A full account of Castle’s last mission is given in Chapter 24 of Harry Slater’s Lingering Contrails of the Big Square A, A History of the 94th Bomb Group (H) 1942-45; while Chapter 25 is entitled “ B/G/ Frederick W. Castle, The Soldier, The Man, The Legacy.” It gives numerous accounts of his exploits and courage, and the 94th Group clearly had a tremendous affection for him. Of course, at the time of his death, as you say, B/G Castle was riding in a 487th Group aircraft; but he was leading the 4th Combat Wing, which included 50 aircraft from the 94th BG.
Here is a tiny detail As a young boy I attended King Edward VI School in Bury St. Edmunds, which was right next to Rougham, the 94th BG’s base. I lived in Risby, a village 4 miles or so from Bury, and cycled every day. The B-17’s took off during school prayers in the mornings, one every half minute, making it impossible to hear the hymns. They frequently returned while we were playing cricket, and came over so low that you could see the emblems on their noses, and the often considerable damage, tailplanes shot through, propellers feathered, etc. On one occasion (fortunately during a holiday) two collided over the town, and the playing field was out of bounds when we returned because of a Wright Cyclone sitting in the centre of it. Also a wing leaning against the headmaster’s house. We were used to seeing the flares, red, yellow and green, that they fired when they were forming up over the town, to identify the groups, before the armada set off for Festung Europa. And we saw the red flares that some fired on their return, when they had wounded aboard, and were circling to land.
But I recall vividly the 94th’s return from the mission on 24th December 1944. I was at home, in the village, and the throb of the engines was so loud and insistent, that my brother and I went outside, and saw many aircraft, their landing lights full on, very low crossing the sky, plus an incredible display of coloured flares, falling through the frosty dusk, so many that we thought it must be something to do with Christmas! Certainly, we reasoned, there seemed too many flares to indicate “wounded aboard.” Later, hearing that General Castle, (formerly their Group Commander) had perished on that day (it was reported in the Bury Free Press), we assumed that what we had seen was a spontaneous outburst of flare-dropping in his honour, to indicate the Group’s feeling of loss.
The truth is less romantic. Here’s how Harry Slater (in the book mentioned above) records the end of that mission:
“Approaching Rougham, just as darkness fell, a fast moving front was rapidly obscuring the island. Rougham Air Base was one of the few bases open and it was reporting bare minimums. By the time the 94th aircraft were parked, word came down to prepare for other incoming groups to use the base as a safe haven.
“The following two hours provided a panorama of battle scarred aircraft, with dwindling fuel supplies, groping for the runways of Rougham Air Base. More than 70 aircraft, including Canadian Lancaster and Halifax bombers, landed during this period. Bombers were skimming the frost covered tree tops with their landing lights on and their pilots searching for the fog shrouded runway. A final count revealed that there were over 150 aircraft occupying space allocated for 70. ‘It was the greatest Christmas display ever seen,' said Sgt. Lawrence F. Driscoll, a control tower operator. ‘Clusters of airplanes, flying in all directions, with their landing lights on, looking like frosted chandeliers above the fog. And the rainbow effect of coloured flares made it a most memorable sight.' Sgt. Richard Shuford, who directed the parking of the aircraft, said, ‘Our runways looked like a boulevard. I never thought we could park that many aircraft. But there they stood.'"
A tiny detail, perhaps. But memorable for an eleven year old boy trying to make sense of the War.