Debris field of crashed Flying Fortress 43-38944

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Flying Fortress 43-38944

On January 2nd 1945, a brand new Flying Fortress was being delivered from the American air depot at Burtonwood near Warrington, to a bomber squadron at Nuthampstead in Hertfordshire.

The pilot had not gained sufficient height to cross the last hills of the Pennines however, and struck the ground at Birchenough Hill near the village of Wildboarclough in the Peak District with the loss of all on board.

The photo above shows the spot where the B17 came to rest, 100 metres from the crash site.

Crew
First Lieutenant Donald James DeCleene. Pilot.
Second Lieutenant Maynard Stravinski. Co-pilot
Flight Officer Thomas Manos. Navigator
Technical Sergeant Howard F Ayres. Radio Operator
Technical Sergeant Frank E Garry. Flight Engineer

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Edit 14 December 2019. It is getting on for 10 years since I visited this crash site, but Amanda Cockcroft has been more recently. She has done some further research regarding the crew over the past 12 months, and has created the plaque with the image of a B17 and the crew names in the centre of this photograph (which she took). Many thanks Amanda!

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Details from
Peakland Air Crashes- The Central Area, P Cunningham. 2006

53 comments on “Debris field of crashed Flying Fortress 43-38944
  1. andyholmfirth says:

    It’s another poignant image Ian.Do you take the poppies up with you ?

  2. Ian D B says:

    Hi Andy,
    Thanks for that. Yeah, sometimes I do. I bought a job lot from a bloke selling poppies at Sainsbury’s in Halifax last November.

  3. ​favourite waste of time​ says:

    I do love the touch of red in all of these against the snow and loneliness.. nice job. I hadn’t realized you did the poppies… Lovely touch.

  4. Ian D B says:

    Thanks Sonja. they do add a welcome bit of colour. Not always me though, often there are poppies left by other visitors, the wreath on the other photo wasn’t placed by myself.

  5. Lo Scorpione says:

    I love the view you gave to this picture. Impressive start of the new year.


    Seen on my Flickr home page. (?)

  6. Anonymous says:

    amazing dof 😀

  7. Anonymous says:

    amazing dof 😀

  8. pasujoba says:

    Its a good idea Ian , especially with weather like this , it adds a splash of colour as well as leaving a mark of respect to the crew.

  9. redrocker_9 says:

    It’s a wonderful image, you do bring these sights a whole new life~

  10. sidewinder54 (Closed For Business) says:

    Beautifully captured Ian… I love the view.. The poppies are a lovely mark of respect.

  11. Tech Owl says:

    You can see the array of high ground around (looking out into the distance as your shot is). The snow adds an extra touch to the shot

  12. SolarScot. says:

    I,m Glad They Are Remembered

  13. Billy Currie says:

    The snow suits these barren locations so well

  14. Pleasureprinciple2012 says:

    Good to see that even this bad weather we are having can’t keep a good man down, nice image.

  15. Tony-H says:

    The poppy is a nice touch Ian …. so many US aircrews trained in Texas must’ve found flying in the English winter clag a real challenge.

  16. --- Green Light Images --- says:

    A similar accident occurred around that date with a bomber hitting the Trotternish Ridge near Staffin on Skye.

  17. IANLAYZELLUK says:

    Another Moving Capture.

  18. cgullz says:

    great shot. superb with the red of that poppy against the snow.

  19. Jack Garry says:

    Thank you for the photo’s and poppies. Frank Garry was my uncle who I never got to meet. Thank you again.

    • Ian D B says:

      Thanks Jack. The poppy cross was left by me, the wreath was already there, probably left on Remembrance Day (Veterans Day) a couple of months before. I have added a couple more photos.
      Ian

      • Jack Garry says:

        Thank You for the new photos. I see his name bottom left. My grandparents never got anything back from him from the Army which hurt them greatly. Wish they could have at least seen these photos to give them some closure. Wish we had something that belonged to him to bury along with my grandparents, would be nice. His name is inscribed on the bottom of their headstone. My grandmother worked as a nurse in England during WWI.

        • Ian D B says:

          Hi Jack, I am sorry to hear your grandparents (and you) had nothing tangible of him. Makes these little memorials so much more important, though they fade over time. Good though that this one seems well remembered, i.e. with the poppy wreath placed on it; most are forgotten by all apart from by the odd individual. I shall have to make another visit, see how it looks now.

          The patch of grey in the middle of this google map is where the aircraft came to rest and burned out. The impact point and memorial stone is a 100 metres or so to the south west of this point.

