Defiant T3955 - Nether Kellet
15th May 1941
Last updated: 05.12.2017

Boulton Paul Defiant
256 Squadron Defiant I
Type Serial Unit Base DutyCrew
Defiant I T3955 No. 256 Squadron Squires Gate Night practice flight2

The aircraft involved was an RAF Boulton Paul Defiant I, Construction number 495, built under contract 34864/39 and delivered to No. 19 M.U. (maintenance Unit) on 5th March 1941 with the RAF Serial No. T3955. On the 10th April it was allocated to No. 256 Squadron, based at Squires Gate near Blackpool and given the Squadron code letters JT-R. The Defiant was a pre-war designed Interceptor aircraft intended to attack enemy bomber formations and was armed with a powered dorsal turret, equipped with four 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns, requiring a gunner in addition to the pilot. At the time of its loss, Defiant T3955 had only completed 39 flying hours. On the night of the 14th / 15th May 1941, T3955 was being flown by Sergeant P.J. Taylor accompanied by his air gunner, Sergeant E.R. Fremlin RNZAF on a night practice flight. The aircraft crashed 01:45 hours on the 15th - the cause being officially recorded as "after losing control due to inexperience in instrument flying in poor visibility at night". The aircraft dived vertically into the ground and was totally destroyed by the impact and ensuing fire, with both crew being killed instantly.

Sergeant P.J. Taylor Sergeant E.R. Fremlin

Sgt. Peter John Taylor20PilotK.
Sgt. Erle Rutherford Fremlin RNZAF19Air GunnerK.

Our initial research centred on the crash record card (Form 1180), as no AIB report could be traced. Immediately we noted that the date on this form may easily be misread as "15.02.41", which explains why other sources have mis-quoted the month for this incident in the past.  Blame for the crash is attributed to “bad instrument flying” by the pilot and his O.T.U. (Operational Training Unit) assessment is questioned as to whether it justified sending him to a night fighting squadron. However other factors are mentioned, including the deteriorating weather conditions on the night of the crash and the fact that Link Trainer facilities were not yet available to the Squadron, which no doubt contributed towards the pilot’s lack of further training on instrument flying. Finally the possibility of an unknown mechanical failure being a contributory factor is not ruled out. This latter comment is interesting as one member of our group corresponded with Taylor’s commanding officer at No. 256 Squadron several years ago and he stated that a number of the Squadron’s Defiants had suffered major instrument malfunctions around this time. This later proved to be due to an identified common fault where the flexible rubber tube connecting the engine driven vacuum pump to the artificial horizon and giro compass was incorrectly fitted and became kinked cutting off the vacuum supply.

The aircraft and engine were both categorised as “W” or "write off" with fire noted on impact and although the Form 1180 indicates that parachutes were used, this again appears to be an error, as both crew were clearly still in the aircraft on impact and were killed instantly - though again other sources have mistakenly recorded, in the past, that both crew bailed out and assumed they were killed due to being too low. The Squadron’s ORB (Operations Record Book Daily Summaries (RAF Form 540) held at the National Archives) states on May 15th that the aircraft dived vertically [into the ground] and burst into flames.  A few days later another entry on the 19th notes that both crew member’s remains had been recovered from the crash site and were transferred by road to the pilot’s father’s home pending burial. It is believed personnel from the Royal Engineers carried out the recovery and both men are buried at Mansfield (Nottingham Road) Cemetery, Graves; 2603 (Fremlin) and 2402 (Taylor).

T3955 Crash Site
Our initial survey of the crash site in far from ideal weather conditions!

We knew that following the crash there had been a concerted recovery operation to locate the remains of the crew for burial and believed that the bulk of the aircraft’s remains were also removed at this time. Also we knew that the site had been excavated in 1983 and parts recovered at that time included; the instrument panel, a machine gun and parts from the engine – with some items now being on display at the Tettenhall Transport Heritage Centre  in Wolverhampton. The approximate location of the crash site proved to be common local knowledge, no doubt largely due to the previous excavation, but the original crash was beyond the memory of any locals we were able to trace. Initial grid searching using conventional metal detectors was used to ascertain a more accurate area of impact, through plotting the characteristic scatter of smaller surface fragments and during this, only a few of the more substantial, contacts were actually uncovered to confirm their identity. These included, the maker’s plate from the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, bearing the engine number, which matched the documentary records. Also two instrument faces, one being the cockpit clock, though both badly corroded. After marking out the apparent limits of the crash site, more sophisticated detecting equipment was used, including a Foerster Magnetometer, to search for deeper and more substantial remains and although a few deeper contacts were noted, there was no indication that these were likely to be major remains. 

