Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bill Cramsie Day

On this day in 1944, Bill Cramsie climbed into the cockpit of an A-20G attack bomber (43-9699) and methodically went through the warm-up checklist.  It was the 4th combat mission for this West Point graduate and already he was flying in the #3 slot of the lead box of 18 planes -- on the left wing of Major Willets, the 671st Squadron Commander.  Those who knew him and survived are in agreement that he was an outstanding pilot with a promising future.  They were airborne by 8:44 AM and at the scheduled target in France an hour later.  Unfortunately, the cloud cover at that point was 10/10 or total.  The V-1 Buzz Bomb launch site they were hopeful of destroying could not be seen.

The German antiaircraft batteries on the ground had no such disadvantage.  Their radar controls told gunners exactly where the 416th planes were and the barrages they sent aloft were deadly.  As the bombers made another pass over the target the flak became very intense and every plane in the 36-ship-formation suffered from flak damage.  Bill Cramsie lost an engine on the first pass and stayed with the group for the second pass where he reportedly was hit again.  As the lead navigator sought a suitable alternate target, the flight passed into a cloudless area to the north that happened to be above another Buzz Bomb site.  The group dropped their bombs on this target of opportunity and headed home.  Bill, unable to stay with the formation as his remaining engine weakened, fell out of formation.  As they headed back across the English Channel, his academy classmate and friend Scotty Street also lost an engine and fell behind along with Bill who was then in sight below him.  As they crossed Bradwell Bay, losing altitude, both Bill and Scotty were seeking an emergency landing strip.  Both called for bearings to the RAF field nearby and received them from Air Search and Rescue.  At that point, Bill dropped below the clouds at about 400 feet altitude and Scotty made a turn to the West to line up with the Bradwell Bay landing strip.

Scotty's crew bailed out over land and he crash-landed without injury, though the plane was beyond repair.  Bill and his crew disappeared.  A Rescue team was never dispatched.  Seventy years later, Chief Inspector Ross Stewart of the British Minstry of Defense Police discovered why.  The coordinates captured from radio direction finding equipment during Bill's call for help were transposed.  Instead of placing his aircraft just offshore near the RAF airbase, they indicated he was some 40 miles east of there over the North Sea.  Of course there was no way for boats to reach that spot in time to do any good and it seems therefore that no effort was made.  Based on eye-witness reports, it is virtually certain that Bill Cramsie, his plane and his crew lie unrecovered in Bradwell Bay -- probably in very shallow water not far off shore.  That realization has spurred considerable interest in generating a serious search for the A-20 and its crew.   Hopefully on Bill Cramsie Day a year from now we will be able to share some more encouraging news about that search for "9699".