          Some links you may not have seen;

          This page tells of the memorial stone being erected. It is a bit fanciful with regards the pilot “skillfully” missing the other hills – the aircraft crashed at cruising speed but it was dark, being after 7pm on a winter’s evening, and the pilot was evidently oblivious to the high ground beneath. And it didn’t bellyflop and bounce back into the air, the bomber reportedly struck the ground and careered across the moor before coming to a halt. And as for the ghost story, these crash sites often attract such tales and they are all pretty much the same (airman in a bomber jacket with an American accent asking for help). The weather was not “appalling” that night either… Actually there’s not much to be said for this page, it makes me question the detail about the memorial if the author has got the other information wrong. But there are some more photos. The detail about the grass not growing back is also a common feature of these places, the ground is polluted by the fuel.

          This little slideshow on Youtube shows the site in 1981.

          And this memorial at a nearby church lists your uncle among the dead of several crashed aircraft in the area. His name is on the first panel.

          Ian

  20. Jack Garry says:

    Ian if you ever visit the site in the future would it be possible to send a small piece of the plane. They (Army) say he is buried in Cambridge but they (Cambridge) have no record of him being there. Thanks Jack

  21. Amanda says:

    I hoped to visit this site yesterday as it is not far from home. Unfortunately the weather was not good. Have you been back recently? I would be more than happy to send a piece of the aircraft remains if that is allowed to Frank’s family if that would help give them a sense of closure. Just started to research the crew. Your pictures are very poignant.

    • Ian D B says:

      Hi Amanda, I haven’t visited this site for many years, I don’t know how it looks now. Let me know if you need the grid reference.
      Ian

    • Jack Garry says:

      Amanda that would be amazing. Yes it would help with closure. Jack Garry

      • Amanda says:

        Hello Jack, I am hoping to get to the site soon. The weather is not good here at the moment. Have you seen the picture of Frank on the American Air Museum in Britain website? He is With Harold F Spangler’s crew. They were so young. Will have to check on the rules over here regarding wreck sites. How much work have you put into finding out where your uncle is buried? Like Ian, I am surprised his burial is not listed anywhere. I wonder if sometimes mistakes are made with names and dates. There is a Howard F Ayers buried in Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira, New York but this date of death is March 5th 1945, not January 2nd 1945. I really hope one day you find where he is. Take care.

  22. Amanda says:

    Yes please. When was the last time you were there? Do you have the names of any websites that would be helpful for my research? Visited Burtonwood museum yesterday.

    • Ian D B says:

      Hi Amanda, sorry for the late reply.

      There are various websites out there covering air crashes, what is the particular information you require?

      The grid references for this crash site are SJ 99460 67766 (impact site and memorial) and SJ 99545 67797 (terminal site where the aircraft burned out)

      Ian

      • Amanda says:

        Hi Ian, just trying to find out about the crew and the plane. Done a lot of work searching online but as you know there are lots of different websites. Would like to know more about the young men on board. Do you know of any sites when it comes to service records? Have you ever been to the cemetery in Cambridge?

        • Ian D B says:

          Hi Amanda, no I have not yet been to the American cemetery (I once flew over it in a vintage aircraft – does that count?!)

          From this admin page, I can see your email address so I will send you a little more about this air crash.

          Ian

          • Amanda says:

            Hi Jack,l would like to know more about your uncle from stories your grandparents hopefully told you. Trying to find out where he is buried

  23. Colin says:

    Hi, I just stumbled on the crash site and I’m there now googling about it! I wonder if Amanda has any updates to share about the background of the crew?

  24. Jack Garry says:

    Amanda the most my grandparents would ever say was that as a little boy all he every takes about was airplanes. He was always looking at them fly by the apartment where they lived on Jersey City, New Jersey. From the 12th floor apartment window he could see planes flying up and down over the Hudson River between them and New York City. My father would only say that he had just finished his 17 bombing run over Germany was on an off day but volunteered for the new craft shuttle fight because his friend wasn’t feel good so he went in his place. Jack

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Jack,

      When I think of Frank I imagine him as a young man with a wonderful sense of humour. The picture of him with the Spangler crew is lovely. He has a cheeky smile. Someone I am sure a lot of people would have been glad to know and knew. I found out that he worked for the First National Bank before enlisting. His position on the aircraft was a very important one. He had to give a description when in November of 1944 an aircraft from the 603rd squadron was shot down. Kenneth S Hastings was the pilot and Donald J de Cleene had been his co-pilot. On board Hastings plane was a man called Oral Birch. He survived to become a prisoner of war and didn’t know until after his release what had happened to Donald and his crew. In 1994 or 1995 Oral visited the crash site. Do you know where Frank went to school or have any photos of him. He and the others on board are not forgotten about. He did his duty and served his country well. I am so sorry he never got to go home. Go and visit them as often as possible. If you would like to contact me privately it would be okay for Ian to give you my email address. Take care.

