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24 Jan 2022

Today marks the anniversary of two plane crashes in Donegal

Bomber aircraft was forced to land in 1940 while fighter plane crash landed in 1941

Today marks the anniversary of two plane crashes in Donegal

A Bristol Blenheim bomber similar to the one that crashed in Donegal. Photo: Wikipedia.

Today marks the anniversary of two plane crashes in Donegal during World War II.

It’s the 80th anniversary of an incident that resulted in an American Grumman G-36b Martlet III aircraft crashing in Donegal at Cloughfin, Carrigans.  

The pilot, Sgt. Lieutenant Bruce Girdlestone, who sustained some injuries, was interned until 1943. However, few details are known about what happened.

Today also marks the 81st anniversary of the crash-landing of a British RAF World War II bomber in Donegal.

On December 21, 1940, a Bristol Type 149 Blenheim IV (F) aircraft crashed at Sladran, in the hills north of  Buncrana.

The aircraft had left from Aldergrove air base outside Belfast on a convoy escort mission out over the North Atlantic, but on its return in bad weather and running out of fuel, the crew were forced to bail out.

Two of the crew, pilot Sgt Sydney Hobbs and wireless operator Sgt Douglas Newport, parachuted down to the ground, landing near the Irish army posts at Fort Lenan and Fort Dunree.

In his extensive writings on World War II crashes in Ireland, Sligo-based Dennis Burke has researched the crash and uncovered many of the details surrounding what happened.


Official

He quotes the official Irish Government Information Bureau release on the incident that was sent to newspapers at the time.

It stated that at about 8.15pm on Saturday, December 21, 1940, “a British ‘plane crashed at Sledrin, some three miles north-east of Buncrana. 

 The ‘plane was wrecked.  Before the crash the three members of the crew bailed out.  Two were found soon afterwards. They were uninjured and have been interned.  

“A search for the third officer continued during the night.  He was found this morning suffering from exposure, and is now receiving medical attention.”

It emerged that the third crew member, Sgt Herbert Ricketts, had landed in Lough Swilly and swam ashore at Lenankeel, north of Fort Dunree. 

Initially he was looked after by a local woman, and then brought to the Irish Army post at Fort Lenan where he received attention for two days before being sent to the Curragh in Co. Kildare where he was interned.

Since Ireland/Éire was neutral (it did not become the Republic of Ireland until 1948) it had been decided that all servicemen from any nation that ended up on Irish soil through navigational error, shipwreck or other accident during World War II would be interned for the duration of the war.

The wreckage of the aircraft was brought to Athlone Army Barracks over 24 - 25 December. 

Many years later, a letter written about the incident by Sgt. Hobbs emerged.

 

Censor

It was stopped by the censor in the Curragh. In the letter, dated December 23, 1941, he stated: “We got into difficulties on Saturday night last and I ordered the crew to jump, and when they had gone I headed for the hills and jumped myself.  Both myself and my air gunner Newport got away with crooked ankles, but my Observer landed on a rock in the sea and had to spend the night there. 

“He swam to the shore in the morning and is suffering from exposure. 

“We have been very kindly treated, but am afraid this camp will send me off my head in no time - so will father please do the necessary.  

“There are three of us here and none of us want to stay. We still have a job to do. There are also three officers with us.”

Interestingly, Sgt. Hobbs was subsequently married in Ireland that June after his fiance came over from England. 

“Hobbs escaped in July 1941 and resumed flying soon afterwards but was killed in a flying accident in Scotland just one month later when Beaufighter T4648 stalled on landing at Dyce.

Elsewhere, an RAF Spitfire was forced to make an emergency landing on Magheramore Strand, Sandfield, Ardara on December 16, 1941. 

The pilot was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, F/Sgt Guy Duncan Fowler, and he exited the aircraft without any serious injury after making a wheels-up landing at Clogher Strand, near Ardara.

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