|AIRCRAFT CRASHES AROUND TURVEY 1939-1945
Based on three part article first published in 'Turvey News' in 1997
Shortly after moving to North Bedfordshire in 1991 I was reading a book on the history of local airfields when the word TURVEY leapt from the page. In the section on the former Denton training airfield was recorded the crash of Tiger Moth BB699 into power cables at Turvey on the 25th July 1944, the two occupants being killed. On searching through archive records for further details of this incident I noticed other local place names connected with different incidents and a picture of the hazards of wartime flying began to emerge.
The thousands of accident record cards that reside in the RAF Museum archives at Hendon show that during the war years, 1939 to 1945, a colossal number of aircraft came to grief across the whole of the UK. The vast majority of these losses were not directly due to enemy action, but were the result of mechanical failure or human error as crews prepared for their first missions, were converting to new aircraft types, or just honing their flying and navigation skills. Those involved were often young - in their late teens or early twenties - and in the cemetery at Kempston Church End (Ordnance Survey 1:50000 Map 153, co-ordinate ref. 012478) a group of twenty five RAF headstones is a sad reminder of their sacrifice and loss, away from the front line but in the course of duty never the less.
To date I have found references to more than 170 aircraft crashes and forced landings within a 12 mile radius of Turvey. This article chronicles eight of the closest, and in the course of researching and pinpoint them (official records are full of anomalies, mis-spellings and inaccuracies) I have received invaluable help from several local people to whom I am grateful.
Just before mid-day on Friday 11thAugust 1939 local farmer Geoff Payne was walking up the track towards Bagden Farm to mow grass when suddenly a low flying aeroplane came over the brow of the hill in front of him and clipped the top of the prominent electricity pylon. There was an explosion and, trailing flames, the aircraft lost height and crashed to the ground 200 yards beyond, next to the buildings of Northey Farm. Exactly three weeks later Germany would invade Poland and precipitate the start of World War Two, and this was the first of a number of flying accidents that happened close to Turvey in the six years of war.
Fairey Battle K9328 of 218 Squadron based at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire was taking part in a practice low level raid on the last day of home defence exercises begun on the 8th August when it crashed. Its pilot, 21 year old Australian Flying Officer William Kinane, and observer, Sgt. Peter Allan, were killed instantly. The third member of the crew, wireless operator Aircraftman 1st Class Ivor Roberts, was badly burned and critically injured. He died at RAF Cranfield's sick quarters two days later.
> related pictures <
| The 87 foot high pylon it
had struck stands next to the former Carlton (St Margaret's) School in the high tension
line which runs to the north of Turvey. This was erected in the late 30s as
one of the first parts of the UK's national electricity grid and, according to Eastern
Electricity records, the original pylons are still in place. In 1939 their
appearance must have posed a relatively new and unexpected hazard for low flying aviators
and unfortunately, four years later and little over a mile away, the cables of this line
were to bring down another aircraft.
Sergeant Peter Aitken Allen, aged 28, of Farnborough was buried at Biggin Hill and Aircraftman Roberts of Rhondda Valley, at St. Athan, Wales. Flying Officer Kinane was buried with full military honours on Wednesday 16th August at Cranfield's St Peter and Paul Churchyard. Had he missed the pylon that day one wonders what the future might have held for these men. Just over two weeks later, on the 2nd September 1939 - the day before Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared war - their squadron moved from Boscombe Down to Auberives-sur-Suippes in northern France as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force. The strike element of this force consisted principally of squadrons of Battles, and these were wiped out within a few days of the Blitzkriegs start on the 10th May 1940. By early June 1940 it is recorded that no aircraft were left in 218 Squadron and all remaining personnel were evacuated to the UK where re-equipment with Bristol Blenheims began on the 13th June at RAF Mildenhall in Norfolk.
The next aircraft that appears to have come down in this corner of North Bedfordshire was also a Fairey Battle. On the 9th April 1940 Battle K9454 of 207 Squadron based at Cranfield is recorded as having suffered engine failure near Turvey. This was probably the same aircraft that Francis Bailey of May Road recalls sat for several days in a field opposite the water tower on Pictshill. It had crash-landed with wheels up and and spun round, with its propeller blades bent back, and being unguarded he had the opportunity to climb all over it! This aircraft was transferred to the Royal Canadian Airforce in December 1940 and presumably ended its flying days in Canada.
