Report into the loss of RAF Wellington in Eastleach

Report into the loss of RAF Wellington T2608, 8-2-1942. V2.

Authored by P.R. Crossley 2 August 2019 (updated from V1 15 May 2018)

Preamble;

My initial interest in this wartime training accident was that my uncle Sgt Joe Crossley was killed in the crash, I never met him as the accident was three years before I was born strangely, I knew him quite well through reading his diaries and from family stories

Sgt Joe Crossley

My first documented source was the ministry of defence who provided me with the records held by the Air Historical Branch including the Aircraft Accident Card (AM1180).

My second was the Inquest report from the Coroner’s Office, now lodged at Oxfordshire History Centre; This report is mainly based on the evidence given to that Inquest.

My third source was Susie Walker of Eastleach Downs Farm, who through family connections found an eye witness Malcolm Lane, who was seven at the time of the crash he lived in a cottage that overlooked where the aircraft came down, he witnessed the immediate aftermath of the accident, his mother saw the actual crash and gave evidence at what was probably the inquest.

A local farmer who lives near the crash site contacted me and gave me the name of my fourth source, Lavender Feltham (Nee Russell) who as an eleven year old girl cycled to the crash site and witnessed the immediate aftermath.

The location of the crash site is 2 miles north of Eastleach on land formerly owned by the occupants of Eastleach Downs house, the post code is GL73PX. Lavender Feltham in my telephone interview with here identified the area of impact as just inside the gate that is on the right hand side of the road just before you reach the two cottages that are on the road leading to Eastleach Farm and House.

The Crew;

The crew of 6 who were in the aircraft at the time of the crash were;

Sgt S Appley Co- Pilot (28), Sgt A G Gibb Pilot and Captain survived injured (26), WH Griffiths WOP/AG (21), Sgt J Pringle WOP/AG (21), Sgt DF Ward WOP/AG (21), Sgt J Crossley WOP/AG (26), It is of interest that apart from the 2 Pilots all the rest of the crew were WOP/AG (Wireless Operator Air Gunner) no Bomb aimer, Navigator or Air Gunners. My hunch is this was a training crew of WOPs put together for the Marconi loop training exercises.

The Aircraft;

The Vickers Wellington bomber
The Vickers Wellington bomber

The Vickers Wellington bomber was of Geodesic construction designed by Barns Wallis and first flew in 1936, T2608 was a Mk 1c powered by 2 Bristol Pegasus XV111 radial engines, this gave it a max speed of 235 mph, a ceiling of 18,000ft and a bomb capacity of 4,500 lb. At a cruising speed of 180mph it had a range of 2,550 miles. Furthermore it came with two Fraser Nash powered gun turrets front and rear along with a new Marconi radio beacon homing system for navigation operated by the WOP.

Sir Barnes Wallis - Eastlach

Sir Barnes Wallis

Fraser Nash powered gun turrets
Fraser Nash powered gun turrets

T2608 had dual controls for the pilots, in addition it was probably a crash repaired plane as these were sent to training units rather than on operations.

The training exercise and crash;

The aircraft and crew were part of No21 Operational Training Unit based at RAF Morton in The Marsh, the crew were authorised to use the aircraft from 1400hrs until 1530hrs on Sunday the 8th of Feb 1942 to carry out a Homing on Beacons with Marconi loop exercise. On reading my uncle’s diaries they were having little or no success finding these beacons, other sources indicate they were very difficult to locate. They took off at 14:10 after 35mts the Co-Pilot (S. Appley) took over the flying of the plane and the 1st Pilot (A. Gibb) went to the rear gunner’s turret. They crashed and burned at 15:10 after striking a tree; they did not have permission for low flying. The aircraft impacted at the site identified above, First on the scene were Lavender Russell’s brother, Albert Russell who was chopping wood nearby and Nobby Clark from one of the cottages, they got into the aircraft using Albert’s axe and rescued the injured pilot from the tail gunners turret. He was found propped against a tree by Lavender when she arrived on her bike, followed by the Airfield fire crew.

The final diary entry of Sgt Joe Crossley -Eastleach
The final diary entry of Sgt Joe Crossley

Synopsis of witness evidence given to the Inquest

The inquest was held without a jury on Tuesday the 10th of Feb 1942 at Brize-Norton in Oxfordshire.

Miss Isobel Nicholson 20yrs Land Worker of Main rd Aldsworth Gloucestershire;

States that she was walking in fields towards Eastleach Downs when she heard a loud explosion that she thought was a distant bomb. She then saw what she recognized as a Wellington bomber rise in the sky to about 300 ft, levelling out and flying in an easterly direction round the back of Eastleach Downs House, it banked steeply turned over and then crashed into the ground bursting into flames. She then added she ran to the plane to give what assistance she could. Furthermore she also stated that the aircraft didn’t hit a tree.

L.A.C. A. Williamson 24yrs of RAF Station Southrop, Nr Fairford Glos.

RAF Southrop was a Royal Air Force station west of the village of Southrop, Gloucestershire during World War II from August 1940 to November 1947
Pill Box – RAF Southrop

In his evidence at Fairford Police Station to Morton Fluck P.S.286 Williamson states that he was standing in the office at Southrop landing ground when someone shouted “there’s going to be a crash” he heard the roar of an aero engine looking in the direction of Eastleach Downs, which was about three miles as the Crow flies’ from where he was. He then saw a column of smoke rise from behind a clump of trees. He along with L.A.C Clark ran to the fire tender joined the driver and crew for the 15min ride to the crash site, On arrival they saw a Wellington Bomber almost burnt out; they entered the field where they came across a body on the port side of the machine. They pulled off their woollen helmets and wrapped them around there hands, with their scarves around their faces they pulled the body further away.

