The crash of
fully updated in January 2003 with the 'missing' photographs
taken after the crash on 8-23 June 1942,
as well as photographs of actual wreckage of Halifax V9977
The following items can be found on this page. You can navigate to them directly by clicking on the link:
1. Discovering the missing photographs
of Halifax V9977 in 2002 believed missing
for the last 61 years
2. Photographs of the crash of Halifax V9977 taken between 8-23 June 1942
3. Discovering the wreckage of Halifax V9977 in 1996 and 1999, by Robert Charles Alexander
4. Photographs of pieces of the wreckage of Halifax V9977
5. The 60th Anniversary of the crash of Halifax V9977 on 7 June 2002
6. The Memorial Window at Goodrich Castle unveiled at the 50th Anniversary of the crash on 7 June 1992
7. Chapters Nine & Ten of my book which deal specifically with the crash of Halifax V9977 and the subsequent investigation
8. The Defford Memorial unveiling on 10 September 2002
Halifax V9977 in which Alan Blumlein was killed 7 June 1942
(photograph courtesy of Sir Bernard Lovell)
The story of the missing photographs of the crash of Halifax V9977
In mid-November 2002, I received an e-mail through this website along with the many others that now flow regularly into my mailbox regarding Alan Blumlein. The e-mail was from Mr. Ian Hodgkiss, a member of the Marches Aviation Society in Cardiff. In it, Mr. Hodgkiss outlined his long interest in the crash of Halifax V9977 and the missing photographs of the crash which had mysteriously vanished some 61 years ago. He then went on to tell me, much to my surprise and delight that he had managed to track down some of the missing images. This is their fascinating story...
On the morning of Monday, 8 June 1942, a team of scientists from the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) at RAF Defford, led by Bernard Lovell (later Sir Bernard Lovell), arrived once again at the crash site of Halifax V9977. The remains of the aircraft now lay in a field near the village of Welsh Bicknor in Herefordshire where it had crashed the previous afternoon. Lovell and others had visited the site the previous evening, just hours after the crash, to recover the remains of the highly secret Magnatron component which made up the experimental H2S radar system the flight was carrying. Such was the urgency of their task, that the bodies of the eleven victims of the crash remained where they lay overnight, while the scientific material took priority.
Monday, 8 June 1942 - The crash site
Now, in the cold light of dawn, army units from nearby barracks had erected a security cordon and a makeshift morgue in tents where the bodies could finally be laid out for identification and inspection. Among the many official people walking around that morning was a photographer, though whether he was from Defford, attached to TRE, or part of the Accident Investigation Branch is not known for certain. What is known is that this man took at least six photographs of the crash site, which were then taken back to Defford for processing. They were then entered into an RAF log book of negatives as plate numbers 'G/59' to 'G/64' under the title 'Halifax Crash'. The plates were exposed on Wednesday, 10 June 1942, and this is their details as known: plate G/59 showing a 'general view', G/60 the 'port engine outer', G/61 the 'starboard outer engine', G/62 a 'field corner view', G/63 the 'fuselage' and G/64 the 'four engines'.
These photographs were logged as 'required by Wing Commander Horner', who was attached to the Telecommunications Flying Unit (TFU) at Defford, and despite the log clearly stating that they were booked out and then supposedly returned, the plates have mysteriously disappeared. They are no longer to be found in the archives at Malvern which is most comprehensive - of some 250,000 images collected over the last 60 years, all of which are logged in perfect numerical order, only these six are missing from their files!
It is quite possible that for purposes of secrecy, they were removed from the archive files and any prints made from the plates, even the plates themselves may have been destroyed. Other documents relating to the crash mention more photographs taken that day, in one instance 13 photographs were supposed to exist. Whether these are a completely separate set, or include the six mentioned above, is not known. What is certain is that the very highest authority in the land ensured that the secrecy surrounding the loss of Halifax V9977 and its precious Magnetron and H2S cargo was total.
