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The Freckleton air disaster, 61 killed as Bomber crashes on the village

Posted on - 16th January, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Freckleton, Fylde News, History, Preston News, Warton
Aftermath of the Freckleton air disaster Pic: The Independent
Aftermath of the Freckleton air disaster Pic: The Independent

World War II in Preston

One of the worst air disasters of World War II occurred near Warton Aerodrome in 1944. The Fylde coast and Preston were spared most of the bombing during World War II. However, preparations were made in the area.

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The paintings in the Harris were removed for safe storage. The station and public buildings were sandbagged and air raid sirens installed. Previously, 61,964 gas masks had been distributed, during the Munich crisis, in 1938.

By 1940, 200,000 evacuees from the major cities were expected in Preston. In fact, the first local casualties were reported in late 1939. As the Fleetwood trawler, Davara, was sunk by a submarine. Preston men were also killed on HMS Courageous and HMS Royal Oak.

By 1942 sites were being sought for aircraft factories in areas less subject to bombing. Consequently Warton became a major manufacturing site. The factory specialised in the building of the Consolidated B-24 Liberator.

Warton Aerodrome

Warton Aerodrome in 1945 Pic: Wikipedia
Warton Aerodrome in 1945 Pic: Wikipedia

During 1942 Warton was readied to become one of four air depots spread across the UK. Here aircraft were assembled and tested, prior to front line service in Europe. After Pearl Harbour was attacked in December 1941, large US Forces began to be stationed in Britain.

The Warton base was to be operated by the United States Army Air Forces. Consequently, the runways were extended to take heavy bombers. The first American service personnel arrived in late 1942.

The Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber

Consolidated B-24 Liberator Pic: Wikipedia
Consolidated B-24 Liberator Pic: Wikipedia

The B-24 Liberator was a large four-engined bomber. Pilots preferred the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, as it was easier to fly and had better low speed performance. However, the B-24 was the most produced bomber of World War II with 18,500 units built. Notably, many were assembled near Preston.

By 1944 over 10,000 US personnel were deployed at Warton. In fact, they outnumbered the population of Freckleton by a ratio of ten to one!

The American invasion of the Fylde

The Ship Inn at Freckleton Pic: Warfare History Network
The Ship Inn at Freckleton Pic: Warfare History Network

Freckleton became known as Little America, and relations were generally good. US Forces raised funds for the British Army, Navy and Air Force Relief Fund.

Several off-duty personnel socialised in the village, drinking at pubs such as the Ship Inn. Blackpool also proved popular.

Another popular haunt was the Sad Sack Snack Bar, a cafe set up by the locals to cater for US Forces. The cafe was to become the centre of the later horrific tragedy.

Sad Sack Snack Bar Pic: Warfare History Network
Sad Sack Snack Bar before the tragedy Pic: Warfare History Network

Shortly after D-Day, in August 1944, the B-24 Liberator known as Classy Chassis II arrived at Warton. Here it was to be refurbished and tested prior to re-entering service.

The bomber tragedy

Funeral for victims of the Freckleton air disaster Pic: Warfare History Network
Funeral for victims of the Freckleton air disaster Pic: Warfare History Network

On the morning of 23 August 1944, two B-24 Liberators took off from Warton. This was to be a routine test flight for these newly refurbished aircraft. On board were two experienced US Air Force test pilots, John Allen Bloemendal and Peter Manassero.

Read more: English Electric Cold War jets, made in Preston

Both aircraft headed north at the fairly low altitude of 1,500 feet. After five minutes Lt. Bloemendal informed Lt Manassero that he had spotted an odd cloud formation to the south-east. At about the same time a weather station reported a violent storm approaching from the Warrington direction.

Both aircraft were ordered to land back at Warton. Approaching the airfield at 500 feet, Lt. Bloemendal experienced severe turbulence. The aircraft clipped a tree and lost a wing tip before ploughing into the Sad Sack Snack Bar. Burning fuel and debris exploded, as parts of the aircraft tore into the Holy Trinity School. Many were killed in the cafe as well as teachers and children in the school. The final death toll was 61.



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