During World War Two, Britain as an island was heavily dependent (as we are today) on supplies, fuel and food coming in by ship.
Despite the home grown efforts of “Dig for Victory Garden” allotments behind homes, in parks and even zoo gardens, this made Britain’s ports and shipping vulnerable to attack and blockade by the German air force and U-boats.
Watching out for enemy submarines and protecting these convoys was the job not just of the Royal Navy but also many British and American coastal patrol aircraft from airfields along the coast such as St Eval or St. Mawgan, near Newquay in Cornwall. Convoys of food and fuel arrived safely but at considerable cost in the loss of men, ships and aircraft.
The occasional remnants of one such casualty from Christmas 1943 can still be glimpsed on the beach a few miles down the coast from where the World War Zoo Gardens project and its allotment garden is based at Newquay Zoo in Cornwall.
At 2.02 a.m. on December 28th 1943 a United States Navy PB4Y1 Liberator “Muck’s Mauler” Liberator – designated ‘war-weary’ – took off from RAF St Mawgan with nine crew members and four passengers aboard. It is believed the plane got into difficulties shortly after take-off and tried to turn back to base when it came down and crashed into rocks. All 13 service personnel aboard the aircraft were killed. Five other unnamed US Navy personnel rescuers drowned trying to save the crew, rappelling down the cliffs and into the night sea in vain to save them.
The crew of Muck’s Mauler –
Rance A. Thomas
Louis T. Perkins Jr
Paul M. Lawthian
Edwin H. Rogers
Thomas J. Zock
Edward G. Forkel
Ensign Robert L. Scott
Harold C. Nylund
Edwin H Rogers was born in August 1915 at Williams Station, near Columbia, Houston Co, Alabama. Rogers served in the United States Navy and “Ferried war weary bombers and crew from England to Bermuda during World War II”.
There is a memorial stone plaque on the Find a Grave website http://image1.findagrave.com/photos/2010/147/660073_127509938445.jpg for Edward G Forkel, Harold C Nylund – 1943 and some others in some of the crew reburied in Fort Scott Military Cemetery, Kansas in the USA, listing names and airforce ranks where they were reinterred in 1949.
The day after the accident, 14-year-old Douglas Knight cycled to the scene with his brother Alec and found a number of relics in the sand which were put on display at Newquay Zoo’s World War Zoo Gardens project wartime weekend in May 2010. Douglas arranged to replace and rededicate the plaque on the cliffs where the plane hit. According to Douglas’ address at the memorial service:
“The Liberator … was on its way back to the States, it had done approx. 558 flying hours on the original engines and then would be replaced with a more modified version. I was only 14 years old when my brother Alec and I myself heard about the tragedy. We cycled out to Whipsiderry and walked across the beaches to the scene of the accident. I can still remember that before we came around Lion Rock, there was a terrible stench in the air. We now know that the plane was flying to the States and that there were thousands of gallons of aviation fuel when it crashed and caught fire.
The scene that met our eyes as we came around Lion Rock I will never forget. The cliff was all burnt and the beach was covered with wreckage. There were RAF lorries taking away the engines and other large parts of the wreckage. The bodies of the air crew and those drowned in a rescue attempt were taken away before we arrived.
For several years after this accident whenever we walked across this part of the beach we still found bits of the wreckage.”
Wreckage still turns up on the beach crash site after heavy seas. Douglas Knight worked with air historian Martin Alexander who has been researching the crash for many years to confirm the names. They arranged for a plaque and dedication ceremony to mark the place on the cliffs and you can read Media coverage of the plaque dedication ceremony.
Douglas lent some of these relics, parts of an engine, bullets and instrument gauges, the glass amazingly uncracked to one of our World War Zoo Gardens wartime display events in 2010, a solemn reminder of the human cost of keeping our wartime supply chain safe.
Investigating the crash, the American air force eventually requested greater air sea rescue services in the form of high speed motor launches to be reinforced locally, working out of ports such as Padstow to back up existing lifeboat crews.
Liberator crews like “Muck’s Mauler” were tasked to watch for and sink German submarines or U-Boats which were a threat to Britain’s food supplies and war materials being shipped to Britain. The crew of ‘Muck’s Mauler’ appear to have served at RAF St Eval as well as Dunkeswell airfield in Devon, then a ‘ferry crew’ landed to refuel and crashed just after takeoff.
Without the protection from these aircrews and the bravery of the Merchant Navy, Royal and US and Navy crews in shipping convoys, Britain would have struggled to feed its rationed people and carry on preparing for the invasion of Europe on D-Day June 1944 in which the people, coast and country of Cornwall and Devon played such a part.
I will post further related photographs as I come across them in 2014. A beautiful scale model of ‘Muck’s Mauler’ can be seen at http://www.britmodeller.com/forums/index.php?/topic/43365-pb4y-1-navy-liberators-academy-172/ on the http://www.britmodeller website.