Stamp Story: B-17 "Heavenly Body II"

The Stamp
The CILP issued a single stamp design on 19 June, 2015, named after the nickname of the leading player in the story, B-17 “Heavenly Body II”. It was a tribute to the aircrews of two B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 379th Bomb Group, 8th USAAF which collided in mid-air approaching Canvey Island whilst returning from a mission to destroy V-1 sites in France on 19 June, 1944.

The stamp features a B-17 on an airfield in England showing the 1st Division, 8th USAAF yellow triangle tail marking. The 379th was an element of the 1st Division but the aircraft in the image is actually from another 1st Division element, the 525th Bomb Group (Regrettably, I was unable to find a royalty or license free image for the 379th Bomb Group) for the design.

“Heavenly Body II” CILP stamp issued 19 June 2015

A limited edition of 270 landscape design, fully gummed and perforated stamps measuring 59x20mm, were produced. This design has proved very popular with local post and topical collectors. An associated limited edition of 12 First Day Covers was also issued, each cover bearing a pair of stamps with a hand-struck FDI cancel.

This stamp issue for me, as designer, was more poignant than most CILP designs as the incident involved the deaths of eleven young men and seven survivors, some of whom came ashore on Canvey Island that fateful June day. Their story has never been forgotten by many Islanders.

The Story
On June 19, 1944 around 18:20hrs, a formation of B-17 Flying Fortress bombers was approaching Leigh-on-Sea, a few miles off east of Canvey Point. The formation was returning from a bombing mission over France to attack V-1 rocket sites which were causing considerable damage and casualties in London and its suburbs. Local witnesses and post-incident pilot reports confirmed that some of the aircraft were damaged due to enemy fire.

As the formation crossed the River Thames it flew into clouds. B-17 44-6133 commanded by Lt. Ramacitti, started to have trouble with one or more of its engines and witnesses said a whining noise was coming from the aircraft 44-6133 then veered downwards and collided with B-17 42-97942 nicknamed “Heavenly Body II”. The two B-17s were locked together for a brief moment before falling away from each other. Islanders and witnesses on the Leigh shore saw aircraft 44-6133 crashing into the River Thames near the Kent shore, sinking to around 20 feet.

B-17 44-97942 “Heavenly Body II” under the command of Lt. Burns, lost height rapidly after freeing itself from the other aircraft. A number of the crew managed to parachute out of the falling plane as it passed near Canvey Point, then it made a turn to port and headed east back towards the foreshore between Southend Pier and Canvey Point. Some witnesses said it appeared as if the pilot was attempting to land on the river mud. 

Suddenly, as “Heavenly Body II” crossed Canvey Point, the aircraft adopted a 45 degree angle and fell nose-first into the Thames mud. The aircraft burst into flames and burned fiercely by all accounts. The impact created a very large crater in the mud. Three of the crew who managed to bale out, landed at Holehaven on Canvey Island. A few fell into the River Thames and one in Kent on the opposite shore.

A very young contemporary witness recently recalled seeing an American airman walk past him on Canvey Island just after the crash; he said as a small boy, the man appeared like a nine foot Martian clutching a flying helmet. Undoubtedly, he was a survivor from “Heavenly Body II” and most likely Richard Andrews. He was normally a waist-gunner on 44-97942, but on this fateful day was serving as tail-gunner, a turn of fate that probably saved his life.

A total of eleven men from the two aircraft were killed or listed as missing. One crewman who parachuted from his aircraft and landed in the river was never found. The bombardier was the only survivor from B-17 44-6133 and he was badly injured. Six men from “Heavenly Body II” survived.

Memorial mural created on Canvey Seawall in 2015
photo: © 2016 Paul Wilkinson

On 21 June, 2014, a memorial service was held to remember and honour these crewmen and all Allied airmen that died during World War Two. A plaque dedicated to the “Heavenly Body II” collision was erected and can be seen next to the town’s War Memorial. In 2015, a large three part mural was painted on the seawall nearest the crash site to honour and remember the Americans who gave their lives near the shores of Canvey Island.

Memorial mural detail created from “Heavenly Body II” crew photo
photo: © 2016 Paul Wilkinson


Further details of the incident and eye-witness accounts, including a page by surviving crew member Richard Andrews, can be found on the Canvey Island Community Archive. Just insert ‘B-17’ in the website search box to find a wealth of information regarding “Heavenly Body II” and the collision.

Collectors may also obtain the “Heavenly Body II” stamp and previous issues (subject to availability) from Alpha Thematics (, under menu section ‘Cinderella’.

Paul Wilkinson
Postmaster CILP