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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 22480
Last updated: 3 December 2021
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Date:07-APR-1940
Time:04:21
Type:Handley Page Hampden Mk I
Owner/operator:83 Squadron Royal Air Force (83 Sqn RAF)
Registration: L4054
MSN:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 4 / Occupants: 4
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:1/2 mile W of St Marys Lighthouse, Whitley Bay, Northumberland -   United Kingdom
Phase: Combat
Nature:Military
Departure airport:RAF Scampton (SQZ/EGXP)
Destination airport:
Narrative:
The Hampden I L4054 code OL of 83 Squadron left RAF Scampton on the evening of 6 April 1940 at 1915 hrs for a "security patrol" and offensive operations against the enemy in the district of Sylt and NW Germany. At 2210 hrs the pilot of another aircraft who was at the time at an altitude of 5000 ft and about a mile North of Sylt saw some enemy searchlights centered on an unidentified aircraft well below him. He witnessed a great deal of tracer directed towards it and assumed this must be L4054 as no other aircraft reported being fired upon that night. The instructions were to maintain wireless transmission silence at all times except in an emergency. The aircraft was however heard twice throughout the night, once at 2149 hrs and once at 2153 hrs calling Heston for call signs.

Nothing was heard again from L4054 until it appeared in the vicinity of St. Mary's Lighthouse, Whitley Bay, Northumberland, at 0245 hrs where it circled for about one and a half hours, signalling S.O.S repeatedly on a lamp. The S.O.S. was challenged by the then lighthouse keeper Mr. Harold Owen Hall who, after receiving the correct reply, at once contacted the appropriate authorities. No other Morse signal was picked up from the aircraft except the S.O.S.

As was the standard procedure to aid lost aircraft, and a procedure familiar to the pilot, searchlight beams over a wide area were trained towards Acklington, the nearest RAF base equipped to land the stricken aircraft. Acklington lit its flare path at 0300 hrs. Instructions on how to find Acklington were transmitted to the aircraft by Morse lamp, the signal reading "St. Mary's Lighthouse, follow the beam for Acklington." Each separate word was acknowledged by a dash on the aircraft signalling lamp, but the pilot made no attempt to follow them. L4054 continued to circle and was even seen to come down low - as if attempting to land - and the landing light was seen to be in use. However, towards the end, one engine appeared to fail and shortly after 0400 hrs three of the crew abandoned the aircraft by parachute. These men were all drowned. The remaining member of the crew, the wireless operator, stayed with the aircraft which crashed at 0421 hrs in a field some half a mile from the lighthouse and was blown to pieces by its own bombs.

So what happened? The following conclusions were put forward by the RAF:
The fact that the pilot disregarded the instructions to fly to Acklington would suggest that the aircraft was damaged in such a way as to render a landing hazardous.
The fact that there were no bombs jettisoned over the sea would indicate that the bomb doors or bomb release gear was damaged.
The fact that the wireless operator remained with the aircraft leads us to assume he was unable to leave it, being badly wounded or killed. The wireless silence from 2153 hrs supports this theory.
Therefore, the opinion of the RAF was that the hydraulic system of L4054 was so badly damaged that the aircraft could not lower its undercarriage or open the bomb doors. It would have been too dangerous to attempt a belly landing at Acklington and therefore wiser to remain in a known area until daylight and then safely evacuate the aircraft.
The rest of the crew - pilot, navigator and observer - were known to have baled out over the sea too far out to be rescued. Their flying boots, which they must have kicked off as they jumped, were found later. It was not to be their night, it just stayed too dark too long.

Crew (all died, even if probably 3 bailed out):
Plt Off Wilfred Roberts (pilot, 25, from Australia) drowned
Plt Off Keith Brooke-Taylor (pilot, 21, from New Zealand) drowned
Sgt Andrew McNicol (observer, 26, from Barrow) drowned
AC1 Denis William Sharpe (wireless operator/air gunner, 21) killed

Roberts was born at Brisbane, Australia, but educated in New Zealand. Selected for a short service commission in the RAF, he embarked for England in 1937. His number of operational flights is unknown but the first was undertaken on the first day of the war.
Brooke-Taylor was probably acting as observer on this flight. His brother, Rex Brooke-Taylor, died on 30 December 1940 while flying with 3 Service Flying Training School, RNZAF.

The crash place was found in a search led by Russ Gray, a member of the North East section of the AirCrash Investigation and Archeology Group. By tracking down elderly witnesses to the incident and researching RAF records, he pinpointed a field about half a mile away from the lighthouse. Other members of the group were called in from around the country to take part in a field-walking exercise using metal detectors. The result was the discovery of numerous small fragments of perspex and other tiny remnants of the plane which confirmed the site of the crash.
Relatives of wireless operator Denis Sharpe, who came from Leicester, including his mother Barbara, who was in her 90s, and niece Maureen Wheelhouse, have visited the field. In spring 2008 a memorial service at the lighthouse was attended by civic dignitaries and RAF personnel and a plaque remembering all four airmen was placed in the lighthouse.

Sources:

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/laid-rest-68-years-1468286
Accidents and Investigation Branch, Air Ministry, 25 April 1940 (Form AVIA 5/19 Report No. W749)
"Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War, vol 1: Aircraft and Crew lost during 1939-1940", by W R Chorley. ISBN 0-904597-85-7
http://www.rafcommands.com/archive/08034.php
https://www.cwgc.org/find/find-war-dead/
http://www.newmp.org.uk/detail.php?contentId=10124
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Mary%27s_Lighthouse
http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=55.071656&lon=-1.449444&z=15&m=w


Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
10-Aug-2008 01:36 Anon. Added
23-Jan-2012 04:10 Nepa Updated [Time, Aircraft type, Operator, Departure airport, Narrative]
07-Jul-2013 16:55 JINX Updated [Operator, Location, Phase, Departure airport, Narrative]
09-Jan-2015 02:59 Dr. John Smith Updated [Location, Departure airport, Source, Narrative]
02-Feb-2015 16:49 Boile A. Updated [Operator, Narrative]
15-Jan-2018 15:16 Laurent Rizzotti Updated [Source, Narrative]

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