New war memorial errected at Ridgewell Airfield to commemorate the fallen US airmen of the 381st Heavy Bombardment Group who lost their lives at Ridgewell Airfield in a bomb loading accident
Casey Bukowski, (almost 96 years old at time of visiting) was stationed at Ridgewell during WW2 serving with
the 381st Heavy Bombardment Group. Casey served as a B17 gunner. His remarkable story can be read on a dedicated web page to him which can be found via this link https://buffalonews.com/2018/08/27/wwii-b-17-gunner-lost-his-right-eye-in-midair-attack-over-germany/
Casey had a wonderful time at Ridgewell, he visited the Ridgewell museum where he was guest of Paul Bingley who took care of him for the day. Casey also returned to the White Horse Inn, (still serving beer today) where the bomber crews used to drink during the war. A camera unit from the Forces TV News Network was on the airfield to record the event. The news item can be viewed here via this link which may be available for just a short time
Casey enjoyed an aerowtow flight to 2500' with our Deputy CFI David Hertzberg. David managed to keep the glider
aloft in thermals giving Casey a decent flight. On return to Earth, Casey remarked that he would return for his 100th
The bottom two photographs were taken in the USA by Jared Cummings. The photo at the bottom shows Casey
sitting in a B17 Flying Fortress bomber.
Grant Anderson visited us from his home in California on 18 August 2018 and had a flight with us. His father served with the 381st BG at Ridgewell from 1944 until the end of the war.
Grant Anderson in our K13 pictured in August 2018
Grant's father Lt. Dean F. Anderson was a member of the 534th Bombardment Squadron, 381st Bombardment Group (The squadron based on the opposite side of the airfield from where the gliding club is now).
Lt. Dean F Anderson at Ridgewell (on left with pipe)
Lt. Anderson's service record was ....
'Entered service December 1944. Shot down 14 February 1945. Returned to service at Ridgewell. Flew approximately 22 combat missions. Returned to US 4/25/45. Achieved rank of 1st Lt during WWII service. Served in AF Reserves, achieved rank of Lt.Col.
On 14 February 1945 the 381st took part in a mission to bomb the railway marshalling yards at Dresden. Lt Anderson was in command of a B17 named 'The Fox'. (see photo - nose art is a fox with a pint of beer).
'The Fox' was named after the pub of that name in Tilbury-Juxta-Clare, now a private house. (see Photo) No doubt frequented by the 534th as it was close to their side of the airfield.
' The 534BS's 'The Fox' (43-37657) was a second group veteran ending her combat career, Lt. Anderson's aircraft lost an engine on the way over and suffered the loss of a second to target flak. Forced to return alone and at a low altitude, the cripple came in for intermittent punishment, cumulating in No. 3 catching fire. The bale out order was passed and promptly executed by those in the rear (i.e.radio operator, rear and waist gunners). A stuck nose hatch delayed those up front but eventually it was finally forced free. This potentially lethal delay proved very fortuitous, because the crewmen who had already jumped floated down into enemy hands, unlike their buddies who came down on the right side of the front lines!'
The returning crew's MACR (Missing Aircrew Report) stated ....
'Our A/C had sustained flak damage over Brux, at another point probably just North of Frankfurt, and at Trier. Pilot hit alarm bell just north-west of Trier. Altitude was approximately 6,000 ft. four minutes later, the Navigator, Engineer and Toggeleer*, being unable to open forward hatch, went to rear of plane. At the time, waist gunner, tail gunner, radio operator, and Tail gunner had already bailed out, unseen by any other member of crew. Navigator, Engineer, and Toggeleer bailed out at approximately 4,000 ft. Pilot, Co-Pilot, Navigator, Engineer, and Toggeleer landed approximately 8 miles inside friendly territory and have since returned to base. They are of opinion that other four members of crew landed approximately 2 miles inside enemy lines.'
Grant also gave the following information ....
'Dad saved a piece of his parachute and told of hiding in a field after bailing out at night because he didn't know if the voices he heard were French or German. He ultimately made his way to liberated Paris and supposedly spent a day there before notifying his base that he was alive. We still have the pass that was issued to him in Paris that allowed him to be out of uniform because he bailed out and didn't have a helmet or sidearm.'
