Bristol Beaufighter Mk.II, 54 O.T.U., RAF Winfield
crashed Hutton Mill Bridge, Foulden on 4th January 1943
|Robert Frederick Norwood
At around 1 o’clock in the afternoon on 4th January 1943, Sgt Robert Frederick Norwood and his navigator, Sgt Irvine Jackson, took off from RAF Winfield in Beaufighter Mk II, T3038 for a training flight. Not long after take off T3038 was observed 9 miles away in the vicinity of RAF Charterhall with smoke coming from the Port engine. Sgt Norwood called up Flying Control at RAF Winfield and informed them that his Port engine had failed and he was going to carry out a right hand circuit and then come in to land.
The aircraft was seen by Flying Control to the north of the airfield flying at low altitude, shortly after which a pall of black smoke was seen rising from the north east of the airfield.
Harry Renton, then aged 6, was playing at the back of Burnbank farm just outside the village of Foulden, when he witnessed an aircraft flying very low and fast with its left engine on fire. The aircraft approached from the direction of West Foulden, passed over the top of Foulden Bastle and was seen to bank sharply and dived towards the ground just before it disappeared from view over the back of Foulden Newton. Shortly afterwards black smoke was seen coming from the direction of Hutton Mill Bridge.
The aircraft was also witnessed by 11 year old John Pringle who was playing with his brother and sister outside of their home at Foulden Newton. They saw the aircraft pass low overhead with smoke coming from one of the engines.
Later the local children arrived near the scene, and from the bridge could see the burning remains of Beaufighter T3038 on the side of the ravine which overlooks the River Whiteadder. Rescue teams were already there and local farmers and Home Guard were trying to the get at the occupants but were beaten back by the flames and exploding ammunition. Not long afterwards a rescue party arrived from RAF Winfield, and after extinguishing the fire, recovered the bodies of Sgt Norwood and Sgt Jackson.
The official cause of the accident is stated on the Form 1180 as being down to Port engine failure due to the collapse of the piston in number 3 cylinder, leading to big end bearing failure. The investigating officer thought it was also likely that Sgt Norwood failed to maintain sufficient height and speed when carrying out a forced landing. It was also noted that no evidence could be found as to why Sgt Norwood failed to land his aircraft at Charterhall, rather than attempt to return to his parent station at Winfield some miles away.
It must be noted however that the Mk II Beaufighter was known to have poor single engine performance and had been withdrawn from frontline service and allocated to training units only. The Mk II was also the only Beaufighter to have been fitted with the Merlin engine in favour of the more powerful Bristol Hercules.
With this in mind, it is thought that Sgt Norwood did not want to risk a left turn into the dead engine to land at Charterhall, so opted for a gradual right turn in order to make a right hand circuit and land at Winfield. In an aircraft which was difficult to fly on one engine this would have been a wise move. However witnesses at the time indicate that T3038 was seen to turn sharply and dive into the ground. As Sgt Norwood was aware of the poor single engine performance of the Mk II, this manoeuvre seems strange, particularly at such a low altitude.
A closer examination of the line of flight as given by witnesses indicates that Sgt Norwood was attempting to make a forced landing in the fields above the ravine. It is thought that T3038 was losing altitude rapidly and just prior to hitting the ground Sgt Norwood caught sight of the farm buildings just to the east of Foulden Newton. In an attempt to avoid crashing into them, he turned sharply and the aircraft dived into the woods at the top of the ravine and caught fire.
The Crash Site
There are still some small pieces of the Beaufighter in the undergrowth on the side of the ravine. Some of the pieces still show signs of the intense fire which engulfed the aircraft when it crashed.