Head rest 1Head rest 2T3955 Clock
Before: Crumpled engine maker's plate, as foundAfter: Rolls Royce engine maker's plate cleaned  and straightenedFace from the cockpit clock, with traces of the hour hand still pointing towards "1"

For our excavation  of the site, we started by clearing the topsoil, revealing an easily identifiable area of disturbed ground (see photos) and almost immediately made our first find -  a lead mass balance weight probably from the rudder. This was right at the limit of the excavation and was probably the only artefact we found in its original undisturbed post crash location and strongly suggested a vertical impact.  The soil removed during the excavation had clearly been heavily disturbed and there was no evidence of any discolouration indicating burning or where parts of the aircraft had passed through. Also noted was a layer containing substantial pockets of almost completely oxidized powdered aluminium  (Daz) at approx 3 – 4 feet in depth, which we believed to be all that was left of parts of the aircraft returned to the hole after the previous dig. This appeared to be confirmed later when a visitor to the excavation proved to be the driver of the machine used in the 1983 dig, who recalled the group throwing quantities of airframe parts back into the whole at a point when it was mostly filled in.

Top soil removedDisturbed ground revealed
Initial clearing of top soil revealing tell-tale traces of "Daz".Next layer reveals discolouration of the sub-soil

At approx. 5 feet in depth a small scattered cache of parts from the aircraft was found, with a few sections of steel framework and smaller components, all showing significant corrosion, but better preserved than the badly oxidized parts found so far. After removing these the excavation was checked with our detecting equipment again and it appeared that more still remained buried. At around 7 to 8 feet below the surface the digger uncovered several medium sized boulders, followed by a particularly large and immovable boulder at approximately 9 feet. This appeared to have suffered impact damage, probably explaining the severe disintegration noted on the engine components uncovered in 1983. The soil at this depth was darkly discoloured with a faint smell of oil and fuel and it was found that although we were still getting metal detector readings, no significant metal objects could be found, only a few small pieces which proved almost impossible to pinpoint with detectors due to the heavily metal fragment / particle contaminated clay.

Dig 1Dig 2
Approx 5 feet in depth discolouration becomes more prominent Parts recovered from approx 5 feet depth, including 2 oak blocks

Overall the parts found showed no relationship to each other in the order and location they were found, but there were clues that suggested that the 1941 recovery had been very thorough and  probably reached the limit of penetration of the aircraft. Two oak blocks found had almost certainly been used as sheerleg pads in 1941 and there was evidence of a fairly severe post-crash fire, probably burning underground, as fragments of shoes were found (but reinterred) that were charred and globules of once melted aluminium were found. Most of the parts found exhibited severe impact damage, with a 12” section of camshaft with a section of rocker cover wrapped almost completely around it, graphically illustrating the extreme destruction of the engine. The Rolls Royce maker’s plate from the engine was found on the surface and was thought likely to have been brought from deeper down by the 1983 excavation and missed in the spoil. This was also badly distorted and crushed and took several hours work to unfold and conserve.  Also found on the surface were two instrument faces from the cockpit which due to their fragility could not have survived in this position since the crash, so again were probably missed by the 1983 team. Though badly damaged and corroded, the clock face did have the remains of the collar and stub of the hour hand still attached, pointing towards the numeral 1, appearing to confirm approximately the time of the crash given as 01:45 on the crash record card.

Dig 3Site reinstated
Careful checking of the spoil proved difficult due to considerable metal particle contamination of the soilSite carefully reinstated at the end of the dig



Mr C Halhead, Russell Brown,

RAF Form 1180: Defiant T3955, 15.05.1941

256 Squadron’s ORB (Operations Record Book Daily Summaries (RAF Form 540) held at the National Archives) entries for 15.05.1941 and 19.05.1941

Squadron Leader E. C. Deanesly, D.F.C. (Deceased - former commanding officer of 256 Squadron), written correspondence circa 1987.

Mrs Dorothy Julia Taylor-Eggleshaw, (Deceased, sister of Sergeant P.J. Taylor), written correspondence circa 1988.

Mrs Melva Ockleston (Deceased, sister of Sergeant E.R. Fremlin), written correspondence circa 1988

Mr Peter. Taylor-Lane (Nephew of of Sergeant P.J. Taylor), email correspondence circa 2009

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