Wartime aircraft crashes near Stanhoe
With airfields at nearby Docking and Bircham Newton, Stanhoe saw its share of aircraft crashes during the Second World War. In this section are some notes on local incidents, drawing heavily on the memories of , who was a boy in Stanhoe at the time.
We are also grateful to of the former Norfolk War Graves website, to crew member Ivor Prothero of Wellington MS496, and to various enthusiastic aviation web forums (see below).
Our map page shows some of the crash sites.
Three fatal crashes
Three aircraft crashes about which we have some detailed information have their own pages:
Two pilots in training are killed as their aircraft collide.
Aircraft on a test flight breaks up in mid-air, possibly after the pilot performs a forbidden roll.
Bomber with engine failure crash-lands while trying to land at Docking after a raid over Germany.
German aircraft crashed in Station Road?
At Gillian Beckett’s village history talk in October 2012, Olga Ransom said she believed a German aircraft had crashed behind the council houses in Station Road.
Ivy Scales, who was born in Stanhoe in 1937, witnessed the aftermath of what could well have been the same crash. Ivy’s account is below. In conversation, she confirmed that the crash site was to the left of the road – on the same side as the council houses – as she and her gang ran back towards the village from the station.
“During the war the village kids went around in little gangs of friends, only coming home for meals. One day I was with a mob way down Station Road when the unmistakeable sound of a German plane was heard approaching (we could tell by the sound of the engines if it was Jerry or RAF).”
“The noise got louder and before we had decided whether to dive for cover in the hedge, black smoke appeared and it spiralled down to crash in a field on the left towards the village. We all took off as one to get to it as quick as we could and were busy dragging out the anti-radar foil ribbons when the village Bobby arrived on the scene and sent us packing.”
Ivy says she and her companions identified the aircraft as German from the sound of its engines. In practice, that may have meant that it had radial engines, as used by many German bombers, rather than the inline engines used in many Allied aircraft.
The idea of radial engines, plus Ivy’s mention of silver foil ribbons, initially made us think this might have been the Beaufighter crash. The Beaufighter had radial engines, and at the time of the crash in September 1941 would have been a fairly new sight in the skies over Stanhoe. However, Ivy added:
“The crash I saw in Station Road was much nearer the village, possibly getting on for a mile from the station. In September 1941 I would only have been four years old and was too young to have been out in a gang of kids! I believe the crash we saw must have been a few years later. In my memory it was a German plane. I have have a vague picture of the dead pilot, whom we ignored, so keen were we to get the ‘silver’ foil. I think he was flying solo.”
So for the moment the mystery remains. See also this discussion for a Dornier 217 that crashed at Fring.
Brian Hillman tells us that on 16 July 1944 a Lockheed Ventura V, number FP566 of 521 Squadron based at Bircham Newton, was making an approach to Docking when it lost power, belly landing at map reference TF 794 375, around 800 metres north-west of Stanhoe Hall. There are no reports of crew deaths.
The Norfolk Historic Environment Record confirms the aircraft type and grid reference but gives no other details.
Stanhoe Archive has a brief report – source unknown – that confirms the date and aircraft type. This report says that the aircraft was on a meteorological flight, suffered engine failure and crashed in the park at Stanhoe Hall. There were no casualties, but the aircraft was destroyed by fire. The location given is probably a mistake caused by confusion with the Wellington crash (above).
521 Squadron carried out meteorological reconnaissance for RAF Coastal Command. At the time of this incident the squadron seems to have been based at RAF Docking, not Bircham Newton.
Incidents along Station Road
Arthur Walker remembers three incidents in which as far as we know no lives were lost.
“One Sunday a few ATC boys were thrilled to be given a ride in a Lockheed Hudson. What they didn’t know was that the plane would develop a fault as it made for home. The plane crash-landed on its belly, ending up in a field on the left of Station Road known as Schoolfield. It is a three-acre field that used to be farmed by Charlie Seaman. He paid a tithe annually and the proceeds used to go the school children each Christmas for the best attendance.”
“The boys all got out of the plane and there was nobody hurt but they were all white-faced and terrified. The plane was a bit damaged with a small fire in one engine when we were shooed away.”
[Metal detecting with the kind permission of the trustees of Wright’s Charity has produced some small pieces of aircraft wreckage from this field. These are now in the care of Stanhoe Archive.]
“The second incident happened on the opposite side of the road where a Wellington landed for no apparent reason in a convenient 50-acre field that was sown with grass. The crew came into the village dressed in their big flying jackets. We asked them what they were doing but got no reply. I don’t know if they were able to take off again.”
“My mates and I were cruising round the village on our bikes looking for mischief one Saturday morning when a man came down Station Road and told us that a plane had crashed right on the crossroads near Sunderland airfield and completely blocked the road. We all rushed down there and found that a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber had crash landed on the airfield and skidded through the hedge and stopped right in the middle of the road. There was no-one guarding the plane so we had a good look round it. The guns and ammunition had been removed so it was quite safe. Looking across the airfield we could see three more that had all suffered the same fate. I think that they must have come down late on Friday night in daylight.”
A search at the AAIC website lists four incidents coded “LAC” (“landing accident”) at RAF Docking:
03 October 1943: B-17
30 October 1943: B-17
30 October 1943: B-17
02 September 1944: B-24
The incident dated 3 October could be a mistake for 30 October. If so, there were indeed three B-17 accidents on the same day – perhaps due to fog or a failure of the airfield lighting.
30 October 1943 was a Saturday, which would imply that Arthur saw the aircraft on the day of the crashes, and not the day after as he guessed.
The Bagthorpe Blenheim
Another RAF Coastal Command aircraft, this time a Bristol Blenheim, crashed somewhere near Bagthorpe. The Battle of Britain London Monument website reports the crash of Blenheim IV L9262 at “Barwick Farm” after taking off from RAF Bircham Newton; pilot P/O J S Priestley and gunner Sgt. EA Graves were both killed. This book about Blenheims reports the site as “Barwick Farm, Bagthorpe”.
The following is based on information from Bob Collis:
Coastal Command Losses by Ross McNeill states the aircraft was a Blenheim Mk IVF. This was a long-range fighter variant carrying four extra machine guns in a “gun pack” under the fuselage. RAF Coastal Command used the Mk IVF to protect convoys from German long-range bombers.
The same source reports that the aircraft was flying practice circuits when it spun into the ground. The crash position is given as “Bagthorpe, edge of Bircham”, with the approximate grid coordinate wG2850. This is a 1-km grid square extending from roughly TF 822 315 to TF 832 325 in modern coordinates – around Coxford Wood and Syderstone Common. The reference to Bagthorpe suggests that it was on Bagthorpe land south of the B1454, though possibly closer to Syderstone than to Bagthorpe Hall.
Bombs around Stanhoe
With thanks to Bob Collis for most of the information:
Docking was bombed on 22 separate occasions between 26 August 1940 and 27 July 1942.
On 20 October 1940 a parachute mine landed somewhere in the area but failed to explode. These modified naval mines were feared for the huge amount of blast damage they caused.
Two incendiary bombs fell in Stanhoe on 25 October 1940. These were probably 250 kg Flammenbombe oil-filled bombs, and not the smaller magnesium incendiary bombs dropped in large numbers. No casualties were reported.