Liberator Bomber Crash Waltham Cross 1944

My Eye Witness Account

By Ron Bennett

Liberator Bomber Crash, Waltham Cross Herts August 12th 1944 

The day of the Liberator Bomber Crash has remained vividly in my memory ever since it happened and although I moved away from the area to other parts of the country, when I have frequently visited family, who remained in either Cheshunt or Waltham Cross, I have never passed the crash site without giving a little nod in the form of a small salute to the young men who died that day before my very eyes. Quite recently I walked along the New River bank to the site and stood for a while in silence, remembering that tragic day.  I wondered if anyone remembered it or even cared and I wished some sort of memorial could have been erected.  I decided to see what I could find on these new fangled things called computers and was astonished at what I found. So many stories, so many investigations, bits and pieces of which fitted in with actually what happened but none came to the right conclusion, many others had no bearing on the crash what so ever. 

Eye Witnesses

My father and I were eye witnesses to this incident which I would like to describe in detail but first let me give some facts about myself which may (or may not) help you understand that I am not some crank wanting to be in on the act. I was 15yrs old at that time and like most boys of that age we could recognise every aircraft that flew including American and yes even the German ones, we had grown up through the war and so were very knowledgeable on this front.

Joined the Royal Navy

In later years I joined the Royal Navy and served in the Fleet Air Arm.  During this period I witnessed a number of crashes some fatal, some lucky escapes.  I remember them all in vivid detail, but one in particular was when several Seafires coming in to land had a mishap when one of them rested his propeller onto the tail of another.  The one that lost its tail spun into the sea never to be seen again, the other lost all its propeller blades but managed to shorten its circuit and crash land its engine racing at full speed and churning out much smoke.  I mention this because it has a bearing on our Liberator crash.

So back to 1944, the early mornings were now full of engine noise, hundreds of planes of all descriptions heading out in one direction, the great armadas of our time never to be seen again, many hundreds of those young men up there would never return.  In the afternoon we lads would cycle to the nearest American base to await their return, many shot to pieces but struggling home, such was the time. 

Hedworth Avenue

My family lived in Hedworth Avenue, Waltham Cross and our garden backed on to the railway line and Theobalds Grove Station then not in use where, during the early part of the war, we used the arches under the station as air raid shelters. 

August 12 1944

From our garden we had an open view of what happened on this tragic day. August 12th 1944, the early morning drone of the engines seemed to start a little later this day.  My father and I went into the back garden to watch the amazing sight, then approaching eight o’clock a formation of Liberators appeared, they were very low and were almost in parallel with the railway line and going in a north easterly direction, probably towards Bishops Stortford.  All were in steady flight with no apparent problems. As they were passing over the station we suddenly noticed a group of Marauder twin engined bombers approaching from the opposite direction.  

We were alarmed at what we saw as they appeared to be at a similar height and at a closing speed of 400/500 mph and seemed to thread through each other.  It was at this point that a Marauder clipped the tail fin of a Liberator which immediately swerved to the left and toward Cheshunt town centre losing height, with the engines now at full bore the plane began to climb still turning left and now away from the town.  Sadly the nose dropped again and I thought it went towards the gravel pits.  With its engines at full blast the nose rose again as this young pilot was fighting for his life only to go into the final death plunge into the field close to the New River. 

There was no explosion just a sickening thud and a column of smoke, my father and I were stunned into silence but later discussed what had happened, the detail was the same. A little later there was a huge explosion and the crackle of bullets going off continued for some time.  When things had quietened down during the afternoon I cycled down Theobalds Lane to the Cambridge Road, the column of smoke was still spiralling to the sky, I then heard engines approaching and as I looked up a lightning, thunderbolt and a mustang were circling around, they went into a dive toward the crash site pulling up into a steep climb and splitting into a Prince of Wales feathers display, a fitting salute to these unfortunate young men August 12th 1944 is never out of my mind.

Conclusion

The report of the aircraft staggering along with engines on fire was not possible, however, as this plane crashed with engines at full throttle and undoubtedly over revving in a dive this would have produced excessive exhaust smoke and could be thought to be fire.  My previous story of the Seafire might explain this.

The report of it spiralling out of the clouds from 10,000ft is not true.

Even reports from other planes saying the aircraft was in trouble over Kent must be mistaken identity of the aircraft.  This plane had already been in the air for two and a half hours as reported and prior to the collision was flying straight and level and in formation with others.

There is no doubt that the aircraft turned away from the town of Cheshunt before it crashed.  Any aircraft is difficult and heavy to fly without its ‘trim’ finely tuned even today’s large airliners, after the collision this trim would have been partly lost and with a full load of bombs, ammunition and fuel they never stood a chance.

There are, of course, many bits and pieces of reports that fit in to what I report but do not come to any conclusion.  As for me, this is what my father and I saw on that dreadful day and it has never left me.

Please contact me should you wish to discuss this further.  

