398th Bomb Group

Part Owner of a B-17

By John Woodgate and Wally Blackwell

Dear 398th,
I have been looking at your web site (www.398th.org) trying to find some reference to your B-17 serial number 42-97380 flown by Lt. Lovelace on the 8th July 1944. This aircraft crashed in my village very close to our farmhouse on the very day of my parents wedding. Geoff Rice, a member of your 398th organization, has given me all the details I needed to know about the crash, but I was a little disappointed not to see any mention of it in the “Missing Air Crew Reports” folder. Why is this? Does it perhaps not qualify as a missing aircraft because it crashed in England? I lived on our farm for 40 years and in that time visited the crash site of that B-17 many times. I amassed a vast collection of “treasures” found mainly with a metal detector. At one time I horrified my mother when she discovered I had 103 live rounds of “point fifty” caliber in a cardboard box under my bed! I've been in contact with Bob Hart, the co-pilot of that B-17, who lives in Wilmington, Ohio, and he has been very kind to me. I'm not really an aircraft enthusiast at all. That B-17G came to us all by itself flying on autopilot. My only interest in the 398th is of that “plane”. But I did grow up with it, so to speak (born in 1948), and can truthfully say I am a part owner of a flying fortress though the parts I own are actually quite small!!!!!!

John Woodgate

Dear John,
Thank you for your 398th web page guest book comments! You have had a unique experience like no one else ever had! It is true that Missing Air Crew Reports were only completed if the aircraft was truly missing. In Lovelace's instance there was no mystery about what happened, of course why it happened may be. I am glad that both Geoff Rice and Bob Hart were able to help you. Perhaps you knew that he bailed out again and became a Prisoner of War. At the annual 398th reunions I always delighted Bob when I asked about who bailed out, and after a number had stood, I would say who did it twice? So Bob would stand, and then I would say, the second time the Germans kept him. Yours is a great story. Would you mind if I put your Guest Book comments up on the web site? In any case, thanks for your memories!

Wally Blackwell

Dear Wally, Yes do by all means put my Guest Book comments on your website. This aircraft crash was possibly the only event of the war to touch the inhabitants of our village personally. Our farm was about 2 miles west of the main runway of RAF Wattisham and during the Battle Of Britain Germans aircraft used to “come visiting” to bomb the airfield. Many of the men who worked for us on the farm thrilled me as a young boy with stories of these raids. But the story, which thrilled me the most was the fact that on the very day that my mother and father were married, the B-17 came down. It was a useful fact in later years when I began researching the plane’s history.

For many years I wasn't even sure what sort of aircraft it had been. Eyewitness accounts were very sketchy and often by men who weren't really interested. Some said it was a Lancaster while another said it was a Liberator. One, an aircraft enthusiast, said it had been a B-17 but couldn't remember any details that I could check. My big break happened in 1983. I was searching with a metal detector close to a wood over which the Fortress had passed just prior to crashing. I found a small piece of stainless steel about the size of two credit cards and folded in half. I carried it home along with the other finds of the day. When I got home I used a blowtorch on it and managed to open it up. It turned out to be the serial number plate from the exhaust stack of the plane’s number one engine. My fortress had hit an elm tree just before coming down which had ripped off number one engine which fell next to the afore mentioned wood. The great thrill was that it gave the model number B-17G and the manufacturers name “Fisher Body Detroit Division”. So in my hand I had a solid proof that it had been a B-17G. That was quite a moment.

Geoff Rice contacted me about two years ago. He wanted to know about the crash site as he had heard that I might be able to help him. He effectively handed me on a platter all the facts I had tried to find out myself. It had been 42-97380 of Lt. D. Lovelace of the 600 Bomb Squadron of the 398th Bomb Group and based at Nuthampstead, near Royston. Well I'm sure you know the rest so I won't bore you with it.

When I moved from the farmhouse in 1988 I reburied a lot of the aluminum shards keeping only the best bits. I still have them in an outbuilding here at my house in Long Melford, Suffolk. I also wrote to Bob Hart who in turn wrote back and sent me some 398th memorabilia, which I have, and treasure. That's my story. I am pleased to be able to share it with others.

Yours truly,
John Woodgate

Prepared for the 398th’s web page by Wally Blackwell