Flight Sub-Lieutenant John Richard (Jack) Bibby, a Canadian from Niagra Falls, was killed today in a flying accident, He was serving in Malta at the Royal Naval Air Service Torpedo school in Malta. According to the RAF Casualty cards, he was testing a Short 310A seaplane 8317 (also known informally as the Short 320 due to the 320hp engine). Typically for RNAS records, there is little detail, and the record states simply that he was accidentally killed. His Service Record has a similar lack of detail. So can we find out how he died?
The Canadian Virtual War memorial shows two newspaper clippings. The Burlington Gazette (quoting the Exmouth Chronicle) reported on 1 August 1917 that
“Lieutenant Bibby was making an experimental trip in a machine when about 11 o’clock as he was returning to his base he, by some means not yet explained, fell from the aeroplane, landing in the neighbourhood of Benghasis. Dr Pearson RN rendered immediate attention, but his efforts were to no avail, death being almost instantaneous.”
However, the Toronto Star Had reported a different story 10 days earlier on 20 June that:
“for some unexplained cause, his machine dropped suddenly and, taking a nose dive into the sea near Benghista was completely wrecked.”
Now given that he was at the Torpedo School, it’s very likely that he was carrying a torpedo during the fight. This reinforced by the fact that there was no observer, as the Short was normally a two-seater but with the torpedo it was unable to lift an observer as well.
According to Francis K Mason in The British Bomber since 1914 (as quoted on flyingmachines.ru) 8317 was the first of the type to be built and had been with the RNAS since July 1916. It had been transferred to the Mediterranean soon after for torpedo trials. Mason also states that it and sister aircraft 8318 “broke up in the air following failures of their rear float attachment”.
Bruce gives more detail his 1956 article in Flight magazine on the Short Seaplanes:
“Towards the middle of 1917, two cases of failure of the 310 Short seaplane occurred in the Mediterranean. One of these occurred after releasing the torpedo, and when the pilot had climbed to a height of about 1,000 feet the fuselage collapsed, and the pilot was killed. At the time, this was considered to be due to the blow caused by the splash of torpedo entry, on the under surface of the fuselage. It was, however, eventually discovered to be due to an unsatisfactory method of securing the fuselage bracing wires. The result of these accidents was most unfortunate, and discouraged the development of our torpedo aircraft. Training was, however, continued at Malta with two machines, 310 Short, under Lieut.-Commander Hardy.”
I think it’s safe to say Bibby was killed testing the torpedo launch in his aircraft which resulted in the collapse of the fuselage.