May 7th – VE Day – will be a particularly special day in Long Marston this year. A memorial will be unveiled to the crew of an American bomber which crashed just outside the village in 1945 after taking off in fog from Cheddington airfield, then a wartime American airforce base. Three crew members died.
Local resident Chas Jellis has helped Stephen Hutton of the US 8th Airforce Historical Society to organise the memorial with assistance from Tring Rural Parish Council. The dedication of the memorial at 1pm on Saturday 7th May is expected to be a big event, with survivors of the crash and families of those who died attending from the USA. This article tells the story behind the memorial; the ill-fated last flight of the Liberator bomber named ‘Beast of Bourbon’.
On the 19th February 1945, a B-24 Liberator bomber of 36th Bomb Squadron, ‘Beast of Bourbon’ (see picture), took off from USAAF base Cheddington at 09.16. Just half a mile west of the runway, instrument failure on the plane combined with poor weather conditions led to the Liberator coming down in Long Marston, just missing a row of cottages. According to the accident report, visibility was down to 30 yards, and ground fog was up to 400 feet.
Immediately after take off, at 45 feet and at a speed of 135 mph, the Liberator was flying on instruments. Realising that they were in trouble, the pilot, Ist Lt. Louis McCarthy, cut the throttles and the co-pilot cut the switches, which delayed fire and possible explosion. That action probably saved the lives of most of the crew. The B-24 just made it over Tring Road and missed the village, ploughing through hedges and crossing Astrope Lane before smashing into two trees and coming to rest in the centre of a cattle field.
There were ten crew members and an additional navigator from 36th Bomb Squadron. After the crash navigator 1st Lt. John D Howarth managed to crawl out of the wrecked aircraft and get away from the immediate vicinity of the plane, but he then returned to get crew members out. It was a highly risky attempt with a fully armed aircraft; in fact four cows were killed by exploding shells from the 50-calibre machine guns. But the lieutenant felt compelled to try. Seven minutes later the B-24 caught fire with three of the crew still trapped inside, and it is sad to report that they perished in the plane. The three who died, Staff Sergeant Carl E. Lindquist, Private Fred K. Becker and Private Howard F. Haley – all in their very early 20’s – were gunners.
36th Bomb Squadron flew specially equipped B-17s and B-24s to jam enemy early warning radars and telecommunications, screen assembly and inbound flights of allied bombers, and to spoof the enemy into thinking that other (non-existent) bomber formations were assembling. This early form of electronic warfare was very successful in disrupting German forces.
Funds needed – can you help? The memorial to the crew will be placed alongside the War Memorial in the centre of Long Marston. The dedication service on 7th May will be held at 1pm, and villagers are very welcome to attend. Two of the families of the lost crewmen have been tracked down and have indicated that they would like to come to the UK to attend the service. In
addition, four other Liberator veterans intend to make the long journey from the US to Long Marston for the event. The local organiser, Chas Jellis, needs some help to finance the event, mainly for hospitality for our American visitors.
This feature written by Peter Walker is based on accident reports and relevant websites. With acknowledgement to Chas Jellis, Stephen Hutton and the 8th Airforce Historical Society. Every effort has been made to ensure historical accuracy.