Finding the photographs - November/December 2002
Until the e-mail from Mr. Hodgkiss in November 2002, none of these photographs of the crash site had been found in any archive. Naturally, after the publication of my book in 1999, I had hoped that somewhere they might one day turn up, assuming that is, that they still existed at all. It seems that during the crash investigation (Service Accident Report W-1251 issued 1 July 1942), the photographs were presented to the accident investigation committee headed by Mr. Vernon Brown, Chief Inspector C.I.(Accidents), Air Ministry. The Air Ministry then produced its own accident investigation reference file (AVIA 5/21), which was subsequently filed at the Public Records Office at Kew in London.
What nobody had realised was that one of the original crash photographs had been lodged in that file. This photograph, one of the six taken on the morning of Monday, 8 June 1942, and referred to in the file at Malvern as 'G/61 the starboard outer engine' (the engine where the fire that caused the crash had started), had been placed in the Air Ministry file. Whether the other five photographs were returned, as the Malvern log would suggest, and then destroyed for purposes of secrecy, or just never returned at all, we shall probably never know.
But on the back of the photograph discovered by Ian Hodgkiss in the Public Record Office at Kew is the following, curiously handwritten in pencil: 'Return to: Mr Braybrook, Ministry of Aviation Press Officer, Ministry of Defence, Whitehall' and under this are the lines 'Halifax crash June 7 1942 This photograph is irreplaceable' (my italics).
The 'History of Television', BBC - November 1966
It turns out that Mr. R Braybrook was the Press Officer attached to the Information Branch of the Air Ministry, whose offices were at Room 2407 Horse Guards Avenue, Whitehall. He had been contacted in June 1966, by the BBC requesting information about the crash of Halifax V9977 for a forthcoming television programme entitled 'History of Television'.
Mr. Braybrook didn't have the information that the BBC wanted, so he contacted a Mr. R C Warren of the Accidents Investigations Branch based at Shell Mex House, London WC2 in August 1966, by telephone, and requested his help. Mr. Warren replied by letter on 31 August 1966, informing Mr. Braybrook that as far as he knew all file records of the crash had been destroyed (which was incorrect as the accident investigation file W-1251 did exist, but was still covered by the wartime secrecy act placed on it in July 1942). He had however, managed to find that the only photograph he'd been able to locate (which had come from the Air Ministry file AVIA 5/21) was of the starboard outer engine. Mr. Warren explained that the BBC could only use this photograph for the programme 'History of Television' provided security clearance was obtained (which was subsequently granted).
In addition, he had discovered five photographs from Rolls Royce dated between 18-23 June 1942, from their investigation of the cause of the engine fire in the starboard outer engine of Halifax V9977 (these too were granted security clearance). These showed 'Rocker Arm with Tappet and locknut (no reference number or date), 'Rear Inlet Valve No.A2 Cylinder ex. Merlin XX.37673' [the serial number of the starboard outer engine on Halifax V9977] (Rolls Royce Negative Number G.628 Dated 18/6/42), 'Sparking plugs taken from A2 Cylinders. Merlin XX.37673' (Rolls Royce Negative Number G629 Dated 23/6/42), 'Flame traps A block - cylinder block side - Merlin XX.37673' (Rolls Royce Negative Number G631 Dated 18/6/42), and 'Flame traps A block - induction pipe side - Merlin XX.37673' (Rolls Royce Negative Number G630 Dated 18/6/42).
The originals of these photographs, the five from Rolls Royce and the one of the crash site taken on 8 June 1942 were sent to Mr. Braybrook to be screened for security clearance and then passed on to the BBC. Realising therefore, the importance of the photograph being sent, Mr. Braybrook must have been responsible for the pencil message on the back of the crash site photograph 'This photograph is irreplaceable', and then sent them to the BBC. The television programme 'History of Television' was aired by the BBC to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the beginning of television broadcasts from Alexandra Palace in November 1936. On 14 November 1966, Mr. Braybrook wrote back to Mr. Warren returning the photographs as promised and thanking him on behalf of Miss Elizabeth Bower, who was responsible for the research which led up to the request for the photographs, and for letting the BBC use them in the programme.
