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Liberator Bomber Crash

by Amy Roberts

Photo courtesy of Mary Hill

by Amy Roberts, Collections Officer at The Novium Museum

On the 11th May 1944, a B-24 Liberator Bomber belonging to the United States Airforce, with a crew of ten men, crashed in to the allotments beside the Chichester Electric Laundry in The Hornet, largely destroying the laundry building.

The plane, from the US airfield at Levenham in Suffolk, had been part of an unsuccessful mission of 164 planes bombing railway marshalling yards at Mulhouse, Central France. When in France the bomber had been severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire on its return journey to base. Despite making the journey back to Southern England, the condition of the plane deteriorated and the crew were ordered to bail out of the burning plane by 22 year old Lieutenant Joseph Duncan, the plane's pilot.

Lieutenant Duncan pointed the plane out to sea, in an attempt to avoid impact on land and causing unnecessary causalities, before bailing out of the plane himself. Unfortunately, the plane u-turned, returning inland and heading back towards the city of Chichester. A few seconds later the plane, which was carrying three 1,000lb bombs in its damaged bomb-bay, crashed and exploded. Pieces of the wreckage littered the surrounding area, with one engine crashing through a wall at St John's School.

The incident claimed the lives of 3 local people - a woman and 14 year old girl that had been working in the laundry and a man that had been working at the allotment. It also caused injury to 36 others and damage to hundreds of local houses.

The crew landed in various locations, with 2 receiving minor injuries. Lieutenant Duncan came down at North Bersted and was taken to Eastergate Field Hospital with a broken leg. The planes bombardier, Lieutenant Hood, had a badly sprained ankle and was taken to the Royal West Sussex Hospital in Chichester. The rest of the crew were taken to the RAF air base at Merston to await collection.

There were several eye witnesses to the event. Annie Hill was a student at St John's School on Hornet Road, near to the Liberator crash site, in 1944. She was just 7 years old when the plane crashed. She recalled:

"I was wandering up East street towards the Cross to catch the bus from West Street bus station when there was the most enormous explosion behind me; the laundry in the Hornet had been bombed.

I turned round to see flames and smoke leaping into the sky but before I could move a door beside me opened (there were inhabited cottages in East Street then), an arm shot out, grabbed me and pushed me under a table wrapped in corrugated iron, to form a rough shelter. Luckily for me the person who had grabbed me was Miss Pennicott, one of my teachers."

On the evening of the crash, the crew visited the crash site and within eight weeks the laundry was up and running again after being rebuilt by an American Air Force construction team.