P-38 42-12920 - Croston

15th January 1943

Updated 10.01.2004

Type Unit Base Duty Crew Passengers
P-38F-5A 13th Reconnaissance Squadron, 7th Photographic Reconnaissance Group, US 8th AAF Burtonwood  Ferry flight 1 -

Over the years, despite the attentions of number of groups, the crash site of an American fighter close to the channel of the River Douglas at Croston remained something of an enigma. Though it was agreed that the aircraft concerned had been a P-38, its identity & that of its pilot remained a mystery and without even a firm date for the incident there was little to go on. As so often is the case luck played a major part in our solving this mystery, though a strong emphasis on communication and sharing our knowledge with other enthusiasts played a major role as well.

Name Position Status
2nd Lt. K.V. Burnett Pilot K.

Second Lieutenant Kenneth V. Burnett was assigned with the US 8th AF to the 13th Reconnaissance Squadron based at Poddington, but on the afternoon of the 15th January 1943 he and fellow pilot 1st Lt. A.C. Vernon N. Luber were at Base Air Depot 1, Burtonwood and volunteered to accompany one of the stations regular ferry pilots, 2nd Lt. Otto A. Hloucal to nearby Speke to pick up three new aircraft and fly them up to BAD1. The aircraft concerned were two P-38s and a P-47 and as Hloucal knew the area, he was to take the latter aircraft and lead the two volunteer pilots back to the Base. At approx. 17:00 hours 2nd Lt. Hloucal took off and circled Speke, closely followed by Burnett at 17:05, but he failed to join up with the ferry pilot and headed off in a Northeasterly direction. Luber finally took off at 17:15 and as the two aircraft headed towards Burtonwood they expected Burnett to join them, thinking that he may be circling along the route waiting for them - but there was no sign of him.

The starboard wing struck the field in the foreground (see left) and the aircraft continued into a group of substantial trees (now gone) which stood where the small copse is now - The wing and engine were torn away and came to rest in an old dried up river channel behind where the trees stood (see right).

The 15th January 1943 was cold & grey and towards late afternoon low lying mist began to cover the land, when residents became aware that a low flying aircraft was above them, apparently flying up and down the course of the river Douglas between the villages of Croston and Tarleton. Some witnesses could even see the glow of lights in the cockpit as the aircraft continued its wide circling course for some 20 to 30 minutes - it was obvious to everyone that the pilot was lost. Finally at approx. 18:00 hours with visibility fading, the aircraft, Serial No. 42-12920 began to descend and it appeared to one witness that the pilot was attempting a forced landing on the River Douglas itself just outside the Village of Croston. However the aircraft turned steeply in the last moments and made an apparent attempted, wheels down, landing, in the field immediately bordering the river. With the aircraft close to the ground, the wingtip struck an area of brush and the pilot "gunned"" his engines in an attempt to gain lift. However the effect was the opposite of what the pilot expected and the aircraft was actually pulled towards the ground, the right wing tip striking first and the plane then hitting a group of substantial trees, where it partly disintegrated, hitting the ground immediately with the centre section including the cockpit coming to rest some 150 yards away and partly over the river. It soon became obvious that lack of fuel was not the reason behind the crash as an explosion took place and a fierce fire took hold at once, with burning fuel carried upstream by the incoming tide, making any approach to the wreck impossible. Once the fire had died down and could be extinguished by the local Fire Services, the pilot's body was removed to the mortuary at Tarleton and soldiers from the locally based 556 Battery Searchlight Regt. at Sollom were detailed to guard the wreckage until the arrival of the American recovery team the next morning. The aircraft's remains were recovered with the assistance of a local farmer, one engine with a wing still attached lay near the trees where the initial impact occurred, but much had been destroyed by the fire.

The centre section including the cockpit came to rest partly over the river here, with burning fuel being carried upstream (towards the camera) by the incoming tide - the embankments have been built since the crash.

Today nothing remains at the scene and the riverbank where the centre section lay has been built up as part of a flood prevention scheme. Some small parts were found in 1983 during an investigation by 2486 Squadron ATC from Lytham, though these are now believed to have been lost. A recent thorough metal detector search by LAIT members only managed to uncover a few small globules of once molten aluminium from the adjacent field - probably from where they fell as the wreckage was dragged to the road.

2nd Lt. Kenneth V. Burnett had graduated from flight training in the USA in July 1942 and been assigned to the Photographic Reconnaissance Operational Training Unit, Colorado Springs, from July 17, 1942. On December 1, 1942, he left for Europe, assigned to the 13th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron. Given the short time he was flying over this country it does not seem unreasonable to assume that this was yet another case clearly illustrating just how alien an environment the young newly trained US flyers must have found wartime Britain. With its difficult navigation and unpredictable weather, which could change so quickly and vary so widely from one location to another relatively close destination, it caught many such pilots unawares.

Parts found in 1983 - poor photo sorry
Parts of the P-38 recovered in 1983 and now lost (apologies for poor photo)

Finding eyewitnesses to the incident proved remarkably trouble free and in time we interviewed: a former Home Guard member who guarded the wreck, several locals who saw the plane immediately prior to the crash, one or two individuals who actually saw the crash and the farmer recruited by the authorities to remove the wreckage to the roadside for collection. However none could give a firm date for the incident and even the year was proving difficult to be sure of. Our lucky break came when aviation historian and writer David Smith was researching USAAF casualties and checking through a list which included details of servicemen based at Base Air Depot 1 (BAD1) at Burtonwood. Although the details were only brief, they answered the most important questions and finally give us a starting point for further research.

2nd Lt. Kenneth V. Burnett now Lies next to his mother in Kinsley cemetery (Courtesy M. Thomason)

Kenneth Vern Burnett Jr. was born in Kinsley, Kansas, graduated from Central High School in 1938 and from Pueblo Junior College in 1940. He was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth V. Burnett of 516 West Adams Avenue, Pueblo, Colorado. Initially he was buried at the Brookwood American Cemetery, Brookwood, Surrey,  but in 1948 his remains were repatriated at the request of his family and he now lies in his home town of Kinsley, Kansas.


Acknowledgements:

K, Measham, Mr. F. Lee, David J. Smith, Russell Brown, Aldon P. Ferguson, Craig Fuller, Mike Thomason (Pueblo College), Peter Moran.

 

Send Email Back to Home Page

This page & all articles on this site Copyright Nick Wotherspoon 1999