‘Sleepytime Girl’, an American World War II B17 Flying Fortress bomber crashed into the sea off Dungeness on 24th April 1944, with only four of the ten crew surviving.
A few weeks ago Joe Thomas, a local fisherman, snagged something large and heavy on the seabed, just off Dungeness point. Joe then took two days to get the, as yet unidentified, object to the surface. What he had ‘caught’ turned out to be a one ton, 9 cylinder radial engine complete with three propeller blades still in tact. Mark Britnell, of the Brenzett Aeronautical Museum, has subsequently confirmed the engines identity as one of the four Wright/Cyclone engines, fitted to the Flying Fortress bombers.
‘Sleepytime Girl’ was on a daytime bombing raid on an aircraft factory over Oberpfaffenhofen in Germany. The aircraft suffered heavy flak damage over Germany and all four engines cut out, the crew dived the B17 to 5,000 feet and managed to restart the damaged engines. The crew then had a vote and opted to fly back towards the safety of Britain, rather than trying to make it to Switzerland, which was closer.
At 5,000 feet the B17 was a sitting duck and was repeatedly attacked over France, where two German ME-109’s further damaged the aircraft, knocking out three of the four engines.
Amazingly, the remaining crew managed to limp the aircraft back over The Channel on a single engine, where they ditched off Dungeness. Only four of the original crew of ten were left alive and were rescued by an Air Sea Rescue Walrus (an amphibious biplane). William Nesen, received a posthumous Purple Heart for his bravery.
It’s difficult to imagine how these incredibly brave men in their teens and early 20’s, could submit themselves to a virtual death sentence on a daily basis. If you’ve seen the film Memphis Belle, you will get some idea of the extraordinary sacrifices that were made, in order to free occupied and oppressed peoples and to ensure our own freedom and way of life.
Niko Miaoulis, owner of the Pilot Inn, here at Dungeness, has cleaned and mounted the engine which is now on permanent display, in tribute to all of the brave men and women that we owe so much to.
And thanks to Niko Miaoulis for the research and to Joe Thomas for his efforts in retrieving the engine.
It is a great pity that the ages of those who flew ‘for us’ are not mentioned, as to know they were, for the most part, 18 to 24 year olds adds to the sadness of their sacrifice.
From Official Records
Delivered Denver 1/6/43; Dow Field 13/7/43; Assigned 388BG Knettishall 3/8/43; transferred 550BS/385BG [SG-F] Gt Ashfield /43; Missing in Action Oberpfaffenhofen 24/4/44 with Bill Nesen, Co-pilot: Bernie Gruble, Navigator: Jim Delo, Flight engineer/top turret gunner: Lee Lance, Radio Operator: Fred Howland, Ball turret gunner: Joe McKenna (6 Killed in Action); Bombardier: Chester Desormeaux, Waist gunner: Evan Wells, Waist gunner: Murdoch McNeil,Tail gunner: Ernie Mitchell (4 Returned to Duty); enemy aircraft KOd three engines, ditched Channel off Dungeness, Kent, picked up by Air Sea Rescue Walrus. Missing Air Crew Report 4452 . SLEEPYTIME GIRL.
Quelle/Source: Dave Osborne, B-17 Fortress Master Log*
It would appear there were two B17’s with similar names and even on dedicated websites there are errors in their spelling. Sleepy time GIRL and Sleepytime GAL, pictured below. The latter is in the Air Mobility Museum.