Category Archives: Accidents

10 June 1918 – Old and new

The fragility of aircraft and the dangers of flying in close formation with others are a constant threat to even the most experienced pilots. For the rookie pilot, life expectancy remains low.

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Francis Coupe Dodd

This was encapsulated today when Captain John Gerald Manuel DSC DFC from 210 Squadron RAF was killed in a collision with 2nd Lieutenant Francis Coupe Dodd.

Manuel was an experienced flyer who had originally served with the Canadian Field Artillery before switching to the RNAS in March 1917. He was posted to the front in August 1917 serving briefly with 12 Squadron RNAS before joining 10 Squadron RNAS. At this point he had claimed 13 victories, including two yesterday.

John Gerald Manuel

Dodd in contrast had joined the RFC in August 1917 and was trained at Crystal Palace, Chingford, and Cranwell, where he graduated. He eventually joined 210 Squadron on 15 May 1918.

In what was likely one of Dodd’s very first missions over the front, flying the tricky Sopwith Camel, he was on an offensive patrol when his Camel (D9590) collided with Manuel’s (D7249). Both aircraft were seen to fall to pieces and crash and both pilots were killed.

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30 April 1918 – Crash

Poor weather returned to the Western Front today, and flying by both sides was curtailed.

Horace Wilford Girdleston

4 Squadron RAF got up on patrol. Lieutenant Leo John Sweeney and Lieutenant James Charles Stack in RE8 D4833 and Lieutenant Horace Wilford Girdlestone and 2nd Lieutenant Ronald Homersham in RE8 B734 were on patrol when their aircraft collided with each other. Both aircraft were badly damaged and crashed killing all four crew.

16 April 1917 – Mildmay

The RAF is as desperate for men as the other armed services and as such the recruits are getting younger.

67FB7B1C-7E9E-4DCE-89F7-E637623BCDA5Today, 19 year old 2nd Lieutenant Bouverie Walter St John Mildmay was killed in a flying accident in France. He had joined the RFC immediately on leaving Winchester School. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in August 1917 and gained his “wings” on 17th October. He trained at South Charlton and then at Castle Bromwich, and was eventually posted to 70 Squadron RFC.

At the time of his death, he was flying a Sopwith Camel D1782.  The Camel was a notoriously difficult aircraft to fly and whether this contributed to the accident is unknown. His commanding officer recorded the following:

“He was a remarkably daring pilot, and he was trying a very steep dive over the aerodrome when something appeared to break in his machine. He pulled out of the dive with difficulty, but almost immediately afterwards, while turning to land, his machine went out of control and he dived again into the ground. He was killed instantly. We have so far been unable to discover the cause of the accident because the machine was so badly broken on reaching the ground.”

At the same time he was known as a stunter. Within the first 40 minutes of his first solo flight he had looped the loop! During December 1917 he was appointed as a test pilot with the Service Test Squadron. Whilst subsequently serving at Castle Bromwich that he began to perform a lot of test work. Here he had got into a lot of scrapes.

On one occasion whilst chasing a fox over some down land the animal became momentarily caught up in his skid.

Then during another escapade a shepherd, who had been asleep, fled in terror with his dog when the aeroplane dived straight at them.

As for a later episode, he began flying in and out amongst people digging potatoes in Lincolnshire, but “when they began to pelt me with potatoes I went off’.

He had flown to his nearby Aunt’s house, and flew straight at her bedroom window, before zooming up among the chimneys. He then concluded his visit by flying low between the houses along the village, to the great amusement of the many onlookers. 

6 March 1918 – Two seater camel

The Sopwith Camel, despite its prowess in combat was a notoriously difficult aircraft to fly particularly for novices. Its rotary engine and compact dimensions gave it a pronounced tendency to turn right and constant forward pressure on the control stick was needed to maintain level flight. As result it was easy to get into a spin and many pilots perished when this happened at low altitudes.

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One such accident occurred today at the School at Manston in Kent, when Flight Sub-Lieutenant Wilfrid Norman Cross was killed when his Camel B5734 crashed from a low altitude completely wrecking the aircraft. This followed the death of 2nd Lieutenant Alfred Curley yesterday at Scampton.

A similar crash had occurred on 12 February 1918 when Second Lieutenant Donald Roy Glen lost his life when he spun Camel B5654 into the ground from 1500 feet.

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Glen’s crashed Camel

Lieutenant-Colonel Louis Arbon Strange was Assistant Commandant of the Central Flying School (CFS) at Upavon and commanded the 23rd Training Wing at South Carlton, Lincolnshire, at the time and ordered his Repair Officer to develop a dual control version which was achieved by fitting a smaller fuel tank to make space for dual controls. Its unclear exactly when this was done but it appears to have been flying by mid 1918. Eventually two more were built.

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The two seat Camel

5 March 1918 – A near miss

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The vicarage at Grantham and the pilot of this aircraft both had a lucky escape today.

Based at 50 Training Squadron at Spittlegate to the south east of Grantham, this Armstrong Whitworth FK3 was one of nearly 500 used in training squadrons, as the aircraft was considered unsuitable for combat operations in France.

The pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Donald Woods Mason had previously served with the Army Service Corps before transferring to the RFC in August 1917. He was appointed a Flying officer at the beginning of March so clearly was not a very experienced flyer.

Likely his inexperience contributed to the crash, as it was apparently caused by Mason losing too much height when coming into land at the airfield. Luckily for Mason he survived the crash.

Further north in Lincolnshire, at RFC Scampton, 2nd Lieutenant Alfred Curley from 11 Training Squadron RFC was less lucky. He stalled his Sopwith Camel (B7281) on approach to the airfield and crashed into the ground. The aircraft burst into flames and Curley was killed.

15 February 1918 – His pet monkey was not injured

Jeffrey and Vernon

Captain Vernon William Blythe Castle, a well-known ballroom dancer has been killed in an aeroplane crash at Camp Taliaferro in Texas.

Vernon Castle, along with his wife Irene were a well known dance couple who danced professionally and acted in various films in the United States from 1910 until 1915. Irene was also noted as a fashion icon at the time. In 1915, Vernon originally from Norwich in England decided to join the war effort and trained as a pilot, qualifying in January 1916. He then gave a farewell performance and sailed for England to join the RFC.

In June 1916, he was posted to 1 Squadron RFC flying Nieuport fighters. He flew over 300 combat missions, claiming two victories, before being posted to Canada in April 1917 to train new pilots. His entire unit then moved to Texas for winter training.

Today, Vernon took emergency action shortly after takeoff to avoid a collision with another aircraft. His plane stalled, and he was unable to recover control before the plane hit the ground. He was killed in the crash. According to the memorial at the crash site:

“Neither the other pilot, his student cadet, nor Vernon’s pet monkey, Jeffrey, were seriously injured.”

Weather on the Western Front was once again poor.

Back in England, 66 Training Squadron based at Yatesbury were practicing formation flying in their RE8s.

2nd Lieutenant John Thomas Gibson and Lieutenant Frederick Cumber Baxter in A3742 attempted a left turn, but the pilot made an error and the aircaft went into a spin. It was too near to the ground for the pilot to recover and they crashed.

Both were badly injured and Gibson died of his wounds later the same day. Baxter hung on but eventually sucumbed on 20 February.