On the 31st of December 1944 a thick blanket of fog covered East Anglia. Eventually it lifted and from Thorpe Abbotts airfield the 100th Bombardment Group took to the skies. Their target was Hamburg. However first they had to get into formation. All the B-17's in the mission circled around until they broke through the cloud cover, and slowly formed up, and turned out towards the North Sea.
In Little Skipper Lt Rojohn carried on losing sight of the lead plane as his B-17 was buffeted by the flak, so he had to hand over control to his co-pilot. After releasing their bombs the formation turned and headed back the way they'd flown in.
|Crew of Little Skipper|
Suddenly the radio barked out a warning, at the same instant there was a juddering impact. Little Skipper had collided with Nine Lives. During the impact one of Little Skippers propeller blades had become wedged in the engine of Nine Lives. Her ball turret was rammed into the fuselage. And the guns from the upper turret on Nine Lives had pierced the skin of the Little Skipper. The result was that the two planes were mated together. The damage caused to Nine Live’s engine by the propeller caused it to burst into flames.
In the cockpit of Little Skipper Lt Rojohn and Lt Leek had feathered their engines and the two planes were now flying on the three engines of Nine Lives. To keep the planes level the two pilots had to brace their feet on the control panel and haul the steering column to their chests. They managed to wrestle the planes back towards shore as the crews from both planes began to bail out. Two of the crew of Little Skipper stayed on desperately trying to free the ball turret gunner but they were thwarted by the damage. There was nothing they could do to free the turret from the mangled skin of Nine Lives.
The German flak gunners on the ground witnessed the impact, and seeing the plight of the plane as it descended slowly streaming smoke held their fire. Despite this Little Skipper began to take incoming fire. Machine gun ammunition was being set off by the heat from the spreading fire causing bullets to randomly rip through the plane. At this point Lt Rojohn ordered Lt Leek to bail out. Lt Leek refused point blank knowing that without him Lt Rojohn's chances were none, as the plane would plummet into a nose dive as soon as he left the controls.
As he sat there Lt Rojohn reached for a cigarette as he watched a German soldier approach. The German shouted angrily at him, and pointed to the wing. It was at this moment Lt Rojohn noticed the whole area was covered in fuel from the ruptured wing tanks.
From both the crews, most of the airmen survived; four from Nine Lives and seven from Little Skipper. A couple landed at sea and were lost. The pilots of Nine Lives were killed, so there is no way to find out why the collision happened. Unable to be freed, the ball turret gunner on Little Skipper was killed in the impact with the ground. Lt Rojohn was interrogated by the Germans fearful of a new 8 engined super bomber coming into USAAF service, although after two weeks they realised what had happened. The survivors remained as POW's for the remainder of the war. Captain Rojohn died in 2003 and Lt Leek in 1988.
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