B17 Bomber crash site on Reigate Hill

Memorial bench marking the spot where a B17 crashed on Reigate Hill

Memorial bench marking the spot where a B17 crashed on Reigate Hill

On Monday 19 March 1945, residents local to Reigate Hill tried to rescue nine airmen from the remains of a B17 Bomber which had crashed into the side of the hill at 5.40pm. Sadly there were no survivors.

The bomber, known as a Flying Fortress, was part of the US 384th Bomber Group based at station 106, Grafton-Underwood in Northamptonshire. The crew had taken off that morning to assist with a raid on Plauen close to the Czech border. Usually returning from the continent in a defensive formation, low thick cloud over the Weald and Surrey meant that the formation split, leaving Flying Fortress 43-39035 SO-F to fly home on her own.

The crew were nine hours into their day and returning home from their third mission in four days, taking their total number of missions to 13.

A wartime mystery

Why the crash happened still isn't known. The aircraft flew low over the rooftops of Reigate and at dusk, hit the top of the trees on the hill. Travelling at 160mph, it then crashed into the hill. Its fuselage was brought to a stop in 200 yards whilst the Fortress's engines were sheared from its wings and came to a final resting spot in the field beyond. To this day, there is still a gap in the trees at the crash site.

Nine souls died instantly or soon after the crash and their memorial is a bench at the site. Their names and ranks were:

Pilot 2nd Lt Robert S. Griffin;
Co-pilot 2nd Lt Herbert S. Geller;
Navigator 2nd Lt Royal A. Runyan;
Togglier Sgt Donal W. Jeffrey;
Radio Operator Sgt Philip J. Phillips;
Engineer Sgt Robert F. Marshall;
Ball Turret Gunner Sgt William R. Irons;
Waist Gunner Sgt Thomas J. Hickey:
Tail Gunner S/Sgt Robert F. Manbeck

May they rest in peace.

A bench at the crash site was dedicated to the memory of the airmen at a service on the hill. The service, attended by both British and US air forces as well as family members of those killed, was a moving event and marked the first such memorial on the site. Despite initial plans as early as 1949 to commemorate the crash, the bench was the first official memorial to be erected on the site.

As part of the Heritage Lottery funded project, Frontline Surrey Hills, we hope to create a second memorial at the crash site.