Still with us

History in the making

Late one English midsummer afternoon, eighteen young men fell out of the sky over Allhallows, Kent, in England. 

The date was June 19th, 1944 and they were the victims of German flak. Not from the ground below, obviously, but from a target area half an hour and 83 miles behind them. Closer to their Kimbolton base than the combat zone, they were also victims of fatigue, inexperience, misjudgement, bad luck and a midair collision… 

Where angels would fear to tread… Ships of the 525th Bomb Squadron (H) brave flak bursts on their way into a target. Date and location unknown. (IWM UPL 20136)

World War Two offered young men a lot of ways to die.

One minute they were thinking about their landing pattern, a hot meal and good night’s sleep, the next they were either dead or falling towards an unfamiliar town three miles below. 

But what matters more, especially three generations later, isn’t exactly why those young men fell over England – but the fact that none of them were English. 

It’s the reason my friend Mitch Peeke, who lives in Allhallows now, is retelling their story and raising funds to build a small memorial. 

The tangled remains

379th Bomb Group unit patch. The motto, ‘Potestas Accuratioque’ translates as ‘power and precision’. (wikipedia)

Mitch is a talented writer and has already done a great job of recounting the events on the Aviation Trails blog, so I won’t repeat all the details here. (But I urge you to read his account.) 

The short version is that the 525th Bomb Squadron, 379th Bombardment Group, was returning from a raid on a V1 launch site in Northern France with several flak-damaged B-17s in their formation. 

Unit patch of the 525th Bombardment Squadron. (IWM FRE 005124)

As they let down over Kent, the heavily damaged B-17G #44-6133, flown by 2nd Lt. Armand Ramacitti sideslipped into B-17G #42-97942 Heavenly Body II, manned by the veteran crew of Lt. Lloyd Burns. This flak-battered milk-run was Burns’ 29th mission. One more and his combat duty would be completed. He was 19 years old. 

Mitch replays the collision almost in slow motion, sharing every split-second event and reaction as those young men escaped or died over Allhallows. 

Interred in the Thames

In less time than it takes to tell, the tangled remains of -6133 was plunging into the Thames Estuary with eight of her nine crew still aboard. Heavenly Body II, meanwhile, staggered on against the odds carrying three dead or dying crewmembers. The surviving six parachuted toward the Thames Estuary as their shattered plane flew unsteadily toward the Canvey Island oil tanks, before veering away to the east and entering a final spiral into the Canvey mudbank.

Sister ship to Heavenly Body II and another Douglas Long Beach B-17G, this is the 525th’s B-17G-30-DL #42-38111 at Kimbolton. (IWM FRE 6227)

Incredibly, Waist Gunner Dick Andrews left the B-17 so late that he came down on dry land at Canvey. The others were rescued from the water by members of the Royal Marine 490 Landing Craft Flotilla.

Ten of the twelve victims were recovered. Co-pilot Fred Kauffman of -97942 and Gunner Cecil Tognazzini from -6133 are both interred somewhere in the Thames, with the remains of their respective bombers. 

The full (10-man) ‘Burns Crew’ of Heavenly Body II. Only 9 of the men were aboard for their short, second raid of June 19th.

As for Lloyd ‘one-more-and-you’re-finished’ Burns. He flew his final mission and went home… where he turned down an instructor’s posting and volunteered for service in the Pacific. There, he flew five B-29 missions over Japan with the 462nd BG(VH) before the final surrender. (His last mission was a diversion for the Hiroshima bombing.)

Then, at last, he felt he could go home. Aged 20. The death of Fred Kauffman would haunt him until his own passing, on June 16th, 2010.   

Protecting British homes

Aircrew from the 525th Bomb Squadron get coffee and donuts from a Red Cross van at Kimbolton, March 2nd, 1944. (IWM UPL36931)

Mitch Peeke is hoping to dedicate a memorial to these young crews this summer,  near to where -6133 crashed 75 years ago. 

This is no less important than it was all those years ago. Those young Americans in Britain gave up their lives to fight a shared threat to both nations. But the fact that they died after attacking a V1 launch site means they were very literally protecting British homes on that particular afternoon. 

The grim reality… 525th staff trasnfer the body of Sgt. Noonan from his B-17 to an ambulance, after Noonan was killed by flak during a raid on Schweinfurt, February 24th, 1944. (IWM FRE 4752)

The events over Allhallows on June 19th, 1944 may seem tiny against the entire scope of World War II. But they are still enormous enough to be commemorated. 

So if you have pounds, shillings or pence to spare (dollars and euros also welcome)
please donate here.

Your donation will join a significant contribution of cash and space from the current landowners of the memorial’s proposed location, as well as money from ‘the rest of us’. The unveiling is scheduled for Saturday, June 22nd this year. 

