Posts Tagged 'Accident'

More Connections

The internet has made it a lot easier in recent years to make connections between people sharing common interests. One comment I received on this blog in recent times led to me linking up two people with an association with the same aircraft (ME739 of 630 Sqn): one whose great uncle flew it at the beginning of its career in April 1944 and one whose neighbour was shot down in it on its last operation exactly a year later. I’ve also had a comment from an artist preparing an entry for the 2012 RAAF Heritage Prize. And I received a comment a few months back from James Hollinworth, who has been researching Tamworth’s aviation history for some time. He was able to add significantly to what I now know about Andrew MacArthur-Onslow, the man with whom Gilbert Pate first tasted flight in the last few days of peace in 1939.

Given MacArthur-Onslow had held a pilot’s licence before the war (he had to have one if he had taken Gilbert with him!) I knew he already had some sort of flying experience. But I had no idea of just how much. James says he was an aerial surveyor prior to his enlistment, and as early as 1936 had visited Tamworth for the Diamond Jubilee Air Pageant that was held there, flying one of six machines from the Royal Aero Club. He enlisted in the RAAF in January 1937. But for me, the most staggering fact that James has revealed is that, in 1938, Andrew MacArthur-Onslow, along with his brother Denzil, flew their own aircraft from England to Australia. Even today this is no mean feat, let alone in the 1930s.

So it is evident that MacArthur-Onslow was a well-experienced airman, and the Air Force was not going to allow that expertise to go begging. In September 1940 (when Phil Smith was preparing for call-up for his posting to Initial Training School), MacArthur-Onslow was already an instructor at 6 Elementary Flying Training School atTamworth, NSW. The Air Force used his experience as part of a Board of Inquiry into 6 EFTS’s first accident in early October, when Tiger Moth A17-59 crashed, killing the student LAC WM Aspinall. Incidentally I suspect Phil Smith was alluding to this accident when he wrote to his mother shortly after arriving atTamworth in November 1940:

“The discipline up here appears unpleasantly severe, partly, we are told, because there was a fatal accident not long ago due to lack of flying discipline.” (A01-126-001)

I did have a look through Phil’s logbook for his time at Tamworth (November and December 1940) but MacArthur-Onslow’s name does not appear in it so the two did not fly together.

MacArthur-Onslow, James tells me, remained at Tamworth when 6 EFTS was disbanded in March 1942. The unit was replaced by the Central Flying School, which had the task of training the Air Force’s future instructor pilots. It was in this capacity that Flight Lieutenant Andrew William MacArthur-Onslow was flying with Sgt Thomas Myles Dawson on 18 January 1943 when, two and a half miles south west of Currabubula – about thirty kilometres south west of Tamworth– the Wirraway they were flying crashed while on a low flying exercise. Along with his unfortunate student, MacArthur-Onslow was killed and is buried in Tamworth War Cemetery.

c05-234-001 copy

© 2012 Adam Purcell

 

Thanks to James Hollinworth for the information that went into this post and the photograph of the grave.

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Into the Silence

“Every day I wonder + cogitate about what really happened to the Lancaster on May 10/11. It’s such a peculiar happening – into the silence” (A01-113-001)

Writing to Don Smith in August 1944, Sydney Pate put into words what so many at the time and since have wondered. Just what was it that caused the loss of Lancaster LM475 over Lille?

When Phil Smith returned to England from occupied Europe a month or so after those words were written, Mr Pate could be forgiven for expecting that the only survivor of the crew might be able to shed some light on what really happened that May evening. But it was not to be. Phil’s first letter to his parents, written just five days after returning to England, reveals very little of the mystery (A01-033-002):

“All I can say about the accident is that I was extremely lucky to get away with it”

If anything, this brief account only served to further muddy the waters for Sydney Pate. He wrote to Don Smith in October 1944 (A01-094-001):

“I am struck by [Philip’s] use of the word ‘accident’, its precise application is still not clear to me… was it from enemy attack? Was it from internal misadventure? Was it from its own bomb load?”

Mr Pate put into words what is still puzzling, even today. When we first met Phil Smith in 1996 we asked him what he remembered. His answer?

Very little. Everything, he said, went hot, dry and red – and suddenly there was no aeroplane around him anymore. So he pulled his ripcord and parachuted to the ground.

Even the only man who survived the destruction of LM475 never knew for sure what caused his aircraft to crash. So what hope have we, 65 years later, of finding a definitive answer?

I’ll happily concede that, without wreckage to examine and without any known eyewitnesses, it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, that I will ever be able to nail down a probable cause with any degree of certainty. But there is some written evidence that I can use to look at a number of theories. At this stage in my research I have not actually studied these closely. I am simply putting the theories out there so I can start thinking about them in more detail in the future.

The most obvious possible causes concern enemy action:

  • Shot down by flak
  • Attacked by a nightfighter

Other causes might be seen by today’s air crash investigators as ‘accidents’:

  • Collision with another aircraft
  • System failure eg engines
  • Structural failure through manufacturing or maintenance defect
  • Airframe icing in poor weather
  • Pilot or other crew error
  • Overstressing of airframe, causing structural failure
  • Controlled flight into terrain
  • Running out of fuel causing a crash

There could also be some other, more ‘out there’ scenarios:

  •             Hit by a bomb dropped from above
  •             Own bombs collided with each other after leaving aircraft and exploded

This is by no means intended to be a comprehensive list of all possible causes for the loss of LM475. I may even edit this post to add more if I think of any plausible ideas in the near future. Though there remains no physical evidence in existence – only a single propeller blade is left of the wreck of the actual aircraft – there is written evidence that lends support to some of these theories. I don’t think that enough evidence exists to be definitive, but I think it would be an interesting exercise to at least try and produce a plausible, probable cause.

(c) 2010 Adam Purcell


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