Much has been written about the crash of Lady Luck, a Flying Fortress in WW2, in or near Alresford pond: so it is difficult to write anything new. Already on this website we have had personal reports from people who were there at the time, like George Watson and Jim Smith.
There are also several reports and photographs publicly visible in the Globe Inn, down at the end of Broad Street, on the Soke: this is a fitting lasting tribute to the USAF airmen who were flying from UK bases at that time. Another memorial plaque is located at the end of the Soke, next to the pond, near the gate to the garden of the Globe Inn.
Hilary Cornford, from Old Alresford, an enthusiastic Lady Luck supporter, has enabled the Alresford Museum to retain and display an interesting modern memento of the event, which is an aeroplane panel painted up to make a replica of the tail of USAF Flying Fortress 25434. Known as “Lady Luck”, the tail was decorated, as many wartime aircraft were, with a mascot. Their original mascot was painted by Sgt Sam P Rodman, of the US 303rd Bomb Group, when he was based at the Molesworth USAF aerodrome in the UK.
The account below is of unknown origin, but a printed copy is glued to this modern reproduction of this tail panel, now in the custody of the Museum: this repro tail panel was painted by and is on loan from Tim Barnes, produced when he was working at the Lasham aircraft works near Alton. His employers kindly donated an aircraft panel from a modern Boeing 757 airliner, to make the repro tail panel look more authentic.
The painted ‘Tail Art’
“This is one of the two known tail art paintings done by Sam Rodman.
This languishing beauty adorned the tail fin of a Fort which carried the simple title of ‘Lady Luck’ on the nose – perhaps one of the most popular and understandable names chosen by the numerous air crews around the world. Standing on the horizontal stabiliser of the Fort and painting onto the huge tail would have made the task of painting much easier for Rodman (and other artists), and it is surprising that the tail was not used more often for embellishment.
This particular B17F arrived at Molesworth, Cambridgeshire, via the South Atlantic route to England, having passed through Marrakesh, North Africa. Assigned to 303 BG on 6th March 1943, it began combat flying with a mission to Wilhelmshaven on the 22nd, under the command of Lt Griffin. It was lucky 13 for First Lt Loyd Griffin, later made Captain, as he completed that number of sorties in Lucky Lady before finishing up in mid-July. Thereafter, 9 different crews took the Fort to targets across France and Germany until misfortune overtook Robert Cogswell’s crew.
On a recalled mission to the Nantes submarine pens in France on 26th September 1943, they experienced a runaway prop on #4 engine, which subsequently caught fire and forced them to abandon the aircraft over Southern England. The pilot, Lt Cogswell, stayed with his ship until all the crew had baled out safely, and then jumped himself – too low by then – and he sustained severe back injuries as a result. Lady Luck crashed near Alresford pond – a sad end for a veteran of some 25 missions.
Robert Cogswell returned to combat flying, but was tragically killed in action, flying a B29 during the Korean conflict in 1951.”
The picture on this text, attached to the painted panel. shows Sam Rodman painting the original artwork on the B17 tail, earlier in 1943. Lady Luck was a Boeing B-17F-50-BO, with the USAF registration 42-5434.
Molesworth in Cambridgeshire is now a non-flying facility under the control of the United States Air Force, and is one of the two Royal Air Force (RAF) stations in Cambridgeshire currently used by the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). In WW2, from November 1942, Molesworth was occupied by the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 358th Bombardment Squadron, the first of four squadrons that would comprise the 303d Bombardment Group. The 303d remained at Molesworth until shortly after V-E Day in late May 1945.
The 358th flew the first mission for the group on 17 November 1942. The group became one of the legendary units of the Eighth Air Force. Initially missions were conducted against targets such as aerodromes, railways, and submarine pens in France until 1943, when flying missions commenced into Germany itself.
The Library display of 2013
Seventy years after the event, Hilary and Ray Cornford set up a library display, in the Alresford Library on Broad Street, showing the stories and artefacts available surrounding the B17 crash in Alresford. The file of documents they collected has been passed over to the Alresford Museum, so that they are all available for future researchers (Accession number D1031a). Anyone joining the newly established Membership of the NATT will have access to the Museum resources, by arrangement.
The tail panel is Alresford Museum item A1060.
In the Alresford Library there are other locally produced documents about the event, such as Nelson Trowbridge’s April 2001 essay, called ‘Lady Luck – What Really happened?’, a copy of this paper is also held in the Museum (Accession Number D1031b). Other comments from Nelson about the Lady Luck crash were quoted in an earlier Alresford Memories story – https://alresfordmemories.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/flying-fortress-crash-in-alresford-pond/