Channel 5 at 2100 : Planes that won the war The Lancaster a piece on Lancaster crash on Beinn Eighe.

I did some filming a few years ago for this program assisted by Torridon MRT . It has been out on hold as COVID hit. It will probably be a small part in the program but it was a stunning days filming. I took no fee and Torridon team received a large donation. It was a wonderful day and hopefully a bit will in the film.

The Lancaster

LANCASTER GR3 TX264 – CRASH ON SAIL MHOR, BEINN EIGHE ROSS AND CROMARTY, SCOTLAND – 14th March 1951

IN THE MEMORY OF THE CREW OF LANCASTER TX264

Its 70 years since the crash of the Lancaster on Beinn Eighe. I was told of the story often and visited the site on many occasions. It is a situated in the most incredibly wild corrie on Beinn Eighe in the North West of Scotland. It was a huge learning curb for the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams, that involved many changes that influenced most of Mountain Rescue in the UK. For many years I have visited the site spoke to a few of the RAF Kinloss team who were involved. I have taken relatives and family annually, filmed up on the mountain this place means a lot to me. Due to Covid I could visit but did later on. I will visit as often as I can and for as long as my battered body allows.

This particular crash had a considerable influence in changes to RAF Mountain Rescue later on.

The crash aroused and held the attention, even curious with that desire to know the true facts, rumours do circulate by ‘word of mouth’ at happenings like this one and for some considerable time.  The lines of communication in the early fifties were still a newspaper, local or national, or the ‘Wireless’, very few people had a telephone and Television was in its infancy.  ‘News of this kind was news’, where to listen or read would create an ‘image’ in the mind.  Headlines in the ‘Press and Journal’, Aberdeen, were – “Search of hills for missing Lancaster, Missing plane sought in Sutherland, Aberdeen.  Pilot on missing plane, where the missing bomber crashed, Plane wreck not yet reached.”

It is a sad story as anything of this nature is, particularly for the members of the Rescue Teams but does indicate without doubt ‘special significance’ or ‘emphasis’ on Mountain Rescue, with the extreme difficulties, along with mistakes, these teams faced in that day and age.  A detailed description of particular places and local features from Maps had to be the main concern and fully understood.

Beinn Eighe is a name, aggregated, for Peaks similar to each other or bearing a definite relation to the one preceding it. This mountain in winter is one of Scotland’s great peaks and accessible only by mountaineers. The gully where the main wreckage is a loose tricky ascent in summer and should only be attempted by mountaineers.

The following narrative relates the events of the Beinn Eighe crash on the 14th March 1951 until the 27th August, a very harrowing rescue mission undertaken by the RAF MRS, and civil MRS, despite being called out in all weathers of extreme severity and inhospitable terrain, are all volunteers.

On the 13th March 1951 at 1804hrs, Lancaster TX264 call sign ‘D’ Dog of 120 Squadron, converted for reconnaissance purposes, took off from RAF Kinloss, a ‘fog free’ climate of the Moray Coast between Lossiemouth and Nairn.  The pilot was Flt Lt Harry Reid DFC, 24 years of age, a total crew of eight with a Second Pilot, Navigator, Flight Engineer and four signallers.  It was a ‘Navigational Exercise’ via Cape Wrath, the very name a ‘mingled feeling of anger and disdain’ this being the extreme north-west point of the Scottish mainland and named after the Viking word ’hvraf’ meaning a turning point where the Vikings turned south to the Hebrides in the ninth century.  The cape is isolated and its heathland untamed.  Around midnight the aircrew flew over the Lighthouse.

The last position, sent by radio was at 0127hrs 60 miles north of Cape, Wrath this was the very last message from the aircraft.

At 0200hrs a boy living in Torridon, on the east end of Upper Loch Torridon, looking through his bedroom window saw a red flash in the distance, but didn’t think any more about it until he saw the headlines in a Newspaper, ‘Missing Plane Sought’ and this was two days after the aircraft went missing.  He mentioned it to the local Postmaster who immediately contacted RAF Kinloss.  Similar reports had been received.  An Airspeed Oxford was sent to search which concentrated on Beinn Eighe.  The wreck of the Lancaster was sighted on the 16th March.

On the 17th March the Kinloss RAF Rescue Team arrived in the area and on the 18th approached Beinn Eighe from the North and into Coire Mhic Fhearchair from Loch Maree.  Wreckage from the Lancaster was found after arriving at the foot of the Triple Buttresses and lying in the ‘corrie’.  A ‘corrie’ is a semi-circular hollow or a circular space in a mountain side.  This particular wreckage had fallen, the bulk of the aircraft being much higher with the crew inside.  At the foot of the Western Buttress were the port wing, undercarriage, two engines and various cowlings.  On the following day the starboard wing and some other parts had been blown down by the strong winds, but still no fuselage.

