379th Memorials




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Mission Reports




Lloyd Burns Crew

Rear Left to Right
S/Sgt Louis W. Schulte, Tail Gunner, S/Sgt Leroy J. Monk, Radio Operator/Gunner, Sgt Richard  W. Andrews,
Right Waist Gunner, Sgt Richard  L. Billings, Left Waist Gunner, Sgt William  H. Farmer, Ball Turret Gunner,
S/Sgt Leonard F. Gibbs, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner.

Front-Left to Right
F/O Edward N. Sadler, Navigator, 2nd Lt Fred S. Kauffman, Co-Pilot, 2nd Lt Jack L.Gray, Bombardier, 2nd Lt Lloyd Burns, Pilot.

It is 1820 hours on 19 June, 1944. The sun is shining brightly in a clear blue sky. From the ground can be heard the throbbing of airplane engines approaching. Glancing up, one can see a formation of Flying Fortresses coming in to land at Kimbolton, home of the 379th Bomb Group. At this stage in the war, this is not an uncommon sight. The allied bomber forces were being used to hammer the German defenses which were holding up the allied forces in Normandy.

Taking off at 1440 hours that day, the Group had attacked German V-1 flying bomb-sites at Zudauasques/Enquine, France.

As the aircraft crossed the Thames a number of eyewitness's observed one aircraft in trouble. Aircraft 44-6133 flown by Lt. A.J. Ramacilli was reported making loud whining noise. Lt. Lloyd Burns, pilot of 42-97942, christened “Heavenly Body II", takes up the story.

"As we let down over the Thames Estuary, we encountered a layer of clouds. Losing sight of the horizon, but able to see aircraft immediately adjacent. By the time I realized that Lt. Kaufman was having trouble with this, he was already having to overcorrect somewhat having overshot our position on the lead plane."

Burns had swapped seats with his copilot Kaufman to give him a chance at flying in the left-hand seat. Lt. Fred Kaufman was expecting to get his own crew soon and eagerly accepted the offer. He continues:

"I remember reaching over above Lt. Kaufman trying to push back the curtain to locate our left wingman, Ramacitti…then the crash…right into Fred… the tremendous grinding of metal, the roaring of the wind and the engines. I looked over at Sergeant Gibbs who was standing behind us. He was as pale as death, but OK. I jerked my thumb at him indicating get out. No one needed to be told that, of course, and Gibbs disappeared. I shook Kaufman with no response.

I reached under my seat for the chest pack, it was gone.  Apparently the collision had dislodged it. I unbuckled my seat belt and climbed down toward the hatch under the pilot's seat. The plane was going down, making progress difficult. I was looking for my parachute without success. Suddenly someone, I don't know who, maybe an angel, shoved one into my arms. My chute harness was completely unbuckled. So I buckled one leg and one buckle of the chute to one buckle of my chest harness."

As the men inside struggled to abandon the aircraft, observers from the ground watched spellbound. Eyewitness, C. T. Ellison, recalls the collision:

"One of them broke up with the wings and fuselage dropping into the water. The crew bailed out. The other plane seemed to be OK, except that one engine was on fire."

Mr. D. Ball who was sixteen at the time was cycling along Marine Parade when the aircraft approached from Kent. He had heard the whining from one of the aircrafts engines and suddenly one B-17 flew straight into the other. Both airplanes locked together for an instant and then broke apart, one falling near Canvey. Mr. Ball saw at least one parachutist.

Mrs. C. L. Evans was on Leigh Cliffs and saw the formation approach towards Leigh Station. Suddenly, one ship veered sideways and collided with the other ship. One dived away while the other flew around before seeming to attempt a landing on the mudflats, finally plunging in with a splash.

As the aircraft circled the first parachutes appeared. Lloyd Burns takes up his story:

"At this point, I saw that several of the crew were trying to get the hatch door open and could not. Not being completely buckled, I was not prepared to exit yet, but threw my weight against the door trying to break it loose. Apparently it gave way because the next thing I knew, I was floating down dangling half out of my harness.

