On 16 December 1944, Thirty-nine 303rd BG aircraft flew as the 41 CBW-A Group to attack Ulm. The formation was recalled due to adverse weather conditions and turned back at 1005 hours over England. Bombs were jettisoned in the North Sea before the aircraft returned. Some of the aircraft landed at an RAF airfield at Kirmington, England.
One of the 303rd BG(H) B-17s became lost and crashed into a mountain southeast of Edinburgh, Scotland. The B-17, #44-6504 (No Name), 360BS, was on its third mission. After the mission was recalled, the Fortresses broke formation on the return route and were ordered to land separately at various bases to avoid mid-air collisions. The Pilot, 2Lt George A. Kyle, executed a 180 degree turn back toward England and, at the same time, began his descent. On several occasions, he requested headings, only to discover that they were coming from German transmitters. Twice he found himself heading toward France. He descended to 3,000 ft., attempted to find a hole in the clouds, and retained his bombs, not knowing where they might drop. At 1315 hours, the west hill of the Cheviot at 2,600 ft. one of the highest points in England, suddenly loomed out of the snow. His B-17 struck the mountainside and skidded across a bog, with the peat absorbing some of the impact.
F/O Fred Holcombe, Navigator, and Sgt Frank R. Turner, Togglier, were killed instantly. Fires erupted from the ruptured hydraulic and fuel lines, but the RDX bombs did not explode. Lt Kyle was pulled from the aircraft by his copilot, F/O James H. Hardy. The cockpit crewmen, Kyle, with a broken jaw, Hardy, and Sgt E. C. Schieferstein, the engineer, wandered down the hill, found a farm house, and were taken to an RAF first aid station near Berwick.
The four men in the back of the aircraft all suffered minor injuries. Sgt J. A. Berly, radio operator, tried to put out the bomb bay fire, but his foot became entangled in the plywood floor and a mass of peat. Waist Gunner, Sgt William R Kaufmann, who had been knocked unconscious during the crash, regained consciousness in time to pull Sgt Berly free and to assist Sgt George P. Smith, ball turret gunner, from the plane. The three men found tail gunner Sgt Howard F. Delany wandering around in deep snow, bleeding from a severe head wound. They left the aircraft and found shelter in a ditch 100 yards away.
After several hours, Sgt Smith felt a dog licking his face. The dog’s barking brought two shepherds, John Dagg and Frank Moscrop, to the ditch. They had been searching in the storm with Dagg’s collie Sheila for survivors. Sheila led the group through the blizzard to Dagg’s cottage. The B-17 blew up with a window-shattering explosion just as they reached the cottage. Dagg’s daughter ran two miles through the storm to summon help by telephone. Later that night the four sergeants were taken to the same RAF hospital that treated the other crewmen.
Frank Moscrop (left) and John Dagg, both with Sheila
- 2Lt George A. Kyle, Jr., pilot – was invalided back to the US in April, 1945.
- F/O James H. Hardy, co-pilot – returned to flying and completed 30 missions. He was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for rescuing Lt Kyle.
- F/O Fred Holcombe, navigator, and Sgt Frank R. Turner, Bombadier, were buried at the American Military Cemetery in Cambridge, England.
- In 1946 Sgt Turner’s mother wrote to the shepherd, John Dagg, and thanked him for his efforts. She asked that if the Collie Sheila had puppies, she would like to buy one. A few months later the RAF flew Sheila’s first puppy, named Tibbie, to South Carolina. Tibbie lived for 11 years as the adopted town pet of Columbia, SC.
- Sgts Schieferstein, Berly, Kaufmann, and Delany returned to flying status and flew another 10 or 11 missions. Sgt Kaufmann was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for his rescue of Sgt Berly.
- Sgt George P. Smith, ball turret gunner, collapsed on a train platform in London with spinal meningitis while on a rest leave. At the 150th Station Hospital, he was pronounced dead and was taken to the morgue. While awaiting autopsy, Maj. Hill, a doctor, noticed that Smith’s dog tags indicated that he was from Louisville, Kentucky, Maj. Hill’s hometown. The doctor decided to listen for Smith’s heart beat once more, detected a faint heart beat, and revived him.
- John Dagg and Frank Moscrop, the shepherds, were awarded the British Empire Medal in June 1945, in ceremonies on the Cheviot. This was Dagg’s second medal for rescue efforts during the war.
- Sheila, the collie, was awarded the Dickin Medal for animal heroism, the first civilian dog to be awarded this medal.
A new monument, dedicated to all airmen who lost their lives on the Cheviot Hills, was dedicated on 19 May 1995 at the Sutherland Hall entrance to College Valley. A display of the crashes was placed in the Wooler Library. The ceremony was attended by crash survivors George Kyle and Joe Berly and Frank Moscrop, one of the rescue shepherds.
The PDSA Dickin Medal, recognised as the animals’ Victoria Cross, is awarded to animals displaying conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units. The PDSA Dickin Medal is the highest award any animal can receive whilst serving in military conflict.