D-Day began many months if not years ahead of June 6th 1944. That day was to become famous as the biggest, most important day in the Second World War.
As the world’s largest amphibious assault force assembled along the South Coast of England, thousands of aircrew prepared for what was to be the most incredible night of their lives.
Across the Midland Counties, American ground crews prepared their fighters and paratrooper aircraft. Along southern England, the same scene was being played out. RAF crews too prepared Stirlings, Lancasters and Horsa gliders; fighter groups were briefed and paratroopers readied their gear. The invasion was on!
Flying an operation of this magnitude was going to require guts, daring and precision flying. There was little room for error.
In the lead up to June 6th, the RAF and USAAF had been bombing prime targets across Northern France to soften up the defending Germans. Supply lines were severed and gun emplacements destroyed. Beachhead bunkers had been heavily targeted, and supporting artillery further inland, hit hard.
In the air, fighters had been downing the Luftwaffe in an effort to gain vital air superiority over the drop zones.
At home, huge attempts were made to keep the plans and preparations as secret as possible. An intricate operation of deception was being played out; dummy airfields were built, camps and troop movements were hidden under cover and concealed in forests.
At an airfield in Norfolk, the day was to begin very badly for one particular young pilot. He was 1st Lt. Robert C. Frascotti of Milford, Massachusetts.
In the days leading up to D-Day at RAF Bodney (USAAF Station 141), the 352nd FG had been flying intruder missions over France, attacking ground targets and completing air superiority missions. P-51s were rapidly being prepared, and the growth of black and white stripes adorning aircraft, hinted of an imminent invasion.
In the late hours of June 5th, the P-51s were being fueled up and armed, ready for an early morning takeoff. The weather was not at its best and a low mist shrouded the airfield reducing visibility. The mission ahead was to support the troops landing on the Normandy beaches.
At 02:30, the pilots climbed in, fastened their belts and awaited the signal to launch D-Day. First to leave were the 486th FS. To help with the takeoff, temporary lights were placed along the runway, guiding the aircraft safely out of harm’s way into the night sky. One of these aircraft, unfortunately struck the lights knocking them out and plunging the airfield into darkness once more. Lining up behind them were the second flight of the 486th, including Frascotti’s P-51.
When lining up, the flight were unaware that they were off centre. Frascotti and his wingman, Lt. Carlton “Bud” Fuhrman, accelerated away and raced down the runway. Fuhrman watched Frascotti to his left when suddenly there was a massive fireball. Thinking someone had dropped their external fuel tanks, Fuhrman pulled up sharply and pushed on through the flames hoping his engine would not falter resulting in him crashing into the raging fire below. Momentarily blinded by the now total darkness, Fuhrman, pushed the stick forward and fought against the impending stall. Eventually his sight returned and he was able to read his instruments once more. Looking back, he could see Frascotti’s fully fueled plane engulfed in fire with no hope of an escape. Frascotti died instantly. The accident report filed after Frascotti’s death stated that an inadequately lit tower along with poor weather and high levels of traffic had caused him to inadvertently strike the unfinished new control tower at Bodney resulting in the ignition of his fuel. Tragically, Frascotti died instantly, and the aircraft was a total loss.
Frascotti’s plane, a blue nosed P-51B-5 Mustang, 43-6685 was named ‘Umbriago‘. In Italian, ‘umbriago’ means ‘drunk’. Frascotti could have named his plane for that reason, but it could also be he was referring to the World War II-era song of 1944, “Umbriago”by Jimmy Durante about a fabled friend of the same name. The song lyrics end with, “So when you feel low, better send for my friend, Umbriago.”
At a mere 21 years of age, 1st Lt. Robert C. Frascotti had many tributes written about him. There was one benefit of his tragic accident: the following aircraft now had a ‘guiding light’ by which they could safely takeoff and leave for Normandy.
Frascotti was born on February 13, 1923 into a very close-knit and patriotic family in Milford, Massachusetts. (His father fought in World War I where he was gassed). Frascotti was awarded his pilot wings in Marianna, Florida on March 25, 1943, then completed advanced fighter training before deploying to England in March 1944. He joined the 486th FS of the 352nd FG, otherwise known as ‘The Blue Nosed Bastards of Bodney”.
1st Lt. Donald “Red” Whinnem of Hartford, Connecticut, was best friends with Frascotti since the early days of flight school. On D-Day at Bodney, “Red” took off without incident and flew for sixteen hours, returning to discover the tragedy that had occurred. “Red” says of his friend, “Bob was the nicest guy you would ever want to know, and a great athlete as well. He could stir up laughter anywhere he went, and he was great fun to be with. Bob would sing a song or tell a story and cheer everyone up. You couldn’t ask for a better friend, and he was closer than a brother to me.”
During his service, Frascotti was credited with the destruction of two enemy aircraft on the ground whilst strafing enemy airfields. On D-Day, he departed for his 89th mission. This was to be his last mission of the war as he was due to return to the States leaving conflict behind him. Sadly, he never made that journey home to Massachusetts until many years later.
Initially, Frascotti was buried in England. His remains were eventually taken back to Massachusetts in 1948 after his next of kin had his body exhumed, and he now lies in the Sacred Heart Cemetery, in Milford. Lt. Robert C. Frascotti VFW Post 1544 in his hometown, now bears his name, and on December 6, 2013, as part of the annual “Wreaths Across the Worcester and Norfolk District”, a group of local veterans, families and friends, laid a holiday wreath at Calzone Park in Milford to remember the fallen veterans of the area, including Frascotti. Since the war, every year until his death in 1998, 1st Lt. Donald “Red” Whinnem travelled to Frascotti’s grave in Milford to pay his respects and remember his wartime friend.
Fly-pasts and tributes continue to be paid for Frascotti, in both the United States and here at RAF Bodney, Norfolk. 1st Lt. Robert C. Frascotti will long be remembered for his brave sacrifice, and we that are here, are honored to continue to tell his story.
As for RAF Bodney, the airfield is now an Army training camp and part of the Stanford Training Area (STANTA) in Thetford Forest. Little remains of the airfield today but the history held within its decaying walls will long live on.