Obtaining the photographs from the Public Records Office - December 2002/January 2003
The originals of the photographs, having been returned to the care of Mr. Warren by the BBC, were once again placed within the Accident Investigations Branch file AVIA 5/21. And there they lay, filed for the next 36 years. Meanwhile, during those 36 years, several investigators, myself included, visited the archives of TRE/TFU kept at Malvern, only to discover that no photographs of the crash seemingly existed. It was only during research for my book in 1997, that I personally discovered several very recently declassified files that referred to these photographs in any way, and that they, like all previous references led down blind alleys. The photographs, it seemed, had simply vanished into thin air.
When I heard from Ian Hodgkiss that he had discovered the photographs in the Air Ministry files I was half way round the world in the middle of research for my next book in Australia. All I wanted to do was to jump on a plane and fly to London to see for myself photographs which I, and many others, had concluded would probably never be found - though there was always that one in a million chance!
Finally, in mid-December 2002, I returned to England and immediately went to the PRO in Kew and saw for myself the photographs which are produced below with their associated references and letters from Messrs. Braybrook and Warren in 1966.
As far as I am aware, these photographs have NEVER been published before. The crash photograph was indeed used in the 1966 programme 'History of Television' - I am indebted to my good friend Simon Vaughan from the Alexandra Palace Television Society for providing me with a video copy of this programme in order that I might check this for myself. However, the Rolls Royce photographs have never been seen anywhere in public before, and I am grateful beyond words to Ian Hodgkiss for finding these and bringing them to my attention.
It is worth noting that Simon, David and the other members of the Blumlein family, as well as the relatives of the ten men killed in the crash of Halifax V9977 on 7 June 1942, that they have also never seen these images of the aircraft that killed their relatives.
List of the photographs as follows:
1. Photograph showing
the starboard outer engine of Halifax V9977 taken on Monday, 8 June 1942
2. Photograph of a Rocker Arm with Tappet and locknut from Rolls Royce Merlin series XX engine
3. Photograph of Rear Inlet Valve No.A2 Cylinder ex. Merlin XX.37673
4. Photograph of Sparking plugs taken from A2 Cylinders. Merlin XX.37673
5. Photograph of Flame traps A block - cylinder block side - Merlin XX.37673
6. Photograph of Flame traps A block - induction pipe side - Merlin XX.37673
7. Copy of the rear of Photograph No.1 showing penciled remarks believed to be attributable to Mr. R Braybrook 1966
8. Copy of a letter from Mr. R C Warren to Mr. R Braybrook dated 31 August 1966
9. Copy of a letter from Mr. R Braybrook to Mr. R C Warren dated 14 November 1966
My thanks to the staff of the Public Record Office, Kew, London
for their invaluable time and help. Please note the above photographic material
is all Crown Copyright and reproduced here with the kind permission of the Public
Photographs of the crash & wreckage
1. The crash site 1942, 2. Rocker Arm & Tappet and 3. Rear Inlet Valve
4. Sparking Plugs, 5. Flame Traps pipe side and 6. Flame Traps block side
7. Rear of photo No.1, 8. Letter Warren to Braybrook and 9. Letter Braybrook to Warren
Click on any of the images above for detailed view and description
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Discovering the wreckage of
*now updated in October 2002 with photographs of actual wreckage of Halifax V9977
The story of the excavation of the wreckage of Halifax V9977
In late December 1998, I wrote to Mr. Jerome Vaughan, the current owner of the Courtfield Estate (on whose land Halifax V9977 had crashed on 7 June 1942), to ask his permission to visit the site. Mr. Vaughan was happy to allow me access to the crash site again (I had been there first in 1996, and subsequently several times since). The land around the crash site had, for the best part of sixty years, laid undisturbed save the odd grazing sheep, and of course the occasional visit from devotees of the Blumlein case.