Following the crash near Carlton on 11th August 1939 it was unlucky that out of hundreds of operational RAF units a second aircraft from 218 Squadron, which was not based in the area, should also crash locally.
On the 13th July 1940 P/O Newton was detailed to carry out general flying practice in Blenheim R3597 on the line of Mildenhall to Sywell, and to give map reading practice and general air experience to two observers, Sgt Routledge and Sgt Malpass. The weather was 'good'. F/O Newton took off from Mildenhall aerodrome at 10.55am. At about 11.30am he was seen by civilian witnesses flying very low over his uncle's farm on the Harrold to Sharnbrook road, some 10 miles south of the prescribed line. In passing over the farm the starboard wing tip of the aircraft struck the top of a 40 foot high Ash tree, which damaged it, and probably damaged the aileron. The aircraft started a turn to starboard, which gradually steepened; after loosing height the aircraft struck the ground just to the NE of Harrold and caught fire. The three occupants were killed instantly.
Flying Officer Newton was the nephew of Pat Warren (Dennis Patrick Warren-Somerville) who at the time had a piggery between Harrold and Odell. His parents lived in Australia and he is remembered by several local residents visiting his aunt and uncle in Harrold when on leave, and attending church at Carlton. His flying skills had been assessed by the RAF as 'above average' but tragically, in a moment of high spirits, three lives ended.
39943 Flying Officer Terence Newton
(Pilot), son of Winstanley and Madeleine of Melbourne, Australia, was buried in Carlton
(St. Mary) Churchyard, west of the tower, on the 18th July 1940. His name appears on
the Harrold War Memorial.
> related pictures <
|Click here to visit Noel James Bridge's family web site which includes photographs of his father.||
Established in mid 1937 RAF Cranfield was the closest airfield to Turvey until Thurleigh in 1940, and airfields at Twinwoods and Podington a few years later. Throughout the war it was mainly used for flying training and inevitably there were many accidents on and around the airfield as pilots lost control of their machines at critical times - taking off, landing, and in the circuit. Outside the circuit area additional height usually allowed greater margins for error and time to respond to mechanical failure, and so crashes were fewer, more widely distributed, and often less catastrophic. However when low flying or at night when vision was impaired, this safety margin did not come into play.
On Monday 7th October 1940 Flying Officer James Bridge and Leading Aircraftman Jack Kissner of 14 Flying Training School were on low flying practice out of Cranfield in Airspeed Oxford N4729 when it struck a tree and crashed between the road and former railway line near Newton Park Farm, one mile SSW of Turvey. The accident happened at about 3.30pm and John Letts of Newton Blossomville recalls that by the time school was out the crash site had been cordoned off.
77783 Flg Off (Pilot) James Frederick
Bridge was 26. His wife lived at Bedford and he is buried at Bedford Cemetery.
| OXFORD N4729
> related pictures <
In terms of local aircraft crashes and forced landings 1941, and much of 1942, passed uneventfully until the late evening of Monday 31st August 1942 when Bristol Blenheim MkIV N3585 of 51 OTU at Cranfield crashed near Fensomes Farm beyond Crown Farm, approximately 1½ miles SE of Turvey. The 22 year old pilot, Sergeant William Whalley, of Blackburn, Lancashire, had been on his first solo night flight.
By the end of August 1942 the war had been underway for nearly three years and the United States of America had entered the war in Europe. At 2.00 am on the morning of Monday 7th September 1942 1,700 officers and men of the ground echelon of the USAAF 306th Bomb Group arrived at Thurleigh. The airfields at Podington and Chelveston were also receiving their first combat groups around this time, and the number and types of aircraft flying over Turvey was about to dramatically increase.
THE MID TO LATE WAR PERIOD
For 1655 MTU (Mosquito Training Unit), based at RAF Marham in north-west Norfolk, Sunday 18th July 1943 was another busy flying day in its pressured wartime schedule of training highly skilled crews for the RAFs low level attack and pathfinder units. Although cloudy with moderate north easterly winds, visibility that day is recorded as having been "excellent" and advantage was taken to carry out single and dual flying on the units Airspeed Oxford and de Havilland Mosquito aircraft.
