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.
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.
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.
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