the New Year's Eve crash of a plane on Burnham beach
72 years since this American B17 Flying Fortress crash-landed
on Burnham-On-Sea beach on December 31st, 1943.
The plane came down after being damaged during a bombing raid
on German-held targets in France and, fortunately, there were
Skinner, a crewman onboard the plane, explained to local historian
Iris Rowe what happened.
was the flight engineer/top turret gunner and would have to stand
throughout the mission. During take-off he stood behind and between
the two pilots so that he could check the instruments. Once in
the air, he took up his position as the top turret gunner, standing
on a small piece of raised metal with his head into the perspex
dome above the plane and armed with two .50 calibre machine guns
to protect the plane from attacks from above."
any of the crew was wounded it was his job to do what he could
for them. To get to the back of the plane, where six airmen were
positioned, he had to go through the bomb bay by means of a four
inch walkway no room for a parachute to be worn, and using
a walk-around oxygen bottle. If a bomb got hung-up it was his
job to try to kick it free, standing above the open bomb bay doors.
One slip and he would be gone."
and his crewmates were serving with the 351st Battle Group which
had suffered many losses due to mid-air collisions. The December
31st mission was considered to be a milk-run as little or no opposition
was expected and so they were to fly at a lower than normal altitude
with several top brass flying the lead plane, checking on the
was anything but a milk run. It was the longest mission and most
costly in men and planes throughout the war for the 351st Battle
Group. A total of 296 planes headed for German-held targets in
"The 351st and 401st Battle Groups flew towards their targets
of Bordeaux/Cognac whilst the others flew south. As they approached
Bordeaux they were attacked by a group of FW190s. Bordeaux was
cloud covered and so the B-17s headed north to their secondary
target of Cognac where they were attacked by guns from a train
and from a ship. Four planes went down in the target area, one
in the Atlantic and two in the English Channel."
and his crew, with one engine smoking, survived a fighter attack
over the Brest peninsular and, short of fuel and alone, desperately
looked for some place to land. They were too low for the crew
to bale out and, expecting the pilots to ditch the plane, all
except the two pilots took up their crash positions."
managed to fly across the south west to the Burnham-On-Sea area
and, flying over St Andrew's church, the pilots saw the beach
and made a successful wheels-up landing.
added: "As Walt said, 'we didn't even get our feet wet'.
people ran out to the plane as it skidded to a halt, with boys
gathering as many souvenirs as they could. Bits of the plane ended
up in sheds all over Burnham but a camera only came to light in
recent years. Walt and his crew stayed together and carried out
26 more missions. For the remainder of their missions they flew
in a B-17 named Black Magic. Several weeks after the plane was
assigned to another crew it went down with the loss of the crew."
only time Walt returned to Burnham was in May 1995. The head teacher
of St Andrew's Junior School, Steve James, arranged a concert
based on the war as a tribute to Walt. Mayor Brenda Brown gave
him a civic reception and invited him and his family to the 50th
anniversary ceremony in the Manor Gardens. It was a day Walt that
passed away in 2013 in Delaware Veterans Home and was given full