VIDEO: Heroic rescue of US bomber crew recalled

HER fuel tanks dry, the Boeing B17 Flying Fortress “Mizpah II” was within sight of the English coast when her pilot, Bob Cox, decided enough was enough.

Gently he put her down on the sea and together with his nine crew scrambled to pre-allotted escape positions on the wings.

70th anniversary of the ditching at sea of an American B-17 Flying Fortress, MIZPAH 2, just off the coast of Bexhill. 6/9/13

70th anniversary of the ditching at sea of an American B-17 Flying Fortress, MIZPAH 2, just off the coast of Bexhill. 6/9/13

Inflatable dinghies were broken out, five men apiece, but one failed to fully deploy, and half the crew were left floundering in the cold autumnal waves as their four-engined bomber settled and sank.

The drama - off Bexhill-on-Sea - unfolded 70 years ago last Friday, September 6, and was highlighted by Suffolk aviation enthusiast Clive Stevens, who visited the town with his wife, Suzanne, and their daughter, Amelia, four, to see where it all happened.

Clive said: “The crew’s plight was seen by a Bexhill coastguard, Bogey Dunk, and a local fisherman, D V Davies, who launched a rowing boat from the shore and made their way out through minefields to reach the exhausted fliers and bring them all safely ashore.

Clive said: “ Mizpah II, also known as Frisco Jenny, was one of 338 United States of America Air Force B17s involved in a daylight raid on Stuttgart.

“When they reached the German city, the target was obscured by cloud and so the mission commander, Brigadier General Robert Travis, ordered them round again.

“The delay used up valuable fuel and many of the returning bombers had their tanks run dry, Mizpah II was one of 11 Forts to ditch in the channel that day, but thanks to RAF rescue launches no crews were lost.”

Clive, wearing the USAAF flying jacket bequeathed to him by the aircraft’s bombardier, Jim Harlow, whom he later got to know, said Jim had told him how the Bexhill duo’s intervention had been crucial.

“I was getting weaker and weaker, after one hell of a mission and then having to fight for survival in the cold water with my flying clothes weighing me down.

“I think I was on my way out. I became very warm and comfortable and things started to become hazy. Then, all of a sudden, above the crest of a wave, came two men in a row boat. They cried ‘hang on, Yanks’ and hauled us aboard, the entire crew.”

The 1943 incident was reported at the time by the Bexhill Observer and the late Jim Harlow returned to the scene in 1995 to pay his respects.

The bomber was washed ashore soon after the ditching and cut up for scrap, but Clive retains a section of the plexiglas nose, recovered at the time by a local schoolboy.

Clive said: “In itself, it was just one of many such incidents throughout the Second World War, but it showed the courage of these young men in taking the fight to Germany and also the heroism of the two Bexhillians who rowed out to their rescue .”