N1694 - Halsall
7th April 1941
Updated on 11.11.2010
|No. 256 Squadron
|Operational night patrol
On the night of the 7th May 1941, No. 256 Squadron based at Squires Gate was flying night patrols against German raiders - one Defiant from the Sqn. shot down a Ju88 over Banks Marsh that night and many locals both sides of the Ribble estuary witnessed its fiery demise. Meanwhile a few miles away, another drama was taking place in the moonlight above the clouds over the Southport area. N1694 had taken off earlier piloted by Flight Sgt. J. Stenton, with his gunner Sgt W. Ross. However, during the patrol their aircraft suffered a major electrical equipment failure, resulting in complete loss of R/T and very soon they were completely lost and just after 23.30 hrs they were running low on fuel. Despite descending and breaking through the cloud cover at 4000 feet, they were still unable to determine their position and elected to abandon the aircraft.
|Flight Sgt. John Stenton
|Sgt William Ross.
|Flight Sgt. J. Stenton
|Sgt W. Ross.
This decision could not have been taken lightly as the Defiant was never an easy aircraft to bail out of and it seems that all did not go well. Although Stenton made a safe descent, Sgt. Ross was reported as injured, with broken leg on landing, and taken to Ormskirk Hospital. In fact the situation proved more serious, as another Air Gunner, Sgt R.T. Adams from the Squadron notes in his personal diary " Ross worse than we thought, broken leg and fractured skull. Not expected to live, relatives called for". However a couple of days later he notes that "Ross will pull through after all" and the following week he went to visit him at Ormskirk where he was "pulling through OK, but won't be flying for months".
Just below the plough layer, the first parts of N1694 are revealed.
Intact makers plate from the Rolls Royce Merlin III
Defiant N1694 impacted on farmland close to Lowlands Farm off Plex Lane, Halsall near Southport at 23.45, bursting into flames, though the fire seems to have been brief and was not recalled by the witnesses we interviewed. By the next morning, when curious locals came to view the by now well guarded wreck, there was little recognisable left. Today most of the local farms are now private residential developments and very few locals recalled the events of nearly 60 years before - though fortunately one remembered that the wreck lay close to a natural hollow that forms a pond in very wet weather. For once the wet weather prevalent at the time was in our favour and such a pond had indeed formed, enabling us to quickly pinpoint the site!
Our excavation of the site had to wait some 12 months for the necessary permit to be obtained and a window in the crops on the field that coincided with suitable weather for the dig. Our detecting equipment indicated only a small area of remains below plough depth, so we were not expecting major components and a small team of four gathered for a hand dig of the site.
The excavation well under way & conditions started getting somewhat "sticky"!
Not much to look at - but some superb smaller finds were recovered by careful checking.
We certainly had a good day for the dig and as predicted we soon found that the aircraft had only impacted to a depth of approx. 4 feet - the engine had obviously completely shattered and had been recovered at the time. Also there was evidence of a fire, though parts were scorched rather than melted, indicating this may have been brief, probably due to there being little fuel left on the aircraft to burn. However there were many smaller parts and careful sifting of the sandy soil soon rewarded us with some nice finds. The main engine maker's plate proved the star find of the day and the number matched that on the "Form 1180" perfectly :-) Also plates from the reduction gear casing and the turret gunsight were found. Other finds included: a hydraulic pump for the undercarriage, several shattered instruments, a complete Morse code key unit, the DH propeller control unit, spinner badge, part of the instrument panel + many fragments of switches, fuse boxes etc. The bottom of the hole was saturated in oil, with chunks of crankcase and many smashed engine fragments. Finally below this the three counterweights from the prop hub were found embedded in the clay - showing we had reached the limit of the penetration of the wreckage.
RAF Form 1180, Alan Mills, Russell Brown. Simon Hawkins, Dilip Sarkar.
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