27 May 1917 – Marian Disaster

‘F’ Squadron RNAS has spent the last four weeks carrying out bombing missions on stations and supply dumps across the Macedonian front. However today disaster struck.

Five Sopwith Strutters had been wheeled out on the aerodrome at Marian and loaded with bombs for a raid. The weather proved unfavourable and the aeroplanes were put back in the hangar, where they were left in readiness to set off immediately the weather conditions improved.

Also in the hangar were three single-seater fighters, with four men at work on them. Suddenly there was an explosion and the hangar burst into flames. Other explosions followed as the bombs were detonated, and the flames spread to a small nearby hangar in which two aeroplanes were housed. Both hangars and the aircraft were destroyed within three minutes.

The four men killed in the hangar were Chief Petty Officer William Hugh Woodhead, 1st Class Air Mechanics Frederick C Mitford and Leslie Oldman and 2nd Class Air Mechanic Harry Norman John Gibson

Four other mechanics and one soldier who were on the aerodrome at the time were wounded.

It remains unknown how the accident huappened. The armourer in the main hangar, CPO Woodhead was a man of experience and proved caution, and the fan safety devices were supposed to render harmless any bomb dropped from a height less than 200 feet, so that even if a bomb accidentally fell off its rack inside the hangar, it should not have exploded.

Local commanders attempted to keep news of the disaster from reaching the enemy. Signs of the fire were removed and talk of the accident was forbidden. Nevertheless rumours began to spread within a few weeks.

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