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Liberator - 42-52767
856th Bomb Sq., 492nd Bomb Group, US 8th Air Force
Folly Road, Lambourn
8th September 1944
At approximately 2200 hours on the night of 8 September 1944, 2nd Lt. Lawrence Berkoff and a crew of 3 officers and 4 enlisted men took off from Harrington Airfield, England in a B-24 (42-52767). Their mission was to drop supplies for Resistance units in France.
Shortly after take off, the flight engineer, Sgt. Al Rinz, noticed flame exiting from the exhaust of Engine Number 2. Not wanting to abort unless absolutely necessary, 2nd Lt. Berkoff decided to circle the airfield until the flames finally diminished. With the flames out and after conferring with Rinz, Berkoff decided to continue with the mission. However, by the time they reached the south coast of England, flames were igniting inside the exhaust itself, giving off a red glow which would make a perfect target for German anti-aircraft gunners. Accordingly, Berkoff decided that continuing the mission would be too dangerous. 2nd Lt. Berkoff brought the plane around in a 180 degree turn at which point the oil and mercury pressure gauges on Number 1 Engine began to drop alarmingly. Then Engine Number 1 stopped cold. At the same time, Engine 2 began to eject flame and run very roughly. With one engine dead and the other ineffective, the plane began to lose altitude quickly. The loss of power on one side caused the ship to turn over on its side and whenever Berkoff brought the wing up to the level position, which was accomplished several times after tremendous struggling with the controls by Berkoff and co-pilot, the ship would nose down and then the left wing would drop again. After repeating the struggle to keep the aircraft on an even keel, it became apparent that correcting the malfunction was futile.
Due to the irreparable nature of the plane, Berkoff gave the order for the crew to bail out. At 3,500 feet the first parachutes opened as six of the eight crew members drifted away to safety, landing near the Wiltshire village of Baydon. The flight engineer remained with Berkoff until the plane was at about 1,000 feet and spinning towards the ground. The engineer made his way to the bomb bay and yelled to Berkoff, "Come on, let's get the hell out!" Berkoff did not appear to hear, so he yelled again. When he looked back at the cockpit, he saw Berkoff in a desperate struggle to regain control. At this point Sgt. Rinz exited the plane..
Meanwhile, Berkoff noticed the lights of the village of Lambourn directly in the path of his burning aircraft. At this point he could have bailed out and saved his own life, but he realised that to do so would undoubtedly mean that the aircraft would crash onto the unsuspecting town, possibly resulting in the deaths of dozens of civilians. Berkoff therefore decided to remain at the controls and try and make a forced landing in an open area. The B-24 continued its uncontrollable descent and crashed in field south of Lambourn, barely missing the town by a couple hundred yards. Berkoff was killed instantly, still at the controls of his aircraft. By remaining in the cockpit and preventing the premature crash of his plane, 2nd Lt.Berkoff showed extraordinary heroism and dedication to duty and a total disregard for his own life. His gallant act of self-sacrifice not only saved the lives of his seven crew members but also saved the lives of countless civilians on the ground.
In making the supreme sacrifice for his country, 2nd Lt. Berkoff demonstrated selfless concern for the lives of others that transcended all considerations for his own safety. An act of gallantry in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Military Service.
left: This picture was taken in Kansas during
July 1944 and shows 2nd Lt. Lawrence Berkoff and his crew just
before they made the crossing to England.
They are from left to right: Cpl. Joseph Tedesco*, 2nd Lt. George Snyder, S/Sgt. John Duer, Cpl. Arthur Marrese*, 2nd Lt. Lawrence Berkoff, T/Sgt. Al Rinz, 2nd Lt. Vincent Woods, Sgt. Daurel Transtrum. Missing from the picture are Sgt. George F. Williams and 2nd Lt. John Webb who were on the telephone saying goodbye to their wives when the photograph was taken. The names have been kindly supplied by Todd Berkoff, nephew of Lawrence Berkoff.