It was on a glorious summers day, probably much like that on which the crash occurred when I first visited the area in mid June 1996. The ridge of Coppet Hill, the name of the area nearest the actual crash site, is a series of small pasture fields, mostly un-ploughed because of the steep elevation, running down and away from Green Farm towards the Wye valley below. Green Farm can only be reached by a single-track gravel road which is itself almost completely obscured from the main road running past it. Indeed, without local knowledge, it took several drives past the entrance in 1996, before I realised that I had reached the right farm as there are no signs in evidence.
The farm house itself, the only substantial building on the Estate, is approximately two miles along this dirt road and not visible for at least half that distance. The track bends and bumps along, up and down, until finally you can see Green Farm in the distance. The farm is about half a mile from the impact point, with a raised hillock directly between it and the point where V9977 fell. The countryside here is rugged and unforgiving, even for a four-wheel drive vehicle. Any attempt to reach the crash site from the road would now be strictly done on foot.
Ordnance Survey Map 1:25 000 (Pathfinder
showing the area around Welsh Bicknor where Halifax V9977 crashed.
Green Farm is indicated as 'The Green' with the actual impact point indicated with a red cross.
The indicated direction of V9977 shows that Pilot Berrington was aiming for a landing site
just beyond Goodrich Castle one mile to the north.
Walking down the valley away from Green Farm, at first this is not too evident, but as you get closer it becomes obvious that any direct view of the crash point is totally obscured from sight. After climbing up and down several smaller undulations in the ground, you finally crest the final hill, which runs down steeply towards the River Wye away from the farm. Once over the top of the hill, within 20 paces a glance backwards shows that all sight of Green Farm is lost.
Of course, the crash was witnessed. A local farm worker, Mr. Onslow Kirby, who had rented Green Farm from the owners, was working in the lower field in front of the farm at the exact moment the aircraft crashed. Mr. Kirby estimated he was no further than 250-350 yards from the impact point. Having walked the terrain myself, I would say that his estimate was out by some way, and that he was most probably between 400-500 yards away at the time. Never the less, it must have been a most harrowing, if not frightening experience to see a large burning bomber flying towards you obviously about to crash.
There is no marker to indicate the exact spot of the crash, and without prior knowledge of the events that took place there, little evidence is immediately apparent certainly none that an aircraft the size of a Halifax once crashed here. Indeed, were it not for the presence of a storm drain and its covering, there is little to show of any human activity in the area. Careful examination however, shows that there is a definite indent in the side of the hill, best viewed by laying low along the grass and looking along the line of sight of the ground. Undoubtedly, Halifax V9977 would have created quite a crater when it hit the ground, and today, even 60 years later, if you know what you are looking for, the point of impact is still visible.
Halifax V9977 crash trajectory diagram (Courtesy of William Sleigh)
Despite the horrific events that occurred here in June 1942, it is never the less a beautiful and serene spot, unspoiled and almost totally deserted. Ramblers can, and do, walk along the far bank of the Wye several hundred yards away, though mostly during the summer months of course. On the whole though, the area is visited these days only by the sheep that graze there.
Not until mid-February 1999, was I able to visit the site with the specific intention of excavation for the wreckage of V9977. I had acquired a professional and consequently high-powered metal detector, and thus armed (along with a moderate understanding of the science involved), I set off for Herefordshire.
Originally, the plan had been for me to be met at Green Farm in order that I locate the exact spot with the knowledge of a local. This proved to be impossible on the day I had chosen, and so I drove alone as far as I could along the road leading to the farm, until I came to a spot that I calculated was closest to the impact point. I then began the tedious process of unloading and carrying all my equipment to the crash site on my own, a trek which involved several journeys as I required digging tools, the detector, buckets, a supply of bottled water for cleaning any finds, boxes to put them in, paper to wrap them in and of course photographic equipment to record the process.
After more than an hour, and three walks back and forth to car later, I felt ready to begin. It was just after midday on Monday, 22 February 1999. Though the weather had been expected to be less than ideal, I found myself standing at the crash site surrounded by all my equipment in what can only be described as a perfect spring day. True, it was bitterly cold, and I was frankly worried about the hardness of the ground. But there was not a cloud in the sky, and the sun, which was almost overhead, shone brilliantly and warmed me considerably for the task ahead.
