Accident Airspeed Oxford Mk II MP699,
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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 204277
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Date:Sunday 2 January 1944
Type:Airspeed Oxford Mk II
Owner/operator:758 Sqn FAA RN
Registration: MP699
Fatalities:Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 2
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Location:Lime Kiln Wood, The Wrekin, Shropshire, England -   United Kingdom
Phase: En route
Departure airport:Hinstock
Destination airport:
During the Second World War, HMS Godwit was a training school for the Fleet Air Arm - one of many around the country, often inland and close to RAF airfields. The main resident unit was 758 Squadron, the Naval Advanced Instrument Flying School. Detachments were sent to the main specialist flying schools at Crail, East Haven Fearn, Hinstock and Yeovilton to provide a short instrument flying course for pupils. By 1944 it had over 100 Oxfords, and other types were also in use.

A key skill which pilots learned at HMS Godwit was to fly "blind" using the Lorenz Beam Approach. This was done by training them to follow the sound of a radio beam transmitted from the airfield. As the plane followed the beam, the crew would hear a steady note, and if they strayed to left or right they would hear either dots or dashes depending on which side they had strayed. There were also other tones to help pilots approach the runway. This was the beginnings of the blind-flying system still in use today.

The flying school was the brainchild of Commander John Pugh who could see that a new strategy was required to reduce the significant losses suffered by the Combat Air Group. Despite firm opposition, John Pugh succeeded in convincing the right authorities and set about looking for the best pilots to act as instructors. One such person known to John Pugh was Jimmy Watson, and Pugh succeeded in getting Watson into the Navy without Watson having to become a "sailor" first. Watson was a brilliant flyer and had taken part in the 1938 air race from Cardiff to London. On that occasion, he also took his young son, David, and they were only just beaten into second place by none other than Geoffrey De Haviland.

The role of Watson at the flying school was to instruct pilots to use the new Beam Approach which was so much more critical to Navy pilots who had to land on a moving aircraft carrier, probably many miles away from the location it was at when they took off. Many of the trainees had seen active service and were not impressed by having to return to school, hence instructors often took them to an area around the Wrekin, a high hill in Shropshire, as this was often shrouded by cloud. The trainees quickly realised they had to pay attention.

On 2 January 1944, Lt Cmdr James Christian Victor Kiero Watson and Sub-Lt(A) Robert Charles Reeder took off from Hinstock with the Oxford II MP299 of 758 Sqn FAA. 22 years old Reeder was not a novice, having recorded about 400 hours of flying by June of 1943. He flew Spitfires on occasions, as well as Gladiators and various others including, whilst with 781 squadron, the Proctor and Vega Gull, Swordfish, Albacore, Warlus, Fulmar, and Seafire. He had survived three accidents with 781 Sqn in 1943, but was clearly a very competent pilot, and had been accepted for training as a flying instructor. Watson was his senior instructor and the purpose of the flight, an hour routine instruction, was training in order to qualify Reeder as a flying instructor.

Hinstock had so far a clean record with no fatal accident, but when they became overdue and could not be contacted on the R/T the alarm was raised. The aircraft was found crashed, and both occupants had been killed. The aircraft had been observed to come out of the clouds and almost immediately hit The Wrekin. Death could not have been other than instantaneous for both occupants of the aircraft. The official cause of loss is recorded as "lost control at low level, spun in out of cloud near the Wrekin".

Leonard William Osborne was a local fireman serving with the National Fire Service. His diary entry for 2 January 1944 says "Went out to plane crash Lime Kiln Wood. 2 killed, no fire". His sons went to the site to look for souvenirs, as all boys did then. One of them, Arthur, seven years old at the time, recalled in 2008 in an interview:
"We found the site about 30 to 40 feet from the path that runs from Red House farm (or Dormy House, now demolished), alongside the golf course, to Maddocks Hill quarry. It was just inside Lime Kiln Wood. We found what appeared to be an impact site that was an area of soil and mud heavily impregnated with what I later came to know as hydraulic oil. My brothers commented on the lack of tree damage, suggesting a near vertical crash impact. The area had already been cleared so there was not much to find but I caught a glint of a small object in the mud which I picked up. It was a gold cufflink with three initials. The first and the last were definitly J and W. I think the middle initial was a D. JDW in enamel on the oval part of the cufflink. Now, sixty-four years later, I know that one of the pilots killed was James Watson."

There are no official records of any investigation into the crash however David Watson, son of Lt Cdr Watson, has always known the cause, probably because Base Commander John Pugh was a friend of the family and often visited the Watsons. David was only 13 years old but his mother explained the cause of the crash. David recalls that planes were left dispersed on the field, as opposed to being put in hangers, so that in case of bombing, only one or two would be hit. This however left them susceptible to the weather and of course the Oxfords were of largely wooden construction. The rudder in particular had some steering arrangement which made use of wooden pins. The weather caused them to swell, such that when the pilot turned hard one way or the other, the rudder could jam, causing the pilot to lose full control of the aircraft resulting in loss of height and probably circling or spiraling into the ground. David has always understood that at least one, possibly two instructors had already been killed in Shropshire as a result of this fault. Reeder and Watson were next and it was not until the same thing happened to a yet another instructor who somehow managed to free the rudder, that the reason for the crashes was fully understood. This probably explains why the reports say "spun out of cloud".

According to Tom Thorne, an enthusiast who has researched over 900 crashes in Shropshire, the Oxford MP299 came down on a farm at Steeraway just at the end of the Wrekin.

Cmdr John Pugh wrote a letter to the family of Robert Reeder. His father was a master at the Central Boys School, Piquets Way, Banstead and he read the letter to his pupils. Over 60 years later, Ted Bond, one of those pupils, still remembers that letter being read to the class. He says " I will always remember that day as if it were yesterday."

Tim Owen, a naval cadet at the time also has reason to remember the tragic accident. He says "I was on leave when the crash happened and I did not know either of the two men killed, but I was assigned to guard the body of Lt Commander Watson at Childs Ercall Hall. This was in use as the sick bay at the time and I well remember the two hour on and two hour off shifts we did guarding the body of this officer. I was also part of the firing party at his funeral at Hinstock cemetery. It is an experience you do not forget, and last year (2007) I went back to visit his grave."

On 20 October 2008 Lt Commander Watson was remembered at a reunion dinner for West Downs, a school in Winchester. Secretary Nick Hodson wrote a short biography of James Watson which was circulated to those present.

Robert Reeder was buried in Banstead and his grave lies at All Saints, west of Church. James Watson was buried at Hinstock Cemetery.



Revision history:

13-Jan-2018 09:37 Laurent Rizzotti Added
03-Dec-2018 20:47 Nepa Updated [Operator, Operator]

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