* These men were not members of 42-52767 crew at the time of the crash.
(Photograph via Roy Tebbutt of the 'Carpetbaggers' Aviation Museum, Harrington)
Above right: Another Berkoff crew photograph, probably taken State side in 1944, showing from left to right: 2nd Lieutenants Snyder, Webb, Wood and Berkoff
left to right: 2nd Lt. Larry Berkoff, T/Sgt. Al Rinz, Sgt. Daurel Transtrum.
Pilot - 2nd Lt. Lawrence Berkoff
Co-pilot - 2nd Lt. John Webb
Navigator - 2nd Lt. Vincent D. Woods
Bomb Aimer - 2nd Lt. George Snyder
Engineer - Sgt. Alphonse Rinz
Radio Operator - Sgt. George Williams
Tail Gunner - Sgt. John Duar
Waist Gunner - Sgt. Daurel Transtrum
I have recently been contacted by Mr Ron Gunner from Chester. In 1944 Ron was a seven year old evacuee staying in Lambourn. He has vivid memories of this aircraft's final moments and with his kind permission they are reproduced below.
"My story starts in early 1944 when my mother and I were evacuated from London to Lambourn to get away from the V2 bombs. My mother managed the Red Lion hotel for Mr Barrat the owner. On 8th September mum and I had just gone to bed at about 10.45. I noticed a large plane which was ablaze go past our window. As we were on the top floor of the hotel we had a very good view of the whole thing. I said to my mum 'There's a plane on fire' and pointed. We both jumped out of bed and ran to the window. We saw parachutes coming from the plane that were illuminated from the fire onboard. Then the plane dived into the top of a hill near a large house. We could see people running up the road in their night-clothes and the fire engine from the local fire station came past, bell ringing.
The next day my mother spoke to my father, who was still in London, by telephone. She told him that the pilot told the crew to jump and he would follow as soon as he was able to steer the plane away from Lambourn. He saw a large field and tried to land, but trees at the edge of the field caught his undercarriage and tipped him in. There was a blinding flash. Had this pilot not given his life so bravely, Lambourn would have been a hole in the ground - bravery and courage should never be forgotten."
left: Ron Gunner is a talented amateur artist
and is pictured here holding his oil painting of Larry Berkoff based on his
memories of events 58 years ago.
Above right: The slight depression in the ground where the people are standing is believed to be where Lt. Berkoff's Liberator crashed.
Above: Larry's body was originally buried in the US military cemetery at Madingley, Cambridgeshire. Following the war's end his remains were returned to the US and laid to rest in Paramus, New Jersey.
Below left: George Snyder (bombardier) pictured at the Carpetbaggers reunion in Texas during October 2002. Below right: Todd Berkoff (left) and Col. Robert Fish (ret.), also at the Carpetbaggers reunion in Texas. Fish was Commanding Officer of the 492nd (Carpetbaggers) Bomb Group during the Autumn of 1944.
Following nearly 12 months of lobbying, which included numerous letters and telephone calls to the Department of Defence, his Senator and many other high ranking officials, Todd Berkoff finally realised his dream of having 2nd Lt. Larry Berkoff posthumously awarded the DFC. The citation which accompanied the medal is reproduced below:
THE DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS
On 26th June 2003, Todd Berkoff and his sister Sari visited Lambourn and unveiled a plaque in honour of their great-uncle. A number of local people, including Mr Ron Gunner who actually witnessed the crash, were present at the ceremony. Following the unveiling Stephanie Hunter, from the Froxfield-based Phoenix band, played the last post on her trumpet.
Above left: Ron Gunner, Todd Berkoff, Sari Berkoff and Roger Day at the unveiling ceremony that took place outside Lambourn
Memorial Hall on June 26th. Above centre: Todd Berkoff unveiling the plaque to his great-uncle. Above right: The plaque's inscription.
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Copyright 2004 Roger Day