It was 80 years ago when there was death and destruction across East Anglian skies as American bombers suffered their highest loss to German intruders.

In under 30 minutes there were more than 11 aircraft losses and 60 fatalities plus many others wounded. Another casualty was an RAF  Albemarle downed over Lincolnshire killing three airmen.

This became known as “The Night Jerry Followed the Yanks Home” and led to a brilliant book Night of the Intruders by local author and historian Ian McLachlan first published 30 years ago.

The Eighth Air Force usually departed early on daylight operations but Mission 311 on April 22 1944 committed them to leaving later. Optimizing opportunities prior to D-Day, planners chose the evening to target the Axis railway network and the Hamm marshalling yard.

Eastern Daily Press: The crew of the Repulser who lost their lives. Items from the crash are displayed in the 448th

It’s destruction would disrupt essential supplies and troop movements.

No less than 824 aircraft were launched with the Third Air Division departing at 17.50 hours over Lowestoft, followed twelve minutes later by the First Air Division then at 18.21 hours, the Liberators of the Second Air Division for whom things soon went awry.

“Despite Allied newspapers proclaiming success the results were mixed, Hamm received 1581 tons of bombs from 631 aircraft and, while railway lines were rapidly repaired, lasting damage was inflicted on the locomotive sheds and repairs,” says Ian.

German records indicate some 230 people perished plus a further 109 in Koblenz, bombed by B24’s as a secondary target.

Eastern Daily Press: An impromptu  scrapyard- Seething after aircraft had crash landed

Some 2AD Liberators got lost over the Ruhr. Leading them were the Tibenham-based 445th Bombardment group and equipment failure, along with an “error of judgement,” caused a detour and aircraft were lost.

Over enemy territory overall, 13 bombers and 13 fighters were lost and it was admitted later that the late hour of the operation allowed the enemy to employ “intruder tactics with considerable success.”

The German fighters followed the air armada home after the raid, picking individual bombers off on their return over Europe and then over England as the American forces struggled to land.

Near Kessingland, intruders caught the 448th BG Liberator, Repulser. Schoolboy Henry Bennett, like many spectators, stood fascinated by brightly illuminated bombers coming home.

Then cannon ripped Repulser to pieces killing the crew.

Eastern Daily Press: Maps found decades later in the wreckage of Peggy Jo promoted Ian to research her history

Across our region and the North Sea bombers were being hit and destroyed by the “intruders.” Others were crashing into each other as they landed.

Stellie C Reid prepared to land at Rackheath unaware of intruders because of confused chatter from other crews blocked urgent warnings from Rackheath’s tower.

At 1000 feet near Darsham they were hit and the bomber plummeted to earth. Reid and five others died but four gunners parachuted clear. Shockers survivors appreciated the kindness of a local woman bathing their wounds with cold tea.

Locals could do nothing for the second 467th crew. At Withersdale Street, Mr W Hammond saw three B24s approaching with lights on and wheels down when an intruders cannon ripped the tail from one  bomber. 2/lt James  A Roden and crew perished when their plane exploded on a hill top near Bluebell wood.

Eastern Daily Press: Recently married 2/Lt Robert T “Jake” Couch volunteered for additional missions to return home

The airfield was also attacked and Private Daniel E Milney killed.

Such was the confusion that rumours swiftly circulated of many casualties. One young man, 11-year-old Peter Morrish, an avid aircraft enthusiast, from Cantley watched as Liberators en route for Hethel was attacked and brought down by an intruder. It disintegrated across open marshland. Six of the crew died.

Nearing Hethel the approach of another bomber was thwarted when the runway lights were doused and, pulling away, they were subjected to further anti-aircraft damage near Norwich.

Descending again towards Hethel, pilot 2/Lt Edward W Foley was going in, S/Sgt Clifford F Behee, the right-waist gunner,  was dazzled by searchlights.

They were attacked but managed to land although the top brass, gathered to watch the night return, ran for their lives as the careening bomber  as 25 tons of bomber hurtled towards a building killing two personal and erupting into a fireball.

Eastern Daily Press: “Red” Stilson slithered his Liberator into a clearing near The Bull public house just short of

Pilot Teague G Harris was approaching Norwich at 6,000ft when two intruders raked his aircraft and that of Charles W Stilson. In moments both were ablaze.

The Harris crew fell near what was then the Tuckswood Inn,  now McDonald’s. He survived but six of his crew died.

With both engines burning Stilson rang the bale out alarm. The plane crash landed near the Bull public house, not far from the airfield at Horsham St Faith.

Les Murton was enjoying a pint in the pub and, disregarding his own safety, helped to extricate survivors from the wreckage , including Stilson and others, totalling seven.

You can still order copies of Night of the Intruders by Ian McLachlan and published by Pen and Sword, untangling the facts behind what went so horribly wrong and telling the personal stories of those who died and survived on this night 80 years ago.