Blood streamed down my face from a cut above my right eye. I must have struck something as I fell out of the plane, knocking me unconscious. I don't recall pulling the ripcord. I was hanging half way out of the partially buckled harness, so I tried to secure myself into it better, which resulted in a very frightening sway. So I just stopped trying and held on. I looked up and saw that one main shroud line was hooked to my harness.

I then looked down and began to worry about where I was going to land. I saw that I would be far from shore and I was not wearing my Mae West. The stupidity of youth…chute harness unbuckled, Mae West off, for comfort, of course. After all, the mission was over!

I hit the water hard and had trouble freeing myself from the chute harness. The wind dragged me for quite a distance, but finally the chute collapsed and I freed myself after sinking pretty deep trying to get out of my heavy sheepskin jacket, pants and boots. I began treading water in my underwear."

The Flying Fortress was well known as a stable aircraft and fortunately for the crew of the Heavenly Body II, it descended in a flat circle. Many crews were trapped in their crashing aircraft as they spun earthwards. Some of the witnesses on the ground felt that the aircraft was being controlled during this descent, but this appears not to be the case…

Dick Andrews, waist gunner, had swapped positions with Louis Schulte and was flying tail gunner. As he recalls:

“The plane flying left wing seemed to be having difficulty in maintaining good position in flight and we all sort of had an eye out for the unusual flight attitude. Recalling a bit of humor just prior to the crash…Lloyd’s home state of Georgia is known as the Peach State and New Jersey, in my opinion, probably raises the best peaches. We were debating this issue at the moment of collision. We were hit on the top which rendered out controls useless, as the control cables all pass right down the top center of the fuselage.

There was no alarm sounded to bail out, we just knew the moment had come to get out. I attempted to jettison the escape hatch, but could not pull the pins free. I turned the latch knob and pushed the door open against the slipstream as I pulled myself through the narrow opening. Knowing our position, I chose to open my chute immediately after clearing other planes in formation.

I can remember vividly falling through the air on my back and looking up at the formation heading home and seeing two open slots where we should have been. My chute was a Pioneer back pack which had a long ripcord and required a hard pull to open. I didn’t know how difficult it was to open until I tried. The opening of the chute was a severe shock which I felt for some time. As high in the air as I was, I had time to look around and to thank God. I was able to look down and count the other chutes well below me and wonder whether the seven I counted belonged to my crew or the other plane.

I saw one of the Forts circling in apparently stable flight (well trimmed).  The plane hit the ground heading roughly easterly and narrowly missing an oil storage tank before blowing up.  I believe that I was the only person to actually land on the ground; the others fell into the water some distance away. I don’t know if the exact spot would be visible today. There was a high stone seawall built with large rocks which protected the shoreline. Where I landed was in three feet of slimy, black stinky mud. My chute did not collapse immediately but dragged me along for some distance before snagging and spilling the air. In the meantime, my flight suit scooped up the mud and filled it full. I smoothed my hair back, which ultimately dried into a hard shell. I climbed the seawall and could see a small village off in the distance, I presume, about two or three kilometers.

I hiked off to find help. The people who met me were very friendly and warm knowing what had just happened.  One woman invited me into her home and said she wished she could offer me a bath but they had no bath tub. Several other women brought me food, which was in short supply, but they were very generous. I asked for help in getting information about the rest of my crew. Someone summoned a local Bobby who offered to help. He took me to his home where his wife gave me some fresh cherries while he was arranging transportation to an RAF Mosquito Bomber base somewhere to the south of the Thames River.

On arriving there, I went to the tower for information about the accident. They hadn’t received word of any rescue at that time.  I was given quarters in a lovely, large, stone home that was being used by the RAF Officers. There I was able to bath and had a good meal with the pilots. Later that evening, I heard that most of my crew had been picked by "Air Sea Rescue" and were in the hospital for the night. They did not have the names of those rescued, so I still had to wonder.

