Mi Amigo: the deadly WW2 bomber crash in Sheffield play park that killed 10 airmen
Shortly before 5pm on 22 February 1944, Lt John Kriegshauser, a 23-year-old American pilot, found himself in grave danger: his B-17 Flying Fortress, nicknamed 'Mi Amigo', had been badly damaged by enemy fighters over Nazi-occupied Denmark and, struggling back to base in Northamptonshire, he urgently needed somewhere to land. Below him was the bustling city of Sheffield. With the aircraft’s engines fading fast, Lt Kriegshauser realised he would need to crash-land – in Endcliffe Park, where a group of schoolchildren was gathered
Narrowly avoiding the children, as well as nearby houses and roads, Lt Kriegshauser crashed into mature woodland in the park. Smashing into a hillside, the aircraft exploded, killing all 10 airmen on board.
No civilians on the ground were injured or killed. Had it not been for Lt Kriegshauser’s consummate skill – for which he was posthumously awarded the US Distinguished Flying Cross – it is assumed the death toll would have been considerably higher.
The big week
Paul Allonby, author of Courage Above the Clouds: the true heroic story of the crew of B-17 ‘Mi Amigo’, explains that the US bomber had been part of a daylight operation by aircraft from the 305th Bombardment Group, US 8th Army Air Force, based at Chelveston Airfield, Northamptonshire, to bomb the Luftwaffe military air base located at Aalborg in Nazi-occupied Denmark.
On 20 February 1944, the 305 was selected to take part in a raid involving 700 aircraft to Leipzig, Germany, as part of a week-long joint campaign code-named Operation Argument, “which involved US bombers attacking by day, and Royal Air Force bombers striking by night,” writes Allonby. “The aim was to attack the Nazi aviation industry, and Luftwaffe bases.”
Known as the ‘Big Week’, Operation Argument was one of the most critical periods of the entire war, says military historian James Holland. Germany lost significant numbers of Luftwaffe fighters and pilots.
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But on 22 February, things did not go to plan – the military air base at Aalborg was covered by fog and so could not be pinpointed, and the group of planes soon found itself under attack by German enemy fighters. Three B-17s in the formation were shot down, with most crew members being killed and the others captured as prisoners of war.
The mission was aborted and the surviving aircraft began their journey home to England, jettisoning their bombs over the North Sea en route (‘Mi Amigo’ was carrying a total bomb load of 4,000 lbs). ‘Mi Amigo’ had been badly damaged in the attack.
Looking for a place to land
Engines fading fast, Mi Amigo’s pilot, Lt Kriegshauser, urgently needed somewhere to land, writes Allonby. “He began to descend cautiously, and suddenly came out through the clouds low over a major city – Sheffield, in South Yorkshire. Ahead were houses, roads, trees and a splash of green: Endcliffe Park, a public play area, complete with a river, woods and a bandstand.
“As Lt Kriegshauser used every bit of his skill and experience, at least one engine began to cut out. Seeing only the grassed area of the park ahead, a split-second decision was needed.”
Moments after ‘Mi Amigo’ crash-landed in Endcliffe Park, firemen hurried to the scene to find trees uprooted and crushed beneath the destroyed bomber, with wreckage strewn across the hillside. The aircraft had split into two and the front section was on fire, says Allonby. Around 20 firefighters fought for more than an hour to put out the blaze.
The 10 airmen killed in the ‘Mi Amigo’ crash were:
First Lieutenant John Kriegshauser (pilot)
Second Lieutenant Lyle Curtis (co-pilot)
Second Lieutenant John Humphrey (navigator)
Staff Sergeant Harry Estabrooks (flight engineer/top turret gunner)
Second Lieutenant Melchor Hernandez (bombardier)
Staff Sergeant Robert Mayfield (radio operator)
Sergeant Charles Tuttle (ball turret gunner)
Sergeant Vito Ambrosio (waist gunner)
Sergeant George Williams (waist gunner)
Sergeant Maurice Robbins (tail gunner)
Three of the men are buried in the UK – Harry Estabrooks, Charles Tuttle and Maurice Robbins – at the Cambridge American Cemetery. The remains of the other seven crewmen were returned home after the war.
Remembering the ‘Mi Amigo’ airmen
The first memorial service for the 'Mi Amigo' airmen was held in 1969 and there has since been an annual commemoration.
A memorial stone surrounded by 10 oak trees was planted in 1969 to commemorate the 10 airmen killed in the crash.
This year’s memorial service and wreath-laying ceremony will take place in Endcliffe Park on Sunday 24 February at 1.15pm.
This year, for the first time, a fly-past will take place to honour the 'Mi Amigo' airmen. A number of planes from both the US Air Force and the Royal Air Force will fly over Endcliffe Park on the morning of 22 February, the official 75th anniversary of the crash. History Extra spoke with BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker, whose chance encounter with Tony Foulks – who witnessed the ‘Mi Amigo’ crash as a young boy in 1944 and has tended to the crash memorial for nearly 75 years – led to the organisation of the flypast. Find out more here.
This article was written by Emma Mason, digital editor at History Extra and first published on 5 February 2019.
With special thanks to Paul Allonby, author of Courage Above the Clouds: the true heroic story of the crew of B-17 ‘Mi Amigo’.