*Toggeleer was an alternative name for bombardier.
Photo/research and story by Steve Jessup. Saturday 18th August 2018
John Nicatra and his son Joseph visited us this year from the USA. John's father flew from Ridgewell during the war with the 381st Heavy Bombardment Group at Ridgewell. John wanted to return to the airfield where his father once flew. The photo below was taken at the Ridgewell war memorial dedicated to the Men and Women of the 381st Heavy Bombardment Group. Here is a link to an article that describe's one of John's father's missions.
Josepeh writes - 'We are coming from Boston, Massachusetts USA. It has long been a dream of my Father's to visit the base where his Father was stationed during the Second World War. My Grandfather, also named Joseph Nicatra was a radio operator on a B-17 named "Georgia Rebel". He was part of the 535th Bombardment Squardron of the 381st and stationed at RAF Ridgewell. My research on the internet informed me that your prestigious club now occupies part of the area that was once RAF Ridgwell. Further, my Father worked as a child and teenager at a glider port in our home town of Salem, New Hampshire, USA and loves all things aviation. I would like to make a humble request, in order to fulfil a lifelong dream of my Father's. I would really like to surprise my Father with a tour of your facility. We are more than willing to come at any-time which is convenient for your club'.
Vince Earl and Charles Hillier, (right). Charles recently visited Ridgewell to fly from the airfield where
his father fought from during the war while stationed with the 381st Heavy Bombardment Group
Charles Hillier recently visited us during May 2017 from the USA. Charles's father was stationed with the 381st Heavy Bombardment Group here at Ridgewell. Charles summed up part of his fathers time here at Ridgewell in these words......
"My father was transferred to the Army Air Force (after being stationed in Alaska) and trained as a meteorologist before being sent to the 381st.
He missed his first bombing mission because the train was delayed for 3 days, and the airman who replaced him was killed. But the meteorologists were then all grounded (lost too many, too expensive to train), and that also likely saved his life. He was the CO for the weather unit.
The 381st had to get so-and-so many planes up to join missions (not sure how many), and all the survivors had to land. When crashes occurred, either on take-off or landing, there was frequently (depending on circumstances) an extremely limited time to recover survivors and remains before the runway had to be cleared. Bulldozer stood ready at all times to clear the runway of wreckage. When crashes occurred, the bulldozer were given "x" amount of minutes for rescue and recovery before clearing the runway (sometimes minutes). The "ground crew" knew the flight crews personally, and had the responsibility to rush out on the runway, rescue if possible, and recover all possible remains "before the bulldozers started".
My father almost never spoke of this until his dying days. Then he talked continuously about the 381st, family, and never about 40 years as a professor. But among the stories, he said he talked to friends flying in on "shot-up planes, still with bombs aboard", who gave him messages to deliver to loved ones (they knew they had poor chances). They crashed, the plane exploded, other planes were coming in, and they grabbed their bags to rush out to the runway to recover remains. He said he found a heart, still beating, on the runway and put it in his bag. He said "I don't know if was my friend or not".
At any rate, he said the worst moment in the entire war was once when he had to run out on the runway to recover remains, well knowing that the only remains the family would get were what he could find right then, before the bulldozers started, but he was crying so hard for his friends he couldn't see any body parts.
His best friend was Olsen, also in the weather unit. They were always together, and most people just knew them as Hillier and Olsen, not knowing who was who. At any rate, he was awarded an R&R trip to Belfast, and when he went to get on the flight, they had posted Olsen instead of Hillier. So he went to get Olsen, but Olsen refused to go, knowing it was for my Dad. My Dad refused to go with Olsen listed, so that was the one empty seat on the flight that crashed in the Isle of Man tragedy.
He was also one of few meteorologists who predicted the weather for the D-Day invasion. He predicted poor weather on one occasion, and the invasion was delayed, so he thought they were listening to him. He predicted poor weather and large casualties on the actual day, but the forced in motion were too large to stop - he was correct though, and there were large losses due to the weather.
Thanks for caring. You have no idea how fulfilling it was for me to land on the same runway as my father did, particularly that infamous runway.
mvh Charles Hillier Son of Captain Kenneth L. Hillier (thought he was lieutenant, found out he was promoted!)"