The hazards of Pilot training in England

The Whitley bomber was outdated at the start of the war but with no alternatives available was kept on offensive operations until 1942.

Neil Blunden had just arrived from New Zealand and was at an Operational Training Unit at RAF Abingdon. His diary records the daily routine of pilots who were on the last stage of training before they went to operational squadrons flying Whitley bombers. Not everyone survived the course:

17th June 1941

Another warm sunny day but which was marred by fog descending down as low as 2-300′ from 0900 hrs to 1030 hrs, otherwise a lovely day. 4/10ths most of day of cumulus cloud.

Did not fly in morning but put in 30 mins on link.

Lectures p.m. Did some gym on horizontal bar and a run before dinner.
After dinner Harry and I walked into Abingdon and had a couple of beers at the? Inn. Delightful setting.

Was talking with Harry in bedroom about 2330 hrs when one of the planes night flying passed very low overhead then about a minute later or less passed back again extremely low and full throttle. Few seconds later passed back again and explosion and fire. Plane was in an almost vertical turn – told later – and hit tree 75 yards away and crashed into A.O.C’s house which was half gutted. Plane burnt out. One tank exploded 10 minutes later.

Wednesday 18th June 1941

Another lovely hot summers day. 5/10ths cloud about 2-4000′. Lectures in a.m. and flying p.m.

About crash. 1st Pilot and 2nd Pilot were 2 chaps – Indians from India and well liked. Both killed – not burnt. Rear Gunner taken to hospital but soon passed away as did the Wireless Operator. No one actually burnt and all more or less thrown clear and fire fighters pulled one out. A.O.C’s house, brick, almost gutted. Chaps must have got lost and somehow got into a very steep turn at zero feet. One engine hundred yards away.

See the whole of Neil Blunden’s diary.

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