April 21, 1944

June 16, 2016

During World War II, the United States operated bombing missions out of airfields across England. RAF fields were used to carry bombs to Germany, the planes often returning with little or no fuel.

Weather was almost always a factor, and made “assembly” — the act of getting into formation — harrowing. The low clouds and fog that settles over England frequently caused mission delays and cancellations. It was not uncommon for a group to depart, climb to altitude in the clouds in order to assemble, but cancel the mission due to bad weather and return to the field. With dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of planes flying blind in the clouds prior to formation, it was a very dangerous situation. Accidents happened frequently as one plane suddenly appeared above or below another.

On April 21, 1944, at 1:30pm, twenty eight planes from the 392nd Bomber Group took off from Wendling Airfield in the rural farmlands of Norfolk, near the east coast of England. Their target that day was to be an aircraft repair facility in Zwickau, Germany. Among the planes was a B24J, the latest model of Liberator, flown by 2nd Lieutenant Louis F Bass, and co-pilot 2nd Lieutenant Kenneth Gahm. Their plane, #42-99979, had flown just eight missions prior to this day, although just the act of returning to base eight times is more than many planes and crews completed. In addition to the pilot and co-pilot, they carried a crew of eight, including 2nd Lieutenant Wayne Steel, navigator; 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Stover Jr., bombardier; Technical Sergeant James Thomas, aerial gunner; Sergeant Walter Reeves, waist gunner; Sergeant John Brzostowski, waist gunner; Sergeant Warren Burnett, ball turret gunner; Staff Sergeant Robert Norrell, tail gunner, and Staff Sergeant Gerald Knettel, engineer.

Whether it was due to contact with another aircraft, or some other reason, 979 suffered a catastrophic wing separation while assembling for the mission. There was a tremendous noise as a portion of the left wing broke off. The plane rolled and yawed violently, and Knettel and Brzostowski were thrown from the fuselage. Their parachutes deployed, and they managed to survive, although Knettel suffered severe injuries. The rest of the crew died that day in a field near North Tuddenham.

The pilot, Louis Bass, was 27 years old at the time of the crash. His younger brother, at just 21, was Lloyd Bass, my former father-in-law. At the time, Lloyd was in the V-12 Navy College Training Program, completing his officer training.

B24 Pilot 2nd Lt. Louis F Bass

Around 2010, the small village of North Tuddenham constructed and placed a memorial to the crew of the B24 that crashed in a field near their town on April 21, 1944.

Lloyd died in 2005, before this memorial to his brother and the crew of B24 #979 was erected.

Lloyd, I hope you enjoyed your brief visit to North Tuddenham this week.

This is as close as I can come to getting Lloyd and Louis together again.

5 thoughts on “April 21, 1944

  1. Hello Pat:- As an XT250 owner, I have been following your travels with much interest from ‘downunder’.
    I see from your GPS tracker that you passed just a few miles south of the site of Wendling airfield (NNW from Dereham) not long before you visited North Tuddenham. There is an excellent website at http://www.content-delivery.co.uk/aviation/airfields/ that shows every known aerodrome in the UK. What remains of Wendling field shows up very well therein.
    As you would be aware, there are scores of airbases that relate to WW2, (both American & British) especially in the eastern counties. It is very easy to spend lots of time on the above website looking for them.
    [My immediate ancestors flew from Yorkshire & elsewhere with RAF Bomber Command; have spent much time on research about this, the UK being my country of birth].
    Safe onward travels….

    • Thanks for following along, and for the link to the airfield info. Yes, I actually stopped at a monument on the west end of the old Wendling airfield that lists all of the different groups that used the field during WW2. The airfield of course is gone, but there are buildings sitting on the old runways that house turkeys (it’s now a turkey farm), and you can easily make out the runways and parts of the perimeter road. Most all of the original buildings are gone. Interestingly, there’s a small farmhouse on the south end that shows up on Google Maps as “Liberator Barn”. I didn’t stop there to inquire about the name, but I wish I had. Lots of history here, both very old and more recent.

  2. So did u know that monument was there before u went ? Or weird coincidence ? Either way u managed something way cool, I’m sure da brothers r thankful.

    • I found out about the monument a couple of years ago when I googled Louis Bass, looking for info about his crew and plane. Never thought I’d actually see it.

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