At 09.35 hrs on that fateful Wednesday morning in March 1943, OOOLD SOLJER and nineteen other 303rd Bomb Group (H) Flying Fortresses took off from (Station 107) Molesworth, Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire) on a westerly heading.
They were part of the 8th Air Force Bomber Command Mission 48, the twenty-seventh mission to be launched from Molesworth.
A total of 102 aircraft made up two Bomb Wings, which had been given the task of bombing the docks in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The 1st Bomb Wing was made up entirely of B-17 Flying Fortresses and the 2nd were B-24 Liberators from the 44th Bomb Group, Shipdham, Norfolk and the 93rd Bomb Group from Hardwick, Norfolk. Both the B-24 Liberator and the B-17 Flying Fortress were the main heavy bombers used by the 8th Air Force at this time.
The force of 20 aircraft, led by Major Eugene A Romig in aircraft (Code 42-29570) formed up with B-17s from the 305th Bomb Group (H) from Chelveston Northamptonshire, flying in the standard six aircraft spearhead on a westerly heading. This spearhead formation was vital as it enabled the gunners to cover the aircraft from all angles - a loose formation gave enemy fighters a good opportunity to penetrate and attack the bomber formations (at this time the American fighter escort was not yet available.)
At 10.20 hrs a 303rd Bomb Group (H) Fortress piloted by 1st Lieutenant Bilek got out of formation in heavy cloud and being unable to rejoin the formation turned to return to Molesworth. In so doing the crew of Lieutenant Bilek's plane witnessed the collision between OOOLD SOLJER (Code 41-24559) and TWO BEAUTS (Code 42-29573). It appeared that TWO BEAUTS nudged the starboard wing of OOOLD SOLJER and immediately the wing of OOOLD SOLJER including the outboard engine fell away, and from 7000ft (2133 metres) both aircraft went into a dive, crashing to the South and South East of Mears Ashby, not far from Sywell in Northamptonshire.
Within the museum we have a display of artefacts relating to the mid-air collision of these two B-17s; for the full story as researched by our Museum Chairman, Richard Watts, click here.