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Death of a Superfortress...

The crash site of B-29 Superfortress 44-62276 can be found on the col below Beinn Thairsuinn, some 2.5 miles west of Lochgoilhead. The mountainside above the village isn't the easiest way to the site though. I parked in the tiny car park at Succothmore near Strachur and walked up a series of forestry tracks to within 200 yards of the wreckage. Across the headwaters of a river, through the trees in an easterly direction and I appeared at the mid-left hand side of the photo. To give you an idea of scale, those trees were easily 15 feet tall or more. (All photos - Author)

B-29 Superfortress 44-62276 never served during WW2. She wasn't delivered to the USAAF's 31st Bombardment Squadron, 301st Bombardment Wing until the beginning of 1946. The unit was based at Smoky Hill AFB, Kansas. On the morning of 17th January 1949, towards the end of the Berlin Airlift, the aircraft and its skeleton crew of four (pilot, co-pilot, navigator and bombardier), plus 16 passengers who were returning to the US after duty in Germany, took off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire for their transatlantic flight. This was to have involved a refuelling stop at Keflavik in Iceland. Its commander and pilot, 1st Lieutenant Sheldon Craigmyle, was flying one of two Superforts which were making the trip that morning from Scampton.

Flying over the Glasgow area, the air temperature dropped and icing started to occur on the wings of both B-29s. Captain Donald Riggs, flying the other aircraft in the formation, elected to return to Scampton due to the worsening conditions. However, no record exists to confirm what Lt. Craigmyle decided as the aircraft soon struck a hillside near the summit of Stob na Boine Druim-fhinn, a mountain located a couple of miles west of Lochgoilhead in Argyll. Wreckage from the disintegrating bomber fell into the col below, located between Stob na Boine Druim-fhinn and Beinn Tharsuinn, a neighbouring summit. All twenty onboard the B-29 perished in the impact and subsequent fire that engulfed what remained of the machine.

The tail gunner's position from the B-29 was completely detached from the rest of the airframe in the impact. It can be found some distance away from the main wreck site.

Little could be accurately determined by the post-crash investigation but the bad weather and possibility of icing were deemed to be contributing factors for the loss of 44-62276. A list of those killed onboard the aircraft follows:

Pilot 1st Lt Sheldon C Craigmyle

Co-pilot 1st Lt Myrton P Barry

Navigator 1st Lt Richard D Klingenberg

Bombardier 1st Lt Robert A Fritsche

T/Sgt Delbert E Cole

M/Sgt Wayne W Baker

T/Sgt John B Lapicca

S/Sgt Malcolm W Bovard

Sgt Anthony V Chrisides

Sgt Rufus W Mangum

PFC Jack L Heacock

M/Sgt Henry P Prestoch

T/Sgt Frank M Dobbs Jr

Sgt Cecil G Jones

Sgt Charles W Hess

PFC Robert Brown Jr

T/Sgt Rufus G Taylor

Sgt Paul W Knight

PFC Frederick N Cook

PFC Bruce J Krumhols

A close-up shot of the main cluster of wreckage from B-29 44-62276. Engine parts are the most recognisable pieces of the Superfortress.

Since learning about the location of the site back in the late 1980s, I had always wanted to visit the wreck although never had the chance until 2011. I was staying in nearby Dunoon and drove the 15 or so miles up to Strachur, then along a narrow no through road until reaching the small forestry car park at Succothmore. Given the fact I was on my own, I had no intention of trying the shorter but steeper direct route from Lochgoilhead, especially as it didn't involve any paths or tracks, a long and tiring slog up a steep mountainside being the order of the day. Instead, I elected for the easier and safer option of the forestry tracks from Succothmore. It involved heading past a farm and up a long glen, then doubling back along another track which petered out at a point about 200 yards from the wreck site. Years ago, walkers using this track could see the wreckage easily on the hillside above as no trees had been planted there. The landscape had changed since then - mature fir trees dominated the surroundings. A less than obvious path led away through these from the rough turning circle at the head of the track, down a slope and into a gully where the fast-flowing headwaters of a river ran through. Although the water was deep in places, it was easy enough to find a spot narrow enough to jump across safely. Once across, the path disappeared and it was a case of following my nose through the dense fir cover - I'd figured the site was directly east and headed in that rough direction. Sure enough, two minutes later, I broke out of the tree cover and found myself next to the detached tail gunner's compartment of the B-29 (see the above photograph).

Also near the tail gunner's section was one of the bomber's four engines, relatively intact, which couldn't be said for at least two of the other three which lay in pieces among the main body of wreckage on the col that led away from my vantage point. There was an incredible amount of it - but don't forget, the B-29 was a very large aircraft. Much of the wreckage was just small twisted scraps of metal, but now and again it was possible to work out where a piece had come from. As the crash site was so remote, it was impractical to recover any of the airframe and the lack of soil meant that it could not be buried on site either. A huge burnt patch of hillside betrayed the fact that the disintegrating airframe had been consumed by fire once it came to rest on the col. In the middle of it all was a cairn, the stones having been cemented in. A plaque gave brief details of the incident - a poignant reminder of the lives tragically lost all those years ago.

I took some photographs of the site, ate a packed lunch in the sunshine on what was an incredibly warm (for that part of Scotland) June day. If it hadn't been for the huge amount of wreckage lying next to me, the col would have been a wonderful place for a picnic after a strenuous hike from the glen below. But there was always the reminder that twenty airmen never returned to their homes and families across in the US, their lives ending on a bleak and barren mountainside in a far away country.

Heading back through the trees on what I believed to be the direction needed to reach the narrow bit of water again, I slipped and fell down a grassy rake, snapping one of my walking poles clean in half. I was lucky - it wasn't the sort of place to come a cropper, especially since I was on my own and mobile phone coverage would have been almost non-existent. At the bottom of the slope I'd slid down, I found even more pieces of wreckage lying among the trees. Fairly substantial bits had clearly been thrown some distance from where the bomber had initially struck the ground, probably in cloud or poor visibility.

1st Lt. Craigmyle may have elected to carry on flying towards Iceland in the hope that conditions improved, or he had decided to return at a later point than Capt. Riggs did. It was all too easy to imagine the crew on the flight deck of the B-29, finding their aircraft responding poorly to control inputs due to icing on the wings, experiencing deteriorating weather conditions and possibly even electing to drop below the cloud cover in an attempt to find out where they were. It wouldn't have been the first time that a crew came to grief because they descended in a place where they didn't think there would be hills in the way. Whatever the exact circumstances that saw 44-62276 strike a point near the top of Stob na Boine Druim-fhinn, the outcome was never going to be good.

For people like me who sometimes combined their hill walks with searching for aircraft wrecks, the Superfortress crash site was one of the locations to visit in the UK. Another one was the Halifax bomber deep in Kielder Forest, Northumberland, but I saved that one for when I had a companion to go with me. It would involve even more walking...

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