      • Jack Garry says:

        Thank You for your kind words and visits to the site and all your have done. Jack

        • Amanda says:

          Jack,would you like us to leave some flowers on behalf of you and your family at the memorial? Weather permitting,should be going to the site next weekend.

  25. Amanda says:

    Just an update on the crew.

    Donald was born on February 7th 1921 in Oak Park Illinois. He joined the 398th on 28th August 1944. He was an air medal with oak leaf clusters recipient.

    Maynard was from Plymouth Pennsylvania and was born on March 5th 1921. He played American football as a guard.

    Thomas was the youngest member of the crew. He should have been 21 on the 18th of August 1945. The eldest of two boys born in Chicago. His parents were Greek immigrants.

    Frank was also the eldest of two boys and celebrated his 21st birthday on November 1st 1944. A Jersey boy.

    Howard died four days before his 21st birthday. He was from Texas and the English weather must have been a shock to him. He is buried in the Fort Sam Houston Cemetery in San Antonio.

    Donald, Maynard and Thomas are all buried in the American cemetery near Cambridge. Maynard is in Plot F. Donald and Thomas are in Plot C and are in fact buried one behind the other. The pilot had his navigator behind him for all eternity.

    On the day the crash happened there were five B-17s being ferried back to Station 131 Nuthampstead. I have received a letter from one of the other pilots who had major problems with his aircraft. I believe that Donald had problems also and looking at the crash photos I think he was trying to get back to Burtonwood. As there is nothing left at the crash site, my theory is going to be hard to prove. The aircraft had 7 hours worth of fuel on board.

    If (when museums are allowed to open) you are down in the Hertfordshire area, the 398th air museum is worth a visit. They do have a website as do the 398th themselves.

    It is important that men like these are not forgotten and many thanks go to Ian for his hard work.

    • Ian D B says:

      Brilliant research Amanda, thank you so much for adding all this extra detail about the crew!
      Hope you are well,
      Ian

  26. Amanda says:

    Neither Frank or Howard were meant to be on board. They went in place of two men who were ‘under the weather ‘.

    Both served with Harold F Spangler.

    A photo of this crew is on the american air museum website and if you go to Duxford their names appear on the wall of the lost.

  27. Amanda says:

    The following just shows how dangerous it was for the crews of B-17s. It involves Frank.

    On November 25th 1944 the 603rd were sent to Merseburg. There was a fire in the top turret and Frank passed out with anoxia. He was brought round by James Mayhall who was the navigator.

    If anyone is interested there is a really good video on YouTube of a walk around of the aircraft known as Aluminium Overcast. She is a salute to the men and women of the 398th. From memory she has a 30 on the side of her which was the squadron code for the 601st. If you see any images of B-17G aircraft from the 398th look out for N7 as that means she belonged to the 603rd. Their squadron insignia or emblem was given to them by Walt Disney. Very cool!

    Ian, you are going to have to come over and visit the site again (social distancing rules to be obeyed).

    Take care and stay safe.

    • Ian D B says:

      Yeah you put me to shame Amanda. I should have been there for the anniversary…

      One day I will make it back there and will drop you a line in advance!

      Link to that video:

    • Jack Garry says:

      This plane was not named yet but it was to replace their shot up existing plane named “Stormy Weather”.

  28. Amanda says:

    Hi Jack, Having looked through the tail numbers of the aircraft that were used on the missions they flew,they never had the same plane. For instance on October 28th 1944 Frank flew on 42-102469 Q. On October 30th 42-107053 M, was the aircraft they took to Hamm Germany.

  29. Jack Garry says:

    That would so nice of you. If you email me I can send you a Paypal for reimbursement. One question, is the church close by were his name is on the butterfly wing on the window. Thank you again from all of us “The Garry klan”. Jack

    • Amanda says:

      Always take flowers when we visit the memorial and it will be an honor to leave them on behalf of a family. No money required. If you have a preference for the kind of flowers please let me know.

      Are you asking about Frank’s name on the memorial window at Anstey church or the memorial at the church in Leek?

      Live near Leek but Anstey church is near Nuthampstead which is about 200 miles away. Not far in America but a distance on English roads!
      Might have a leaflet somewhere on the Anstey memorial. Please send me an email so I can contact you if I find it.

      Every time I hear the name Hudson River I will always think of a little boy watching out for the planes passing by.
      That statement brought a tear to my eye. Frank and the rest of the crash. Forever heroes.

  30. Amanda says:

    Many apologies that should have said Frank and the rest of the crew forever heroes.

  31. Amanda says:

    Today in 1923 Frank was born and 76 years ago I hope he got a chance to celebrate his 21st birthday. Forever 21. Always a hero.

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