accidents and friendly-fire

Jun

2

1944

Two G.C.’s after Soham Railway Disaster

The railway engine blown apart by the explosion at Soham in the early hours of 2nd June 1944. Miraculously the engine driver, Benjamin Gimbert, survived being blown some 200 yards.

Gimbert and Nightall were fully aware of the contents of the wagon which was on fire and displayed outstanding courage and resource in endeavouring to isolate it. When they discovered that the wagon was on fire they could easily have left the train and sought shelter, but realising that if they did not remove the burning vehicle the whole of the train, which consisted of 51 wagons of explosives, would have blown up, they risked their lives in order to minimise the effect of the fire.

Feb

22

1944

George Cross following munitions factory explosion

Mrs D Cheatle from Sheffield operating a capstan lathe at a munitions factory in Yorkshire during 1942.

At 8.30 am that morning, one fuze exploded, immediately detonating the whole tray. The girl working on that tray was killed outright and her body disintegrated; two girls standing behind her were partly shielded from the blast by her body, but both were seriously injured, one fatally. The factory was badly damaged: the roof was blown off, electric fittings were dangling precariously; and one of the walls was swaying in the breeze.

Jan

28

1944

General Mark Clark survives ‘friendly fire’

New Allied landings in Italy! Lt. Gen. Mark Clark, C/G Fifth Army, looks toward the shore from the P.T. boat enroute to the new beachhead established by Allied troops on West coast of Italy south of Rome, Italy. 25 January 1944

Until that moment I had managed to get out of the wind by sitting on a stool beside the skipper, where the bridge of the boat gave me some protection. However, just before the AM I20 challenged us I got up and moved slightly to one side. The captain of the minesweeper apparently misread our signal, or perhaps it was just that everybody along the coast that dark and windy morning was trigger-happy.

Jan

5

1944

Malfunction leads to the tragic loss of Spitfire pilot

A Supermarine Spitfire Mark VB carrying two 250-lb GP bombs on underwing shackles, prepares to take off from an airfield in North Africa. No. 152 Squadron RAF began the first use of the Spitfire as a fighter bomber in North Africa, flying "Rhubarb" sorties from Souk el Khemis, Tunisia, in March 1943.

No. 152 (Hyderabad) Squadron RAF were a very experienced unit, having been flying Spitfires since they were on the front line of the Battle of Britain. They had then seen service in North Africa and Sicily. In December 1943 they transferred to India where they would soon be taking an active role in the campaign in Burma.

Mar

3

1943

Disaster at Bethnal Green Underground station

Home Guard soldiers load an anti-aircraft rocket at a 'Z' Battery on Merseyside, 6 July 1942.

There were nearly 2000 in the shelter, including several hundred who had arrived after the Alert, when a middle-aged woman, burdened with a bundle and a baby, tripped near the foot of a flight of 19 steps which leads down from the street. This flight of steps terminates on a landing. Her fall tripped an elderly man behind her and he fell similarly. Their bodies again tripped up those behind them, and within a few seconds a large number were lying on the lower steps and the landing, completely blocking the stairway.

Nov

15

1942

Surviving an aircraft crash in the desert

A Stuart tank being refuelled from an RAF fuel bowser outside Sidi Barrani, 15 November 1942.

I was out of there very quickly. We all got out alive, but some of the passengers were injured. The ones who weren’t hurt soon had some tea brewed, by puncturing one of the wing tanks to get petrol, and brewing with usual half tins. The skipper ordered me to get back in the aircraft and send out an SOS on the radio. This was a bit dicey because there was petrol everywhere, and the generators for the radio gave off sparks.

Apr

4

1941

Tragedy over Dorset

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

The pilot stalked the returning German raider for several minutes unseen before opening fire and watching the bomber spin out of control to crash near the market town of Sturminster Newton in Dorset. Four crew members were able to escape by parachute, but the rear gunner was later found dead in the wreckage.

Jun

28

1940

Italo Balbo shot down over Tobruk

Italo Balbo, the Commander in Chief of Italian Forces was killed when his plane was shot down, while attempting to land at Tobruk.

Italo Balbo’s plane was shot down by Italian guns as he into land at Tobruk in North Africa just moments after a British air raid on the Italian base. Subsequent conspiracy theories have suggested that he had argued with Mussolini over the North African strategy and was assassinated as a consequence.

Dec

12

1939

HMS Duchess sunk in collision with HMS Barham

Barham impacted the Duchess, cutting her in half. There were only 23 survivors of the 160 crew.

Sep

10

1939

HMS Oxley is sunk … by HMS Triton

” I then ordered the challenge to be made as soon as my sights were on and I knew the armament was ready, and the signalman made it slowly. No reply was received. After about 20 seconds I ordered the challenge to be made again. During this time I had been studying the submarine very closely indeed. “