|Blackburn Skua L2892 - Belmont
2nd February 1943
Last updated: 16.11.2010
The "distinctive" lines of the Blackburn Skua
|Blackburn Skua II||776 Squadron||Woodvale||Ferry flight||2||-|
Very little documentary evidence has come to light regarding the circumstances surrounding the loss of this unusual aircraft type, one of only three thought to have crashed on the mainland of Britain. As with all Fleet Air Arm losses, no records of the incident have survived and the only primary source available today is the record of the recovery operation carried out by No.75 M.U. shortly after the crash. The Blackburn Skua was the first monoplane aircraft to enter service with the Fleet Air Arm and first flew in 1937, though it was only marginally faster than the biplanes aircraft it replaced and by the time war broke out, it was totally outclassed by virtually all the fighters and slower than many of the bombers it was likely to meet in combat. However this ungainly looking aircraft did gain some distinction: On 26 September 1939, a Skua of No. 803 squadron of HMS Ark Royal became the first British fighter to shoot down a German aircraft during the Second World War and on 10 April 1940 Skuas from Nos. 800 and 803 squadrons based on Orkney sank the first major operational warship to be sunk by aircraft when they attacked the German cruiser Königsberg at Bergen. However, despite the bravery and determination of those who flew the Skua, inevitably there were also failures and resulting heavy losses and by April 1941 the Skua had been withdrawn from front-line service.
On the 2nd February 1943, Blackburn Skua L2892 of 776 Squadron was apparently flying from RAF Woodvale to Speke - No 776 Squadron had arrived at Speke on the 27th March 1941 as a 2nd line unit carrying out Fleet Requirements duties, towing targets, radar calibration and communications flights for the Naval HQ in Liverpool. Many of its operations were carried out at Woodvale (target flights for HMS Queen Charlotte Gunnery School) and other local airfields. Speke never became a Naval Air Station but but was administered by the Naval Air Section of RAF Speke. The aircraft was piloted by 20 year old Sub-Lt.(A) Anthony John Newton, with Able Seaman Leo Matthew Aiston and the purpose of the flight was apparently to transport some urgently needed spare parts. However, for some unknown reason, the aircraft had strayed over the high ground above the town of Bolton, when it suffered an engine failure and attempted a forced landing with its undercarriage retracted on, what the pilot must have thought looked, a suitable piece of ground - given the urgency of the situation. Unfortunately the aircraft skidded across the field and fell over the edge of a partially flooded disused quarry, used as a mill lodge, exploding on impact and sinking immediately. Both crew members were thought to have been killed by the impact and their bodies remained trapped in the wreckage in some 60 feet of water.
|Able Seaman Leo Matthew Aiston|
|Sub-Lt. A. J. Newton||Pilot||K.|
|A/S L. M. Aiston||Passenger||K.|
The recovery operation began the next day and proved to be difficult to say the least and had to be carried out using shear legs, pulleys and cables as the ground around the edge of the quarry was too boggy to allow a crane to get near. Though by demolishing part of a stone wall they were able to get a hawser fixed to the crane to help drag the fuselage once it was lifted clear. By the 5th February, both bodies and the bulk of the aircraft had been recovered, though the engine was abandoned as it was too deeply embedded in the mud at the bottom of the lodge for divers to attach hawsers. All fragments of the plane were collected from the field and any damage to the ground and wall made good.
The site of the now filled-in quarry
The rebuilt section of wall
An interesting post-script to the story is that the Bolton Sub Aqua Club successfully recovered the engine in 1974 and following cleaning and conservation at the Bolton Institute of Technology it was passed on to the RAF Museum & placed in store at Cardington. Sadly its subsequent fate is not clear and enquiries to date have not managed to track it down. The quarry has now been completely filled in and made into a park and children's playground, though there is one section of the original wall that has been rebuilt at one time, but not recently, as it has weathered considerably - almost certainly the section demolished to effect the recovery.
D. Williams, D.Stansfield, O.R.B. No.75 M.U. R. Sturtivant - Fleet Air Arm Aircraft 1939 - 1945, Phil Appleton, Mark Gaskell, Michael Hardy, Billy Aiston.
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