Lt Cdr Ron Bennett RNR    

This page was added on 16/09/2010.

Comments about this page

  • I was to understand that a memorial was erected to the Cheshunt Library in Honour of these brave men.
    The crash site was in Oilers farm field just off the Cambridge road., there used to be a walking path from the top end of Park Lane junction with the Cambridge Road, locally called Lovers Lane. and the site was near there.

    By Gerald Brayne ex RAF & RAAF (Australia) (20/08/2017)
  • hi Ron i would like to visit the crash site can you give me more details to its location.. i am from the area and it must never be forgotten the bravery of the young men who lost there lives so we can lives we have today

    By paul (30/08/2012)
  • Hi John Well what can I say, you seem to have lots of clues but no answers, its a great pity that you are unable to accept the facts as it happened. I only came into this last year because of comments like ‘we will never solve this mystery’ etc etc. Its because I saw every last few seconds of this incident that I have visited the crash site as a sign of respect many times when visiting the area, you are of course intitled to your views but nothing will ever change what actually happend, if you do not wish to accept this its fine by me. By the way I well remember the night that your father was killed, we were all very sorry at the time, also I was just passing the gates of the Brush Factory when the V2 struck,I was on my way to work it frightend the life out of me.

    By Ron Bennett (29/01/2011)
  • Hi Ron, the b-24 Liberator was first seen at Freezy Water south of Bullsmoor Lane, by it’s self with Engines making a lot of noise starting and Stopping, flying in a swooping motion trailing black smoke from the engines. “meaning all engines were on a rich setting”. I cannot link this to your situation. “Cloud Base” we have a large amount of warbirds pass over us, Carolyn Grace in her Spitfire ML407 is a frequent visitor to pass over, I asked Carolyn at which height did she fly at when passing over us on returning to Duxford, her reply was 1’500ft, on the 12 Aug 1944 it was much lower than this , Tops of Oak trees to my south-west were shrouded in mist some time before 0800hr. No Aircraft would attempt to fly any lower than the cloud ceiling 10’000ft. Ron you will have to try and locate the Aircraft that were at your location with the time and date. John

    By John A W Harris (27/01/2011)
  • Hi John, pleased you found my report ‘the best so far’, thats because every word of it is true, I have no reason to embelish it one way or another, that is what happened, from first sighting at 1800/2000ft (no exray eyes required) it was all over in about 3 minutes. I new nothing of what occured prior to that time however like you I have, since writing in the first instance carried out further investigations, these seem to be the existing facts:- Take off from Wendling 05.28, re group at 17,500ft although written log actually says 14,000ft. Cloud base 1800/2000ft rising to 10,000ft Set course to Target passing East of London and arriving over Brighton at 08.09 still at 14,000ft (hand written log) At 07.45 Captain Muldoon reported that Lt Ellis losing speed and flying ‘nose up’ suggesting a stall and disappearing down into the cloud estimated location Biggin Hill. Only the crew knows what took place during the following 10 or 12 minutes. A message was received that Lt Ellis was aborting the mission due to bad weather but no time is recorded for this. The fact that he slotted in with another group then flying at 1800 to 2000ft in a N/E direction suggests that he recovered from the stall below cloud base and was nursing his way back to base. The last 3or4 minutes of his flight are the facts I have already reported on with the aircraft crashing around 08.00. The official report also says that all the other aircraft in the group returned to base with only one of those suffering from ack ack fire. I leave you to make up your own mind about the 10 minutes dropping through the clouds but everything else I report is accurate in every detail. As for the salute given by the three fighter aircraft later in the afternoon I am sorry that you did not see it, it was very moving and impressive.

    By Ron Bennett (24/01/2011)
  • This is certainly some story. The problem is that I have a folder full of reports very similar to this one, but this has to be the best so far; the only problem is your report has not considered the weather conditions that prevailed on that Saturday 12 Aug 1944. The south-east of England had a blanket of dense cloud estimated to be about 8’000 ft thick and oppressive “blotting out any sound”. It’s just not possible for yourself and other people to report that they had seen a mid-air or any Aircraft under these conditions, “x-ray eyes would have been essential”, which renders much of your story to fail. This b-24H Liberator (a/c #023 took off from Wendling Norfolk at 0528hr all the b-24s on this mission 29 were required to “assemble” form up over their air base, but due to the very dense cloud it was chaotic, then proceeding south reaching Waltham Abbey at 15’000ft South-East of Cheshunt, still climbing, departing the south coast Brighton at 17’500ft, “not flying west to east”. You question my report of Aircraft positions over Kent each Aircraft that left a report also had to state its exact location when the visual took place, a standard order as you should know? You appear to be very confused on all of this, the only other two Aircraft involved in this incident was a P-38 that flew over the remains of B-17 Thomahawk Warrior that crashed at Lude Farm, High Wycombe, other comments are quite baffling “Prince of Wales feathers display” do not fit with the crash that day.

    By J A W Harris (28/12/2010)

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