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The Disaster of Freckleton

Discussion in 'War44 General Forums' started by Jim, Sep 17, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    In war there are always innocent casualties. Sometimes, for purposes of maintaining morale during WW2 some tragedies were not widely reported. Of such incidents there were many. Here is an account of just one.
    ‘It was August 23rd, 1944. The weather that day was awful. There had been lots of heavy rain, thunder and noise. The wind so rough that trees had been torn down. It was one of the worst storms I have ever seen. I was walking along the road when I heard this terrible noise of engines roaring and roaring. Then I saw this dark shape slide out of the rain. It just fell out of the air and hit the Sad Sack Café on the north side of the road and then just careered over to the other side and hit the school. I was just stunned by the sight. I could not believe what I was seeing. The noise was so awful I have nightmares about it even today, all these years after. I was so scared I just ran home to tell my family, but I met them on the way as they had heard the crash. It was such a terrible sight. It looked as if the whole street was on fire. We could not see the school for the flames. I can see it today as clearly as I did then. My mum was not a fool and realised there was nothing she could do. There was a smell of burning and fuel in the air and smoke everywhere. We stayed for a few minutes and waited for someone to come and start to do something, then we went home. It was not until later that we heard what had happened. It was the most terrible day I can remember. Just about everyone we knew had lost someone when that plane crashed. It was months before some of the older children, who survived because they were not in the part of the building hit, were able to go back to school.’

    Twisted fragments of the B-24 silhouetted aginst the flames as efforts to extinguish the fires continues.

    [​IMG]

    Here is a relatively brief account of what happened:​


    At 10.30am, August 23rd, 1944, one of the B-24 H-20 42-50291 Liberator aircraft – named ‘Classy Chassis II’ that had just been repaired at the nearby American Air Force base at Warton, was being flight tested. The pilot was 1st Lieutenant John Bloemendal. After a normal take-off from runway 08 the B-24 headed out over the Lancashire countryside, accompanied by a second B-24, 42-1353 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. In less than five minutes after the B-24 left Warton a telephone call reached the base from BAD 1 (Burtonwood), warning of a violent storm approaching the Preston area and immediately an order was issued recalling both Bloemendal’s aircraft and that being flown by 1st Lieutenant Pete Manassero. 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. The storm assumed proportions of an almost supernatural quality; thunder and lightning rolled across the sky and the wind was of such ferocity as to uproot trees and smash hen huts on a nearby farm. The sky turned an ominous black, and the whole district was plunged into darkness, even though it was a summer day, making it impossible to see indoors without the aid of artificial light. A contemporary local newspaper reported a trail of destruction across the northwest. Hutton Meteorological Station, which was fairly clear of the storm on the other side of the river, recorded wind velocity of nearly 60mph, with water spouts being observed in the Ribble estuary and flash flooding in Southport and Blackpool. Although the official report states that no further radio contact was made by Bloemendal with Control, 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. This is what happened next in Pete Manassero’s own words:

    ‘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 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’ that he was pulling up the wheels and going around (this transmission recorded at Control as being between the two aircraft). I was then over the Wash 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.’

    US servcemen dig through the rubble of the Snack Bar and adjoining cottages in search of survivors.

    [​IMG]

    The official report into the crash summarised that the exact cause was unknown, though it was the opinion of the investigating committee that the pilot made an error in his judgement of the violence of the storm. They concluded that Lt. Bloemendal had not fully realised the danger until he made his approach to land, by which time he had insufficient altitude and speed to manoeuvre, 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. Finally, it was recommended that pilots trained in the United States and then being sent to England, should be emphatically warned about the dangers of British thunderstorms. It was noted that many such pilots believed that British storms were little more than showers compared to those encountered in the southern United States and saw no danger in them, whereas they could be every bit as dangerous, though much less frequent.
    The two aircraft had been caught in the worst storm ever recorded in that part of Britain. The plane crashed into the Holy Trinity Church School in Freckleton. Eyewitnesses reported that as fast as the storm had started it stopped. 38 five-year-old children and two teachers perished in the fire, as well as the three-man crew of the B-24 and some people who were sheltering from the storm, across Lytham Road in the Sad Sack Café. Thirty-six of the children, and their teachers, were laid to rest together in the churchyard cemetery. Only three five-year-old children survived and they spent about two years in and out of hospitals. One was a boy named George Madden whose home had been in the south of London. The others were George Carey and Ruby Whittle.
    Among the casualties in the Sad Sack Café were six RAF men: four of them were killed and two injured. All were members of 22 Aircrew Handling Unit (22 AHU), a holding unit for aircrew at RAF Kirkham. The Freckleton disaster is regarded as one of the worst disasters on British soil of WWII.

    As far as I have been able to ascertain the story did not receive as much Press attention as it deserved; probably because on the same day Paris had been liberated.

    John, Formerly of Freckleton
     

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