The next day, a young woman pilot flew me to a Spitfire base I thought was Gravesend. There I met the other survivors from my crew and the bombardier from the other plane…the only survivor from that crew.  We were picked up by a Fort from our home field at Kimbolton.  Two days later, we started flying the balance of our missions.  I flew my thirty missions between April and July, 1944."

Jack Gray, our bombardier had officially completed his tour of operations on a sortie earlier that day. He was still ordered to go on the afternoon mission by the Group Operations Officer. Jack recalls:

"After we made our bomb run, it was like a cake walk because there was no flak or fighters as we headed back across the channel. The group leader, instead of beginning our letdown as we left the French Coast, maintained altitude until we were over the English coast. As we started letting down through a thick high level of clouds, I was relaxing with my feet propped up on the bombsight. At approximately 19,000 feet we were hit by our left wingman on their first combat sortie. Possibly he lost sight of us in the clouds and he came down on top of us in his blind spot. The Plexiglas nose cone was knocked off at impact and I found myself more out of the plane than in it. Miraculously, I stopped my fall and fought to pull myself back into the plane. My first problem was to get back inside the aircraft to get my parachute. I wasn't having much success until the plane started its nose dive and the slipstream helped push me back inside.

I put on my chute and gave a questioning thumbs up to my navigator. He signaled back that he was OK. At impact, our intercom system was rendered inoperative so we could only communicate by hand signals. We looked back toward the escape hatch only to find the pilot and Sgt. Gibbs were already crowded into the narrow space meant to accommodate only one man. The pilot was trying to push and shove Gibbs through the hatch. To have proceeded to the hatch would have only added to the chaos and maybe no one would have gotten out. I sat on an ammo can while the navigator kept watch for our escape route to clear. Finally Eddy, our navigator, gave the all clear sign, we exchanged silent OK's and I motioned for him to get out   He was still adjusting his chute and emphatically signaled to me to go. That was the last time I saw Eddy alive.

Now comes problem number two, I found the escape hatch still in place. It wasn't supposed to be. I guessed that the emergency release must have malfunctioned. Moving feet first in the direction of the tail of the ship, I put all of my weight against the hatch. Suddenly, my progress was stopped because my chute harness had become caught on the hatch handle. My adrenaline really started to flow then because I had no idea of our altitude or how much time was left for me to get out of the plane. It was now or never. I grasped the hatchway frame and literally levered myself out of the plane.

Heavenly Body ll's gradual descent was what allowed so many of us to survive. The other airplane, 44-6133, dived into the Thames taking all but one man with it. Finally with smoke pouring from the starboard engine, aircraft, 42-97942, took a descent angle of 45 degrees and plunged nose first into the mud, burning fiercely and creating a deep hole.  Mr. Payne of Canvey recalled that when he arrived on the scene, ammunition was still exploding in the fire and one of the engines had been thrown forward and was laying in a gully on the marshes. He and Mr. R. Layman, Payne's father-in-law to be, helped carry the body of one crew member across the marsh to the sea wall. This was Flight Officer Sadler. Tail gunner Sgt. Louis Schulte who had swapped positions with Sgt. Dick Andrews was recovered dead in the Thames. Both received the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously on 29 June, 1944."

Radio operator Leroy Monk of the Burns' crew had this recollection of that fateful day:

"I remember we received a big bump and crashing sound on the top of the plane. I looked through the top window of the radio room and could see part of another B-17.  My escape route was the bomb bay but my door forward was bent by the impact so that I could not get it open. I made my way back to the waist where the ball turret gunner was trying to release the rear door which was also stuck. I sat on the floor and began kicking on the door until it gave way. I remember the tail gunner and the waist gunner were standing behind me waiting to jump.    Since I was already sitting in the doorway, I decided to jump. I tipped forward but my rear end parachute straps held me back. When I tumbled forward with the help of the planes spin, I went too fast and hit the tail of the plane, my chute opened and tore away three panels. Very, very lucky. Once I was floating down, I could see the bombardier and waist gunner descending and no one else. Also, I could see the other plane in a slow spin and saw it hit an island and ours coming apart piece by piece.

