During WWII there were several incidents where civilians were killed by friendly fire by allied forces, like the 5 Oct 1942 air raid on Geleen.
Or by accident like the Freckleton Air Disaster.
On 23 August 1944, an American United States Army Air Forces Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber crashed into the centre of the village of Freckleton, Lancashire, England. The aircraft crashed into the Holy Trinity Church of England School, demolishing three houses and the Sad Sack Snack Bar. The death toll was 61, including 38 children.
Two newly refurbished B-24s, prior to delivery to the 2nd Combat Division, departed USAAF Base Air Depot 2 at Warton Aerodrome on a test flight at 10.30 am. Due to an impending violent storm, both were recalled. By the time they had returned to the vicinity of the aerodrome, however, the wind and rain had significantly reduced visibility. Contemporary newspaper reports detailed wind velocities approaching 60 mph (100 km/h), water spouts in the Ribble Estuary and flash flooding in Southport and Blackpool.
At Holy Trinity School, teachers and students observed the darkness descend on the village. The pounding rain was overshadowed by the gusting winds, the roar of thunder, and lightning bolts slicing through the sky. Five years old at the time, Ruby Whittle (nee Currell) remembers, “It went very, very dark. There was thunder and lightning, and all sorts of crashes and bangs overhead. I remember the teacher putting on the classroom lights and she began reading to us.”
On approach from the west, towards runway 08, and in formation with the second aircraft, First Lieutenant John Bloemendal,pilot of the first Consolidated B-24H Liberator USAAF serial number 42-50291 (named Classy Chassis II), reported to the control tower that he was aborting landing at the last moment and would perform a go-around.
Shortly afterwards, and out of sight of the second aircraft, the aircraft hit the village of Freckleton, just east of the airfield.
Already flying very low to the ground and with wings near vertical, the aircraft’s right wing tip first hit a tree-top, and then was ripped away as it impacted with the corner of a building. The rest of the wing continued, ploughing along the ground and through a hedge. The fuselage of the 25-ton bomber continued, partly demolishing three houses and the Sad Sack Snack Bar, before crossing Lytham Road and bursting into flames. A part of the aircraft hit the infants’ wing of Freckleton Holy Trinity School. Fuel from the ruptured tanks ignited and produced a sea of flames.
In the school, thirty-eight school children and six adults were killed. The clock in one classroom stopped at 10.47 am. In the Sad Sack Snack Bar, which catered specifically for American servicemen from the airbase, fourteen were killed: seven Americans, four Royal Air Force airmen and three civilians. The three crew on the B-24 were also killed.
A total of 23 adults and 38 children died in the disaster.
The devastation in the infants’ wing was complete. Seven of the young victims were either first or second cousins to each other. Ironically, three of the children were evacuees from the London area. They had come to Freckleton as part of Operation Rivulet. The British government had instituted this program to move children to safe havens out of the range of German V-1 rocket attacks. Only two children from Freckleton, Ruby Whittle and George Carey (David Madden was from Brighton, England), escaped the infants’ wing devastation. For years to come, the local school was missing an entire grade level.
The official report stated that the exact cause of the crash was unknown, but concluded that the pilot had not fully realised the danger the storm posed until under way in his final approach, by which time he had insufficient altitude and speed to manoeuvre, given the probable strength of wind and downdraughts that must have prevailed.
Structural failure of the aircraft in the extreme conditions was not ruled out, although the complete destruction of the airframe had precluded any meaningful investigation.
Noting that many of the pilots coming to the UK commonly believed that British storms were little more than showers, the report recommended that all U.S. trained pilots should be emphatically warned of the dangers of British thunderstorms.
A memorial garden and children’s playground were opened in August 1945, in memory of those lost, the money for the playground equipment having been raised by American airmen at the Warton airbase. A fund for a memorial hall was started, and the hall was finally opened in September 1977. In addition to a memorial in the village churchyard, a marker was placed at the site of the accident in 2007