Spitfire crash 1942

#1
I am wondering if anyone can help me with a rather strange request. In 1942 I was living on a farm in North Wales, having survived a few very close shaves during the 300 German air raids on Mersey side, and not leaving that area until the raids virtually ended in mid-May 1941. Five bombs, not including quite a lot of incenderies and one parachute mine had struck within three hundred yards of our house, and one bomb within thirty yards. I was just short of 14 years old.

I was watching two Spitfires, possibly from the Queens' Ferry airfield, practising dog-fighting over the Halkyn mountain, when the two aircraft collided head-on. I'd watched real dog-fights before, but never seen anything like this that was happening very close to me. One of the aircraft hurtled down not too far away and smashed into the ground out of sight, but I could see the smoke of the crash and as I had my bike with me cycled towards it. I arrived at the farm where it had crashed about ten minutes later.

There was only one person there, the farmer who owned the land, and he was just standing inside the field, near the hedge, staring at the wreckage. He didn't say a word to me when I went into the field, but looked very shocked.

The engine and the front of the aircraft was buried in a deep hole about a third of the way into the field. It was still smoking and very hot. I had a look around. I'd seen a lot of bomb wreckage and wasn't too disturbed, just very interested.
There was a lot of ammunition scattered around, and I have to admit collecting a short length of belt with about eight or nine live rounds in it. There was a lot of the aircraft lying around and also the machine-guns in parts of the wings. There was one machine-gun lying free of the wing and under a bit what looked like part of the seat. I lifted the bit of seat, and under it and sticking to it was part of an RAF blue jacket, one of the lower corners, and sewn into it was the white size label and written on this in black ink was, presumably, the owner's name. It was A.Coombes. There was also a somewhat burnt piece of the owner also attached to the cloth. I wasn't sure at first what to do with this, and then decided to take it over to the farmer and give it to him, which I did.

It was roughly about a little after mid-day, and I knew that my mother would have made dinner for us and that I would be late getting in for it, so I cycled back to the farm where we were living. Obviously, I told my mother about what I had seen, but didn't admit about the live bullets etc. The pilot's name, and the bit of him that I had seen and handled, really didn't begin to bother me at first. It wasn't the first dead body I'd seen, although it was the first bit I had personally handled, and when my mother produced a lunchtime sandwich of a rare wartime variety, a tinned salmon sandwich, I was suddenly very sick!.

Years later the crash is still very vivid in my mind, and the name of the young, probably trainee, pilot has stuck in my mind. Was he a sergeant or an officer, Spitfire pilots could be either. How old was he? Maybe just three or four years older than me! What was his family, and where did he come from? Had he already fought in the battle of Britain. I have always wondered just who A.Coombes was.

If anyone does know something about the young man who I witnessed dying, I would be most grateful to learn about him. It would, perhaps, lay a ghost that I have lived with all these years. The ghost of a young pilot whose name was A.Coombes.
 
C

cloudbuster

Guest
#3
I recommend re-posting your tale on both PPRuNe's Aviation History and Nostalgia board, and Flypast's Historic board, both of which are but a Google away, and are populated with the kind of people who would have the kind of info you're after at their fingertips.

Best of luck, and keep us posted.
 
#7
I'm sorry I've nothing sensible to add to this thread, ...but I can assure you I will be watching this, very interesting I hope you find your answers.
 
#8
Very interesting story. I unfortunately can't steer you towards any organisation that would be useful, but will be following this with close interest.

Best of luck.
 
#9
I had an uncle who flew his Spitfire in to a hillside in low cloud while on a training flight from RAF Graingemouth in 1941. He shows up on the CWGC site, so there's presumably no reason why A. Coombes wouldn't.

To cut a long story short, his mother, my granny, never accepted what the RAF told her at the time. Not helped by the fact that some bricks had been placed in his coffin when it was returned home to make up the weight - there wasn't much left to recover from the crash site. She was convinced his Spitfire had been "sabotaged", or something worse. In later life it became an absolute obsession with her to find out the truth of what happened to her son. Just before she died in 2001 we contacted the Air Historical Branch at the MoD who were very helpful (for crabs) and gave us the full Board of Inquiry/air accident report and his service history. If you know the date you might like to give them a try Air Historical Branch - Home , although they might be a bit sticky if you are not NOK.
 
