Village prepares to mark air disaster

PEOPLE in a Suffolk village will tomorrow pay tribute to eight American airmen killed when their aircraft crashed shortly after take-off as they prepared to support Allied troops in Normandy 60 years ago.

By David Lennard

PEOPLE in a Suffolk village will tomorrow pay tribute to eight American airmen killed when their aircraft crashed shortly after take-off as they prepared to support Allied troops in Normandy 60 years ago.

The sacrifice made by those young men has never been forgotten by the residents of Rumburgh, near Halesworth.

A plaque containing the names of those who died is to be unveiled in the village church and a wreath-laying ceremony will take place on the site where the aircraft crashed to the ground.

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Pamela Harris, of Corner Farm, Rumburgh, was a young girl at school when the crash happened on the morning of Wednesday, June 7, 1944 - the day after D-Day.

"I was only a little girl at the time but I remember our teacher telling us to get under the desks.

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"There was a loud explosion and when my father came to collect me from school he told me the plane had crashed on our field," she said.

The stricken B-24 Liberator had crashed in a field at Corner Farm, Rumbugh, belonging to Mrs Harris' father, Alfred Soames.

"My father saw that the aircraft was in trouble before it crashed.

"Three crew members baled out and my father went to see if he could help them," said Mrs Harris.

The aircraft had been among a group of 23 Liberators belonging to the 705th Bomb Squadron, part of the 446th Bomb Group stationed at Flixton, near Bungay.

The plane, nicknamed "Nature's Nymph" and flown by Lt. Robert Zeeler, got into difficulties at about 10,000 ft, began spinning out of control and crashed at Rumburgh.

It had been part of a mission sent out to bomb German targets in northern France the day following the D-Day landings but because of bad weather and poor visibility none of the aircraft were able to drop their bombs on that particular mission.

When the aircraft crashed it was carrying its full bomb load and the dramatic events of that day were vividly recorded by the local police constable in an official report to his senior officers.

"I beg to report that at 11.25am on Wednesday, 7th June, 1944, a USAAF aircraft crashed out of control at Corner Farm, Rumburgh.

"There were 11 crew in the machine, 3 escaped by parachute (two of these were injured) the remaining 8 were killed," wrote the local officer, Pc Arthur Cook.

He went on to say that American fire engines and ambulances were quickly on the scene and took charge of operations.

"The machine immediately burst into flames and was completely destroyed, the full bomb load which it was carrying exploded about ten minutes after the crash with the exception of one 500lb bomb which was lying on the surface about 100 yards from Bungay Lane, Rumburgh," said Pc Cook in his report.

The unexploded bomb was later safely detonated by bomb disposal officers on Friday, June 9.

There were no civilian casualties as a result of the crash although crops were destroyed in the field and a number of nearby houses had windows smashed, roof tiles blown off and ceilings collapsing as a result of the explosion when the aircraft's bombs exploded.

From tomorrow the names of the eight American airmen who died in the crash will be placed on a plaque being unveiled in the parish church.

The names of the victims are:

2nd Lt Robert Zeeler, 2nd Lt Lyle Stevens, T/Sgt Siegfried Profe, T/Sgt Robert McKinley, Sgt Charles Tungeitt, Sgt Charles Peck, Sgt Paul Winkleman, and Sgt Louis Zusser.

The survivors of the crash were Sgt Reuben Cartwright, 2nd Lt H. I. Sadler, and an unknown enlisted man who had been making a film of the bombing mission.

Local historian Richard Pymar, of the Halesworth Air Museum, has carried out the research into the crash and made arrangements for tomorrow's ceremony.

"I believe it is terribly important that we do not forget the sacrifice made by these young men fighting for freedom many miles from their homes.

"I have been helped enormously in this project by Mr and Mrs Harris and Nick Patrick of Rumburgh, Flixton airfield archivist John Archer and local Royal British Legion members," he said.

Mr Pymar also paid tribute to staff at Anglia Photographic of Halesworth, Neil Kerridge and Ray Heater for their help in making the plaque.

There will be a short church service before the plaque is unveiled at Rumburgh parish church beginning at 3pm tomorrow before the wreath-laying ceremony on the crash site.

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