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Tom Grossett, former bomber pilot
"I was only aged 22, but the eldest and they called me dad!"
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Saturday, 21 October, 2000, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
WWII bomber crew 'fly' again
Martin B-26 Marauder
The Martin B-26 Marauder was controversial but 'safe'
A World War II bomber pilot has discovered all members of his old crew are still alive and well nearly 60 years after their last mission.

Tom Grossett, 77, spent hours of pain-staking research to trace his six-man Martin B-26 Marauder crew, finally locating a missing member in Australia.

Mr Grossett flew one of the controversial twin-engined medium range bombers on 14 missions with his crew.

They were part of the 39th Squadron in the Balkan Airforce, joined to the Mediterranean Allied Airforce, based in Italy and flying over Yugoslavia.

Peter Hatcher was only 18-19 and he had put his age up on joining, naughty boy

Tom Grossett, World War II pilot
The crew first met in November 1944 and worked together until August 1945 before going their separate ways.

Bomber crews had high fatality rates and surviving the war together unscathed was considered an achievement.

Mr Grossett had managed to stay in touch with three other members of the crew for regular reunions.

He tracked down the fifth member in December last year and then finally discovered the sixth - Jimmy Spence, also 77, who had been in Australia since 1950.

Remarkable feat

Unfortunately, Mr Spence was not able to make it to the reunion on Saturday, but the other five got together at the Falcon Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Mr Grossett said it was a pretty remarkable feat for all six to still be alive and to be in contact with each other 55 years after they last flew together.

"We operated out of Italy on the Adriatic Coast, flying over Yugoslavia.

"I was only 22 but I was the oldest one and they called me dad. Peter Hatcher was only 18-19 and he had put his age up on joining, naughty boy."

He added: "There was a long wait once they had gotten you signed up in the RAF and it took two years before we got a squadron."

Controversial 'plane

The Martin B-26 Marauder stood out as one of the most controversial American combat aircraft of the Second World War.

Used primarily in Europe, investigation boards tried on four occasions to scrap production of the B-26, which nevertheless proved one of the 'luckiest' bomber 'planes, with very few lost in action.

With a 130mph landing speed, the B-26 was considered so dangerous that many aircrews actively tried to avoid being assigned to squadrons using the 'plane.

Civilian ferry crews also used to refuse to fly B-26s between bases.

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