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GB2HB to commemorate the 70th anniversary

Of Heavenly Body II

The  B17 aircraft  that crashed at Canvey Point in 1944 a field day event at Island Yacht Club on 16th August 2014 and some weekday operation  during August  and GB2BM at the Bay Museum on 22 June and four weekday activations during August 2014. Click here Page 2


B17 Flying Fortress


There were huge four-engined bombers all in neat formation, cruising in slowly, dozens of them. I know of them now as B17's. They were American On that fateful day, they had dropped their bombs on the V1 rocket site near Calais and turned for home. Over the channel, his co-pilot Fred Kauffman asked him, Lt. Burns, if he could swap seats and get some 'First Pilot' experience. They had never done this before, but Burns thought it would be a good thing for Kauffman to get the experience. Lt. Burns, at only 19 years of age, and one of the youngest B17 pilots to join up, had only one more mission to do before he could go home. So he got up, and they swapped seats. They passed the white cliffs of Dover, over the orchards of Kent and could see the Thames shimmering below. Kimbolton was ahead and only minutes away. They were seeing England without fog and rain for a change Above and behind them another pilot, Lt. Ramacitti, was having trouble with his plane. He was seen to be weaving about. It had been his first bombing mission. They had all been shot at over the site, and something was wrong with one of Ramcitti's engines. They were losing power. The bombardier shouted to Ramcitti through the intercom that they were too close to the plane below. It was too late.Lt. Burns writes "the plane hit us right on top of Lt. Kauffman, killing him instantly. I grabbed the controls, and it was obvious that they had no effect on the attitude of our aircraft- as if everything was disconnected- and that bale-out was necessary.

I tried to arouse Fred, but it was obvious that he was dead."At the moment I was staring up at the planes overhead, Len Gibbs, the engineer-gunner had an earache and had just climbed down from the top Plexiglas gun turret. At that instant Lt. Ramcitti's plane fell on them, smashing the turret and  spewing the pieces around and knocking the engineer to the floor. The top of the cockpit was crushed in, and the radio room squashed down but with enough room for the radio operator, Leroy Monk, to squeeze out and put his parachute on before he dived out. The bombardier Jack Gray was sitting up in the clear   bomb-aimer's nose-cone when the shock of the crash popped the nose off and it flew away, and he was looking into space without his parachute on! he had to scramble backwards into the plane and make for his parachute, put it on, and as he went to  the door to bale out he looked back to see the navigator Ed Sadler fumbling with his 'chute and facing the nose, then he Dived out. The ball-turret gunner Bill Farmer looked around and saw things popping off the walls, realized everything was

coming   apart...and jumped. Richard Andrews was usually the waist-gunner,

but this day he was in the tail end, luckily with its own escape hatch - he

jumped. Louis Schulte, the tail gunner got out too,  but when he hit the

water he drowned. Len Gibbs, the engineer and then Burns the pilot baled

out and were fished out of the water with the others by the marines As for

the men in the other plane with the wing off, they were doomed from that

moment. The crash had jammed the escape hatch. How do I know? The one

survivor from that plane, bombardier Theo. Chronopolos. He was  thrown

out into the air when the plane broke in half as it spun down. Can you

imagine that? He blacked out in the crash and found himself falling through

the air! As the plane he was in crashed  on top f the other plane; the wing

flew off (I saw it float away). The escape door jammed. Theo. Says in his

report:"I grabbed my 'chute and started to buckle it on. The navigator was

fumbling with his chute. I started to go for the escape hatch. The engineer and co-pilot were already there trying to open it, but the door was jammed. Then we went into a spin. The next thing I remember was another crash, and I thought that we had hit the ground, but we hadn't. I blacked out and when I came to, I was falling free. I opened my 'chute and blacked out again. On the way down I saw a ship spinning down. It was in two pieces and three engines were on fire." Theo. was badly injured in the fall. All the others in that plane were killed when the fuselage hit the mud on the All-Hallows side. Everyone thought that day when the stretcher was brought over the mud-flats down at the point that it was the pilot they brought out. I remember my dad saying so to my mother. But it wasn't. The body was the navigator Ed Sadler. For some reason, he didn't jump out, and it cost him his life. As Lloyd Burns told me in his letter, an uncontrolled plane can behave in strange ways. The laws of aerodynamics had played a peculiar effect on a plunging aircraft, making it appear as though someone were pulling it away from the  houses. My family's life had been saved by the sheer accident of wind pressure on the wings when the plane was at  a certain angle above the house. The engines were still oaring away and took it away over the island. This is what everybody saw. But, there was no-one flying it! Three days later Burns was sent up again (no counselling). Twenty-five times he hauled those B17's into the air full of bombs and nine other men...over a carpet of flak...there and back...and got away with it...against all the odds...and was still only 19 years of age. That was his tour of duty over, and they sent him home. But, he didn't think he'd done enough! He did a short flying course on the huge B 29s and was sent to Tinian Island in the Pacific and bombed Japan. He piloted the decoy plane on the day the Enola Gay went up to bomb Hiroshima.


For him, the decision to swap seats with his friend has eaten into his heart all his life. He still cries over it. Would things have been any different if he hadn't swapped over? How would you like to live with that? The myth that had built up over his co-pilot was understandable, because no information was given out about him at the time.


Credits:  Janet Penn www.canveyisland.org , David Thorndike Bay Museum.