Somerset, MA. – July 17, 1943

Somerset, Massachusetts – July 17, 1943

Taunton River – Fall River, MA.


P-47C Thunderbolt
U.S. Air Force Photo

     Shortly before 4 p.m. on July 17, 1943, two P-47 aircraft were on a high-altitude training flight over the Fall River, Massachusetts, area.  Numerous people on the ground watched for roughly ten minutes as the aircraft conducted a series of maneuvers overhead, when it suddenly appeared that the planes had been involved in a mid-air collision.     

     One of the aircraft was a P-47C, (Ser. No. 41-6151) piloted by 1st Lt. Thomas J. Harding, 22, of Gypsum, Kansas.  The other was a P-47D, (Ser. No. 42-8210), piloted by 1st Lt. Benjamin Norris, Jr., 21, of Denver, Colorado.  Both men were assigned to the 310th Fighter Squadron based at Hillsgrove Army Air Field in Warwick, Rhode Island.  

     Lt. Harding’s aircraft was observed to fall to earth trailing smoke and flames.  He managed to bail out and his parachute was seen to open, and prevailing winds carried him eastward over Fall River until he came down on Main Street in the village of Assonet.  Meanwhile his airplane continued downward and crashed into a wooded area on the farm of Preston Hood in the town of Somerset.  Two youths working in a nearby field ran to the scene and being the first to arrive ascertained that the cockpit was empty before the flames consumed the plane.  

     While this was taking place, Lt. Norris’s P-47 was seen to go into a high-speed nose-dive and strike the Taunton River about 250 feet from shore across from an area known as “Harrington’s Switch”.   Lt. Norris was killed instantly. 

      Numerous bathers were along the river’s shoreline at the time.  The Taunton River lies between the municipalities of Somerset and Fall River. 

     One of the newspapers that covered the story was the Fall River Herald News, which described how debris from both aircraft rained down upon the area.  “The tail of the burned plane” it was reported, “as though sheared off with a knife, crashed to earth in the rear of Casey Filling Station on County St.” 

     It was also stated that a piece of aircraft tail section was also recovered on the farm of Chester Simcock in Swansea, Mass.  And smaller parts belonging to both aircraft were found in Somerset.

     Lt. Norris was the son of Army Colonel Benjamin Norris of the Medical Corps, and was survived by his wife whom he’d married barely three weeks earlier on June 28.  Lt. Norris was also a graduate of West Point Military Academy, class of January, 1943.  He’s buried in the military academy cemetery.  To see a photo of Lt. Norris in his cadet uniform, see, Memorial #12388987.


     Fall River Herald News, “Crash Of Two Army Planes Over City Being Probed; One Pilot Killed”, July 19, 1943, page 16.

     (A Somerset, Mass. newspaper – unknown name.) “Somerset Gets Slight Touch Of The Realism Of War As Two Planes Crash; Civilian Agencies Put To The Test”, July 22, 1943  

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