|P-51B 43-6635 - Knowsley Park
4th June 1944.
North American P-51B Mustang
310th Ferry Squadron, 27th Air Transport Group
|BAD-2 Warton||Training Flight||
From early in WWII Liverpool’s civilian airport at Speke became a hive of military activity and its proximity to this strategically important port resulted in it becoming a centre for both aircraft flown in, to be dismantled and shipped abroad, as well as those inbound from the U.S.A. shipped into the docks and then transported to the airport for assembly. Both the Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed Aircraft Corporation used the two main hangars at Speke to assemble Hudsons, Mustangs, Thunderbolts and Lightning's etc. Meanwhile in the adjacent shadow aircraft factory, Rootes Securities began producing Bristol Blenheims and later Halifax bombers at a steady rate.
F/O Eugene Stanley Rybaczek
Position Rank Name Service No Age Status Pilot Flight Officer Eugene Stanley Rybaczek T-190748 26 K.
Once assembled and tested, US aircraft were flown out from Speke, mainly by the 310th Ferry Squadron, which was stationed at Base Air Depot 2, Warton (BAD-2) and on the morning of February 16th, 26 year old Flight Officer Eugene Stanley Rybaczek took off in the newly re-assembled P-51B Mustang 43-6635. However, after only being airborne for a short while, the aircraft apparently developed a fault, resulting in a fuel or glycol leak, that rapidly filled the cockpit with fumes and left the aircraft streaming a vapour trail that was seen by witnesses on the ground. Clearly Rybaczek was in trouble and it must have seemed a stroke of fortune, when he spotted an obvious runway set in the wooded parkland below. What he had seen was in fact an RAF airfield know as No 49 Satellite Landing Ground, set in the Earl of Derby's estate at Knowsley Park and used by No 48 Maintenance Unit for the dispersal of newly built Handley Page Halifax's, also from Speke. He was observed by personnel on the airfield at about 11:50am, as he approached the landing strip with the obvious intention of landing, but in order for him to have landed on the runway he would have needed to make a right turn, but for reasons unknown, a slow left turn was attempted and the aircraft stalled and spun in from an altitude of about 150 feet, impacting about 50 feet from the Western end of the runway killing Flight Officer Rybaczek instantly. The aircraft hit the ground nose first, rolled over, then exploded; disintegrating across the threshold of the runway and the wreckage was engulfed in flames. RAF personnel from the airfield immediately ran to Assist, but with only hand-held fire extinguishers available, they could do little and it was immediately obvious that nothing could be done for the pilot, who lay amid the wreckage, clearly dead. The airfield’s fire tender and further RAF personnel were quickly on the scene and soon extinguished the flames.
Crash site of P-51B 43-6635, 16/02/1944
The same view today.
The hobby of aviation Archaeology certainly takes us to some unusual places and searching for the remains of a WW2 fighter amid the exotic “wildlife” of a Safari park was certainly an experience. The Earl of Derby’s Estate at Knowsley Park is now a well known tourist attraction and following some lengthy negotiations, in 2002 a small group of members of the Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team visited the Knowsley estate to attempt to locate the crash site of 43-6635, under the watchful (and extremely helpful) eye of the Head Forester - Having spent the morning viewing some of the remains of airfield buildings and dispersals etc. we turned our attention to calculating the approximate area of the threshold at the Western end of the runway, where the aircraft was known to have dived into the ground. Fortunately the area we wished to examine lay outside the enclosures for the Park’s wildlife, though we noted a rather large and obviously somewhat territorial Ostrich was taking an interest in our activities, so we ensured that we kept well clear of the fence! Nearly sixty years on, identifying the boundaries of the actual runway proved more difficult than we had anticipated, though fortunately two copses of trees proved to be in the same position, enabling us to make comparisons with the original photographs from the crash report. Having identified the approximate area we began a systematic metal detector grid search, starting off with relatively wide lanes, due to the area of ground we had to cover. Three quarters of an hour later we found our first fragment - an aluminium hydraulic pipe with US made brass connector. Readjusting the search pattern to narrower lanes, in the vicinity of this piece, soon brought to light several more fragments including a headphone earpiece from a flying helmet and the face of the airspeed indicator, all showing signs of impact damage. One larger signal proved to be a small cache of remains just below the surface indicating the actual impact point. Only a few inches down, there were still traces of oil and scorched earth, as well as two complete WW2 vintage Air Ministry marked asbestos fire blankets, bearing testimony to the events of 56 years before - However, once we realised what these were, we had to inform the Head Forester and they were immediately deemed a health hazard and had to be dug out and sent for specialist disposal! Though several pieces of 43-6635 were uncovered during this process. A final scan with our deep-seeking detecting equipment registered no further contacts, but our goal had been achieved and the handful of fragments recovered would be carefully cleaned, to be displayed with the story of this young American pilot.
Examining derelict WW2 RAF buildings at Knowsley Park, used by No 48 Maintenance Unit as a satellite landing ground.
The face from the air speed indicator gauge found at crash site in May 2002
Eugene Stanley Rybaczek’s parents were of Polish decent and he came from Terryville, a village of the Town of Plymouth, Connecticut, where he graduated from Terryville High School in 1937 and went on to university. In 1941 he voluntarily enlisted in the Polish Forces under British Command at the Polish Army Recruiting Centre at Windsor, Canada and did his basic training at the “Tadeusz Kosciuszko Polish Army Training Camp” in Owen Sound, Ontario, eventually arriving at RAF Padgate near Warrington, HQ of No 20 (Training) Group, presumably for his RAF basic training. Following training at No 25 Polish Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Hucknall and No 16 Polish Secondary Flying Training School at RAF Newton, receiving his pilot’s wings in December 1942. Rybaczek was initially posted to the Polish Airforce Depot at RAF Blackpool and then on to No 6 Anti Aircraft Co-operation Unit (AACU) at RAF Cark, moving to RAF Belfast, Northern Ireland in January 1943. After a spell with various RAF Flights on target tug duties, Rybaczek was honourably discharged from the Polish Forces under British Command and transferred to the USAAF were he was given his pilots rating of Flight Officer in May 1943 and was posted to the 310th Ferry Squadron stationed at BAD-2. At the time of his death Eugene, was engaged to be married to a girl from the Nottingham area and they were saving for their wedding, they were to have been married in June 1944. He was initially buried at Brookwood Cemetery, London and later repatriated to the United States, being buried in St Mary’s Cemetery, Terryville, with full military honours in July 1948.
The fragments of 43-6635 uncovered during our detector search, the larger pieces being found whilst removing the fire blankets. The largest finds proved to not be from the aircraft! – Two RAF asbestos fire blankets used to douse the flames 60 years before.
Mike Stowe - Accident Reports, Mark Gaskell, Rybaczek family, Knowsley Park estate.
USAAF Report of Aircraft Incident.
This page Copyright © Nick Wotherspoon 2004