For anybody who has attempted to find hidden metal with a detector, you will immediately understand the frustration of the first few attempts at discovery. For several minutes I passed the detector along the grass without so much as a tiny beep of any kind from it. Twice I recalibrated the machine with the casual dropping of a 50 pence piece on the grass (this confirms that it is working, and that the batteries have not expired - the worst possible scenario after all that distance and walking!). There was no doubt - detector was working.
I stopped for a few moments and contemplated the aftermath of the crash in 1942.
It is known that a team of army recovery and air crash investigators removed all the major wreckage of V9977 from the sight within days of the crash. I marveled at how they ever managed to haul the mangled pieces of aircraft onto the back of giant flatbed trucks from so remote a location as this. Indeed, I was frankly amazed that the vehicles had managed to get as close as they had, though there are stories locally of farmers using tractors to rescue the rescuers and eventually dragging the wreckage up the hill to get it closer for removal.
Surely however, despite the importance of their task, was it possible that every trace of the aircraft was removed? For years after, the farmers who had worked this area had told stories of picking up bullets and pieces of metal from the surface. How was it that now, I could not find anything at all?
Then, at last, the detector beeped. It had sensed something, buried at 9 inches. It bleeped loudly at me again. After wandering the detector head back and forth several times to isolate the exact spot, I determined that I had indeed found some metal. Quickly I dug the spot with my fork. So frantic was I to uncover the item I actually ended up with it in my spoil heap. After washing off the earth and cleaning the item, I found, much to my delight that it was a perfectly preserved .303 cartridge shell with the bullet still in it.
I had found, without any doubt, the site of the wreckage of Halifax V9977.
For the next two hours I covered an area of approximately seventy square feet, all of which yielded finds and produced a map of the rough impact alignment for me. Larger pieces of metal were indicated as buried deep, and these I decided would not be easy to get at so, concentrating on digging for shallow items I began to uncover the remains of the aircraft. There were bullets and their casings (which were in abundance), pieces of armour plating, riveted metal work and the rivets themselves, as well as quite a large number of pieces of torn aluminium sheet, some of which still had its original paint on it, and even in one case, scorch marks. I also uncovered large lumps of completely melted aluminium, testimony to the intense heat following the crash.
On one piece of metal, a small shard of Perspex remained indicating that this was from either a window on the fuselage or indeed the cockpit area of the aircraft. Several large clamps were uncovered from the area where the engines would have hit the ground. These clamps would have originally held braided hoses or cable clusters in place. By half past three in the afternoon I had collected more than 30 pieces of aircraft and at least a dozen intact bullets and casings.
Photographs of pieces of the wreckage
Heavy Armour Plating and Bullets and Casings
Melted Aluminium, Painted Aluminium and Thin Armour Plating
Click on any of the images above for detailed view and description
With each discovery, the metal detector had beeped loudly and though at first I had not noticed it, the local sheep were more than curious at these strange activities in their pasture. Slowly, cautiously at first, they moved in towards me, one taking the lead, then stopping to look, the others following on close behind.
Soon, I was all but surrounded by sheep, who nibbled at the grass ten or twenty feet away from me, only bothering to look up each time the detector beeped. They would stare as I furiously scraped away at the earth on hands and knees to reveal the metal buried below. Then, probably thinking I had discovered some food previously unattainable to them, they would slowly wander in closer to marvel at my discovery. This went on for over an hour until the sheep had come right up to me and I could touch them. I must have looked and sounded unlike any human they had seen before.
Finally, they seemed to tire of me and my activities, and the sheep decided, all at once it seemed, to wander off in another direction and find something more interesting to look at. I have to say that I was, by the end of the afternoons exertions, quite pleased for their company, and I confess to even talking to them from time to time when I found an object of interest.
By now, it was getting late and darker, and the cold began to tell. I had been alone on the hillside for more than four hours. The sun was still just up and there was not a cloud in the sky, but I decided that I had achieved what I had set out to do, and so, I sat down for a sandwich and a short rest before packing up.