A long way from home

#42-97942 | B-17G-40-VE (built by Lockheed-Vega)
525BS/379BG “FR-K” Heavenly Body II

(MACR 6983)

Pilot
Lt. Lloyd L Burns (Valdosta, GA)
Returned To Duty

Co-pilot
2nd Lt. Fred S Kauffman (Trenton, NJ)
Missing, presumed KIA

Navigator
F.O. Edward ’Ed’ N Sadler (Cleveland, OH)
KIA

Bombardier
2nd Lt. Jack L Gray (Unknown)
Returned To Duty

Flight Engineer/Top Gunner
T/Sgt. Leonard ‘Leon’ F Gibbs (Lucerne, CA)
Returned To Duty

Radio Operator
T/Sgt. Leroy J Monk (Missoula, MT)
Returned To Duty

Ball Gunner
S/Sgt. William ‘Bill’ H Farmer (Los Angeles, CA)
Returned To Duty

Waist Gunner
S/Sgt. Richard ‘Dick’ W Andrews (Melrone Park, IL)
Returned To Duty

Tail Gunner
S/Sgt Louis ‘Lou’ W Schulte (Chester, PA)
KIA


#44-6133 | B-17G B-17G-45-DL (built by Douglas Long Beach) 525BS/379BG “FR-Y”

(MACR 6984)

Pilot
2nd Lt. Armand J Ramacitti (Oak Park, IL)
KIA

Co-pilot
2nd Lt. William ‘Bill’ J Hager (Cleveland, OH)
KIA

Navigator
2nd Lt. Donald ‘Don’ F Watson (Cleveland, OH)
KIA

Bombardier
2nd Lt. Theodore ‘Theo’ Chronopolos (Unknown)
Returned To Duty

Flight Engineer/Top Gunner
S/Sgt. Cecil A Tognazzini (Barger, TX)
Missing, presumed KIA

Radio Operator
S/Sgt. Richard ‘Dick’ Ritter (Belleville, OH)
KIA

Ball Gunner
S/Sgt. John P Burke (Atlanta, GA)
KIA

Waist Gunner
Cpl. Paul K Haynes (Weston, MA)
KIA

Tail Gunner
Sgt. Warren G Oaks (White Bear, MN)
KIA

30 thoughts on “Still with us

  1. We are always saying, ‘Lest We Forget’ and ‘May they always Be Remembered’; it would be fitting to have a memorial. Putting money where our mouths are!

  2. I was a 9 year old schoolboy living in Croydon South London at that time. The V1 Doodlebugs were making life miserable every day and it was about that time that I had a very scary experience. We were waiting for a bus when the sirens sounded and there were no shelters nearby. Then we heard the familiar dreaded sound of the approaching V1. Shortly it appeared heading our way and the engine cut off. Instead of heading for us it veered off to the west destroying 3 houses and killing many people. My father had to pick me up as I literally went weak at the knees. Now at 82 years of age, I am having some memory problems but I will never forget that day. It’s so sad that these young Americans lost their trying to protect us from those bloody V1s. Today I live in the US and have friends who served in WWII.

      1. There were of course several other stories during that scary time, but that was the one that most stayed with me. Here’s another: My father was a Captain in the Home Guard in charge of an anti aircraft rocket site in South London. His day job was working with the J Arthur Rank Organisation that made licensed Bell and Howell aircraft movie cameras for the RAF, so he was one of a few people that had a car. One morning he said “Come with me, I have to try and find my sergeant who did not show up for duty last night”. We drove to Lamberth in S London and found the street. There was not a single house still standing in that street and we could not find out what had happened to the sergeant.

      2. So true. Most of the time I was too young to really realise what was happening, but that day it really came home. Trying to sleep in our shelter in our bedroom, listening to those German aircraft every night also comes to mind a lot. The shelter was like a heavy iron table that we slept in every night. It was supposed to protect us from falling masonry etc. Fortunately we never had to test it. A couple of bombs landed very close to our house and amazingly neither exploded. Just another of those lucky stories.

      3. Thank you for sharing your memories, John. My mother was a little girl in Bromley, Kent during the war and she has vivid memories of the Blitz. Of falling into a bomb crater… Of vomiting with fear as the family hid under their kitchen table… The sound of air raid sirens on TV will still set her crying. I can’t think of a pore poignant example of the lasting horror and trauma than that.
        In less than four months, the V1 attacks caused almost half as many casualties as the entire 1940-41 Blitz. There’s a fascinating chart comparing the two on Wikipedia, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-1_flying_bomb#Assessment
        I understand that it was a two-sided war, but the German attacks on England caused roughly as many civilian deaths as were suffered by Bomber Command in their whole war.

  3. The link to the Aviation Trails blog wouldn’t open, so went through Google, but couldn’t find the story. Could you please tell me where it’s to be found in this excellent site. Many thanks. Interesting story on side-slip collision.

  4. Thank you, all of you, for your kind comments and for sharing your own stories too.

    Just to put everyone in the picture, I ordered the memorial plaque yesterday. Had a meeting with a signmaker this morning who has agreed to produce a storyboard to stand alongside the memorial whilst a local Garden Centre has promised to donate the decorative stones and edging for the base .

