View Full Version : Crash of a B17/B24 Bobbington - South Staffordshire

Rote 8
27th May 2004, 10:18
My father and I are trying to conduct some background research into the crash of an aircraft on our family farm just outside Bobbington in South Staffordshire. (The farm itself lies just across the county border in Shropshire) According to local testimony the aircraft was a four-engined bomber and the crew were apparently American so I am guessing that the aircraft would be either a B17 or B24.

We suspect the crash took place in 1942 but could have been later in the war. There were some eyewitnesses working on the farm at the time who were apparently planting sugar beet, this is only of interest in that it almost certainly means that the month was either April or May. In so far as I am aware none of those witnesses are still with us.

The story goes that the aircraft was positioning from (allegedly, but likely I would have thought) a base in Lincolnshire to somewhere down south and after encountering problems made a precautionary landing at Halfpenny Green. At the time the airfield would probably have been known as RAF Bobbington. It was changed to Halfpenny Green in September 1943 to avoid any confusion with RAF Bovingdon. Following the precautionary landing the aircraft was given a brief inspection but no technical problems were found and the crew were apparently unwilling to remain on the field for a more thorough investigation as they had an apparently pressing deadline.

Shortly after the aircraft became airborne once more from Bobbington they suffered more severe problems and the aircraft crashed in a wooded copse adjacent to the farm just outside the village of Bobbington.

We believe that there were eight on board and all were lost although one of the gunners (apparently the tail gunner) may have survived.

Could anyone offer help in how to best go about finding out a little more about what happened to this aircraft and its crew? Thanks in advance to anyone who could offer any help.

27th May 2004, 13:46
I'll have a look through some of my references, though a more accurate date would obviously help

28th May 2004, 11:30
You could have a look in the Station ORB (Operational Record Book?) which is the Station log. These are all held in the Public Records Office at Kew. You'll need a readers ticket to get access to the building and to see the records but (certainly the last time I got one) they were issued on the day with little fuss.

The ORB may - particularly if personnel from RAF Bobbington attended the crash site - show some details.

You could also look through the details supplied on this site: http://www.accident-report.com/UK/UK.html . I've looked through the entries for 1942/3 and not found anything in the immediate vicinity of Bobbington.

29th May 2004, 20:04
I can only find two possibles from the USAAF 8th Airforce. Both were later in the war duing late 43 or 44 October and November respectively, and both B17's (have'nt got the reference to hand at the moment). These obviously are at odds with the sewing sugar beet account, unless maybe it was a very late harvest, or perhaps due to wartime conditions they were sewing year round to try to increase food production?. I have no idea if thats plausible as my father never mentioned any similar events, perhaps being nearer to the farming community you might be able to find out. I will try and find a bit more if you think either of these two might fit. Other possibilities are test or training flights but my references only cover combat missions.

Rote 8
1st Jun 2004, 09:44

Thanks for your responses. Second hand testimony indicates that the witnesses were hoeing sugar beet at the time that the accident took place. This would be consistent with a time of year around April or May. However memory is a funny thing and your months of October and November would be wholly appropriate for harvesting sugar beet. I would not be too surprised if this was the case.

The only reference that I have found within the accident reports on the website suggested by Pronto occurs on the 8th May 1944 2 miles NE of the airfield. There are a couple of problems with this particular incident, firstly the farm is about 1 mile NW of the field and secondly the aircraft in question is a P47 (probably from nearby Atcham) Clearly this is not consistent with testimony indicating that the aircraft was a heavy bomber.

I have spoken with my father again this morning and it appears that the aircraft was attempting to return to Halfpenny Green following its departure and I presume following (multiple?) engine failure was dragging it through the weeds on what I guess would be a glide approach for 16. The pilot tried to lift the aircraft over the top of a small wood adjacent to the farm and I guess as a result stalled/spun into the trees.

I think it is perhaps possible that the aircraft was actually an RAF heavy rather than a USAAF aircraft with some Canadian crew members rather than Americans. I doubt if the local farm hands at the time would have made a distinction between them. I wonder if anyone has a source of further information similar to that suggested by Pronto above for RAF losses?

As a final comment you indicate that your references only cover combat missions. The accident in question was not a combat loss and although I could not certainly say that the aircraft was not involved on a combat mission at the time of the accident I gather that is was a positioning flight.

