The Sad Story of Flying Fortress ‘Buttercup’
On the morning of Saturday 13th November 1943 at about 07:30, twenty-three B17 Flying Fortresses of 367, 368 and 369 Squadrons of the United Sates Army Air Corps took off from RAF Thurleigh, just north of Bedford. These squadrons were part of the United States 8th Army 306 Bombardment Group. The Squadron’s mission that morning was to bomb the German Submarine manufacturing and repair facility at Bremen on the Baltic coast.
The plan was for planes to rendezvous with other bomber squadrons and to pick up a fighter escort at a location over the North Sea but the weather had other ideas. The flying conditions were poor and there was ice build up on the planes. This resulted in seventeen of the planes being recalled to base. Two managed to join up with another squadron and attack the target although one was badly shot up, ultimately causing it to crash. Of the planes that attempted to return to Thurleigh, two seem to have headed toward Oxford with one crashing near Princes Risborough killing the pilot after the rest of the crew had bailed out. Another plane, nicknamed Buttercup, piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Floyd Scudder appears to have turned back towards the east coast. The plane skirted the village of Great Haseley before crash landing in a field between the village and Latchford at about 07:45. It blew up on impact killing eight of the 10 crew. The other two, Bearden and Gonzales, were badly injured and died later in hospital from multiple injuries and burns; possibly at the Churchill Hospital as the American Hospital at Horton House near Wheatley had not been built at the time. The exact cause of either crash was never established but the official records of the time seem to blame extreme turbulence and icing.
The cockpit and engines were removed, possibly for re-use with the airframe taken to the re-cycling plant for crashed aircraft near Morris Motors at Cowley.
The crew of Buttercup were:
2nd Lieutenant Floyd Scudder Junior Pilot 21 years
2nd Lieutenant Leyland Hendershot Co-Pilot 23 years
2nd Lieutenant Ewing Shields III Navigator 21 years
2nd Lieutenant John Strauser Bombardier 27 years
Technical Sergeant Harris Whitten Flight Engineer/ Top Turret Gunner 21 years
Technical Sergeant Sam Bearden Radio Operator 33 years
Sergeant Albert Tessier Ball Turret Gunner 20 years
Sergeant Eustasio Gonzales Waist Gunner 20 years
Sergeant Albert Griepenstroh Waist Gunner 23 years
Staff Sergeant Charles Nicholson Tail Gunner 26 years
Six of the crew, Hendershot, Shields, Strauser, Tessier, Gonzales and Griepenstroh had only arrived at Thurleigh from the states on 1st November and this was their first operational flight. Six of the crew are interred at the American Cemetery at Madingley, near Cambridge; the bodies of the other four were repatriated after the war and are buried close to their home town in America.