P-39 Airacobra BX195, Settle

2nd November 1942

Last Updated: 16.11.2010

Note: This investigation was not a LAIT project - it was carried out by the Pennine Aircraft Recovery Team (PART) -but I was involved in all stages of the recovery and the aircraft's armament is now in the LAIT collection.

Type Unit Base Duty Crew
P-400

93rd FS, 81st FG, US 8th Air Force

Goxhill Cross Country Flight

1

Another crash site which had received the attentions of a number of groups of enthusiasts over the years, was that of P-39 (P-400) Airacobra BX195 near Settle. However, the fact that the site was easily accessible and the elderly farmer clearly recalled the "engine" has having been thrown clear and "easily removed by the recovery crew" at the time, probably did not lead to high expectations from those earlier visitors. Small fragments were found in the indicated area of the field using a metal detector, but no substantial readings were received by those early machines and no clearly defined crater was visible.

Recovered engine
Allison V-1710 engine

Recovered tail section
Tail section of BX195

The aircraft in question was one of a batch of P-39s originally delivered to the RAF and fitted with a 20mm M2 cannon in place of the more usual 37mm model, this and a number of other minor changes led to the model designation of P-400. Following disappointing performance and maintenance problems, they were handed back to the USAAF and this machine flew with the 93rd Fighter Squadron, 81st Fighter Group who at this time were based at Goxhill, Lincolnshire (Station No F-345) the station having recently handed to United States forces in order to receive new Fighter Group personnel from USA for training. On the 2nd November 1942, 2nd Lt. Rhodes was flying BX195 on a cross-country navigation exercise, but as it flew over the small Yorkshire market town of Settle, a few of the more observant onlookers below realised that something was wrong with this unusual aircraft. Black smoke was seen emitting from the exhausts on the aircraft's side and the powerful roar of the engine was reduced to a spluttering cough as it passed from view heading towards the higher ground around the town. It is clear that the pilot was guiding his stricken aircraft clear of the houses below, perhaps looking for a suitable area to make a forced landing. But, the direction he was heading led to rugged and rocky fells rising before him and soon after clearing the town he elected to bale out. Unfortunately he had left it too late and his parachute barely opened before he hit the ground and was killed instantly, his aircraft diving into the ground only a few hundred yards away. Lieutenant Rhodes is one of two pilots, who were killed in local accidents, who are commemorated on Settle's war memorial.

Pilot's shaving kit
Washbag & contents incl: socks, razor, comb, hairbrush, talc, shoehorn & shaving mirror

Recovered 20mm Cannon & Prop hub
Oldsmobile built M2 20mm Cannon still attached to the propeller hub

By chance BX195 had come to rest in a "sink-hole" - a natural feature of Limestone moorland - allowing the wreckage to bury itself almost completely in this otherwise impenetrable rocky terrain. The recovery team took advantage of this and after removing any surface wreckage and the radio equipment from the exposed tail section in the "crater" they simply leveled the site off by filling it with loose rocks. This barrier proved most efficient at protecting the site from later disturbance, including in recent years - metal detectors, until a Fisher two-box machine was used. PART's excavation of the site proved a success beyond all our best expectations - no-one thought that a P-39's mid-fuselage positioned engine would have actually embedded itself deeply enough to have been left in-situ. However this arrangement did mean that the physical damage to many items from the cockpit area was far more severe than is usually encountered, though the excellent condition of the engine made up for this disappointment. The dig also revealed a few mysteries, such as why no .50 cal. Ammunition was present? but the 20mm drum was full of live rounds (and subsequently blown up by EOD), though a few links were found in the ejection chutes on the .50 cal. guns, so had the ammunition been used on the way? Also why did the pilot carry so much personal equipment? - A parachute bag was uncovered containing a full dress uniform, pyjamas, towel, spare overalls, socks and wash bag! Though one mystery was apparently solved - a dropped valve noted whilst cleaning the engine would certainly explain the misfire heard by witnesses 50 years before.

2nd Lt. C. I. Rhodes

 

Name Position Status
2nd Lt. C. I. Rhodes  Pilot K.

Cecil I. Rhodes was only 23 years old at the time of his death, which was widely reported in his home town of Paoli, Indiana, where he had been well known and popular.  He had been in his senior year at Indiana university when he voluntarily enlisted in January 1941, completing his basic training and being assigned to the Air Corps in December of that year to train at the Cal-Aero Flight Academy, Ontario, California. He loved flying and saw it as a "big adventure" and was always optimistic that he would return home safely - but sadly this was not to be. He was noted as a talented musician from an early age and whilst at Indiana University he was a member of the famous "Marching Hundred" (or "Hundred" for short) band. He had graduated from Flying School and been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in June 1942 and only five to six weeks later he was on his way to England  - Had he survived, it would have only been a few weeks before his Squadron (93rd FS) were to move to North Africa and went into combat with 12th AF in January 1943. 


Acknowledgements:

D. Stansfield (PART), Jesse Lewis (Indiana State Library).

 

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