Pilot Charles J. Searl, “Tomahawk Warrior” crew honored in United Kingdom ceremony
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor
PENN, UNITED KINGDOM – The crewmembers of the Tomahawk Warrior aircraft, including pilot Charles J. Searl of Tomahawk, were posthumously recognized in a ceremony in Penn, United Kingdom, last month, near where the plane went down in 1944 during World War II. Relatives of numerous crewmembers were rewarded a Scroll of Honor, and a permanent marker was placed near the site.
Early on the morning of Aug. 12, 1944, a plane, engines sputtering, roared over the cottage of David E. Huntley’s family in Loudwater, near High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, about 30 miles west of London. The plane passed over at a low altitude and went down less than a minute later at Lude Farm in Penn, just north of Loudwater. Huntley, who was nine years old at the time, raced to the scene with his brother and step-brother to find that aircraft was destroyed and its entire crew had died in the crash.
The plane, Huntley would learn later, was called the “Tomahawk Warrior.”
The Tomahawk Warrior was a B-17 Bomber, part of the United States Army Air Forces 398th Bomb Group. The plane and its crew took off the morning of the crash from Royal Air Force Station Nuthamspead, England, for Versailles, France, on their 25th bombing mission. On their way to France, the plane, loaded with bombs for the mission, experienced mechanical problems and went down.
Huntley noted that the explosion was heard in all the surrounding towns, and the blast was louder than most he had heard in London during the Blitz, Nazi Germany’s bombing campaign against Great Britain in 1940 and 1941 during the Second World War.
According to the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association, Searl purposely put the ill-fated aircraft down in an open field near Lude Farm, saving countless lives by avoiding the populated areas nearby.
In November, after turning to his numerous contacts in England, Huntley was finally able to have the crew recognized for their sacrifice with the Scroll of Honor and the permanent marker in England, 75 years after the Tomahawk Warrior went down.
“The award ceremony was hosted by Lord Howe and Countess Howe at their beautiful country estate, Penn House, and whose family history goes back to Henry VIII,” Huntley said. “The Scrolls were presented by the Hon. Brian Roberts, Chairman of Buckinghamshire County Council, with numerous other dignitaries and officials in attendance. The event was followed by a wonderful Tea Party hosted by Countess Howe.”
The event was preceded by a service at the Holy Trinity Church in Penn, at which the relatives of the crew laid wreaths, and the names of the local war dead were read out, including those of the nine Tomahawk Warrior crewmembers.
Huntley noted that a diary that had been kept by the navigator of the Tomahawk Warrior, 2nd Lieutenant Saul Kempner, was returned to family members in attendance.
Huntley wrote a book about the crew, called The Tomahawk Warrior: A Final Honor. The book will be published in 2020.
The finding of information about the plane, its crew and the crash near his family’s cottage happened purely by chance while Huntley was researching another WWII story. Coincidentally, he found the account of the Tomahawk Warrior on Aug. 12, 2016, the 72nd anniversary of the crash.
Huntley stated wanted the book to focus on the men of the Tomahawk Warrior.
“We know that the crew is the Tomahawk Warrior crew. Those are the guys that died,” he said. “The story (I wrote) is a human story. It’s a story of people.”