My wing hit the ground... I started to tumble

Discussion in 'Stories' started by Colin1, Nov 17, 2009.

  1. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    #1 Colin1, Nov 17, 2009
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2009
    US pilot who crashed in Britain in 1944 returns to unveil memorial to comrades after plane wreckage is found.

    By Mick Brown
    The Daily Telegraph
    Monday 16 November 2009

    Waiting in the departure lounge at JFK in New York for a flight to London, an announcement came over the public address system. We would be travelling with a very important passenger, it said.

    An elderly man was sitting in a wheelchair. This, we were told, was Norman Landberg, who had flown 56 missions over Europe in B-24 Liberators during WWII. He was returning to Britain for the first time since 1945 to be guest of honour at a ceremony to unveil a memorial for two of his comrades, who had died when a plane he was flying had crashed on take-off.

    America has a great sense of respect for war veterans and the passengers rose to applaud Mr Landberg as he was wheeled through the gate and down to the plane. I found him sitting in business class, his seat set in the reclining position, being cosseted by two flight attendants, a modest, quiet-spoken man in a tracksuit and trainers, slightly bemused by all the fuss.

    During the war, Lt Landberg of 36 Bomber Squadron, as he was then, was stationed in Cheddington Air Base in Ivinghoe, Buckinghamshire. His trip to Britain was not only the first time he had been back to the country since 1945, he told me, but the first time he had been in an aircraft, "I'm a little nervous." He thought for a moment. "Anticipatory."

    It was all very different from flying over Germany in a B-24. "What was that like? Oh my God, there was no insulation. It was cold as hell, 50 degrees below. Your wings would be flapping all over the place, rackety as anything. It was terrible."

    Mr Landberg's squadron was engaged in special operations, attached to RAF 100 Group. His B-24 did not carry bombs but top secret radar-jamming equipment. His job was to fly lone missions over Germany, without any support from fighters, in advance of the Lancaster bombing raids. Flying below enemy radar, Lt Landberg would circle an area at an altitude of between 50ft and 100ft, transmitting radar signals designed to fool the Germans into scrambling their fighter squadrons in pursuit of a non-existent enemy.

    By the time the actual bombers arrived - or so the theory went - the nightfighters would be back on the ground refuelling. Mr Landberg's description of this is succinct: "Scary."

    He was just 21 at the time, responsible for the lives of his 10-man crew. "That responsibility was not lost on me and that's the reason I'm coming to England." On the night of Nov 15th 1944, Lt Landberg took off on what he expected to be a routine - if such a word can be used - mission.

    Shortly after take-off, his aircraft lost power. "All my lights went out. My engineer had a flashlight which he shone in my eyes. I couldn't see the instruments and my left wing caught the ground and I started to tumble."



    Clockwise from top left: George Eberwine and Norman Landberg with a piece of wreckage yesterday; Norman Landberg in uniform; the memorial; the aircrew from the bomber with Lt Landberg (circled back row) and Mr Eberwine (circled front row)
     

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  2. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    #2 Colin1, Nov 17, 2009
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2009
    The plane hit the ground, ploughing across two fields. The aircraft was loaded with 4,000 gallons of fuel and 26,000 rounds of ammunition. It should have exploded but amazingly, it didn't.

    However, Lt Landberg's navigator and best friend William Lamson and the left-waist gunner Leonard Smith were killed on impact. The cockpit in which Lt Landberg was sitting was ripped from the fuselage and thrown 300 yards from the wreck. "I just snapped off the safety belt and stepped out onto the ground" he said. "Oh my God, it was something."

    The other seven crew members also survived. Lt Landberg had a week of rest in Torquay before rejoining his squadron to fly another 30 missions.

    At the end of the war he went back to his home and young wife Elizabeth in Atlantic City. "She was a great girl" he said. "She still is."

    He thought of staying on in the Air Force, "but I'd sort of had my fill. Particularly of flying." He went to engineering school and then got into sales. "I was travelling all over the country, you can sell anything and I loved driving a car."

    Mr Landberg has been so affected by the crash that he never spoke of it, not even to his wife. It might have passed, forgotten, into history had it not been for Chris Jellis, a 43-year old film prop man who lives in Ivinghoe. Mr Jellis' cousin owns Force End Farm, where Lt Landberg's B-24 crashed in 1944. For years, he had been ploughing up bits of the wreckage, including live .50 cal ammunition without knowing what they were from.

    In 1993, Mr Jellis himself picked up a piece of metal bearing a manufacturer's plate - Ford Motor Co. Dearborn - and soon became, in his own words, "a bit of an anorak on the B-24." A local historian told him that American bombers had been stationed at Cheddington. Through military records here and in America he determined the squadron and names of the crew of the crashed bomber. Dialling every N Landberg in phone directories in America, he eventually found his Lt Landberg.

    I said "Is that Lt Landberg?" Mr Jellis told me. "He said 'No-one's called me that since 1945' "
    When I told him I'd been picking up bits of wreckage from his plane for years, he said "Didn't they clear that sucker up?"

    Mr Jellis resolved to erect a memorial in honour of the two airmen who had died. Yesterday, Mr Landberg joined the only other surviving member of his crew, the tail-gunner George Eberwine, whom he had not seen since the end of the war, at a ceremony to unveil the marble stone at the site of the crash. The ceremony included a dedication by a USAF chaplain, fly-past and wreath laying.

    Mr Landberg later planned to visit the American war cemetery in Cambridge and the Imperial War Museum. As we neared Britain on Thursday, Mr Landberg told me, accepting a drink from a flight attendant, that the flight "was quite something". It might even have cured his aversion for flying. "It was most pleasant." he said, as we taxied to the arrivals gate. "I don't think I'll be quite so nervous flying home."
     
  3. twoeagles

    twoeagles Member

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    Terrific story! I can't imagine the cajones necessary to circle at an altitude of 100 feet in a B-24!!!
     
  4. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    ...at night... :shock:
     
  5. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    Yeah, certainly takes some balls! Great story.
     
  6. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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  7. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

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  8. Aaron Brooks Wolters

    Aaron Brooks Wolters Well-Known Member

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  9. wheelsup_cavu

    wheelsup_cavu Well-Known Member

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    It's amazing that he survived the crash.


    Wheels
     
  10. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    It sounds like losing power is both what crashed him and what saved him, 'all his lights went out'; if he suffered a complete electrical failure then there'd presumably be no spark to ignite the fuel. Still, rolling across two fields with 4,000 gallons of fuel strapped to your ass must have been something of an out-of-body experience.
     
  11. beaupower32

    beaupower32 Well-Known Member

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    lol, sure would be scary to have that much fuel on you and going tumbling all across the country side.
     
  12. Messy1

    Messy1 Well-Known Member

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    A amazing story. Great find and thanks for posting.
     
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