A second fire tender arrived and assisted, eventually five bodies were recovered from the plane four were badly burned. One was thrown clear and another was dragged clear from the rear turret by civilians. The plane was completely burnt out.

Albert Gibb 26 Pilot Sgt RAF (Captain and only survivor) of RAF Morton in the Marsh Glos.

Commemorative plaque to the RAF Moreton in Marsh Gloucestershire England
RAF Moreton in Marsh Gloucestershire England

States that about 14:10 hours on Sunday 8th Feb they took off from M-in Marsh in the Wellington for which they had been given permission to fly from 14:00 until 15:30 hours. “For the first 35mins I piloted the plane and then handed over to my Co-Pilot Sgt Appley and went to sit in the rear gun turret”.

The remainder of the crew were stationed as follows; Appley was in first pilot seat with Ward in second pilot seat, Crossley radio op seat, Griffiths in Observers seat, Pringle was laying on the bed.

He goes on to state that “about 15-10hrs I felt a fair bump and looked at the back tail plane which I found had received slight damage. I presumed we had hit the tops of some trees. After the bump I saw the tree which I presumed we had hit.”

In addition he goes on to say that on looking sideways the plane was flying alright and appeared to be under control and even gaining height, continuing like this for a full minute, then the aircraft developed a spin to starboard. That is the last I remember. A. Gibb suffered concussion and a broken leg.

He survived the war until the 15 July 1944 when he was killed on active service at Warrenpoint Northern Ireland, flying as a Warrant Officer Pilot in an Oxford which crashed into another plane during a Civil defence demonstration.

Morton Fluck Police Sergeant of Fairford Glos Con

Gloucestershire Constabulary mounted police at Miners' Strike - Forest of Dean in 1926. Photograph taken at Feathers Hotel Lydney. Police Constable Harry Watkins on the right. Police Constable John Meadows seventh from the right Police Constable Morton Fluck second from right
Police Constable Morton Fluck second from right

Stated that in the company of P.C. Turner proceeded to Eastleach Downs Farm at about 5:30pm there in a ploughed field on land in the occupation of Mr Frederick Honour he found the plane with only the tail and a wing remaining, five bodies of Airmen four badly burned had been removed from the wreck and had been seen by him in the Ambulance close by the Fairford Police Station prior to their removal to Brize Norton Mortuary.

Other Witnesses

Gave testimony to the airworthiness of the Aircraft (RAF) and to the condition of the bodies (Medical Officer)

Conclusions

The first conclusion we can come to is; that there were a number of very brave people on the downs that Sunday afternoon, these Civilians identified by Lavender Feltham, were her brother Albert Russell and Nobby Clark who were chopping wood at the time and were first on the scene quickly going into a situation with burning petrol, possibly exploding fuel tanks, oxygen bottles, and even ammunition. They saved the life of the Pilot by rescuing him from the tail gunner’s turret. In addition they were backed up by the Professionals when they arrived.

The second conclusion is; that the swapping off the pilots leaving the possibly inexperienced Co Pilot Appley unsupervised in mid flight along with Gibbs moving to the tail gunner’s position was the root cause of the accident. My Uncle in his diary entry for the 28th of Jan writes that they skimmed the hanger roof on the second attempt to get down then bounced on the ground heavily, I am assuming this was Sgt Appley flying the plane.

Accident report

The Wellington was probably flying a triangular course trying to home in on the radio beacons; they may have picked up a signal from a Beacon in Macaroni Woods half way up the Downs. Malcolm Lane (witness) told me there was a secret station in the woods possibly with a transmitting mast.

They may have gone down lower and more slowly to either pick up a signal or to see what the transmitter looked like.

There had been snow falls in the area that week; could it have been snow on the ground that contributed to an inexperienced pilot failing to appreciate the steepness of Eastleach Downs? Hitting the tree and damaging the Tail Wing, as described by Sgt Gibb with a loud thump must have damage the Main Wing possibly the engine and prop causing loss of power at a time they were trying to climb out of trouble. This could have caused the catastrophic stall and spin into the ground! Wellingtons at this time were prone to crashing in situations such as this, without the help of trees getting in the way. Problems with instruments being faulty, along with a flap control leaver that jumped out at critical times, caused a fair number of accidents and loss of life.

My Uncle as a boy and a man loved aircraft, I still have all his books. He had the best time of his life flying in the R.A.F. the pubs, dances, girls, singing himself hoarse in the Brown Bear until One in the morning. He died young but HAPPY!

Sgt Gibb the survivor must have recovered and done a tour of duty with Bomber Command as he ends up as a Warrant officer, at Warren Point in Northern Ireland until flying at a Civil Defence Demonstration on July 15th 1944 he collided in his Miles Martinet (used for towing targets) with an Airspeed Oxford both planes were lost along with their crews totalling five Airmen in all.

Eastleach Downs was involved in another air crash witnessed by Malcolm Lane, when on 15 July 1944 two Airspeed Oxfords collided over almost the same place as the Wellington went down, one with a 16yr old Cadet George Stone on board, all the crew of that plane were lost, the other Oxford landed safely. The End.

The Airspeed AS.10 Oxford was a twin-engine monoplane aircraft developed and manufactured by Airspeed. It saw widespread use for training British Commonwealth aircrews in navigation, radio-operating, bombing and gunnery roles throughout the Second World War.

The Airspeed Oxford

The author has the following questions:

  1. Can anyone confirm there was a radio beacon in Macaroni Woods?
  2. Why were they so low?
  3. Would the pilot have been disciplined for leaving the flying control area?

Author P Crossley, Nephew of Sgt Joe Crossley. Dated 2 August 2019. pxley92@gmail.com