B17 44-6504

Boeing B17-G Fortress 44-6504 (PU-M), 303rd Bomb Group/360th Bomb Squadron, Molesworth
crashed The Cheviot, Wooler on 16th December 1944

Crew

PositionRank/TitleFull NameAgeService NumberInjury
Pilot2nd LtGeorge Anderson KyleMajor
Co-PilotF/OJames H. HardyMinor
EngineerSgtErnest G. SchiefersteinMinor
RadioSgtJoel A. BerlyMinor
NavigatorF/OFred HolcombeFatal
TogglierSgtFrank R. TurnerFatal
GunnerSgtWilliam R. KaufmannMinor
Ball GunnerSgtGeorge P. SmithMinor
Tail GunnerSgtHoward F. DelaneyMinor

Accident Details

In the early morning of 16 December 1944 a force of B17’s from the 303rd Bomb Group took off from Molesworth in Cambridgeshire for a mission to bomb the Marshalling Yards at Ulm in Germany. The weather report for the day had not been good but the decision was given for the mission to go ahead as planned. The B17’s took off at 0815 hours and headed for the assembly point far out over the North Sea. All got away safely but at 1015 hours with the weather showing no signs of improvement a message was received to abort the mission and for all bombs to be dropped in the North Sea. The B17’s began to scatter and head for the diversionary airfield of RAF Kirmington in Lincolnshire due to Molesworth being fog bound.

The crew of 44-6504 were having difficulty in dropping their bombs into the sea because of thick cloud and shipping being spotted below on every occasion when they were able to see through it, because of this the decision was made to return to base with the bombs on board. It was at this point that the Gee and radio compass began to act in an erratic manner and the navigator was unable to get a fix on their location. The crew were now completely lost, however a third class radio fix was obtained at 1230 hours followed shortly by a second class fix which confirmed their position. At this point, Kyle, thinking they were back on course removed his seat belt and informed the rest of the crew that they were on their way home.

The fix however had put them some 20 miles north of Cheviot summit, their altitude being just under 2000 feet, severe icing having been experienced at heights greater than this. The crew, not knowing the area, were oblivious to the fact that the high ground of the England/Scotland border was just ahead. At 1315 hours while gaining height, the B17 struck the top of West Hill narrowly missing a rocky outcrop known as Braydon Crag, in blizzard conditions it bounced across the flat top until coming to rest in a peat bog.

At this point, Kyle, who was in a completely dazed state due to his injuries and thinking he was still airborne pulled his parachute pack from under his seat, the co-pilot, Hardy, stopped him as he attempted to bail out.

The nose of the aircraft had been completely crushed killing the occupants, Turner and Holcombe, Kyle, the pilot, was seriously injured when one of the propellers smashed through the cockpit breaking his jaw. Immediately the aircraft had stopped moving, Hardy pulled open the emergency escape hatch and exited, whereupon he met Schwieferstein outside, he then re-entered and dragged out Kyle, who was bleeding heavily. Thinking they were the only survivors of the crash the three descended downhill to the west, luckily arriving at the farm of Mount Hooly in the valley below. The three were crossing a stream in the valley bottom when they were spotted by a shepherd who was armed, he fired a number of warning shots thinking they were Germans. Once they had identified themselves they were taken into the farm, where Kyle, being the more seriously injured was laid down on some straw in a barn.

Meanwhile in a valley to the north two shepherds, John Dagg of Dunsdale and Frank Moscrop of Southernknowe heard the aircraft passing overhead. When the sound of the engines stopped they decided the aircraft must have crashed. Dagg accompanied by his Border Collie, Sheila, set off up the hillside following the western edge of Bizzle Ravine which guided him up to near the summit, he was followed later by Moscrop and a third shepherd, Arch Bertram. On reaching the top he released his Collie so she could help locate any survivors whilst he searched the area. Later, just after they had had all met up, Sheila came running back excited and barking, Dagg and Moscrop followed her as she led them to four airmen huddled together in a peat hag trying to keep warm, these were Berly, Delaney, Kaufmann and Smith. One of them, Delaney, had a head wound, which the shepherds wrapped with some parachute silk. Berly had lost his boots while trying to put out a fire in the bomb bay, so some more of the silk was used to wrap around his feet. Moscrop was informed that there was a crew of nine and despite being warned that there were bombs onboard and it would be dangerous to do so he went to the wreckage to search for other survivors, finding no-one he returned to rejoin the others.

Slipping and sliding the shepherds led the airmen down the hillside, to eventually arrive at Dunsdale Farm at about 1830 hours. Soon news reached them that three other crewmembers were at Mount Hooly, as this news was filtering through the bombs, which were onboard when the aircraft crashed, exploded. All survivors were taken to a military hospital at RAF Milfield, and later, Kyle, who was the more severely wounded, was transported by ambulance to Newcastle General Hospital where he spent 3 1/2 months.

John Dagg and Frank Moscrop were awarded the British Empire Medal for their part in the search for survivors, while the Collie, Sheila, received the Dicken Medal, the animal equivalent to the Victoria Cross. Sheila was the only civilian dog to be awarded such an award which is the highest given to animals. These awards were presented to the farmers and dog at a gathering of locals, RAF and USAAF representatives close to Dunsdale farm in 1945. A scroll was presented to the Shepherds of The Cheviot thanking them for their help in the rescue of airmen from these hills. This scroll was still visible at the Cuddystone Hall in the College Valley until recently, it has now been removed and will be displayed in Wooler Library along with photos of the presentation.

On the 20th September 2005, George Kyle passed away in his hometown of Fort Lauderdale at the age of 82 years. Before he died George had expressed the wish that his ashes be scattered at the crash site. On the 4th October 2006, George’s daughter, his long term friend and companion, Kitty, myself and the son of the B17 co-pilot, Jay Hardy, were taken by helicopter to Braydon Crag and his final wish was granted.

The Crash Site

Large sections of the B17 can still be found at the crash site scattered around two large craters formed by the exploding bombs. The explosion also scattered wreckage over a very wide area and even to this day it is possible to find new pieces which have been exposed by the eroding peat, which seems a lot drier than it was when I first visited the site in 1984.

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