38 aircraft from the 486th were taking part in a massive 1300-plane 8th Air Force mission against various industrial targets deep inside Germany. Take-off was scheduled to take place between 0630 and 0700 hours, before first light, so it would be a night-time, instrument-ascent operation. Among the waiting Fortresses was a/c 43-37910 commanded by 2nd Lt. Virgil Raddatz. They ran up the engines several times prior to lining up on the runway and all seemed in good order. However, just after lift-off, the CoPilot reported a fire in No3 engine. At the same time the engine ran away and seemed impossible to control. The craft made it into the air and the fire was extinguished but the windmilling engine was a real drag on a plane already heavily loaded with 20 300 pound bombs and full fuel tanks. Raddatz circled the field, wanting to land but other B-17s were still taking off and he was told to go around again. Airspeed began to drop and the plane lost height, disappearing again into the darkness. Watchers in the tower expected a fireball and explosion. Radio contact was lost and vehicles were dispatched in the general direction of Sudbury to look for the possible crash site.
Half an hour later Raddatz made a telephone call to ask for his crew to be collected! Remarkably, he had flown at roof top height across the town – in No 187 Bures Road, near the Brook Inn, Mrs Game gathered all her children under the kitchen table as the plane roared overhead. A few hundred yards further on, in almost total darkness, the pilot put his stricken craft down onto a small field on Shalford meadow next to the railway line. Fortune favoured him – the larger adjacent field had a network of telegraph poles strung with wires to prevent German paratroop landings. Even so, the right wing sheared off on impact with a tree and there was severe damage to the nose turret and underside but the pilot managed to put the plane down with such finesse that all the crew survived the crash. Their great fear was that spilled fuel would ignite and the whole bomb load explode. Some of the crew ran to warn the crossing keeper and his family who lived in the nearby cottage. Four of them exited rapidly through a hole torn in the fuselage, ran as fast as they could, jumped a ditch and took cover beyond the railway track. (Looking at the deep ditch the following day the youngest, 18-year old Herman Taylor, said he didn’t know that he could jump down into the ditch, much less jump over it.)
The only casualty was the Co-Pilot who lost a couple of fillings and was so frightened that he kept running around in circles until he was calmed by other crew members. (The official report later referred to this as ‘over excitement.’)
(For a time the plane was left unguarded after the crash and local boys arrived looking for souvenirs. A boy named Read took some tools and was sent to Borstal for his crime.)
It was a memorable end to the Old Year for Raddatz and his crew. The plane was a write-off but the Raddatz crew went on to complete the remainder of their tour of duty.