How ‘first’ victims of D-Day never made it out of Norfolk

One of the B24 Liberators flown by the 389th Bombardment Group.

One of the B24 Liberators flown by the 389th Bombardment Group. - Credit: Archant

They were among the first victims of D-Day - but never made it out of Norfolk.

Staff Sergeant Stephen Sosnecke, who died aged 21 on June 6 1944.

Staff Sergeant Stephen Sosnecke, who died aged 21 on June 6 1944. - Credit: Archant

Hours before the first landing craft had beached in Normandy, scores of bombers took off from airfields across East Anglia to attack the German defences there.

The grave of Staff Sergeant Stephen Sosnecke in America.

The grave of Staff Sergeant Stephen Sosnecke in America. - Credit: Archant

One Liberator crew, part of the United States' 389th Bombardment Group, left their base at Hethel, just south of Norwich, at around 2am on June 6 1944. But within half an hour - before the aircraft had even crossed the Norfolk coast - it had crashed, near to Pond Farm, Sidestrand, killing all 10 airmen on board.

Such was the devastation at the scene that the remains of one of the crew, 21-year-old Staff Sergeant Stephen Sosnecke, was not discovered until August 5 1944. He was partially buried in a wheat field away from the crash site.

The little-known D-Day story has emerged now, as a pair of local researchers, James Mindham, from Dilham, and Eddie Anderson, from Templewood near Sidestrand, appeal for people to recall memories of the disasters, as well as others that occured along the coast during the Second World War.

Mr Anderson, 65, a former ITV producer, said: 'We have this notion that, in terms of the Norfolk connection, some of the first D-Day casualties of D-Day died here in Sidestrand.

'They were very brave young men. So often these stories will be a memory for families.'

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The cause of the crash is not known, but before it found itself in difficulties, the B24 Liberator, nicknamed Homing Pigeon, from 566th Squadron, had been flying at around 6,500ft. S Sgt Sosnecke's body on Hungry Hill was later identified through his dog tags and was repatriated to America. He was a rear gunner and would have sat in the tail turret, which was never found.

Mr Mindham added: 'When we started scratching the surface we realised these crashes were happening all over the place and in a few years people who witnessed them will be gone.'

Jill Genders, 77, from Grange Avenue, Overstrand, saw the Liberator in flames when she was seven-years-old from her Sidestrand home.

She said: 'My mother and I heard the crash and it has stayed with me ever since. The firemen looked so little. I was absolutely terrified because I thought it was a German plane.'

She described the aircraft noise that morning as 'terrifying'.

Fred Squires, 80, from Wymondham, met the pilot of the Homing Pigeon, 1st Lt Marcus Courtney, when he was 10-years-old.

Mr Squires met the pilot two months before D-Day, after getting into the Hethel Airfield while playing outside. On his first trip he went inside a Liberator.

He said: 'First Lt Courtney was a pleasant bloke. You could ask him anything and he would give you an answer. I was set back about 20 years ago when I found out what had happened.'

Since then he set up the 389th Bomb Group Memorial Exhibition on Potash Farm, Hethel. The voluntary group is holding an open day at the memorial this Sunday between 10am-4pm.

Mr Mindham and Mr Anderson would like to hear from anyone with memories of wartime crashes from Cromer to Trimingham.

They particularly want to speak to anyone who remembers the D-Day crash or relatives of Norwich pilot Staff Sergeant Jack Ottaway, who died in a Handley Page Hampden aircraft on November 20 1940, which crashed 200 yards from Templewood.

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