1950s Canberra crash.

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Profile picture for user dhfan

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21 years 8 months

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I'll be staggered if anybody can help with this as I know very liitle about it, but here goes anyway.

Sometime in the middle 50s, a Canberra crashed in south east Hertfordshire, killing the 3 occupants. The site of the crash would probably be stated as St Margarets or possibly Stanstead Abbotts.
We only lived a couple of miles from the site, although I was too young to know anything about it.

A little unpleasant, this bit. My Dad was a policeman and was involved in the search for the crew. Originally they thought they'd only found 2 bodies but after a while the pathologist told them to stop looking as he'd got 3.

Around that time, Bassingbourn was a Canberra OTU so, since I found that out, I've assumed that's where it came from but there may have been many other Canberra bases in the area.

Dad showed me many years later where it happened, there's still a bend in the bank of the New River where a large part went in, just missing a small mansion.
I saw the dent last week, that's what's reminded me.

Like I said, I'm not expecting much but does anybody know any more?

Original post

Member for

21 years 8 months

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Hi,

Never been one to refuse a challenge.

How does 20th Dec 1954 sound. Canberra B.2, WE119 from 231 OCU lost control at high altitude and dived into the ground 3 miles south east of Ware.

Regards
Ross

Profile picture for user dhfan

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21 years 8 months

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Ross

Seriously impressed!

I would have said it was due south but I've just been to look at a map and it's spot-on south east.

No wonder I don't remember it, there was 2.1/2 months to go to my second birthday.

If memory serves me right, 231 OCU was Bassingbourn so I guessed that right.

Thanks

Ken

I lied - third birthday. Apparently you lose the ability to count as you get older.

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12 years 10 months

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1950s Canberra Crash

I have only just discovered this site and amazed to spot this forum.

I believe this crash could be the Canberra in which my father was pilot navigator. I have just started to research the incident and information appears very hard to come by.

The accident happened on 10th May 1955. My father + 2 crew members were stationed at RAF Bassingbourne.

Any details or memories of this accident would be greatly appreciated.

I look forward to hopefully hearing from anyone with more information.

Collie

Profile picture for user dhfan

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It doesn't seem to be this incident as it occured 6 months earlier in December 1954.

There is a vast pool of knowledge on this board and hopefully somebody will appear with details of an accident on the date you mention.

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Canberra Crash

Dustyone a forum member and a very good friend of mine lived in the area at the time and remembers the incident well. I will be seeing him this weekend coming and will ask him more about the incident in question. He may well post a reply with much more information.

Profile picture for user lauriebe

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Collie, the following information was taken from Colin Cummings' book 'To Fly No More'. It records this Canberra accident on 10 May 1955:

WH716 Canberra B2 231 OCU Stowmarket Suffolk 3

The aircraft had made a practice GCA to Sheperds Grove and had been seen to climb away normally. It subsequently dived into the ground at 70 degrees and inverted. The most likely cause of the accident was the failure of the tailplane actuator

The crew of the aircraft, who all perished, are shown as:

Pilot Officer Robert Michael Brown 22 Pilot
Pilot Officer John Edward Ratcliffe Navigator Plotter
Pilot Officer Peter John Hawkes Navigator Observer

Have just cross-checked this with Jim Halley's Book 'Broken Wings'. This adds a little more detail. The remarks in that book read:

Dived into ground at night after climb-out from GCA practice approach; believed tail trim actuator failure.

It also shows the location of the crash to be Cooms, 2.25 miles SSW of Stowmarket.

Hope that helps.

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Canberra crash

Hi ---- Look in your PM

Dustyone

Profile picture for user John Cooper

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Collie, the following information was taken from Colin Cummings' book 'To Fly No More'. It records this Canberra accident on 10 May 1955:

WH716 Canberra B2 231 OCU Stowmarket Suffolk 3

The aircraft had made a practice GCA to Sheperds Grove and had been seen to climb away normally. It subsequently dived into the ground at 70 degrees and inverted. The most likely cause of the accident was the failure of the tailplane actuator

The crew of the aircraft, who all perished, are shown as:

Pilot Officer Robert Michael Brown 22 Pilot
Pilot Officer John Edward Ratcliffe Navigator Plotter
Pilot Officer Peter John Hawkes Navigator Observer

Have just cross-checked this with Jim Halley's Book 'Broken Wings'. This adds a little more detail. The remarks in that book read:

Dived into ground at night after climb-out from GCA practice approach; believed tail trim actuator failure.

It also shows the location of the crash to be Cooms, 2.25 miles SSW of Stowmarket.

Hope that helps.

