling both aircraft. By the time the two B-24's arrived back over Warton, the storm was at its height. Witnesses relate the rain was so heavy that it was impossible to see across the road. Thunder and lightning rolled across the sky and the wind was of such ferocity as to uproot trees and smash hen cabins on a nearby farm. A contemporary local newspaper reported a trail of destruction across the Northwest; Hutton Meteorological Station, which was fairly clear of the storm, recorded wind velocity of nearly 60 m.p.h., with water spouts being observed in the Ribble estuary, and flash flooding in Southport and Blackpool. Radio conversations monitored by Warton's tower indicated that the two B-24 pilots had abandoned their attempts to land and were heading North to hold clear until the storm abated.

Manassero was flying on Bloemendal's right wing approximately 100 yards away. This is what he reported:
"As we drew near the field, I drew further out to be in position to land (as) number two. We let down to 500 feet and about four miles Northwest of the field we encountered rain and it became heavier with less visibility as we neared the approach to Runway 08. On the base leg position Lt Bloemendal let down his gear (sic) and I did the same. Shortly after this I lost sight of Bloemendal's aircraft. As I flew over Lytham, I started a left turn to start the approach. At this time I heard Lt Bloemendal notify "Faram" [Control] that he was pulling up the wheels and going around. I was then over the wash (sic) and could not see the ground and had to fly on instruments. I then called Lt Bloemendal and told him we had better head north and get out of the storm. He answered "OK". I then told him I would take a heading of about 330 degrees... He said "Roger." That was the last I heard from Lt. Bloemendal. I flew about four or five minutes on a heading of about 330 degrees before breaking out of the storm. I then called Lt Bloemendal and asked if he was OK, and did not get a reply."

The B-24's fate had been sealed; already flying low to the ground with it's wings now near vertical, the B-24 ripped the top off a tree, shed it's right wingtip as it chopped off the corner of a building, leaving the rest of the wing ploughing along the ground through a hedge. The 25-ton bomber carried on, partly demolishing three houses and the "The Sad Sack" Snack Bar. It's momentum continued, took it across Lytham Road and finally ended as it disintegrated in the crash. Part of the plane destroyed the infants' wing of Freckleton Holy Trinity School and the whole area burst into a sea of flames as 3,000 gallons of fuel from the ruptured tanks ignited. The clock in one classroom stopped at 10:47 a.m.
Staff at the"Sad Sack" Snack Bar and the Snack Bar after the crash.

Just as suddenly as it began, the severest thunderstorm the Base - and many of the villagers - had ever experienced, was gone. From the smouldering remains of the infants' classroom only three youngsters emerged alive, 35 children and two teachers having died. Those sheltering from the storm in the "Sad Sack" Snack Bar stood no chance as the building took the full force of the impact and rescuers found the bodies of six USAAF and four RAF personnel along with several civilians amongst thedebris. Several of the more seriously injured victims died during the following week and when the formal inquest into the tragedy opened on September 8th 1944, the total death toll was 61.

Flames from the wrecked school room and an image of the losses.

The official report into the crash summarized that the exact cause was unknown, though it was the opinion of the Investigating committee that the pilot made an error in his judgment of the violence of the storm. They concluded that Lt. Bloemendal had not fully realized the danger until he made his approach to land, by which time he had insufficient altitude and speed to maneuver given the violent winds and downdrafts he must have encountered during his attempt to withdraw from the area. It was also thought possible that structural failure may have occurred in the extreme conditions, though it was noted that the aircraft was so completely destroyed as to make any such investigation impossible.

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