"Just-a-Snappin" Crash at Ludham Airfield - Research Project - PART ONE
By Linda and Brian Barden - 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum Volunteers
We had a visit in May 2019 from Jim and Mary Blakely from the US. This was as a result of the research carried out by museum members into the crash site of "Just-a-Snappin" at Ludham Airfield in October 1943. Jim’s father, Everett Blakey, was the pilot of "Just-a-Snappin".
Jim and Mary came on Saturday 11 May 2019 and were able to meet up with some of the museum researchers. They were also given a tour of the sites that Everett would have been familiar with at Thorpe Abbotts.
Jim and Mary’s visit to the UK didn’t end at Thorpe Abbotts. A special tour of Ludlam Airfield had been arranged on the following Tuesday to show Jim the site of the crash. This also gave Jim the opportunity to meet the other researchers, as well as meeting William Buck (Ludham airfield expert), and Mike Fuller, who was a young lad at the time of the crash.
"JUST-A-SNAPPIN" CRASH AT LUDHAM AIRFIELD Part One
By way of background, Brian and myself have never undertaken a research project before. However, volunteering at the Museum has invoked a keen sense of its history and the men who were stationed there. Little did we know that we were about to embark upon something very special following a conversation Brian had with Ron Batley (Museum Curator) about the oak tree which overhangs the Varian Centre at the museum, and discussing plans to take off some branches that might cause damage in a storm etc. Ron just happened to mention the oak tree at Ludham Airfield into which "Just-a-Snappin" crashed into and whether or not the tree was still standing there. Co-incidentally, Richard Gibson (Trustee) told us that he had just received a text from Jim Blakely who was asking the same question. Jim is the son of Everett Blakely who piloted "Just-a-Snappin" on the mission to Bremen on 8 October 1943, and on their return to home to Thorpe Abbotts, had to make a crash-landing at Ludham Airfield because of being badly damaged by enemy action.
Brian subsequently looked on Google Earth to see what he could find. The initial search showed very few oak trees remaining, but he did find two at the western end of the east west runway. He knew that the B-17 was on a westerly heading when it belly landed, so of course, they were the prime suspects. We then went on to download aerial photographs and took all of our findings to the museum, where we showed the info to Ron and the volunteers who were on duty that day. Chris Tennet (Volunteer) did a further online search and this gave us a better idea of where the plane might have ended up.
Everybody then said – "You had better go and have a look then and take lots of photos". So, thinking "Oh dear, what have we started" – off we went to Ludham that same afternoon. The weather was just right – sunny and very clear. We did find the likely suspect tree and standing on the road, you could almost look down the east west runway and we thought this looks good. We walked down the edge of the field to the tree and found a large chunk had been taken out of the bark, and it was obviously old damage. Brian also found a piece of aluminium at the base of the tree thinking he had found a bit of "Just-a-Snappin" – result! Upon cleaning this, the words ‘Dreadnought’ and “Made in England” were faintly visible. Obviously not "Just-a-Snappin", but a piece of kitchenware supplied to the Air Ministry during the Second World War.
Richard Flagg (local airfield expert) and Richard Tallent (Trustee) visited the airfield as well and thought it was probably the tree. In all our excitement, an email was sent to Jim with details of our findings and photos. We had a reply from Jim – he was very excited and interested and sent us some photos and other material.
However, following on from this, Brian had another look at the photo shown below - it had always worried him because looking under the wing on the right-hand side, in the background, an earth embankment can be seen. It looked very similar to a fighter e-pen built on RAF fighter airfields to protect the aircraft. There wasn’t anything like this near the original tree site of our first visit.
With these thoughts in mind, weeks were spent looking at wartime aerial photographs, maps and site diagrams of Ludham Airfield. We couldn’t find any e-pens or similar structures on the western side of the airfield. There were pens on the eastern side, but they were of a circular structure. On speaking with Ron, he advised that really what we needed to do was to find somebody who was actually there during the war and who had knowledge of the airfield.