Sheffield flying fortress – On Sunday 19February 2012 I worked a shift for one of the local newspapers on the diary was a wreath laying at a memorial for the crew of a B17 flying fortress which crashed in Sheffield shortly before 5pm, 22nd of February 1944 killing all 10 crew:
First Lieutenant John Glennon Krieghauser, pilot.
Second Lieutenant Lyle J Curtis, co-pilot
Second Lieutenant John W Humphrey, navigator
Second Lieutenant Melchor Hernandez, bombardier
Staff Sergeant Robert E Mayfield, radio operator
Staff Sergeant Harry W Estabrooks, engineer / top turret gunner
Sergeant Charles H Tuttle, ball-turret gunner
Sergeant Maurice O Robbins, tail gunner
Sergeant Vito R Ambrosio, right waist gunner
Muster Sergeant George U Williams, left waist gunner
The youngest was 21 the eldest 24. Intrigued by the story of the Sheffield Flying Fortress I decided to find out more.
February 20 to 25 1944 was to become known as “Big Week”. Officially designated Operation Argument the US 8th Air Force were tasked with massive daylight air-raids on the Third Reich’s aircraft industry while RAF Bomber Command supported the daylight the raids by operating against the same targets at night. The intent was to destroy Germany’s aircraft factories, lure Luftwaffe into a decisive confrontation and defeat them. This would give the Allies air superiority in preparation for Operation Overlord.
Against this background, around mid-day, Tuesday 22nd February 1944, the USAAF B17 Flying Fortress Mi Amigo with its 10 crewmen reached the coast of Denmark along with the rest of the 305 Bombardment Group from the US 8 Air Force. Cloud cover was thick, there was little chance the bombers would locate their target and German 88mm anti-aircraft guns were peppering the sky with black clouds of shrapnel filled flak, but the aim of this mission wasn’t just to bomb targets, it was to draw out the Luftwaffe’s fighters so they pressed on.
Attacked by Focke-Wulf Fw-190’s the squadron leader decided enough was enough, the 305 Bombardment Group jettisoned their bombs and headed for their home base, RAF Station Chelveston (USAAF Station 105) in Northamptonshire. At some point in the mission whether from flak, fighters or probably both Mi Amigo sustained damage. The reports from other aircraft in the formation indicate Mi Amigo was in trouble. The Flying Fortress was struggling to maintain altitude, more than one of her engines was misfiring, her “skin was in tatters” and she was beginning to fall behind the rest. A “nursemaid” was assigned to try and help Mi Amigo home but thick cloud that probably saved the stricken bomber from the fighters now became an enemy. The Flying Fortress assigned to escort Mi Amigo lost visual contact with with her around 500 miles from the English coast. Despite attempts to regain contact the next sighting of Mi Amigo was shortly before 17:00 on the 22nd of February, she was well off course, around 100 miles from Chelveston, over Endcliffe Park 2 miles south-west of Sheffield City Centre.
Eyewitness accounts of Mi Amigos last moments vary “ it circled” “it rolled”, “it clipped the trees” “the engines stuttered”. Some believe that pilot First Lieutenant John Glennon Krieghauser, spotted the 75 hectare Endcliffe park as a place to put down but seeing children playing football he chose to crash the massive Flying Fortress on the wooded hillside short of the open area where children were playing.
Jeff Hawkins a 14 year old at the time didn’t see the Sheffield flying fortress crash but was one of the first on scene. He describes what he saw in an interview with the Sheffield Star. (There’s a slightly different account from Jeff Hawkins here)
“We heard a huge roar, echoing across the valley, that lasted only three or four seconds and ended abruptly,”
“This huge silver bomber was lying among the broken trees near to the bottom of the bank, across the river, with its nose pointing down towards the river.”
“There appeared to be little damage to the aircraft which was in one piece except for the tail and rear end of the fuselage which appeared to have parted from the main fuselage and was left further up the bank.”
“The wings, engines, fuselage and cockpit were all relatively intact. The only fire that was visible was a small flame and a little smoke from a wing.”
Initially the eyewitness and onlookers were able to get close to the wreck but children were ushered away, as at least one unidentified corpse had been thrown clear. Again the accounts begin to differ some describe hearing crews cries for help, others that say they sent the would be rescuers away. One young Sheffielder said he tried to pull an airman clear, but the man’s legs were trapped.
Interestingly on my way out of the park, after photographing the wreath laying, I spoke with an old gentleman and his family. He how told me how he and his friend saw the Flying Fortress
“it came over from out towards Bradway”.
“I set off home on my bike but my friend set off for the crash site”. “He tried to save one of the crewmen I’m sure he was given some kind of award or something for it.”
Once the fire took hold and unspent ammunition from its guns started to “cook off” the Sheffield locals were forced back and Mi Amigo was destined to become a burnt out wreck.
What ever really happened aboard Mi Amigo will remain a mystery, no radio contact, unable to give a situation report to their comrades and no survivors tell their story, exactly how and why a B17 Flying Fortress ended up a burnt out wreck in a Sheffield City park can only ever by conjecture and guess work.
In Memory of those 10 young men every the people of Sheffield hold a wreath laying ceremony on the closest Sunday to the 22nd February in Endcliffe Park on the site of the Sheffield flying fortress crash and a Memorial service at St Augustine’s church Brocco Bank.