At around 3.00pm Mosquito DZ459 was 75 miles SW of the base. It was flying low along the valley of the River Ouse towards Harrold and must have just passed Turvey when, opposite Carlton Church, and at a height of roughly 45 feet, it struck the high tension electricity cables spanning the river. It crashed to ground in the riverside meadow 400 yds further on at the rivers bend and completely disintegrated, killing the crew of two instantly. The squadrons Operational Record Book, now held at the Public Records Office at Kew, has the following heartfelt entry :
18/07/1943 "N1014 Captain O.B. STENE and N1147 Lieutenant K. LÖCHEN killed in a flying accident near RAF Cranfield. These Norwegian Officers had been with the unit since the middle of May and had nearly completed their training. They were both above average in every way and will be a great loss to the Norwegian Air Force and the RAF."
Jim Northern of Harrold Lodge Farm, over whose family fields the high tension line runs, recalls that the middle two wires were removed by the aircraft, with the top and bottom lines left intact. Tragically they had fallen foul of the same line of pylons that brought down Fairey Battle K9328 near Northey Farm by Carlton (St Margarets) School one mile to the east in August 1939.
> related pictures <
|From the late summer of 1942 through 1943 the United States of America Army 8th Airforce (USAAF) built up massive local presence of men and machines, eventually occupying more than 60 airfields throughout the Anglia region. Three of these were less than 12 miles from Turvey. The 92nd Bomb Group were based a Podington, the 306th at Thurleigh, and the 305th at Chelveston. All these units were equipped with the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a four engine long range bomber with a full crew of nine or ten.|
> related pictures <
With the added burden of unfamiliar and unpredictable British weather conditions (fog and mists were a particular problem at Podington) it was inevitable that there would be some USAAF crashes near these bases and at least two are known to have occurred between Turvey and the airfields which were to the north.
In 1976 some of the story behind the first, which happened sometime between October 1943 and March 1944, was related by Fred Proctor, a former Thurleigh pilot, at the first local reunion of the 306th Bomb Group. Having an ear infection his regular crew had been taken for a mission by another pilot. The heavily laden aircraft was said to have come down shortly after take-off from Thurleigh, with some or all of the crew being killed. This was possibly Flying Fortress B-17F 42-30767 of 306 BG which crashed and exploded in a field a few hundred yards from the Headquarters building at Sharnbrook ammunition depot. Only the co-pilot and tail gunner survived the crash which occurred at 0730 hours on 5th January 1944.
The second incident is more widely remembered -
Extract from The Route As Briefed (History of The 92nd Bomb Group 1942-45) : "An afternoon practice mission on July 15 turned out fatally for three members of the crew of 1st Lt John A. Alford of the 326th Squadron. Upon attempting to land after the mission the wheels bounced on the runway and the aircraft was airborne again, with one wing bursting into flames. Lt Alford climbed to about 900 feet, levelled off and ordered the crew to bale out; the plane crashed and burned about six miles south of the base. 2nd Lt Stanley Nadel, the navigator, and T/Sgt Paul R. Horton were killed. Sgt Bruce C. Baker, Jr., the ball turret gunner, parachuted out but his chute streamed down and failed to canopy, and he was killed immediately upon impact with the ground. Lt Alford and his co-pilot, 2nd Lt Robert E. Williams parachuted safely without injury; T/Sgt Thomas J. Madden, the engineer, parachuted safely with only slight skin lacerations."
This was B17 42-31898 and it crashed at Freers Wood at about 4.40pm on a Saturday 15th July 1944.
Jim Northern of Harrold recalls that he was picking raspberries behind his parents farm when he saw the aircraft going down trailing black smoke with just two engines operating. Mrs Gardner of Grove Road, Turvey, at that time living at Carlton, also saw its final moments from her house which was at the Pavenham end of the village, a few fields away from Freer's Wood. Being used to the sound and sight of aircraft she could tell that it was in trouble. Through her front window what appeared to be parcels could be seen dropping out, but it was quickly realised that this was the crew abandoning the stricken bomber and, with it heading their way, she rushed outside to call in her young son. Fortunately it did not reach them and a few minutes later jeeps and ambulances from Podington rushed past the house and up the road towards the crash site.
Today, as you walk the footpath that runs along the north side Freers Wood past the deserted buildings of Freers Wood Farm towards Chellington, there is little to mark the spot where the 19 ton bomber struck the field before exploding into the wood, and only a few small pieces of perspex and twisted aluminium turned up by the plough provide a clue to the drama and devastation of that day.
