Potton Stirling LK236

Royal Air Force Badge Royal Australian Air Force Badge United States Army Air Force Badge

Location: Potton, Bedfordshire 14th February, 1945

Stirling LK-236, MA-Y, 161 Squadron RAF:

F/O Eric Timperley RAFVR - Pilot
F/Sgt Peter Norman Carr RAFVR - Navigator
Sgt William George Cornish RAFVR - Gunner
Sgt Peter Norman Ellis RAFVR - Gunner
Sgt Derrick Howard Mayers RAFVR - Flight Engineer
F/Sgt Cyril William Saunders RAAF - Wireless Operator
F/O George Colin Wiggins RAAF - Air Bomber

Mustang 42-106448, 383 Squadron (364 Fighter Group) USAAF:

Flight Officer Thomas W. Kiley, USAAF

Please note the links to Cambridge City Cemetary for Saunders and Wiggins as of February 2019 appear to be broken. I shall attempt to locate the new addresses for these images as soon as possible.

Short Brothers Stirling LK236. Date Christmas 1944, location RAF Tempsford. The actual P5-B Mustang photographed on D-Day (6th June) 1944 involved in the accident.

These are images of the actual aircraft involved in this incident, Stirling LK236 on the left/top and Mustang 42-106448 on the right/below. The Stirling image was taken over Christmas 1944 at RAF Tempsford. The crew standing left to right are: 1) Flight Sergeant Ellis, RAFVR; 2) Flight Sergeant Saunders, RAAF; 3) Flight Sergeant Carr, RAFVR; 4) Flight Officer Timperley, RAFVR; 5) Unknown; 6) Flight Officer Wiggins, RAAF; 7) Unknown. The image is used with the permission of Potton History Society. The two remaining unknowns will be Sergeants Cornish and Mayers. You might be able to note the twisted propeller on the port inner engine. This suggests the photograph was taken shortly after the incident which caused the damage; even with snow on the ground affecting operations, the station commander would be very keen for the ground crew to repair any such damage as soon as possible. The damage looks to be too extensive for a bird-strike, and too high for a ground collision with ground equipment, so I am assuming the propeller hit a tree. The Mustang image was taken on or close to the D-Day operations on 6th June 1944.

The crash of the two aircraft was caused by a collision between the Stirling and the Mustang. The Stirling Mk IV, LK236, MA-Y was on a local training flight in poor visibility when it supposedly received a "dummy attack" when attempting to land at Tempsford by a P51B Mustang 42-106448 from 383 FS 364 FG, USAAF. It is supposed in some quarters that the Mustang pilot, F/O T.W. Kiley, either simply lost control, or in the poor weather misjudged the distance, and hit the tail of the Stirling. However, in my opinion, a much more likely explanation is that the Mustang developed a fault which caused it to dive into the Stirling, or the pilot was perhaps trying to make an emergency landing at Tempsford itself and was unable to reach the base, again the Stirling being unfortunately just in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were no survivors from either aircraft who could say for certain what happened. The Stirling crashed at Potton 3 miles east of Sandy, Bedfordshire. The exact position is not certain, but is confused in some sources with the position given for Potton Stirling LK207.

See the web-site for a special memorial to the crew of LK236 by the St. Swithun's VC Lower School, Sandy School members.

Details obtained from Aircraft lost on Allied Force’s Special Duty Operations & Associated Roll of Honour page 481.

Flight Sergeant P.N.Ellis, RAFVR Flight Sergeant P.N.Carr, RAFVR Flight Sergeant C.W.Saunders, RAAF Flight Officer G.C.Wiggins, RAAF

Flight Sergeant P.N.Ellis, RAFVR

Flight Sergeant P.N.Carr, RAFVR

Flight Sergeant C.W.Saunders, RAAF

Flight Officer G.C.Wiggins, RAAF

Click on any image for a larger version. The images for Flight Sergeants Carr and Saunders, and for Flight Officer Wiggins, were obtained from the Potton History Society, and are reproduced here with their kind permission. If any family member would rather I remove an image, contact me and I'll do so immediately. The image of Flight Sergeant Ellis was provided by his neice Sue Heath via a contact Bob Henderson. Sergeant Ellis, 1817434, is buried at Cambridge City Cemetery, Plot no 15517. Sergeant P Ellis is commemorated on the cenotaph at Knighton, Radnorshire (now Powys).

Click on this link to view a map of the west side of Potton, showing where the two planes LK207 (in red) and LK236 (in green) fell - in MY interpretation! Being so close together in distance, and only some 4 months in time, it is understandable for 75-year-old memories to become confused between them. The smaller circles show where some parts of the wreckage fell. The main fuselage section of LK236 may have fallen on the other (western) side of the Deepdale lane. Here are my reasons for where they are located:

LK236 - The location of a piece of wreckage in the front garden of a house on the south side of the B1042 Potton to Sandy road shown by the green circle is fairly confident. I have been in contact with a gentleman who was a lad at the time, and who cycled to Potton from Moggerhanger to look at the crash, and drew a sketch of the rear turret of the Stirling in the garden. A little while ago, he promised to post me a photocopy of his sketches, which would provide excellent evidence, but I haven't received anything in a while, so I will need to contact him again. The only snippet of information about the main wreckage is that it was "near Deepdale", so this location is much more speculative. My gentleman friend is insistent the turret he sketched was from the Stirling that collided with a Mustang, which was LK236, so he is adamant it is not part of LK207. Obviously, at the time, he would not have known the plane's identification details.

Potton resident Mr. John Boston, who has shared his memories of the LK207 accident with me, recalls this Stirling LK236 falling on the Potton side of where now is the Sandy Heath Television Transmitter Aerial.

The UK Air Ministry investigated this accident, and laid the full blame for the collision on the American Mustang pilot, F/O Kiley. I haven't yet been able to locate the report documents so I am unable to support, or to question, that finding. In many ways it is immaterial, all those who died gave the ultimate sacrifice. It appears that LK236 had been tasked with a "special exercise" involving a Spitfire, and had left Tempsford to rendezvous with the fighter. Shortly after take-off, the exercise was abandoned, seemingly due to the poor visibility on the day. LK236 was returning to Tempsford when the collision occurred. I haven't yet been able to glean any details of the exercise, nor where it was to take place and where the Spitfire was based. The poor visibility on the day again leads me to wonder whether the Mustang pilot ever saw the Stirling at all, and the collision was simply bad luck with two aircraft coming together at the same time.

This was a desperately sad accident, costing the lives of eight brave young men, from Australia, the United States, and Great Britain. May they all rest in peace.

161 Squadron Operations Record Book, February 1945, RAF Tempsford.

The funerals of four of the crew of LK236 took place on February 20th at Cambridge Regional Cemetery. The image here is taken from a scan of the 161 Squadron Operations Record Book, National Archives reference Air/27/1068/36. When I next visit the Archives, I will attempt to make a better image of the page and the photographs.