When I landed in the channel, I found my chute tangled around my legs. I couldn't get loose and the chute was filling with water and pulling me under. My life preserver would pull me up again. The water was cold and I was getting tired.

I then saw what I think was a fishing boat coming toward me, but I guess because of the whitecaps they didn't see me until the last second. Consequently, they broad sided me and went on. Can't say how long it was before another boat came along and they threw me about a one inch rope which I catch, but couldn't hold on to because of the slickness of the brine and my exhausted state. They also went on and I figured that I would drown and being so exhausted I really didn't care. Sometime later…have no idea how long, I felt myself choking and found that another boat was there and was pulling me out of the water with a boat hook fastened on the collar of my jacket. They pulled me aboard, pumped me out, and rolled me in a blanket. To my surprise, my engineer was sitting close by leaning against the cabin of the ship.

I must have fainted then because the next thing I remember was my engineer and I in an English hospital where I must have slept for at least two days. We were flown back to Kimbolton and there discovered we had lost our copilot, navigator, and tail gunner. I was told that only the bombardier survived from the other crew.  After a three day pass, we finished our missions and were shipped home.”

Ball turret gunner Bill Farmer tells his story as follows:

"This was our second mission that day. Our crew had already flown 26 missions and we found ourselves mixed in with another crew. We went back to France without incident and as we were leaving the coast, I rolled my gun turret so that the guns pointed down and I opened the hatch and climbed out into the waist compartment. My guess is that we were about 20,000 feet when the plane off our left wing slid over us and made contact. I later learned it was the crew we had divided up with on the morning mission. Our plane started to shake and went into a dive. I grabbed my chest pack parachute and snapped it on to the front and looked around for the others. Doc remained in place by his waist gun but was obviously hurt by the impact with the other plane. Leroy Monk, the radio operator, was sifting in the rear doorway with his feet hanging out as though transfixed. I motioned for him to jump, the vibrations and the wind noises were to loud we could not be heard. He was hanging on tightly and blocking the doorway; I screamed at him to grab his parachute ring and then gave him a mighty shove. I watched as his chute hit the horizontal stabilizer and burst open. Several days later when I met up with Monk, the first thing he did was come up to me and thanked me for pushing him out of the plane. I then went back to Doc who was not moving so I crawled up to the doorway and positioned myself to jump. Out I went and, after counting to ten, I pulled the ripcord. Just then, there was an explosion so close that I could feel the heat and the force pushing me sideways.

I floated down thinking that everything was OK. The ring was still in my hand and I thought of keeping it as a souvenir. The snap of the opening chute caused my flight boots and heated shoes to fall off, but this was not a concern because I was headed down into the water below. My training told me to unhook the chest buckle on my chute and then the leg buckles about ten or twenty feet above the water, so that I could let myself drop clear of the parachute before it could come down on top of me and tangle me up so I could not swim away.

On looking down, I could see no boats and the shoreline seemed several miles away. Looking down to decide when and how to judge the distance to the water was not helpful as I soon found myself in cold water with eight to ten feet swells and being pulled like a sailboat by my inflated parachute and one leg strap. After changing from holding on to my arm strap and then my leg strap a few times, looking back I noticed a fishing boat coming to one side at about 90 degrees from the direction I was being blown. I assumed he would slow down and my parachute would be blown into the side of the boat and I would be pulled on board. No such luck, as the boat was crossing the path of where the chute and I were traveling, the wind came out of the parachute and it started to collapse. As the boat passed by the wind picked up and started pulling me again. It was close to the boat, but not close enough so one of the men on board jumped off to grab the parachute but missed and away I went. I watched as the boat started to turn to go back and pick up their crew member. So much for rescue at sea. With my speed slowing down and my chute collapsing, I felt the muddy bottom under my feet. My first thought was now that I’ve done all of this, some large fish was after me. I released my harness and looking back to sea I saw a rowboat with four men heading my way and motioning me to come to the boat. By now, I was extremely cold and I didn't have a clue whether I was in England or France. After twenty minutes in the water, I was totally numb and had to be dragged into the boat which then was rowed back to the fishing boat nearby. My whole body was shaking and shivering. On deck, they gave me a mug of very hot tea that was great just to hold in my cold hands, but when I tried to drink the tea it was so hot that it blistered the roof of my mouth. 

