There are few who know of this incident yet it is an incredible event. It takes you back to the dark days of the war 1942 when Britain was struggling. This tragic Crash was on 10 th Dec 1942. Near the remote summit Geal Charn near Beinn Alder.
This crash site is in extremely remote country access can be tricky. The route to this site is up an Estate road from Dalwhinnie just of the A9 or from Corrour Station. Many nowadays Mountain bike up here. The bothy At Culra is closed due to Asbestos 2019 and during COVID . To visit in a day is a long expedition and care should be taken these are tricky mountains.
This is an amazing story of a Vickers Wellington aircraft 10/12/1942 that crashed south eastern flank of Geal Charn.
One crew member survived in mid-winter and went for help. It is a story that few have heard. Wreckage can be found on Geal-Chàrn, and then at various points downward on the slopes of Leacann na Brathan, in the vicinity of Ben Alder.
The crash : The crew, from B Flight of No.20 OTU, were on a day navigation training flight from RAF Lossiemouth on 10 /12/1942. The planned route was from base to a point some 30 miles east of Peterhead – Crieff – Friockheim, near Arbroath – Maud, near Peterhead – base.
At some point the aircraft deviated from this route and at about 15:00 while heading in an easterly to north easterly direction (some 40 miles off course) flew into Leacann na Brathan on the south eastern flank of Geal-charn which at the time was snow covered and enveloped in blizzard conditions.
The only survivor of the crash, Sgt Underwood, after checking for signs of life from his crew made his way off the mountain and arrived at Corrour Lodge in a very poor state. This journey after the trauma he had been involved in is an incredible feat of strength in full on winter. Even to modem mountaineers this is a wild area and there was a tragedy here a few years later.
He was taken in and the next day transferred to hospital in Fort William. I cannot imagine trying to get off the mountain alone high up in winter from this area and all your crew are killed.
How Sgt Underwood managed this is a tale of survival and huge mental courage this is one of the wildest areas and remote hill country in the UK, Sadly little was known of this tale as in 1942 it was the dark days of the war and I would imagine crashes etc were fairly restricted information.
One can only think what was in his head as he headed down to Corrour and what he said to the keeper and his family who live in this remote place?
After the aircraft had failed to return from its exercise a search was organised but nothing was found before the report of the rear gunner reaching Corrour and help was received.I
The rest of the crew died in the crash.
• F/O James William Heck (25), Pilot, RAAF.
• Sgt Maurice Hutt (21), Obs. / Bomb Aimer, RAFVR.
• Sgt William Ernest Riley (22), Navigator, RAF.
• Sgt Joseph Towers (25), Navigator, RAFVR.
• Sgt James Hemmings, W/Op / Air Gnr., RAFVR.
Following the recovery of the bodies of those who had been killed the task of clearing the site was given to No.56 Maintenance Unit at Inverness. They inspected the wreck and decided to abandon it until the spring of 1943 before any work could begin.
The recovery operation eventually began in July 1943 with a camp being established some distance from the site, assistance was rendered by army personnel of the 52nd Division, Scottish Command.
They provided 25 pack mules and a 3 ton lorry. With these most of the wreckage was removed from the site, but today a reasonable amount still remains.
I am sure there was an aircraft Tyre down near the road coming out of the Beinn Alder Track near the Dam at Loch Eiricht and the railway line, it would make sense that is where some wreckage was taken by the mules?
The wreckage on the mountain is in three debris fields, with the lowest lying (containing a few twisted pieces of fuselage) right on the main path going over the Bealach Dubh between Ben Alder and Geal-chàrn at an altitude of about 730m.
It was here that much of the aircraft was brought down by mules and I am sure that is why the wreckage is there on the path? I am sure this is where the wheel came from as the road passes the point where I used to see the aircraft wheel. Please be aware this is a tricky wild remote area if you plan to visit this is where the snow holds on for a long time.
OS 10-figure grid refs (GPS):
NN 48049 73196
NN 48072 73585
NN 48223 73680
Thanks to Danny Daniels for the photo and grid references and others for the information.
What a film this story would make and few have heard or have knowledge of this story, it was hidden in the tragedy of the war. I bet there is still a few who would know the tale, the keepers from Corrour would have been involved as would the Beinn Alder Estate/Corrour Estate any information would be gratefully accepted.
I had planned to go up on the 70 th Anniversary but was pretty ill for two years. I will make a point of going up someday.
Do you have any contacts on the Estate who may be have a tale of this epic?
For many years I have explored this area and even winter climbed here we had the privileged of using the Estate tracks then when Mr Oswald was the keeper at Beinn Alder.
Often I have done these great hills and the 6 Munros in winter was always an objective with young troops a full on winter experience and the navigation wild on the huge Cornices of Beinn Alder. How many times did we struggle on these long days with limited light then be hit by huge drifts on the way off and swollen rivers in the dark with my trusted dog Teallach showing the way. It’s a hard area we would visit the crash site high on the mountains and be humbled by the story.
Yet all do not compare with the story of this crash and the survivor attempt to get help for his crew.
What a story worth a few thoughts and thoughts for those who died “Lest we forget”
Comments as always welcome.
It is amazing that we know little about the survivor Sgt Underwood the rear Gunner who is the main part of this incredible story. If anyone can give me some information that would be great. We must keep the story and the sacrifice of the crew alive!