    So far, for the day, I have the local Vicar to dedicate the memorial. A 15 piece Big Band to play in the Glenn Miller style and their leader has been practising Taps so that he can play that solo on the trumpet as the memorial is unveiled. The Yacht Club have also thrown open their Clubhouse for the day.

    ITV and local newspapers have all promised to attend.

    On the hopeful list:

    Someone from the US Air Force base at Lakenheath to unveil the memorial – to be confirmed.

    Honour Guard from local Air Cadet Squadron – to be confirmed.

    Display of WW2 American military vehicles – to be confirmed.

    If all goes to plan (and the English weather holds out!) it should be a day of commemoration and celebration dedicated to the memory of those young American airmen. They are a long way from home and we cannot change that. But we can acknowledge their effort and remember their sacrifice.

  5. A great write up of the event and a tremendous effort by Mitch. Organising these things is no easy task, and I know he has put a lot of effort and hard work into getting the various organisations on board. The memories of these young men, and all those who were lost, deserve no less and I hope the project achieves its aims on time and with the whole hearted support of the public. It’s the least we can do.

  6. Another update for you:

    The event is called A WING AND A PRAYER.

    Honour Guard is now confirmed.

    We do have some WW2 Military Vehicles coming plus a “Platoon of GI’s”.

    Display of large scale radio controlled model aircraft courtesy of Medway Warbirds.

    Militaria Stall from Medway Medals Army Surplus.

    Medway Aircraft Preservation Society display stall.

    Slough Fort Open Day and display of WW2 relics.

    Yacht Club Open Day.

    And saving the best till last: The elderly nephew of 44-6133’s Missing Flight Engineer/ Top Turret Gunner Cecil Tognazzini is flying in from Australia for the event!

      1. You are off the hook about not coming David! Noel Tognazzini emailed me today. Seems the info I was given is slightly wrong. He lives quite happily in Portland, Oregon, USA! He is also only 65 years old, not exactly “elderly” as I was told! Will keep you informed of his plans!

      2. Another slight boo-boo! Noel is 68, I hit the wrong key emailing Andy Laing about it and then repeated the error here! (Terms and conditions apply. No persons were harmed in the deliverance of these messages. They just got younger)!

  7. Indeed it does David! We are now expecting around 4,000 people to attend! Kent Police have been informed.

    Could you not “borrow” an aircraft on the pretence of a VERY long cross-country flight and sort of “do a British Airways to Dusseldorf”!!!!!

  8. I am Fred Kauffman’s nephew. I had heard this story from my dad (Sgt Milton S. Kaufman—he had dropped the second f—but never knew how significant this was until now.) I had just discovered this on the web. I am so happy that my uncle’s memory is being honored in this way. I am making a contribution to this.

    1. Hello Steven,
      So glad you liked the article and that my Memorial project has found favour with you. Word of this has certainly spread far and wide I am happy to say, due in no small part to Airscape Magazine and the Aviation Trails website. I am very happy that this story is at last reaching a wider audience. Those men are long overdue for a memorial and some recognition of their sacrifice.

    2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Steven. It’s an honour for me to share this ‘small slice of a very big war’ and recognise your Uncle for the hero he was. I know the ‘hero’ word gets slung around a lot these days, but there’s no better word for people who put themselves in harm’s way, just because it’s the right thing to do.
      Mitch should be very proud of his efforts to protect keep their memories. I’m just a helper…

  9. Another update for everyone, probably the final one as the event is now only three weeks away!

    Everything is now pretty much “there”. We had a meeting at the Holiday Park to set out a rough timetable for the day which has now been emailed to all interested parties.

    I picked up the metal supports for the plaque and storyboard yesterday. Just have to paint them now! They will be a slightly warm shade of blue, with a planished finish.

    I finished mounting the plaque and the storyboard onto their respective mahogany pieces last weekend and have to admit that they look quite handsome! Three coats of Ronseal varnish brought the wood out beautifully!

    The Holiday Park’s Grounds Team have now started construction of the memorial base. It will be in the form of an elongated diamond (landscape) with the plaque on the left side angled toward the crash site and the storyboard on the right angled slightly inwards toward the reader. The base will be bordered by white painted kerbstones and the whole diamond will be infilled with large plum slate chips. Once installed, the memorial will be covered with a US flag till it is unveiled.

    The memorial will be unveiled jointly by Noel Tognazzini and Jeanne Cronis-Campbell; their path to the memorial flanked by an Honour Guard from TWO Squadrons of Air Cadets, whilst TAPS is being blown solo on a trumpet by the Leader of The Medway Big Band, who has been practicing dilligently, I am told!

    After the brief unveiling and dedication ceremony, the Band will be playing the music of Glenn Miller and other relevant music for nearly two hours as a background to everything else that will be going on.

    All we need now is for the English weather to smile upon us and it should be a good day and a fine tribute to those lost airmen.

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