Memorial dedication to the crew of B-17G 43-39035 – 19th March 2015.
Reigate Hill – Surrey UK

The Wings Museum was invited by the National Trust to attend a memorial service to 9 US airmen that lost their lives when their B-17G bomber Tail Number 43-39035 of the 38th Bomb Group 8th Air Force returning from a raid over Germany hit the tops of trees on Reigate Hill on 19th March 1945, just a matter of weeks before the war ended and these young men whose average age was just 21 could have gone home to their loved ones. We also staged an exhibition in the Reigate Manor Hotel displaying parts from this aircraft that are on display in memory to the crew at the museum. The memorial service (which was arranged by the National Trust) was a very emotional event for all concerned, two full size oak wing tips were comissioned by the NT as part of the Frontline project and have been placed at the crash site, the exact distance apart as a full size B-17 Bomber. The gap in the trees still reminds us of that fateful day. A Cousin of Sgt. Hickey (the waist gunner) attened the memorial service together with a representative from the American US Air Force from the American Embassy. The memorial was held exactly 70 years to day of the crash.

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We have been advised by the National Trust that they will soon be adding a plaque at the crash site listing the names of the crew, the museum has always seen this as vitally important so that their sacrifices and names are not forgotten.

The Last Flight of ‘035’…

B-17G-100-BO Tail Number 43-39035 of the 384th Bomb Group, 547th Bomb Squadron, 8th USAAF, based at Station 106 (Grafton Underwood) in Northants was returning from a mission over Germany. On a foggy evening of March 19th 1945 the American heavy bomber passed low over Horley, Redhill and finally Reigate at 17:40pm., local people were alerted to the sound of areo engines revving up at high power shortly after the aircraft disapeared into thick cloud as it approached the crown of Reigate Hill. Shortly afterwards a terrifying explosion was heard.

The aircraft had tragically struck the tops of trees on Reigate Hill and exploded on on the surface with the loss of all on board. The crew were returning after successfully bombing the secondary target, the Oil Refinery at Plauen in Germany. Several key eye witnesses reported to the Wings Museum that one engine was trailing thick black smoke as it made its way at low level over the town. The Pilot 1st Lt. Griffin was a veteran of a total of 14 bombing missions so was no rookie. It is believed that possibly due to a combination of combat damage and the appauling weather conditions that day that this is what led to the tragic loss of these young American airman so close to surving the war and returning home to their loved ones.

Lt. Griffin’s regular aircraft nicknamed “Peaslee’s Payoff” was in for repairs and ‘035’ was acting as a replacement aircraft for the crew. It was 035’s 13th and final mission.

Parts from Lt. Griffin’s B-17 are on display at the Wings Museum, the display acts as a form of remembrance to the crew with many people reading the story surrounding ‘035’.

If you have any parts from this aircraft we would love to hear from you.

The Crew of ‘035’

From Left to Right (Top Row): Unknown, 2nd Lt. Herbert Geller (Co-Pilot), 2nd Lt. Robert Griffin (Pilot), 2nd Lt. Royal Runyon (Navigator). From Left to Right (Bottom Row): Sgt. Robert F. Marshall (Engineer), Sgt. William R. Irons (Gunner), Sgt. Donald W. Jeffrey (Bombardier), Sgt. Philip J. Jr Phillips (Radio Operator).

Lt. Griffin and his crew are all buried at the American Cemetery at Cambridge.

Cousin of Sgt. Thomas Hickey (Waist Gunner) pays tribute to his relative
RAF Chinook Helicopter flies low of the crash site in memory of the crew
American Jeep with US National Star Insignia and the clearing in the trees caused by the mighty bomber crashing 70 years ago can be see in the foreground.
Wings Museum display at Reigate Manor Hotel 19th March 2015.