8/9/43 Attack Against Targets at Boulogne and the take-off crash of BK809 JN-T

crash site

Many thanks to Dave for supplying an aerial photograph of Mepal airfield as a result of a query on the ‘Ask a ?’ section I set up yesterday. The map shows the crash site (bottom right) of BK809 JN-T, which crashed on take-off on the night of 8th September 1943, prior to an Op to Boulogne.

75 (NZ) Sqn RAF Operations Record Book (ORB)
8/9/43
Operations. 
Seventeen aircraft were detailed to attack the above targets. The carried their maximum bomb load in bombs of 1,000lb., and 500lb.. One aircraft crashed whilst taking off and two returned early. The remainder successfully dropped their bombs in the target area. Not many fires were seen but numerous huge explosions were observed. Some heavy and light predicted A.A.Fire and a few searchlights were encountered but caused no trouble. A few enemy aircraft were seen, but no combats took place. The weather was good and visibility was clear  except for slight ground haze. Navigation was excellent.

The aircraft that crashed during take-off was captained by F/O. I.R.MENZIES. Whilst taking off it swung off the runway and crashed into two houses on the far side adjoining the perimeter track. It caught fire almost simultaneously, and in the fire, various bombs exploded, causing the aircraft to be a total wreck. Three members of the crew, a W.A.A.F. Officer of R.A.F. Station MEPAL and an aircrew Sergeant, and 2 civilians were killed and other civilians were injured. The W.A.A.F. Officer and the aircrew sergeant lost their lives whilst trying to render assistance.
Page 587, 1943. Form 540/ 541 AIR27/ 646  75(NZ) Squadron RAF, Mepal. National Archives.

Stirling Mk.III BK809 JN-T
F/O. Ian Robert Menzies RNZAF NZ415002. Pilot.
Died Wednesday 8th September after crashing on take-off. Buried Cambridge City Cemetery, England.

P/O. Derek Albert Arthur Cordery RAFVR 136360. Navigator.

P/O. Norman Hathway Gale RAFVR 849986. Air Bomber.
Died Wednesday 8th September after crashing on take-off. Buried Bristol (Canford) Cemetery, England.

Sgt. Ralph Herbert Barker RNZAF NZ417189. Wireless Operator.

Sgt. Albert Leslie Mellor RAFVR 943914. Flight Engineer.
Seriously injured Wednesday 8th September after crashing on take-off. Died Wednesday 8th September Buried Buxton Cemetery, England.

Sgt. Bullivant G RAFVR 1395379. Mid Upper Gunner.

Sgt. Stewart Donald Muir RNZAF NZ416967. Rear Gunner.
Died 16th June 1944 with 7(PFF) Squadron.

The Flight Sergeant and W.A.A.F Officer that were killed when attempting to offer assistance were;

F/Sgt Peter Gerald Dobson MiD RNZAF NZ439022. Navigator. 16th Mar to 8th Sep 1943. Died Wednesday 8th September 1943, age 28. A 75 Sqn Stirling, (BK809), fully laden with fuel and bombs for an attack on a long-range gun battery nr Boulogne, France, swung on take-off and crashed between two houses off the end of the runway. F/Sgt Dobson was killed by exploding bombs as he went to the assistance of the aircrew crew and the occupants of the houses. Buried Cambridge City Cemetery, England.
Mention in Despatches (14 Jan 1944):
“For bravery in action and meritorious fulfilment of duty”.

Section Officer Joan Majorie Easton WAAF/RAF 2986. 24th July 1943 to 8th Sep 1943. Died Wednesday 8th September 1943, age 26, when a 75 Sqn Stirling (BK809) fully laden with bombs and fuel, swung on take-off for an attack on a long-range gun battery nr Boulogne and crashed between two houses off the end of the runway. S/O Easton was killed when the bomb load exploded as she went to the assistance of the aircraft crew and the occupants of the houses. Buried Greenwich (Charlton and Kidbrook) Cemetery. London, England.

Additionally, another member of the Squadron came to the aid of the crash victims. Unlike Peter and Joan, Terence survived the incident and was awarded the British Empire Medal for his bravery that night.

Cpl Terence Henry King BEM RAF 610334. ELECT 1, Electrical Sect. Citation BEM (24 Dec 1943) “In September 1943, an aircraft which was taking off with a load of bombs crashed into two houses on the edge of an airfield and burst into flames. Corporal King hurried to the scene and, although fully aware that high explosive bombs were likely to explode at any moment, he went to the cottages a few yards from the burning aircraft to warn the occupants of their imminent danger and render assistance. An injured man was found and while Corporal King, with the help of a civilian, was taking him to safety a bomb exploded. The bravery shown by Corporal King was instrumental in saving a life and many more lives might have been lost had it not been for his prompt action in helping to warn occupants of the nearby houses. “

The exact circumstances of that night will probably never be known – ironically, as I mention in a reply to Dave, based on the crew order that night my Father might have taken off just before the crash occurred.

I have read of the rear double tail wheel having a habit of running out of line on takeoff – even to the point that anecdotal evidence suggests the Rear Gunner would sometimes rotate his turret to the side and hang out to check it was running straight – sometimes hanging out to give it a kick if it wasn’t!

Perhaps another question mark hangs over the undercarriage – absurdly tall and only modified to the final 2 story height to meet the Air Ministry performance specifications, the original design failed to meet regarding maximum take-off distance – the addition of the taller undercarriage was essentially used to increase the angle of attack of the aircraft’s wings, thus increasing lift and thus shortening it’s take off distance. A Stirling at almost takeoff speed, suffering a collapse, or partial collapse to its starboard undercarriage would probably have been impossible to control – its forward momentum taking it where ever it planned to go, irrespective of any attempts by the Pilot or Flight Engineer to rest control.

I would be fascinated to hear anything else about this event……….

2 thoughts on “8/9/43 Attack Against Targets at Boulogne and the take-off crash of BK809 JN-T

  1. Kevin King

    Many years ago I spoke to Jonny Grubb ex RNZAF who was on duty that night in the control tower. He watched ‘ Ming ‘ Menzies taking off. He said the aircraft developed a swing which the pilot was unable to control. Stirlings were very prone to this and a large number were lost in this way.
    In the late 1980’s the occupants of one of the houses that was damaged, in which two people died, were experiencing strange happenings in the house. The vicar of Sutton performed an exorcism which put the ghosts to rest. Strange but true.

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  2. Dave

    Thank you kevin, fascinating!!! so we now have the name of a man in the control tower that night. By chance I came across this aerial photo from just after the crash showing a lot of activity in that area, two houses at the end of the road have gone and a gap in the hedge, presumably where the plane went through.

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