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The Whitley bomber was outdated at the start of the war but with no alternatives available was kept on offensive operations until 1942.

In the early hours of 4th April [but see comments below] a black painted Hurricane night fighter from No. 87 Squadron flying from RAF Charmy Down, Somerset was patrolling in the dark watching for the frequent German raiders targeting the ports of South Wales and Bristol. With no technical aids and reliant only on his eyes, the pilot of the Hurricane found a twin engine bomber heading south at 10,000 feet. It was headed in the direction of German bombers returning to bases in France.

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.

The tragedy was that the rear gunner was Sgt William Brindley of the RAF. The Hurricane night fighter had shot down a Whitley bomber from No. 51 Squadron, on course for the the Nazi battle cruisers at Brest. Sergeant Brindley now lies in the cemetery near RAF Dishforth, his home base.

This was but one incident of ‘friendly-fire’. How common such events were is hard to assess, as no publicity was given to them at the time and RAF records remain opaque.

A Royal Air Force Hawker Hurricane Mark IIC (s/n BE500, ‘LK-A’, “United Provinces Cawnpore”) being flown by Squadron Leader Dennis Smallwood, the Commanding Officer of No. 87 Squadron RAF based at RAF Charmy Down, Somerset (UK). No. 87 Squadron was one of the first RAF night fighter squadrons. Sqn Ldr Smallwood led the squadron in 1941-42, when most intercepts were made entirely without on-board radar. The aircraft is painted in an overall black scheme known in the RAF as “Special Night”. BE500 subsequently served with No. 533 Squadron RAF and finally in the Far East.

4 thoughts on “Tragedy over Dorset”

  1. The Pilot Officer Alabaster who successfully escaped by parachute is probably the “Wing Commander Alabaster” who James Penny met whilst serving at RAF Bourn, August 1943. It’s mentioned (p.110) in “the Lucky Penny” book, by James Penny. FlyPast magazine (July 2014) reports that Wing Commander Cliff Alabaster died on Febuary 11th 2014, aged 95.

  2. Just came across this. Thank you for writing it.

    My Dad was one of the four who bailed. He always told the story of the “incident” with a lot of emotion.


    I always thought it was the 3rd April 1941, 2115 to 2120 hours.

    More details Whitley T4299 of 51 Sqn was shot down near Blandford Dorset for not showing Resin lights at 10,000 feet, apparently crashing half a mile NE of the village of Manston, near Sturminster Newton, Dorset. Sgt W. N. Brindley 938689 (Sgt William Norman Brindley) was killed.

    It was later reported that F/Lt J. C. Carver had failed to identify the Whitley, according to A.V.M. Sir C. Quinton Brand, of No. 10 Group and W/Cdr Harvey. Air Marshal W. S Douglas raised the point that there was a lack of information concerning the movements of friendly bombers in the Filton Sector and that he was instructing A.O.C. No.10 Group to put this right immediately.

    Other crew (uninjured) of Whitley T4299 were:-
    43046 P/O Norman Edward Sharp;
    81065 F/O Robert Clifford Alabaster;
    11643 [poss partial, number 11643?] Sgt J. A. Gibson;
    755506 Sgt L. U. Allum.

    Hope this gives you more information. Regards

  3. How pleased and proud it must make the site editors to make such a clear connection between the events of a day and the kin of those directly effected, and how wonderful in this case for Mr. Brindley to learn what actually happened. Congratulations for a job well done.

  4. Thank you for shedding some light on what happend to my uncle whome I am named after . I was told a different story as a child and think my father and grandparents never new the truth. regards Bill Brindley

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