Halifax L9493 (15/04/1941)

Halifax L9493 was one of five No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Kiel on the night of the 15th / 16th April 1941.

Its seven-man crew comprised:

  • WI Lashbrook (Pilot)
  • AR Robbins (2nd Pilot)
  • RE Hewlett (Observer)
  • L Somerville (WOP / Air Gunner)
  • CA Muir (WOP / Air Gunner)
  • W Broadbent (Air Gunner)
  • F Stewart (Flight Engineer)

The squadron’s Operations Record Book shows “Heavy flak caused the starboard undercarriage to fall down. Returned to base but was prevented from landing due to the presence of enemy aircraft. While circling the aerodrome firstly inboard port and then outboard port engines failed; correction of a resultant downward swing caused forced landing in a field near Tollerton Village, Yorkshire and aircraft hit a tree. The navigator and tail gunner were slightly injured”.


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

AM Form 1180

Engine failed, petrol having drained through balance lock, having been flying on left hand circuit for 1 1/2 hours. Engineer cut all engines when instructed to turn on all cocks, landed straight ahead due to lack of control and aircraft ran into tree

P.4 (Cas) Casualty Branch File

The following casualty file is available at the National Archives:

AIR 81/5887 Sergeant RE Hewlett, Sergeant W Broadbent, Sergeant F Stewart: injured; aircraft crashed at Tollerton on return from operational flight, Halifax L9493, 35 Squadron, 16 April 1941.

It contains the following information:

” Sgts. Hewlett and Broadbent admitted York Military Hospital with minor injuries”

WI Lashbrook’s Memories

It is understood that the following text (original internet source no longer accessible)  provides WI Lashbrook’s memories of the events:

“On April 15th 1941 the first raids by Halifax over Germany were flown to Kiel Harbour Germany. Wally’s Aircraft L9493 was hit by flak (anti aircraft fire) over the target resulting in the wheels and flaps lowering under accumulator pressures. The resistance and impact on stability can be imagined. The early Halifax was not equipped with undercarriage “up locks” The result was a six hour return trip across the North Sea under these conditions which ran the fuel dry. Due to the fact that a JU-88 had been in the area the airfield lights had been doused and L9493 had been given up for lost as its slow pace had put if far behind the rest of the squadron. In the airfield circuit at 1500 feet the starboard engines spluttered out. The flight engineer was ordered aft to switch to another tank that hopefully still contained a few gallons necessary to land. In the stress of the moment the engineer forgot to turn off the empty starboard tank before selecting the new tank. This caused an airlock in the entire fuel system and the port engines died as well. At 1500 feet there was insufficient air space to do anything but prepare for the inevitable crash landing. The crew assumed their positions while Wally crossed his fingers and unable to see the ground could only go through the landing motions. Happily there turned out to be a small field below close to the base. With the flaps and landing gear down he brought the aircraft in at 100-110 mph. In pitch darkness the aircraft struck a tree just after touchdown and broke up into 4 sections. The cockpit containing the two pilots, the starboard wing with its engines still attached to the main part of the fuselage contained the flight engineer. The wireless operator, navigator, mid-upper gunner and the port wing with its engines was some distance from the rest of the wreck with the tail section containing the rear gunner even farther away. Remarkably there was no fire after the initial pandemonium but there was a disconcerting hissing sound. Wally called to his co-pilot, whose seat behind him had collapsed, to get out as fast as he could, and he himself tried unsuccessfully to open the overhead cockpit canopy to make his exit that way. His efforts were to no avail as the canopy had jammed. He therefore started to make his way in the pitch darkness to the rear of the aircraft. After two strides he fell out on to the ground, fortunately making a soft landing.

There was just sufficient light outside the aircraft for him to call the crew together and take stock of their injuries which, in the circumstances, were, unbelievably, of a minor character. One member, however, was missing – the rear gunner. His name was called and, in very strong language, a reply came from an area 10 or so yards down the hedgerow. The gunner was trapped in his turret, and he was rescued with the aid of a fire-axe retrieved from the main wreckage. He was only mildly concussed and for a while after his release he reeled like a drunken sailor. The hissing noise coming from the aircraft had now subsided and in the dawn light, it was seen to be due to the automatic inflation of the dingy which was now perched on the wing fully inflated.

As the wireless operator, Sgt. Somerville, was uninjured he was left in charge of the crew whilst Wally, also uninjured, went off to seek some help. Some two hundred yards from the scene of the crash he came to the River Swale across which, in the half light, he could see a cottage. He decided to wade the river which turned out to be muddier, deeper and colder than he anticipated. However, he ploughed on his murky way until finally he reached the far bank and thence to the cottage. He banged on the door repeatedly, until at last the upstairs window opened and a man’s voice told him to “bugger off”. It appeared that he thought the stranger at his door was a German as his sleep had been disturbed by the air-raid siren and gunfire.

Wally persuaded him otherwise. The home owner dressed and rode off on his bicycle to telephone for assistance. Before the man left, Wally told him he would wait in the road to lead the ambulance to the crash. Wally waited a miserable 45 minutes, wet and muddy as he was, and without a dry cigarette. He was a heavy smoker in those days. The ambulance appeared with the Squadron Commander, Squadron leader Willie Tait, aboard who explained the delay. The first ambulance called out had overturned on the way to the scene. Two of the crew subsequently did not perform any further flying duties and were posted elsewhere.

Following this crash landing all Halifax aircraft were withdrawn from operations in order to be fitted with mechanical “up-locks” to the undercarriage, and off-cocks placed in the hydraulic pipelines to the flaps accumulator. Operations were resumed as modified aircraft became available”