The fishermen were part of a Norwegian fleet and spoke in broken English and said that they had seenthe accident and came over to help. They took me to the captain's quarters and told me to get out of my wet clothes and into his bunk. Even with four or five blankets, I couldn't stop shaking. The captain came in and said he could stop the shivering and handed me a bottle of scotch to nurse on until he could get me to the pier at the RAF Air Sea Rescue station. He outfitted me with dry clothes consisting of a pair of pants, a jacket and a pair rubber boots. The pants came up to my armpits and the swallow tail jacket touched the deck and the huge pair of rubber boots came up above my knees. I couldn't help but notice that the captain whose clothes I was wearing was almost seven feet tall.

Probably half plastered with the captain holding one arm and another seaman holding the other, I was lead out on deck to go ashore. I thanked them all, especially the seaman who jumped in the water to grab my parachute as it passed.

I became aware that we were tied up to another boat and not the pier. I was greeted by a lot of other seamen as we, two seamen and a half bombed Yank in formal attire, navigated toward the pier across boats that did not know how to go up and down with the boat next to it! I really suspect that I was entertainment for all the people watching the seamen trying to get the Yank on shore.

At the RAF station, I was able to take a hot shower and put on some better fitting clothes. They gave me some under shorts and a hand knitted turtle neck sweater which I still have today. Then they took me into a large room to look at two bodies which I was not able to identify because of their injuries. No one would tell me how many survivors there were from the two airplanes. 

After several hours with the RAF, I was taken to an R&R place for observation. It was a large house that had been converted into a semi-hospital. I was not given any information or any agenda for my return to the 379th at Kimbolton. Three days later, with good-byes to my new friends, I was driven by an AAF driver back to the base. There I was brought up to date on the collision and what had happened to our crew members and the others involved. 

After two more missions on a lead crew, I completed my thirty missions. The last flight was on the 4th of July 1944.  I returned soon after to the U.S. to become a Cadet in the class 45-H to become a pilot in the AAF.


The wreckage of the aircraft remained on Canvey Point. Occasionally more items came to the surface with the action of the tides. Pieces were removed by souvenir hunters when recovery became popular in the late sixties and seventies. This site was easily accessible and was popular with a number of aircraft recovery groups. The Southend Historic Aircraft Society salvaged and recovered numerous artifacts from the plane that were displayed at a museum maintained by the Society until it was finally closed. There are still some members of the community there who remember how these young men died in their common cause giving up their tomorrows so that we may have our today.

This account of "The Fate of Flying Fortress Heavenly Body Two" was compiled by a young Englishman, who became very interested in what happened on that fateful day, 19 June, 1944. He became obsessed with finding the surviving men. Checking through official records, he was able to find the home addresses of the men. Many of the addresses had changed, but eventually all of the crew was located. Mr. Jasper then contacted each one and gave them the other’s addresses. My wife and I made a trip around the country visiting each of them. We are now all in touch with each other and have made several of the 379th reunions together. If it hadn't been for Mr. Jasper, we probably would have never seen each other again. In fact, Lloyd Burns, the pilot, and Jack Gray, the bombardier, lived only a few blocks apart, in Sacramento, CA, and never met until after hearing from Mr. Jasper. Mr. Jasper has come to America and visited with me, in New Jersey, and with Bill Farmer in California, while on business trips.

                                                                                                               -Dick Andrews, Waist Gunner/Engineer



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