‘One of those strange unexpected events…’
This month marks the 70th anniversary of one of Duxford’s most tragic events – the crash of a visiting B-17 of the 95th Bomb Group, which killed 14 men. We’ve been back through the 78th Fighter Group’s records to add some different perspectives to this well-recorded incident.
19 July 1944 began much as any other for the 78th Fighter Group. After breakfast in the Officers’ Club and a briefing in their room on the south side of what is now Hangar 4, the pilots strapped themselves into their P-47s. By 0709, 49 were airborne, led by Major Ben I Mayo. Two hours later they were in action, strafing airfields. Several enemy aircraft were destroyed by the Group’s pilots, but not without loss: at approximately 0930, Major Norman D Munson, was killed. His wing man, 1st Lieutenant Kinsolving, later described what happened:
‘Major Munson came around again for a second pass. This time he set another twin engine aircraft on fire, but just as he did so, his plane was evidently hit by flak for his ship nosed down, hit the aerodrome at a slight angle and burst into flame. The flaming wreckage slid 100 yards off the aerodrome.’
Norman ‘Doug’ Munson, son of Warren and Sarah Munson of Plattsburgh, New York, was 24 years old.
The 78th arrived back at Duxford a few minutes after noon. As the Duxford Diary reported, ‘as usual after a big day, nearly everyone on the base was feeling pretty good.’ Around 1400, a B-17 landed. Its captain, Lieutenant Sasser, a friend of one of the 78th’s pilots, offered to take some of Duxford’s men for a ride in the aircraft – ‘Ready Freddie’. Several jumped at the chance, and by around 1430 were airborne.
What happened next caused the largest loss of life in a single incident in Duxford’s four decades as an operational airfield.
Captain John E. Lingenfelter’s 1042nd Signal Company submitted a report which described the tragedy:
‘Men from the base…climbed aboard a visiting bomber for a ride around the field. The bomber careered off the neon beacon on top of one of the hangars; lost its wing which crashed in front of the officers’ club; dropped one of its rubber auxiliary tanks through an empty Nissen hut and then crashed into the barrack of the 83rd where it burned, killing all on board and one man in the barrack. The barrack was completely demolished and all aboard the plane were burned beyond recognition.’
As well as the bomber’s crew – Sasser, Victor L Mintz, James A Heil Sr. and Francis J Bradburn – there were eight of Duxford’s men inside the B-17: Martin H Smith Jr., John B. Putnam Jr., Donald M. French, Ellsworth J Seesz, John F. Hamilton, John D. Gorman, Anthony C. Loguidice, Frank L Wojcicki, and Wilbur K. Edwards. Ernest Taylor was in the barracks when the aircraft hit.
Identifying the dead proved to be a harrowing task, as the 1042nd report describes:
‘The accident…had caused considerable confusion in identification of the bodies whose dog-tags were melted with the heat or were lost in the crash. To eliminate any further difficulties along that line a check on dog-tags was made in the mess hall on the twenty-first by Colonel Williams and Major Floyd. Anyone unable to show his tags was ordered from the mess hall to get his dog tags.’
The deaths affected everyone on the station. This was reflected in the reports submitted by each section at the end of the month. Staff Sergeant William H Roberts wrote:
‘It is with the deepest regret that I am closing this month’s contribution on a note of sadness. The tragic accident that happened on our field… affected us very deeply, inasmuch as two of the three men lost from our squadron worked in our department. As a eulogist I am sadly lacking, however I would like at this time to express the department’s felicitations and high esteem for S/Sgt Donald French and Pfc. Wilbur K Edwards. Both men were of the highest moral character and as such accorded our respect. Their ability and willingness to work was exemplified by the proficient manner they performed their duties. They have departed in body but their ethereal presence will always remain.’
The Orderly Room’s Bill Brennan paid a moving tribute:
‘Death took one of the finest members of the squadron this month. A soldier whose quiet manner and devotion to duty will never be forgotten by any of us. Cpl Anthony C Loguidice was an average G.I. He came from Albany, New York. He had been with the outfit ever since it was activated down at Esler Field. His duties were with the Transportation Section, where he worked diligently for a year and a half. Two days before he was killed he was promoted to the grade of Cpl. A promotion which he sweated out for nearly a year. His death was one of those strange unexpected events that no-one but the Almighty can explain…To us it seems strange that “Tony” should die in this way because he always wanted to be a gunner so he could get a crack at the enemy. He had excellent grades and was an expert with a gun. A new regulation put out by Fighter Command stating that no one would be taken for gunnery duty if he wasn’t trained in the States prevented his being a gunner. Many things we will forget about “Tony” but never his quiet efficient manner, his hearty smile, and his always ready to lend a hand attitude.’
Sergeant Jacobs of the Transportation Section also remembered Tony Loguidice:
‘This month of July 1944 will always live in the memories of Sgt Jacobs and the men under his supervision for it was Wednesday…of this month that Tony Loguidice, one of the original gang in this section lost his life in the tragic crash of the Flying Fortress. With the loss of Tony we also lost Johnny Gorman of the Transportation Section of the 1671st Ordnance Co., along with eight other enlisted men, the co-pilot of the B-17, Lt Putnam and one other pilot of the 84th Fighter Squadron. Loguidice will always be remembered by the Transportation Section as a man who was not only a perfect soldier but also a shining credit to his family and his home town Albany, New York.’
The funerals on 22 July were moving experiences for the men who attended, as Captain Lingenfelter’s company’s report recalled:
‘The usual Saturday morning inspection of the twenty-second was eliminated so that members of the field might attend a funeral mass at 0730 hours in honour of the men who died in the disaster of the nineteenth. That afternoon all men who desired to attend the funeral were relieved from duty and a convoy of ten or twelve trucks left the field for the Cambridge Military Cemetery at 1500 hours.
The members of the field who attended the funeral will long remember the scene with its…flag-covered coffins; its volleys and taps and many a man thanked God, as he left the cemetery overlooking Cambridge in the distance, for protecting him who might even then be slowly sliding from beneath the flags to rest in the soil of England.’
With thanks to Anne Hughes for archive research. To read more about the tragedy on 19 July, please also see this website, run by 78th Fighter Group historian Curt Shepard. It contains several pages of the original accident reports, and photographs of some of the men who lost their lives.