23rd Oct, 2017

Anniversary of bomber’s final flight to be remembered

Rob George 7th Jun, 2017

THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY of a fateful flight from a National Trust property near Worcester will be marked this week.

A Halifax bomber took off from the once secret wartime airbase RAF Defford, now known as Croome, but would crash on what would become the worst accident, in terms of casualties, in the history of British military test flying.

The Handley Page Halifax bomber, V9977, took off equipped with an experimental radar, code-named ‘H2S’ on June 7 1942.

The aircraft was operated by a five-man RAF crew from the Telecommunications Flying Unit, based at Defford.

Their captain was Pilot Officer Douglas Berrington, an experienced pilot. Also on board were Geoffrey Hensby (a TRE scientist in the H2S radar team led by Dr Bernard Lovell), two RAF liaison officers attached to TRE, and three engineers from EMI at Hayes, including the distinguished electronics engineer Alan Blumlein.

The plane headed to the Bristol Channel to provide a demonstration of the H2S radar.

Sadly, at 4.20pm, the bomber was spotted over the Forest of Dean trailing smoke from one of its four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines.

Just two minutes later the starboard wing detached and the aircraft crashed in a field north of the River Wye, at Welsh Bicknor, Herefordshire.

All eleven on board died instantly. Investigations later found that a servicing error a few days previously had led to a catastrophic engine failure which resulted in a fire that spread to a fuel tank.

A few days after the accident Dr Lovell was informed personally by the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, that H2S radar development must retain its priority status.

H2S went into action with Bomber Command in January 1943 and provided crews, for the first time, with a means of navigating accurately to targets as far afield as Berlin.

The sacrifices made in furtherance of radar test flying are commemorated in the stained glass of the ‘Radar Memorial Window’ in the chapel at Goodrich Castle, close to the crash site of Halifax V9977.

This window was dedicated on 7 June 1992, the 50th anniversary of the crash.

Defford has its own RAF memorial on the Village Green. This was unveiled in 2002 by Sir Bernard Lovell OBE FRS, Emeritus Professor of Radio Astronomy at the University of Manchester.

The RAF Defford museum which tells the story of the secret wartime airbase is open between 11am-4.30pm.

Croome is open throughout the year. The park and lakeside are open from 9am until 5.30pm and Croome Court is open from 11am to 4.30pm every day. Normal admission applies.

Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/croome for more information.

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