D-Day 6th June 1944, when the largest invasion force ever assembled, embarked from Southern England to liberate Europe from five dark years of Nazi oppression.
The liberating Allied Forces, had been meticulously planning the opening of ‘The second Front’ in Europe – and in the period leading up to D-Day, Southern England had been transformed into one vast military camp.
From March 1944 Tactical Fighter and Light Bomber Units of the 9th Airforce, U.S.A.A.F. began arriving at forward airbases that were being established in Southern England. These units, along with R.A.F. 2nd Tactical Air Force, commenced daily operations against specific enemy strong points and centres of communication in Northern France.
Targets comprised of road, rail and canal transport systems, munitions and fuel dumps, along with any suitable strategic targets that would delay the enemy’s deployment of troops and supplies to the invasion beachheads.
On July 2nd 1944, five American Fighter Pilots of the 50th Fighter Group, based at Carentan, Normandy, France, boarded a Cessna BobcatUC-78 light Transport aircraft for the U.S.A.A.F. base at Chilbolton Hampshire. This was not a combat mission – but to transport personnel between bases. Of the five pilots, two had been promoted to Captain, only the day before. Some were going on operational leave, and one had turned 24 years old on that day.
Sadly their aircraft never made its intended destination. The aircraft developed a failure of one of it’s engines. The inclement weather conditions on the day made flying conditions difficult and several Ampfield witnesses recall that the cloud base was very low with thunderstorms.
Shortly after 12.00 noon on Sunday 2nd July 1944 their Cessna Bobcat aircraft was seen to crash into woodland about 400 yards to the north east of St Mark’s Church. Sadly, there were no survivors. Witnesses recall that the pilot and co-pilot of the aircraft crashed the aircraft into the woods to avoid hitting houses in the upper part of Knapp Lane. All five had gallantly and courageously given their lives to advert further death or injury to local residents.
You can today visit the Memorial in Chapel Wood.
Those men remembered:
Capt. Billy Bryan born 18th May 1921, 313rd Fighter Squadron.
2nd Lt. Dale C. Frances born 3rd May 19218, 1st Fighter Squadron
1st Lt.Walter Hayes born 20th January 1922, 81st Fighter Squadron
Capt.Norman H. Nelson born 31st July 1919, 313rd Fighter Squadron
2nd Lt.Duran F. Quinn born 2nd July 1920, 313rd Fighter Squadron