The history of the USAAF B-17G Flying Fortress "Stormy Weather" from 351st. Bomber Group, that crash-landed on the Danish island of Als, on the 24th of may 1944
Stormy Weather took off from Polebrook Airfield, Northamptonshire, UK, on the morning of the 24th May 1944. The mission was to bomb Berlin. Stormy Weather was the lead plane in the bomber formation. Prior to take off the crew had made their own plane "Clay Pigeon" ready, however when they received orders to start up, they experienced serious engine problems. The crew had to move hurriedly to the reserve lead plane "Stormy Weather. In the ensuing confusion only 9 of the 10 parachutes were transferred, a mistake that would have a serious affect on the decisions they had to make later in the mission.
Over German territory Stormy Weather was hit by flak. Due to the damage to the plane, Capt. Clay was forced to dive and head north, away from the other 15 planes in the formation.
Early on that afternoon Stormy Weather came in over southern Denmark, Clay and his co-pilot Frank Hatten, hoped it was Sweden because of the many small islands, but unfortunately it was German occupied Denmark.
The plane came in over Als from the north and passed over the village of Svendstrup, also passing the head office of the company Danfoss . Unusually there had not been any other planes over the area that day, and the sound, above the low cloud, of an aircraft with engine trouble drew a lot of attention. When the plane broke through the cloud, it was so low that the people on the ground could make out the American markings on the fuselage.
The pilot, Captain Clay had serious difficulties with the plane, so he ordered the crew to bail out. Two crewmen parachuted out over the village of Svendstrup near the Danfoss factory, and 6 others approximately 1 km further south east near the village of Klingbjerg, on a line down to the farm "Solbjerggaard" ,by then the plane was at such a low altitude, that further escape was impossible. After another 5 km's the plane was over the villages of Holmskov and Osterholm, an eye witness, Kaj Valentin, stood in the yard of his parents farm, "Lysmose" near Holmskov, and he remembers that the plane passed just over the chimney of the house.
During their last minutes in the air the pilots could not see very much under the plane because the downward visibility from the cockpit was obscured by the fuselage , therefore they had to open the side windows of the cockpit, and with their heads out, look down, searching for a flat place to land. Unfortunately there was no flat land in that area.
The plane, struggling to maintain height, crossed an embankment for a new road, hit some telephone cables, and crashed through a stand of willow trees neatly removing their tops. Stormy Weather then hit the ground very hard approximately 100 meters from the embankment, just in front of a small farm and forest house called "Myrholm". It broke into two just behind the wings, rotated through nearly 180 degrees, and came to rest in the opposite direction to its approach.
Click on the picture to see texts
The co-pilot, Frank Hatten cut his head on the window frame when the plane impacted the ground, this was the only injury suffered by any of the crew. The pilots escaped from the plane to the comparative safety of the ground, Captain Clay then attempted to set the plane on fire with a flare pistol, unfortunately she would not burn, and he had to give up. A man working in a nearby field, saw the plane crash, hurried to the site, arriving there just as the two pilots exited the plane. He wanted to help, but thinking that the flare pistol was being aimed at him, he rapidly retreated.
The owner of Myrholm, Peter Clausen was working with his horse and wagon, when his wife Marie came out of the front door and shouted that a plane had crashed on the other side of the house. Peter had heard the noise, but only thought that the barn on Skaertoft had collapsed. Hurrying around the house he met Clay and Hatten in his garden, although he couldn't speak English, he could see that Hatten could use some help with his head wound so he took them into the kitchen where his wife attended to the injury and then gave them something to eat.
Capt. Robert B. Clay 1944
There was a large number of German soldiers in the area, and within an hour they had caught the whole crew, who were unable to hide or escape. Their chances of evading capture were reduced as the region had been part of Germany from 1864 until 1920 and although the majority of the local population voted to return to Danish rule there were still a number of German sympathizers, more than willing to notify the occupying forces of the presence of allied airman.
In Klingbjerg Niels Good was painting his house together with his daughter Marie. Anticipating the defeat of the Germans he had just said that " the house has to look nice when the allies arrive" - when an American parachuted into his field. Niels went out to help him, they hid the parachute in a hunting cottage and returned to the house. Surprisingly the footprints where he had landed were 3inches deep, the impression lasting for the rest of the summer. All the other crew members landed within a few hundred meters , one coming to rest in a tree, it took a while to get him down. Six of those who had bailed out gathered in the "Doctors house" where Maria and Anna Clausen lived. Anna was a doctor at the hospital in Sonderborg 30 km's away. All the Americans had something to eat, and after a longer time than might be expected the Germans showed up. The delay in their arrival had been caused by local people misdirecting the soldiers as to where the allied airman had gone. Although the Germans were displeased with the good treatment the Americans received from the Danes, they still allowed them to finish their meal before they were taken to Myrholm where the two pilots were being held captive..
Over the next few hours the 10 crew members were brought to Myrholm, from where they were all taken to the wreck of Stormy Weather . Here a German officer ranted and raved at them, he had become very angry when he saw the 21 mission markings on the fuselage. It was very unusual that a bomber lasted for 21 missions, this meant that the plane must have caused a lot of damage to Germany since January 1944 when it had left the Boeing factory in Seattle.
Later that afternoon, it was common knowledge over the entire island that a Flying Fortress had crash landed in Osterholm, a large number of people traveled to there to see the wreckage. However there were German soldiers guarding the plane, nobody was allowed near to it.
During the following days the Germans removed the wreckage of "Stormy Weather "on trucks, and the crewman were taken to POW camps in Germany.
After the end of the war all ten crew members of " Stormy Weather " returned safely to their homes in the Unites States of America.
Robert Clay's first bomber crew of which many were on the mission the 24th of may 1944
Standing from left : Capt. Clay, Lt. James W Emerson, Sgt. James W Riley, Sgt. Daniel Surprise, Lt. Marshall Pullen, and Lt. Stanley A Walaszek.
Front row from left : Sgt. Frank H. Belsinger, Sgt. Michael De Marie, Sgt. Charles B. Jillcott, and Sgt. Franklin L Travis
Stormy Weather the 24th of May 1944 shortly after the crash landing, and before the Germans started to remove the plane. The tailpiece is still turned over.
19 allied planes crashed in this area during WWII, all of the crews were killed, except the ones from Stormy Weather. On the 24th of May 2001, five of these crewmen with their relatives, will return to the island of Als. Their hosts will be the municipalities of Augustenborg, Nordborg and Sonderborg.
We are looking forward very much to celebrate " The Stormy Weather Reunion Day"
On behalf of the "Stormy Weather Committee, Denmark"