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|Wednesday, January 26, 1944 - 386th Bomb Group, An Aborted Mission.
Lt. Col. Charles Lockhart Commander of the 552nd Bomb Squadron took off at 0900 hours. He was leading the first box of eighteen planes out from base at Great Dunmow. His intended target was a German secret launching site in France known as LS A-28. Major Charles V. Thornton headed the second box of eighteen ships. His target was identified as LS A-48, also located in France. The RAF referred to these targets as "No-Ball". In British parlance this means an unfairly thrown ball; as in the game of Cricket.
The weather over southern England was deplorable. Col. Lockhart nosed a borrowed plane called, "MERT" 131616 RG-H up into a heavy cloud layer. There were icing conditions in the clouds east of London, and ten-tenths cloud layer in the vicinity of the English Coast. The formation leader reported by radio to Wing that he was abandoning operations. Four B-26 Groups scheduled a total of 144 aircraftall aborted because of the weather!
Major Thorntons formation began to break up as it plowed through the overcast. Flying became extremely dangerous: pilots couldn'tt see the other ships in their respective flights of six planes. They flew for about fifteen minutes and were beginning to pick up ice on windshields and wings.
One pilot stated that they rolled into a left turn to stay away from the formation as they began letting down out of the overcast. Then they saw an airplane dropping down out of the overcast with one wing almost straight down. It appeared to have little or no forward momentum. The tail gunner in the observing ship reported via intercom that the bomber had hit the ground and exploded!
That Marauder had been piloted by First Lieutenant Homer R. McClure. It was his second scheduled mission in the left seat. He had been flying as co-pilot for Captain "B.B.". White since early training in the States. The plane was called, "HELLS BELLE" 131623 YA-T, and had been flown from the U.S. by Lieutenant Floyd Blackburn.
The ill fated crew were: 1st. Lt. Homer R. McClure, pilot; 2nd Lt. Jeff L. Pearson, was co-pilot; 2nd Lt. Charles Carrigan, bombardier; T/Sgt. Albert V. Strauss, radioman; S/Sgt. Arthur C. Depew, engineer; and S/Sgt. Charles M. Morris, tail gunner. All were killed.
The plane crashed and burned at Spring Head Farm, Hurtis Hill, Crowborough which is situated southeast of Getwick in Surrey. The Vicar of Crowborough wrote Colonel Joe Kelly expressing the sympathy of the people from that community, and their profound admiration for the pilot who so skillfully avoided hitting any of the dwellings in the vicinity. Shocked and saddened pals in the 555th Squadron recalled that "Mack" had become a proud father of twins only a few weeks before!
Chester P. Klier