Just over a week later there was another aircraft crash, this time much closer to Turvey.
A brief entry in a log book now at the County Records Office shows that at 11.45 in the morning on Tuesday 25th July 1944 ARP headquarters in Bedford received a phone call from the police reporting a crash in Norfolk Road, Turvey.
In fact the accident had occurred in the field behind Meadow House (formerly known as Dead Womans Field) and the aircraft involved was de Havilland Tiger Moth BB699 of 6 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School). While flying at a height of less than 30 feet it had struck LT power cables (still there today) and crashed, killing the two occupants - Sergeants Brian Chisnall and John Bould. Turvey resident Francis Bailey of May Road recalls that the aircraft was reduced to a pile of charred remains and, judging by the position of the wreckage, had been travelling from east to west at the time.
|TIGER MOTH BB699
> related pictures <
Owned pre-war by Brooklands Aviation this aircraft had been requisitioned by the RAF for wartime flying training duties with 6 EFTS and was based at RLG (Relief Landing Ground) Denton, a small grass airfield once located by the road that runs between Brayfield-on-the-Green and Horton, approximately 9 miles WNW of Turvey, in Nothamptonshire. The two instructor pilots flying in it that day had both reported, along with four others, from No.10 FIS for flying duty on the 15th of April 1943.
1582639 Sgt (Pilot) Brian Nevill
Chisnall, RAFVR, 21 years old, of Ambergate is buried at Alderwasley Cemetery near
This must have been a wretched time for 6 EFTS as less than a month had passed since Tiger Moth BB792, in the charge of another instructor, had stalled and crashed after hitting and killing a cyclist while beating up land girls at Wollaston.
THE END OF HOSTILITIES
The war in Europe formally ended on the 5th of May 1945 and flying activity dropped rapidly away over the following months. Across the whole of the country similar traumatic incidents had taken place on a daily basis, involving many other aircraft and aircrew, with mixed fortunes.
While many types of aircraft still fly over Turvey at a wide variety of heights fortunately the factors that led to so many crashes during the war years have all but gone. Today the technology is more advanced and the machinery more reliable, low flying at tree top level is no longer allowed and much lower numbers of aircraft have more sky to themselves. Indeed flying is supposedly now safer than driving!
With the passing of time, and living memory, the airmen who were killed or seriously injured in flying accidents around Turvey - and further afield - between 1939 and 1945 are likely to become some of the less conspicuous casualties of the Second World War please do not forget them.
With thanks to Geoff Negus who kindly provided information on aircrew burials.
Related Bibliography/Recommended Reading :
Action Stations 6 : Military airfields of The Cotswolds and the Central Midlands; by Michael J.F. Bowyer (most main Libraries) - includes the histories of Cardington, Cranfield, Podington, Thurleigh, Twinwoods, Denton, Sywell and Chelveston airfields. 10 books in this series cover almost every past and present UK military airfield.
Airfields of the 8th : Then and Now; by Roger A Freeman (available Bedford Central Library) - histories of the American 8th AF airfields and units in the UK, with contemporary photographs often matched with the same deserted scenes in 1978. Includes Podington, Thurleigh and Chelveston airfields.
Aviation in Northamptonshire; by Michael L Gibson (available Nothampton Central Library) - excellent comprehensive history of flying in our neighbouring county with many fascinating photographs. (out of print)
Eighth Air Force Bomber Stories : Eye Witness Accounts From American and British Civilians of the Perils of War; by Ian McLachlan & Russell J Zorn (available Milton Keynes Central Library) - stories and contemporary photographs of USAAF WW2 crashes in East Anglia.
The Route As Briefed : The History of The 92nd Bombardment Group USAAF 1942-1945; by John S Sloan and published by Argus Press, Cleveland Ohio 1946 - a detailed chronological account of this American unit based at Podington from September 1943 until July 1945.
Low Attack The Storey of Two Mosquito Squadrons, 1940-43; Wooldridge; John De L. (Wing Commander; DFC*,DFM) Published 1993 by Crecy Books Ltd. ISBN 0 947554 31 9
Royal Airforce Aircraft Serial Number Series (in excess of 20 volumes); compiled by James J Halley, published by Air Britain - final fates of RAF aircraft. (Air-Britain is an International Association of Aviation Historians run by enthusiasts providing information, for enthusiasts worldwide)
|HOME I SITE MAP I Other Short Articles|