From 1942 to 1956 the New Boston Bombing Range was an important training site for the U.S. military. With a small mountain located in the northwest corner of the property, Joe English Hill, and a large pond in the center, the bombing range provided the ideal landscape for practice bombing and gunnery training.
It was maintained and operated by the command at Grenier Field/Grenier Air Force Base in Manchester and primarily served the training operations and fighter squadrons based at that airfield, located about 17 miles to the east. The bombing range also served other U.S. Army Air Forces (and after September 1947, U.S. Air Force) facilities in the region, as well as U.S. Navy air bases along the New England coast.
The bombing range was in frequent use during World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War. All of this activity involving low flying aircraft (most manned by novice pilots and crews), explosives, and bullets was fraught with danger.
A routine training mission could easily turn tragic, such as the one that occurred on November 8, 1944 when a Navy TBM-1C Avenger torpedo bomber from Naval Air Station Squantum in Quincy, Massachusetts crashed and exploded on the New Boston range. Killed instantly were the pilot, 22-year-old Ensign William Elder Ames of Seattle, Washington, and 21-year-old Aviation Electrician’s Mate Sherman Eugene Dietz, Jr. of Syracuse, New York.
There were close calls, such as the one that happened on December 1, 1948. That day Air Force Second Lieutenant Frank J. Kuzmech of Pottstown, Pennsylvania was flying on a gunnery mission to the New Boston Bombing Range when his F-51 Mustang fighter plane burst into flames over a wooded area between Manchester and New Boston.
According to the Shamokin (Pennsylvania) News-Dispatch newspaper, “First report of the crash came from other pilots who radioed they thought they saw someone bail out of the single-engine aircraft. A short time later, officials said, Kuzmech telephoned he landed uninjured.”
Kuzmech later became a jet fighter pilot, and served in the Korean War. On October 12, 1951 the F-84 Thunderjet he was flying was shot down in flames over North Korea. He parachuted safely to the ground, but was captured and held in the Pyok-Dong prison camp.
He was released at the end of August, 1953 and reunited with his Polish immigrant parents, John and Mary Kuzmech. Frank Kuzmech died in 2009. Carved on his simple grave marker in the Shepherd Hill Cemetery in Willis, Texas are the words “Fly High.”
On January 14, 1949 five F-51s from the 95th Fighter Squadron of the 82nd Fighter Group at Grenier Field took off for the New Boston Bombing Range. The group was led by 29-year-old Capt. Elmer V. Kramer of San Antonio, Texas. Each plane was equipped with two 100-pound bombs and six rockets.
Four of the aircraft, including the one piloted by Capt. Kramer, climbed to 7,800 feet to prepare for dive bombing practice, while the fifth flew at 4,000 feet so that the pilot could observe the action.
Capt. Kramer decided to do a dry bomb run over the range.
About halfway through the dive, while traveling at around 210 miles per hour, it appeared the plane’s left landing gear door suddenly opened and snapped off. Then the plane’s left wing broke off completely at the fuselage. The aircraft spun out of control and crashed in a wooded area on the side of Joe English Hill, killing the pilot instantly.
Capt. Kramer was a well-respected officer who had been in the service for eight years. On Jan. 18, 1949, his fellow Grenier Field airmen crowded into the base chapel for his memorial service. His funeral was held three days later in San Antonio. He left behind a wife, Maxine Kramer, and an infant daughter, Kay Kathleen Kramer, who had been born just a few weeks before his death.
An investigation of the crash revealed that the left wing of Captain Kramer’s F-51 had an old crack in the metal that had been overlooked.
This had likely led to the catastrophic structural failure of the aircraft. The wreckage of the plane was left on site where it serves today as a memorial.
Next Week: More stories from the New Boston Bombing Range.