Laurie although the place is pronounced 'Cooms' it is in fact spelt Combs, just in case anyone is trying to find it on the map

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12 years 10 months

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1950s Canberra Crash

I want to thank you for the information, this is the accident in which my father, "Peter John Hawkes" lost his life. I am now able hopefully visit the area where this happened all those years ago.

There's obviously a wealth of information from members of this forum, and being the new boy, not really sure as to the correct procedures so may I just ask if anyone knew him or any of the crew?

Thanks again,

Collie

Profile picture for user lauriebe

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Laurie although the place is pronounced 'Cooms' it is in fact spelt Combs, just in case anyone is trying to find it on the map

Thanks for the correction, John. I lifted the spelling straight from the book.

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Canberra crash 1954

WE119 Crash -- During that time I was serving my National Service at Bassingbourn on first line servicing as an instrument mechanic and I was the person who topped up the Oxygen on that fateful flight. I was called onto the enquiry because they had to check that the oxygen was not contaminated.
It was a night flight and we heard that 2 bodies were found during the night and a third one had been thrown some distance from the aircraft and was not found until a search next day. We heard that the building that it crashed near was a nursing home.
We also were told that following that crash a modification was made to the Pilots Oxygen connection on the ejector seats.
Please remember that this was a long time ago and that is how I remember the event as a lowly LAC.

I hope that this may help.

PS as a time note I left the Airforce in March 1955

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Air Crash St Margarets

Hi,

Came across this crash whilst waymarking in the area of St Margarets. There is a piece of fuselage from the crash, that embedded itself in a tree, that is on display outside the parish church. Photos I took, coordinates and details can be found at

http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM8B48_Plane_Crash_St_Margarets_Hertfordshire_1954

Regards

Paul Marston

Profile picture for user Wyvernfan

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Sorry to drag up an old thread, but during research on behalf of The Bassingbourn Tower Museum into 231 OCU incidents whilst the unit was operating from the airfield i came across this inquest report on Flight Global which the original OP might find interesting. It contains evidence given at the inquest of Canberra B.2 WE119 by Flying Officer C. B. Crombie - the pilot of the Canberra involved at St Margarets.
It also subsequently confirms that in fact two of the crew lost their lives, not three.

- CANBERRA INQUEST
AT an inquest at Hertford last week on two R.A.F. officers who
were killed in an accident to a Canberra on December 20th,
verdicts of accidental death were recorded. The aircraft was
stated in evidence to have got out of control and to have crashed
on the lawn in front of a children's home at St. Margarets, near
Ware, Hertfordshire. The officers who lost their lives were P/O.
Raymond H. Sholl and F/O. Hubert E. Thorne.
The third occupant, F/O. C. B. Crombie, said that the accident
occurred half an hour after the take-off from Bassingbourn. The
aircraft had reached a height of 32,000ft and encountered "tremendous
turbulence." It went out of control, performed "various
manoeuvres," and in the end went into a dive, turning left, from
which F/O. Crombie was unable to recover. The aircraft had
been difficult to control, he said, because of the bad weather, and
at one stage the navigators had asked what had gone wrong. At
more than one stage they had "got on their backs." He ordered
the two navigators to abandon the aircraft.
As for his own escape, F/O. Crombie said that he was unable
to release the control column "owing to the tremendous g-forcc."
To release the column it was necessary to move his hand downward
to the releasing mechanism. "In the end," he said, "I
knew I couldn't get my hand down, but I lifted my hand up
and it was knocked back against the handle which operates the
ejecting mechanism. I just ejected through the canopy".

(History also seems to record that this was the first ejection straight through a Canberra's canopy).

Rob

Profile picture for user Alan Clark

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It could have been the first time that a pilot successfully ejected through the canopy of a Canberra, though it was recommended as the preferred method in circumstances such as this (exactly) by the Court of Inquiry into the loss of WH669 in March 1953. In that case the pilot jettisoned the canopy in an inverted dive and seems to have been unable to operate either handle on his seat because of the airflow over the exposed cockpit.

You might want to extend your research to the National Archives and BT 233/253, that file will contain quite a bit of information, if the BT 233 files I've been through are anything to go by then you'll be looking at a copy of the Court of Inquiry, Inquest, AIB investigation, Police investigation and other reports and associated papers.

Profile picture for user Wyvernfan

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Thanks for the response, Alan.

One of the reasons why I was pleased to see this particular inquest report was to hopefully put some peoples minds at rest regarding the pilots predicament at the time. As having spoken to someone connected with the village there was some consensus that the pilot "just left the two other crew members to their deaths".

Rob