War-time disaster at Mears Ashby

Cycling to pre-arranged stops to join fellow cyclists frequently requires passing through new territory, and going places that would not normally feature on my itinerary. My route today took me through villages in north Bedfordshire (Yieldon, Wymington, Podington) and into Northamptonshire (Woolaston, Wilby, Mears Ashby) to a coffee stop, and then around villages with evocative names like Harrowden, Orlingbury, Hannington and Sywell, to a lunch stop.

Mears Ashby

A brief stop in Mears Ashby to check my bearings led me to an information board by the roadside, telling the fascinating (but appalling) story of an air collision above the village during WWII. On the morning of March 31st 1943, during a practice air raid, two B17 flying fortresses, Ooold Soljer & Two Beauts, collided above the village, shedding their pay-load of bombs (most not exploding) and spreading wreckage over a wide area. The cause of the crash was said to be “heavy cloud causing one plane to get out of formation and turn back into the path of the oncoming planes”.

It appeared that Two Beauts nudged the starboard wing of Ooold Soljer and immediately the wing of   Ooold Soljer including the outboard engine fell away, and from 7000ft (2133 metres) both aircraft went into a dive, crashing to the South and South East of Mears Ashby. As I looked around this quintessentially English rural environment, it was hard to imagine such an appalling disaster happening there. But lying midst an area where there were dozens of war-time airfields, sending out thousands of bombing missions, the chances of such a thing happening were very high.


About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on April 21, 2011, in Aspects of Britain and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. My Grandpa was on Ooold Soljer. He was one of the fortunate few to survive the crash. He celebrated his 90th birthday last month. Thanks for writing about the memorial.

    • A pleasure, Daniel. I cycle past it a couple of times a month…..it’s a thought-provoking reminder…..

    • Jon Anderson

      Hi, is your Grandpa still around, I hope he is well? My 8 year old daughter has been asked to do a school project on WW2 and as we live in the next village to Mears Ashby we decided to do it on this crash. It’s great to know that there is still a living link to this tragedy. Give him our best wishes, and to the rest of your family.

      Jon Anderson

  2. Dear Frank Burns, It is gary who give me your adress. Why? because I prepare a book about the US crashs during WWII in my french department, La Sarthe. My first chapter is about the first crash US in Sarthe. Double crash because 2 B-17 fall on this day. On 4 July 1943. One of the 2 B-17 was in the 48 mission of 303rd BG. This plane was “The Mugger”. On internet I find the picture of what you do about this mission. But on Internet i can’t read well what you have write on it. My request is: “can you send me a copy of what you have do?” I hope you can understand my request… same with my bad english. have a good day. Thank you.

    • Thanks for the message Jacky. I’m afraid I’m unable to help you further with your research. My observations about the crash above Mears Ashby go no further than what I read on the information board in the village. You might be able to find more information on the internet. I wish you luck…..

      • Hello Frank, thank you for your message. Sorry if you can’t help me more. i understand. No problem. Have a good day.

  3. We visited that site today, among a few others for our annual remembrance ride.

  4. My uncle Eugene C.Clowe was the tail gunner on one of these planes. This is fascinating to me. I never knew the details until I read this post. My middle name is Eugene. Does the photo you posted tell more about this event? Thank you for sharing this. Kim Clowe

    • What an amazing coincidence! Were you given the middle name of Eugene in his memory? My middle name is George, in memory of an uncle who died in North Africa during the African campaign. The information board in the photo does give a synopsis of the background of the event, but it’s a few years since I passed that way.

  5. Oh, wow! My uncle was the navigator for the Two Beauts! Klm Clowe, your uncle Eugene C. Clowe was the tail gunner!! Regretfully, they were both killed in the collision. I have googled the plane, crash and the other crew members and have come up with the formation of the planes and description of the crash. It seems that one plane aborted the mission, the Old Soljer turned to the right, and our uncles’ plane clipped it. Do you know anywhere I could find pictures of the crew? I can get pictures of the plane, but not the crew. Thanks for any help. I’ll be glad to pass on any information I have that you might want.

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