In the USA alone over 15,000 Airmen lost their lives in training accidents as the WWII Allies scaled-up their Air forces. The relatives of these young men often have no idea what actually happened and typically the official reasons were put down simply to “pilot error”.
From 1939 to 1945 thousands of young airmen met terrible ends not at the hands the enemy’s machine guns or because of the murderous flak of anti-aircraft fire, but in catastrophic accidents and training crashes. The staggering losses were not just limited to Britain; all over the world training flights, routine sorties and cargo transport journeys all sometimes ended in disaster.
Perhaps it’s not so surprising that, amid the weight of the human costs of the air war against Germany, these ‘hidden’ losses have been forgotten; but all the men in the aircraft that never returned signed up for the same war and they were all someone’s father, brother or son. The same letters went home to every family.
Luckily, there are those who are determined that those brave men should not be a footnote in military history. They’ve spent years investigating, uncovering, searching, probing and digging the crash sites – and there are hundreds of them.
They are the World War II Air Crash Investigators and now, for the first time, they have agreed to let us join them.
In this fascinating new series, WWII Air crash Detective, Garth Barnard, re-opens the investigations of some of the most infamous International WWII Air Disasters using modern techniques and fresh eyes to find out what really happened…. and understand if it could happen again now.
Like A Shot Production In Association with ACI Productions Ltd and UKTV Yesterday Channel
Part 1: Sikorski’s Last Flight
4 July 1943 – 11:07pm: A plane takes off carrying General Wladyslaw Sikorski, Prime Minister of Poland’s London-based government in exile and Commander-in-Chief of its armed forces, returning from visiting Polish troops in the Middle East. On take-off, the aircraft suddenly loses height and crashes into the harbour. The 62-year-old Polish general is killed, along with 15 others. The sole survivor is the Czech-born pilot, Eduard Prchal, who is rescued by an RAF launch. The bodies of five passengers and crew, including Sikorski’s daughter, are never found. Many questions remain unanswered, raising suspicions that this crash may not have been an accident, and rather an assassination. This programme pieces together the events of that night, the cause of the crash and examines the murky world of WWII international espionage and the case for an assassination.
Part 2: Lost and Confused: Sharp Top Mountain B-25 Crash
On a cold dark night in February, 1943, five trainees aboard a B-25 Mitchell Bomber struggle to find their bearings. Confused at their exact whereabouts the aircraft finally slams into Sharp Top Mountain high above the American town of Bedford in Virginia. It was the third training crash in the area that night – and the worse. What really caused this accident? Was it because of “Pilot Error”, equipment failure, bad weather, or could the mission have been doomed from the beginning? We join enthusiast Don Yeargin as he pours over the official reports, newspaper clippings and telephone transcriptions together with Computer simulations to demonstrate how this tragic accident was more a failure of procedure than Pilot error.
Part 3: Baker’s Creek: Australias Worst Crash
Bakers Creek, Australia, June 13, 1943. For the men about to board “Miss Every Morning Fixin”, the pressures of the War had been eased by a period of rest and relaxation in Queensland, but they were about to return to war operations in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. They were never to return. Shortly after take-off the aircraft plunged into the ground killing everyone aboard – apart from one survivor, who would spend the rest of his life coping with the injuries he received that day. This accident is still Australia’s worse ever plane crash and yet it was hushed up by the Australian and US governments until after the war had ended, with the relatives being told that those on board had perished in a crash over the South Pacific.
Part 4: The Turweston Crash: Death in the Moonlight
In the early hours of 8th July 1944, a normally quiet part of rural Northamptonshire was a hive of activity as the 17 twinned engine Wellington bombers rumbled down the runway of their Turweston airfield home. The Wellington of Pilot Officer Searles and his six strong crew took to the air, but as they climbed into the inky darkness a fireball erupted. Searle’s Wellington had collided with another, and the two bombers crashed to the ground in flames. Both crews were killed instantly. Thirteen young men died before their war had even begun. Garth Barnard strives to find out what caused the mid-air collision by reviewing eye-witness accounts, official reports, computer simulations and his own theories.
Part 5: Naper 28: Death on the Great Plains
August 3rd, 1944 – a C-47 transport plane, with a crew of four, is ferrying 24 trainee P-47 fighter pilots from Nebraska to South Dakotan for advanced training. The pilot is forced to try and find a way through a wide storm front as the weather conditions conspire against him. But the plane is engulthed in a violent storm. There is a lightning flash and witnesses see the aircraft plummet to the ground killing all 28 passengers and crew onboard. This was one of the worse single US plane crashes of the war, but the exact cause of the crash was never fully determined. This season finale follows the work of ex-Korean War pilot David Hughs as he pieces together the clues and evidence to reveal a horrific accident where the power of Mother Nature was no match for a WWII era plane.
Part 6: Conspiracy or Confusion? the Duke of Kent Crash
A Short Sunderland Flying Boat slams into Eagle Rock, a remote hillside in the far north of Scotland, killing fourteen people on board. Miraculously, there is one survivor. But among the dead is His Royal Highness Prince George the Duke of Kent, the brother of King George VI. This episode attempt to get to the truth behind the infamous Eagle Rock crash which claimed the life of the ‘Forgotten’ Prince – the Royal brother with the unfortunate lifestyle and inconvenient politics. From the crash site, we explore the known facts and explain why the plane came down – and sift through the fascinating theories that surround one of the most intriguing episodes of the Second World War.