#10
I had an uncle who flew his Spitfire in to a hillside in low cloud while on a training flight from RAF Graingemouth in 1941. He shows up on the CWGC site, so there's presumably no reason why A. Coombes wouldn't.

To cut a long story short, his mother, my granny, never accepted what the RAF told her at the time. Not helped by the fact that some bricks had been placed in his coffin when it was returned home to make up the weight - there wasn't much left to recover from the crash site. She was convinced his Spitfire had been "sabotaged", or something worse. In later life it became an absolute obsession with her to find out the truth of what happened to her son. Just before she died in 2001 we contacted the Air Historical Branch at the MoD who were very helpful (for crabs) and gave us the full Board of Inquiry/air accident report and his service history. If you know the date you might like to give them a try Air Historical Branch - Home , although they might be a bit sticky if you are not NOK.

Seconded - strongly recommend a call into AHB at Northolt, email to Dr Seb Cox- he is in the public domain already as the Head of AHB and all round aviation history ninja.
 
#11
Seconded - strongly recommend a call into AHB at Northolt, email to Dr Seb Cox- he is in the public domain already as the Head of AHB and all round aviation history ninja.
Ah, beaten to it! Was just about to say to the OP about the AHB, who can be also be reached by snail mail at

The Air Historical Branch
RAF Northolt
West End Road
Ruislip
Middlesex
HA4 6NG
 
#15
As I live on the Welsh borders I've just skimmed through my 'Down in Wales' books plus some others - no trace sadly. However, a lot of talk about how common mid-airs were and how the combination of shit weather, high ground and inexperienced pilots meant that there are many, many farms with their own bit of aviation history included.

I've even got some JU88 in my back garden!
 
#16
My internet connection is clearly shit.

So lets try again.

The borrowed jacket theory I touched on a couple of hours earlier which has disappeared into the ether seems to have legs and may explain a few things.

However if the purpose of the flight was to practice dogfighting, the fact that live ammunition was recovered by the OP from the crash site suggests otherwise. Could the OP have mistaken this mock dogfight for a real one with an an ME109F? Both had rounded or elliptical wings.

But then agin in 1942, in daylight, what chances are there of an Me109F being over Wales, when most, if not all were on the Russian front. And I would imagine if any were they would be escorting bombers. Unless they were part of Erprosgruppe 210 and there Baedecker raids or some such outfit. But its a bit far west for them.
 
#17
HPW, you don't give your location or a specific date when the accident happened, but I suspect that the aircraft would have more likely taken off from RAF Hawarden - Queen's Ferry (RAF Sealand) doesn't appear to have had Spitfires regularly stationed there. Hawarden did and was the home of 57 OTU.

Some related sites, that may not be relevant to the time in question:

57 OTU ORB Hawarden, January-June 1941
Spitfire Collison 57 OTU 2-11-41

I'll keep looking...
 
#18
My internet connection is clearly shit.

So lets try again.

The borrowed jacket theory I touched on a couple of hours earlier which has disappeared into the ether seems to have legs and may explain a few things.

However if the purpose of the flight was to practice dogfighting, the fact that live ammunition was recovered by the OP from the crash site suggests otherwise. Could the OP have mistaken this mock dogfight for a real one with an an ME109F? Both had rounded or elliptical wings.

But then agin in 1942, in daylight, what chances are there of an Me109F being over Wales, when most, if not all were on the Russian front. And I would imagine if any were they would be escorting bombers. Unless they were part of Erprosgruppe 210 and there Baedecker raids or some such outfit. But its a bit far west for them.
Hawarden and Borras airfields were Operational Training Units and a number of airfields were satellite air defence fields for Liverpool. So either Operational training or active air combat training could be true, but I do not see that a Bf 109 had the legs to get to North Wales never mind having fuel for combat and return.

^^^^^^^^As above.
 
#19
Looks like it was Pilot Officer Pronk who hit the hillside.

They were practising head-on attacks over the coast, pulled out too late and collided. Moreau's ship simply blew to pieces, and he hadn't a chance to bale out. Pronk hit a hillside before he could get his aircraft under control and himself out of the cockpit.
 

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