Blakeney Flying Fortress survivor in second North Sea drama two months later

Second Lt Norville Gorse (second left) shortly after his rescue from the North Sea off Blakeney, whe

Second Lt Norville Gorse (second left) shortly after his rescue from the North Sea off Blakeney, when he had rested and changed. Picture: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

More details of a heart-stopping story of danger and courage are re-emerging after the discovery of a wartime aircraft which crashed off the north Norfolk coast.

Norville Gorse during his pilot training in California. Picture: SUBMITTED

Norville Gorse during his pilot training in California. Picture: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

Photos of the co-pilot of the American B-17 'Flying Fortress', and his own account of what happened more than 70 years ago, have come to light following an EDP feature on the wreck in November.

The pilot, Capt Derrol Rogers, died saving others when he finally ditched his crippled plane, number 42-29752, off Blakeney.

Now it has been revealed that, astonishingly, his brave co-pilot, Lt Norville Gorse, who was rescued from the rough, cold North Sea, ditched another Flying Fortress into it just over two months later.

On that occasion he was at the controls, and his crew included two others from 42-29752.

Lt Col John Gorse, nephew of Norville Gorse. Picture: SUBMITTED

Lt Col John Gorse, nephew of Norville Gorse. Picture: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

He drifted in a small rubber dinghy for three days, narrowly avoided a shark attack, and was eventually rescued by the Germans. Lt Gorse spent the rest of the 1939-1945 conflict as a prisoner of war.

The new material has been passed on by his nephew, Lt Col John Gorse, a modern-day United States Airforce pilot, who contacted the EDP.

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The incredible story began to be uncovered by a team from North Norfolk Divers last year.

They discovered 42-29752, which belonged to the 96th Bomb Group, and began researching its history.

It had ditched on May 13, 1943, after its right waist gun fired out of control shortly after take-off from RAF Grafton Underwood, Northamptonshire, en route for a target in St Omer, France.

The bullets severely wounded the tail gunner, severed the right aileron cable and shot off the plane's right stabiliser, leaving the nose of the aircraft reaching for the sky.

In a jaw-dropping display of valour and skill, Rogers and Gorse managed to control the aircraft for some two hours, allowing the other seven crew to bail out safely, jettisoning their bombs in The Wash, and finally ditching the plane and parachuting out themselves, off Blakeney.

Sadly, Rogers died from exposure before he was found. Gorse, who died in 2003, recalled what happened at the end in an account he wrote in 1989.

After seeing the final two crew members safely jump through the bomb bay near King's Lynn, Rogers and Gorse continued to the North Sea, just off Cromer.

The engines had been labouring for some time and the plane was losing height.

'Rogers told me to jump. The engines began misfiring as I left my seat, so I sped back to the bomb bay and dropped out,' he wrote.

Gorse estimated that the plane was, at that time, just 400ft above the water. He loosened his harness.

'I dropped into the water from about 20ft above the choppy sea. After entering the water, the shoreline undertow took hold.

'I didn't stop sinking until I could pull off my boots (about 20ft below the surface) and swim with full strength toward the surface. I was just able to hold my breath long enough to reach it.'

Gorse was in the sea for more than an hour before the crew of a rescue boat pulled him out with a large hook at the end of a pole.

After a short sleep and a meal, he was flown back to RAF Grafton Underwood and returned to duty.

Just two months later, on July 28, he was at the controls of Dallas Rebel, another Flying Fortress, serial number 42-30355, which took off from Snetterton Heath airfield to bomb the Focke Wulf assembly plant at Oschersleben, Germany.

It was hit by German fighters 30 miles west of Heligoland on the way to the target, setting fire to the bomb bay area and knocking out the aircraft's intercom system.

Four crew bailed out by parachute and were never recovered. They included two crew members who had survived the ill-fated May 13 accident with Gorse.

Gorse managed to ditch Dallas Rebel in the sea and he and the other five crew - including another three men who had been with him in the B-17 on May 13 - then drifted for three days in a small rubber dinghy.

On the first afternoon, a shark approached. His memoirs recall: 'We clearly saw his mouth, fin and that he was 10 to 12ft long. He then swam in a wide circle around the raft, coming to within a few feet of the boat, but not touching it. We were still, and he swam away after circling only once.'

On their second day adrift, 15ft-high waves threatened to capsize the dinghy in a storm, and they were drenched by rain and spray.

A hole in the bottom of their boat, accidentally gouged out by the 'cowboy boot heel' of a crew member, meant they were constantly bailing out water.

On July 30 they were spotted by a German Junkers JU-52. Half an hour later a German seaplane landed beside them and they were taken into captivity.

Gorse began his imprisonment in Stalag Luft III, the camp on which the famous wartime film The Great Escape is based. He was later transferred to another camp from where he was liberated at the end of the war.