PG472 - Smithills
2nd February 1945
Last updated 13.11.2010
|Local Training Exercise
On the afternoon of the 2nd February 1945 two Hurricanes, assigned to No.11 Pilots Advanced Flying Unit took off at approx. 1:40pm from the unit's base at RAF Calverley in Cheshire. The aircraft concerned were PG472 piloted by 21 year old Flight Sergeant Thomas Stanley Taylor and PZ848 piloted by Warrant Officer Norman Thomas Huckle, also 21. The first of these, PG472, a Hurricane Mk IIC had been delivered to No.22 MU on the 14.04.1944 and from there on to 1697 Air Despatch Letter Service Flight (ADLS) on 30.06.1944. The aircraft remained with 1697 ADLS until 02.09.1944 when it was damaged, category B and sent to 511 Field Repair Unit (FRU), returning to 22 MU in November and then on to 11 (P)AFU on the 04.01.1945.
The two pilots were cleared for local flying exercises, but some 20 minutes later they were flying over the high ground to the North of the Lancashire mill town of Bolton. The subsequent inquiry noted that the two aircraft must have flown, in formation, directly after take-off to have reached this area in this time, though the pilot's reasons for taking this action are unclear. One witness did come forward, following an article we placed in a local paper appealing for information. This informant stated that one of the pilots was in fact engaged to a young woman who worked at the same factory as herself and that an impromptu air display had been arranged, but sadly the aircraft never turned up. Flight Sergeant Thomas Stanley Taylor from Scarborough is buried at Scarborough (Woodlands) Cemetery, Yorkshire, Section C. Border, Grave 87.
|Flight Sergeant Thomas Stanley Taylor
At approx. 2.00pm the two aircraft are believed to have been flying in formation at some 6-7000 feet over the Smithills area to the North West of Bolton, when they collided in cloud. Both aircraft dived out of the cloud, out of control, over high ground, PG472 diving into open moorland on the Northern flank of Whimberry Hill. Evidence suggests that the aircraft dived into the ground inverted and exploded on impact, burning fiercely for some time after the crash, within the crater blasted out of the rocky soil. The force of the impact and effects of the fire were such that the aircraft was completely destroyed and apart from the pilot's remains and the engine, it would appear that little else was deemed worth recovering at the time.
Initial research into the site of PG472's demise once again indicated only one partial excavation having been carried out, by hand, in the 1970s. Though contact with individuals involved at that time showed that no record had been made of the exact location and the details given in this respect on the RAF Form 1180 were incorrect. Following several trips to the area, speaking to locals and investigating various leads, we managed to trace a former game-keeper who recalled having seen wreckage on an area of open moorland some 3/4 mile from the site of PZ848 in the 1960s. It was also interesting to note that due to the decline of farming in the area, almost no residents remain who lived there at the time of the crash.
Even with an fairly accurate lead on the location, it still took an afternoons search to locate the site as although a distinct crater remained, it was invisible from as little as 10 feet away due to the terrain, long grass and bracken! Perhaps it was for this reason that both main undercarriage legs were found lying on the surface, one with an intact main-wheel still attached and both being relatively straight, suggesting the aircraft was inverted at the time of impact. Excavation of the site began with the recovery of the undercarriage legs, which had to be carried off the moor over some fairly rough terrain, as the site was inaccessible to vehicles and this also necessitated a hand dig of the crash site.
Several willing LAIT members spent a day excavating the crater to a depth of approx. 3-4 feet, which was as far as the aircraft had penetrated and the deepest finds were sections of the two coolant pipes from the top of the Merlin engine, again suggesting an inverted impact. Most parts showed evidence of the effects of an intense fire apart form a few sections of airframe lying some distance away on a plateau below the crater. However considering the hardness of the ground and the relatively shallow depth to which the aircraft had penetrated, a surprising quantity of wreckage was uncovered. Larger finds included: armour plate with headrest, oxygen bottle, undercarriage leg operating hydraulic jacks, 20mm cannon mounts, generator, starter motor and various engine ancillaries, sections of main wing-spar and many sections of tubular steel airframe. Smaller parts included: Rev counter, brake lever from the control column, cockpit switches, sliding canopy frame sections, cannon access panel, fuel cap and various parachute harness buckles. Although due to the condition of many of the items recovered, cleaning the artifacts is likely to be a long process!
Overall the excavation of PG472 again proved to be a successful conclusion to our research, with some worthwhile finds uncovered. The dig was well attended (which certainly helped when carrying the two main undercarriage legs off the moor!) and was a most enjoyable day. We now look forward to being able to display the cleaned finds and the results of our research into this incident in the future.
RAF Forms 1180 & 78, Mr. J. Molyneux (WWIG), Mr. S.T. Watson (North West Water), Mr. J. Fisher, Mr J. Collier (photo).
This page & all articles on this site Copyright © Nick Wotherspoon 2001