The next day another party managed to climb higher and spotted the fuselage, burnt out, but couldn’t reach it.  Further attempts were abandoned for the time being.

The weather over the whole period of the search was ‘exceptionally’ severe for the time of the year.  It was intensely cold with constant snow showers and high winds and temperatures well below freezing at night.

The North of Scotland is much closer, in fact ‘considerably’ closer to the Arctic Circle than North Wales.  Conditions in winter can be more ‘Alpine’, they may be ‘Artic’.  Between Beinn Eighe and Sail Mhor the weather was absolutely ‘atrocious’, with the wind coming over the ridge with such force it was virtually impossible to move, and the snow anything from one to four feet.  The gully from the corrie was a solid sheet of ice.

It was certain that no one was alive in the wreckage, and in the opinion of the Officer in Charge of the team the wreckage was so situated it couldn’t be reached by any members of the public unless they were ‘highly experienced climbers’.

The CO at RAF Kinloss, in the meantime, had offers from the Moray Mountaineering Club, a Doctor John Brewster with this Club having considerable climbing experience in winter.  This offer and another suggestion for help from the Scottish Mountaineering Club, holding their Easter meeting at Achnashellach to the South of Beinn Eighe were both declined.

On the 24th March Dr Brewster informed the CO that men from the Moray Club were going to Beinn Eighe on their own initiative, the RAF team were ordered to return to base.  Five men from the Club arrived at Torridon and attempted to reach the aircraft but of no avail and didn’t make a further attempt.

Another attempt was made by a Royal Marine Commando, Captain Mike Banks and Angus Eskine.  After a really difficult time with the weather, particularly gusts of wind that brought the human body on all fours, these two reached the main bulk of the aircraft.

Eventually all unauthorised visits were stopped and the RAF Team once again returned to Beinn Eighe and this time reached the wreckage.  It was most difficult and dangerous work recovering the bodies; three were actually in the fuselage.  The last body was not recovered until 27th August.

Rumours, idle gossip as always, flourished that the crew had survived the impact but rescue being too late.  It was obvious to the rescuers, and verified by the medical authorities that death was ‘instantaneous’ in all cases.

After the last body was recovered the team sent the large pieces of the fuselage and wing hurtling down the gulley and later came to be known as ‘Fuselage Gulley’, much of it remains to this day.

Five of the crew of Lancaster TX264 are buried in Kinloss Cemetery, set in the peaceful grounds of the ruined Abbey, they are Sgt W D Beck, Sgt J W Bell, Sgt R Clucas, Flt Sgt J Naismith and Flt Lt P Tennison, in a section reserved for many aircrew who have died flying from RAF Kinloss over the years.

EPILOGUE

On the 28th August 1985, a group of Officer Cadets led by Sergeant Jim Morning and Sgt Tom Jones were airlifted on to the summit of Beinn Eighe by a Sea King Helicopter from 202 Squadron.

One of ‘D’ Dog’s propellers was recovered and put into a lifting net and taken by the helicopter to the road, and then to RAF Kinloss.  The twisted three-blade propeller now stands outside the wooden Mountain Rescue Section building as a permanent memorial to ‘D’ Dog’s crew. This memorial has been replaced and is at RAF Lossiemouth now where the current RAF Rescue Team is operational.

The gully where the aircraft crashed is called by mountaineers Fuselage Gully and one of the propellers has to be climbed over and is used by climbers as a belay in winter.

MTHE CREW:-PILOTFlt Lt H S ReidSECOND PILOTSgt R ClucasNAVIGATORFg Off R StrongSIGNALLERFlt Lt P TennisonFLIGHT ENGINEERFlt Sgt G FarquharSIGNALLERSFlt Sgt J NaismithSgt W D BeckSgt J W BellThe Crew

The standard of a Mountain Rescue Team, of even the rescue service as a whole fluctuates considerably and, sometimes, alarmingly.  Several factors contribute to this.

For many years there was ‘National Service’ eighteen months to two years. A Man would be trained as a good mountaineer and when competent he would be lost to civilian life. Sometimes several members would be demobilised at the same time. Not only would it be imperative to find new volunteers but also men to train these novices, also the teams had to be commanded.

The Team at the crash site . photo Joss Gosling collection.

To say that they were sometimes led by incompetent men is unfair and misleading. You have dj, but because there might be no experienced men available at one time, they were often led by Officers and NCO’s who would be incompetent to deal with emergencies, even those which might appear simple problems to the experienced mountaineer

Wreckage

I learned so much from one of the team Joss Gosling who became a great pal and friend of the family. Sadly Joss passed away a few years ago he told me of these early days in Mountain Rescue. The kit was so basic yet they all did their best.

The late Joss Gosling

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Films, Friends, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, People, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

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