I sat there on the grass of the side of the hill, contemplating the fate that had befallen the eleven men who had died on this spot.
I tried to imagine the sight of the burning Halifax coming over the crest of Court Wood and Raven Cliff on the far side of the Wye valley, barely clearing the tree tops by just twenty feet. At a point almost immediately above the river itself, the edge of the port wing, now engulfed by fire from Engine No.4, severed under the stress, and Halifax V9977 flipped over onto its back and plummeted to earth at the point where I now sat. The eleven occupants never had a chance.
As I sat there alone, deep in thought, the most amazing thing happened. It began to snow.
I looked up, and then stood up, scanning the sky. At first I was surprised and then confused while large, fluffy flakes of snow landed on and all around me. It was odd because there still was not a single cloud in the sky in any direction as far as I could see, and the sun still shone, though now much lower towards the horizon. It was a very eerie moment indeed.
I gazed to the heavens and decided that it was a message of some kind to pack up and go. I had found what I wanted and carefully placed my rusted bits of earth-encrusted metal in the boxes I had brought with me. I back-filled all the holes in the side of the hill and in the rapidly gathering gloom collected up everything I had brought with me (somehow, this time, managing to do so in one go rather than the three it had originally taken me!), and walked slowly back to the car.
I hoped that I had not disturbed the site too much. That had never been my intention. I simply wanted tangible evidence for the crash, and I had found that in abundance. Happy with my finds I left and began the long drive home, it had been quite an experience and that falling snow at the end of the dig has mystified me ever since.
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The 60th Anniversary of the crash of
June 7th 2002, marked the 60th anniversary of
the crash of Halifax V9977
in a field near the village of Welsh Bicknor in Herefordshire,
a crash in which Alan Blumlein and ten others lost their lives
while carrying out essential wartime radar research.
The full list of those who died is as follows:
First Pilot: Pilot Officer D.J.D.Berrington (115095)
Second Pilot: Flying Officer A.M.Phillips (44185)
Observer. Flight Sergeant G. Millar (751019)
Flight Engineer. Leading Aircraftman B.D.C.Dear (571852)
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner. Aircraftman II, B.C.F. Bicknell (1271272)
Squadron Leader R.J.Sansom (33372) (Attached T.R.E.)
Pilot Officer C.E.Vincent (110285) (Attached T.R.E.)
Mr. G.S.Hensby, Civilian T.R.E.
Mr. A.D.Blumlein, Civilian E.M.I.
Mr. C.O.Browne, Civilian E.M.I.
Mr. F.Blythen, Civilian E.M.I.
In Memorium notice published in The Voice, EMI official
internal newsletter, June/July 1942
(Courtesy of EMI)
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Memorial Window at Goodrich Castle
unveiled at the 50th Anniversary
7 June 1992
The Memorial Window at Goodrich Castle unveiled in June 1992
In June 1992, the 50th anniversary of Blumlein's death was marked
by an unveiling ceremony of
The Memorial Window at Goodrich Castle.
This exquisite work of stained glass remembers all those who gave their lives for Radar Research
between 1936 and 1976, Alan Blumlein among them.
It would have been fitting if, for the 60th anniversary in June
2002, the television documentary tribute to
the life and works of Alan Blumlein which I have been working on for over two and a half years now,
could have been broadcast. But this proved to be an impossible deadline to meet.
Details of the documentary can be found on the television programme page.
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Chapter Nine and Chapter Ten
As a private tribute to those who lost their lives, I have published
here for the first time extracts
from Chapter 9 and Chapter 10 of my book in which the specific details of the crash
and the subsequent investigation are outlined. I hope that you find this of interest.
Defford Memorial Unveiling 2002
On Tuesday, 10 September 2002, a memorial was unveiled by Sir
Bernard Lovell, dedicated to the RAF Aircrew, Scientists, Engineers
and Civilian Personnel who lost their lives in the furtherance of Radar Research between 1941-1957.
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