histoire d'une forteresse volante abbattue à Saint-Colomban, près de Nantes, le 4 juillet 1943
1943 - 2004
July 3,4,5, 2004
# 42-5053
crash on July 4, 1943
in St-Colomban
Focke Wulf
into grand-lieu lake
10 young
american boys
B17 technical
Ralph D. McKee
(his escape)
Pilot escape
thanks to
american families

Crash of the flying fortress B17 #42-5053
in Saint-Colomban (France)
on July 4th 1943

In 1943, as the Allies progressively achieve mastery of the skies, the aerial attacks become heavier in the West. On Sunday, July 4th 1943, an air raid of the 8th Air Force, composed of 62 bombers, targets the airfield of Château-Bougon and its aeronautical workshops where fins and rudders are manufactured for the German firm Heinkel.

The bombing over, the flying Fortress B17F #42-5053, known as "Bloody Tangier Show", is hit by the AAA. One of the engines is burning fiercely. The plane is losing altitude. German "Focke-Wulf" fighters pursue the bomber.The pilot sounds the bail-out signal. It's too late for the radio operator and the starboard gunner who are mortally wounded! The other crew members bail out in time from the burning plane. The port lateral gunner, gravely wounded in both legs, is pushed out by one of his comrades.

By now it's noon. Eight chutes open in the sky above the village of Saint Philbert de Grand Lieu, while the Flying Fortress crashes in flames at Saint-Colomban, in the hamlet of "Besson". At the same time, the parishioners of Saint Colomban are celebrating the great festival of "Fête Dieu" in the church.

Six American paratroopers are immediately captured by the Germans, who have been occupying our area since June 1940. But the pilot William C. Wetzel and the navigator Ralph D. McKee, find shelter , with the help of young Frenchmen, in two farms of the surrounding area, in Villeda and Lottrye, two hamlets of Saint Philbert de Grand Lieu. This results in several inhabitants of the hamlet of La Gentiserie in Saint Colomban, wrongfully accused of hiding a paratrooper ,being taken to the prison of Lafayette in Nantes where they stay three weeks.

Through the resistance networks, the two escaped airmen find themselves one week after the crash at the home of the chemist of Basse Indre, who is the Deputy Commander of the secret army of Loire Atlantique. After many difficulties an escape route is found. The two Americans cross France, and Spain where they are interned a few days, then Gibraltar, before flying to Marrakech and finally England! They are back in the Chelveston base in England, on September 8th 1943.

The six other airmen are prisoners of war. William O. Hulett, persuades the doctors of the camp not to amputate his left leg. William F. Mooney, prisoner of war in Stalag 17B in Austria, in spite of hardship, maintains his spirit and independence. On May 3rd 1945, the prisoners are liberated by American troops. William F. Mooney goes back to England to rejoin his fiancée, while William O. Hulett sails back to the United States of America in the Queen Mary and stays several weeks more in military hospitals before seeing his family. The other airmen go back to the United States.

On July 4, 1943, the two Americans Earl Sell and Bernard McKnight died during this aerial combat.

On 4-July-2004, the people of Saint Colomban erected a memorial to the downed aircraft and held three days of events around the dedication.

Website made by Didier Giraudeau 17 rue du Moulin 44310 Saint-Colomban
Last update 04/02/2012

2004 - 2024

See the outline of the PROGRAM for July 6th and 7th, 2024

The Besson Memorial was inaugurated on July 4, 2004, in the presence of 10 Americans (members of the families of Ralph D. McKee and William F. Mooney) and the U.S. Consul in Rennes. The National Union of Veterans (UNC) of Saint-Colomban, with the support of the municipality, will commemorate this 20th anniversary on July 6th and 7th, 2024."