New book about mid-air collision near Grantham adds another chapter to district’s aviation heritage

'What Happened to You Lazy Lou' book cover.
'What Happened to You Lazy Lou' book cover.

A book recounting an aircraft tragedy of the Second World War has added a colourful chapter to the district’s aviation heritage.

‘What Happened to You Lazy Lou’ is the previously untold story of a fatal mid-air collision near Grantham in 1944 that killed a much loved American pilot, six other combat decorated veterans – and the pilot’s dog, a canine forces pin-up.

Canine pal Major Jerry

Canine pal Major Jerry

The story is highlighted within South Kesteven District Council’s special Heritage of Flight website, collated to commemorate the district’s rich wartime flying history and the basis for the council’s ongoing aviation heritage programme to raise awareness and attract visitors.

Aviation fan Dave Bristow has now published his book recounting the loss of the Lazy Lou Liberator aircraft that even inspired its own Airfix replica, co-inciding with the December anniversary of the collision.

It tells the story of pilot Colonel Lewis ‘Freddy’ Frederick, promoted to 14th Squadron Commander that August and decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters and the French Croix de Guerre.

It traces the tale of his much-loved Dalmatian dog and regular flying companion, Major Jerry, who even had his own military number, a collection of press cuttings, his rank on his collar, own parachute and 1,200 flying hours to his name.

Lazy Lou is also a story with a mystery. How could a routine training flight from RAF Barkston Heath go so wrong and was anyone to blame?

It examines how the fates of 9th USAAF Troop Carrier crews and bomber pilots of the mighty 8th Air Force colluded to end in tragedy late morning on December 18, 1944. One aircraft crashed immediately, killing all on board. The other, with Col Frederick in the pilot’s seat, almost reached Cranwell but broke up when it hit the ground.

Frederick was killed and his dog badly burned when it ran back into the wreckage to find his master. He died six days later.

Lazy Lou’s sole living crash survivor is 96-year old American instructor Ernie Haar, the hero of the hour. Climbing into the co-pilot seat, his flying skills acquired over 1,000 flying hours on the Liberator helped two fellow crewmen survive. He contributed to research from his Colorado home.

Eyewitness Gordon Brown, then 14, recounts his memories of the collision.

Grantham vet Denis Oliver treated the dog at Barkston Heath and has never forgotten the incident.

Dave explained: “This incident was not mentioned in any of the crash site reference books and I felt strongly that the crews should be commemorated in some way.

“It was the week before Christmas and they were thousands of miles from home. I imagined they would have breakfasted together, starting to believe the war was ending and that they would be back for coffee and doughnuts in an hour or so.

“Instead seven were to die from what appears a foolhardly manoeuvre.”

For SKDC, economic development manager David Mather outlined the growing importance of the district’s aviation heritage, saying:

“Last year aviation heritage sites across Lincolnshire attracted 124,000 visitors, benefitting the county economy by more than £4.2m. It’s incredible to realise just how big a role South Kesteven played in the major Allied airborne offensives of World War Two, and human stories like this really do bring it to life.

“For SKDC this is just the start of developing our aviation heritage.”

‘What Happened to You Lazy Lou” is available, £7.99, from WH Smith in Grantham, Amazon and the Barkston service station and sold 100 copies in the first week including to veterans the length and breadth of the USA.