A memorial service was held at the Rasgovindpur Airstrip today for the fourteen airmen who had died in a crash here on the 26th of July 1945. War historian Anil Dhir and locals including school children paid homage to the dead airmen who have been forgotten in history. Wreaths were laid for each of the dead airmen.
Very few people know that the skies of Odisha had seen the crash of two Liberator Bomber aircrafts which has collided against each other and resulted in the deaths of 14 airmen. The Liberators were the biggest aircraft used in the World War II. On the 26th of July 1945 two British Royal Air Force B-24 Liberator four-engine bombers, EW225 and EW247, collided at low altitude. The aircrafts were based at the Amarda Road airfield and were part of a six-plane contingent from the Air Fighting Training Unit engaged in a formation flying exercise. Fourteen airmen – the crews of the two aircraft died in the crash.
The Rasgovindpur Airstrip, (as it is known today) has a short but secret illustrious history which has never been made public. It had the longest runway in Asia, more than 2.5 km long. The total runways, taxiways, aprons, etc. were more than 60 km. Today, when one looks at the silent runway lying mostly vacant apart from a few odd cows grazing, one would find it difficult to associate the Airport with activities of any kind. But, this airstrip has played a very important role in the defense of India during the 2nd World War. Today all is forgotten, no details of the activities that happened here between 1943 and 1945 exist, not even in government and military records. The station came into existence during the war as a forward airfield against the Japanese conquest of Burma. The large strip served its purpose well as a landing ground for planes and also as a training space for special bombing missions.
The Amarda Road airstrip, as it was called in war terminology, spreads across an area of nearly 800 acres. Built in the 1940’s at a cost of Rs 3 Crore it was eventually abandoned after the war. It was probably named as the Amarda Road Airfield due to the nearby Amarda Road railway station.
The story of this crash and the victim had been lost in history. Anil Dhir researched the crash and was helped in his endeavour by Matthew J. Poole from the United States who has done extensive research on the crash and had produced a comprehensive report. In fact it was the only detailed source of information.
Anil, then, thru Matthew tried to locate the living relatives of the dead airmen. He was able to locate nine of the relatives of the dead. One is the 101 years old brother of Flight Sergeant Cyril William Geeson – Flight Engineer who died aged 23 and the other is the daughter of Flight Officer Peter Ettlinger who was the Flight Engineer of the flight and died aged 30 years. Ettlinger’s daughter was just ten months old when her father was killed in the crash. He had never seen her. She has been researching the crash of her father from the last fifty years. In fact she has made three visits to India but could only visit her father’s Grave at the Madras War Cemetery. She did not know about the Armada Strip and the crash site.
The relatives of these airmen were very surprised when Anil contacted them. Most of them had given up hope of knowing any more about the death of their loved ones. He got heartbreaking letters from them. He was deeply moved by the letters he received from them.
Anil Dhir has requested the government of Odisha and West Bengal to erect small memorials for these airmen at Amarda Road and the crash site. This is the least we can do for these brave men who gave up their lives for the defense of our motherland.