Once again thanks to you and Pronto for your comments. I hope others may have something to add.

Spiney Norman
1st Jun 2004, 11:36
Rote 8.
Sorry to muddy the waters further for you but I think the Station ORB is going to be essential reading for you. Bobbington, (Halfpenny Green), was, as you probably know, the home of 3 Air Observers school. This later was renamed 3 (O) AFU. During it's existence the unit operated Ansons,Oxfords, and possibly more importantly, the Blackburn Botha and Vickers Wellington. From late 1941 the unit increasingly received numbers of Australians, New Zealanders, Free French and, here it comes, Canadians. I'm just wondering here. To the civilian population of the time, both the Wellington and the Botha would have appeared to be large aircraft. Particularly compared to the Anson which must have been a common sight in the local skies. The Wellingtons issued to this unit would have been pretty war weary by the time they arrived and probably had a poor serviceability record. The Botha was seriously disliked by crews as seriously underpowered and renowned for engine failures which often resulted in fatalities. Now you might wonder were I'm going with all this? (I often do myself)! But there are lots of other possibilities that could cloud the local memory over that length of time and I think the official unit/station documents are really the only way to go to get to the bottom of this one.

P.S. You'll really get a kick out of the research anyway.

1st Jun 2004, 11:45
I must admit that when I saw the described routing of the accident aircraft (Lincolnshire to Bobbington) I did start to wonder if it was Canadian or Australian crewed. (Lincolnshire was "Bomber Country" for the RAF, while the USAAF operated from (generally) East Anglia. Bobbington was, of course, an RAF training base).

I haven't got a site for RAF crashes (but will look). What I can suggest is that Air Britain Publications publish a series of registers which "... list aircraft of the Royal Air Force in serial order and provide details of each aircraft, the units which flew it and its final fate..." (my emphasis).

You could try and see if any aircraft loss fits the bill for your one. I appreciate that that may be a big job - there are 18 volumes.

East Anglia Books have some for sale ( http://www.eastangliabooks.com/great.britain.htm ) (and they list the volumes by coverage) and if you look at this website on the make up of UK military aircraft serial numbers ( http://www.clubhyper.com/reference/britishserialssm_1.htm ) it may help narrow down the search by excluding some of the volumes.


5th Jun 2004, 06:56
Having had a good look at my references now, I regret that neither of those I mentioned are the accident in question, being at Much Wenlock and Wellesbourne Mountford. I can post details if required, but to prevent 'muddying the water' I'll refrain at the moment.

BTW it seems that a laden B17 or B24 would need at least 3,000ft of runway to depart. In 1943/44 problems with the oil coolers on B17's led to a number of accidents if either of the outer engines failed, according to reports they would then 'spin in' very rapidly.
Re crew numbers the complement of a B17/24 was usually 10, whereas a lanc/hali/stirling was I think 7, so if the numbers are correct would lean more towards a british type, the B17's reduced to 9 later in the war due to changing gunnery positions and better fighter cover into the target area's. USAAF bomber assembly areas were clustered generally to the east of a line Leicester/Oxford, so a mission abort landing whilst not improbable would possibly have landed closer to the main bases in the east of the country. Having said that the Wellesbourne accident was due to a collision in formating for a mission to Kassel.

Rote 8
10th Jun 2004, 09:57
Thanks to jumpseater, Pronto and Spiney Norman for their contributions to this thread.

I have now found the details that I was searching for.

The aircraft was indeed an RAF Heavy with Canadian crew, a Halifax BII (tail code BB326) attached to 1659 HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit) of No 6 (RCAF) Group.

1659 HCU was a training unit dedicated to the conversion of bomber crews on to the heavier 4 engine bombers. During the course of the war the unit was based at RAF Leeming and RAF Topcliffe, both in Yorkshire. At the time that the accident occurred the aircraft and crew were based at RAF Topcliffe where the unit remained until it was disbanded in September 1945.

The accident occurred shortly after takeoff from Halfpenny Green at 13.15 on the 12th November 1943. Clearly those farmhands had been lifting (harvesting) the sugar beet rather than hoeing it.

The aircraft carried a crew of eight at the time of the accident, of whom seven lost their lives. The tail gunner Pilot Officer T M Murdock (RCAF) was thrown clear of the wreckage and despite suffering serious injuries recovered and returned home to Canada.