Incident at RAF Snaith



On the 13th February 1943 the Halifaxes at RAF Snaith were bombed up ready for an op against Lorient and over on B flight the crew were standing around their aircraft having a last minute chat.

The Bomb Aimer of Sgt Rawcliffe's crew told his skipper that he was going to make a last minute check of the bomb circuitry and nipped into their aircraft, DT722, MH-M

ABOVE: Handley Page Halifax B Mark II Series 1A, HR952 'MH-X', of No. 51 Squadron RAF receiving a mixed load of 500-lb MC bombs and incendiaries in its dispersal at Snaith, Yorkshire, for a night raid on Germany © IWM (CH 11622)

After his checks he came out and stood with his crew who were talking with the crew of MH-V parked on the next dispersal.  At approximately 1730 hrs blue smoke was observed coming from the bomb bay, The Bomb Aimer re-entered the aircraft to rescue the two pigeons and shouted to everyone to take cover since an explosion was likely as the fire was in the bomb bay. There were a couple of ground crew "erks" working on the wings of the aircraft who realising the danger they were in, took running jumps off the wings at about ten feet off the ground and fled for cover. The aircrews decided that discretion was the better part of valour, headed for a nearby wooded area and lay flat upon the grass.

Flying Control, were alerted and a convoy consisting of the C.O. W/C "Tom" Sawyer in his Hillman car, the Fire Crash Tender and an Ambulance sped across the airfield. At the dispersal, the C.O. realised that the fire was uncontainable and gave instructions to abandon the aircraft. The fire raged on and an explosion occurred. The burnt out aircraft eventually collapsed in the middle. At approx. 1800 hrs a similar incident occurred on the other side of the airfield on "A" Flight. The C.O. ordered the convoy to drive over to "A" Flight but the Fire Tender crew were unable to start their vehicle.

Over on "A" Flight, the Bomb Aimer had checked his equipment on MH-H, DT 724, and a fairly new aircraft, captained by P/O Rawlings which was standing on the dispersal with its bomb doors open.  Then, on connecting up the batteries, suddenly a bunch of incendiaries fell upon the hard standing, being nose heavy they fell so that the nose hit the ground and ignited immediately.  At first the Armourers tried to kick them out of the way but had to stop because they contained a percentage of X type explosive incendiaries.  Appreciating the danger of the situation, Cpl. Simms, the Armourer in charge of the team warned everyone to evacuate the dispersal. They all ran about 60 yards and threw themselves into the nearest dugout. The bomb load was 3 x 1,000lb High Explosive plus loads of incendiaries and one of the HE bombs went off scattering the remainder of the load onto the airfield.

ABOVE: Typical 1000Ib bomb

 The 5 armourers hid in the dugout, peering out at the burning aircraft until the bomb exploded and one of them, R. Carter, reported that his ears "rang" for a considerable period afterwards. The aircraft continued to burn eventually collapsing in the middle. A tail unit from the bomb went through the roof onto an unoccupied bunk in one of the barrack huts and a large hole was blasted into the dispersal. The Squadrons operations were cancelled for the night.

The Squadrons Electrical Engineering Officer was obviously very concerned about these mishaps and instructed his Section to carry out a full investigation.  The aircraft concerned were newly arrived and were fitted with some American made bomb controls which were found to contain drilling "swarf" produced during the manufacturing process. The effect of this swarf was to produce a short circuit in the Selector Unit so that when set on "Safe" it released the bombs prematurely. All Units on the Bomb Control Panels on new aircraft were examined for the possibility of this "swarf" and no further incidents were recorded. Several Airmen suffered degrees of burns and some were M.I.D for their bravery.

M.I.D (mentioned in dispatches)(ordespatches, MiD) is one whose name appears in an official report written by a superior officer and sent to the high command, in which is described the persons gallant or meritorious action in the face of the enemy or danger.






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Researched and compiled by Martyn Owst

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Book:  Snaith Days