The worst night in British aviation history for aircraft crashes occurred on this day, 76 years ago. On return from a bombing raid on Berlin, the RAF lost a large number of aircraft and men due to the thick fog blanketing their airfields.
Tonight we remember all the aircrew who lost their lives on 16/17 December 1943, but particularly those on the Path Finder Force.
The Pathfinders were badly affected: 97 Squadron lost 28 men, 405 Squadron lost 15, 156 Squadron lost 6, and 83 Squadron lost 1. In all, 50 Pathfinder aircrew were killed by the fog. Others were seriously wounded and grounded for a long time, or permanently taken off flying duties. There were also heavy losses on the Berlin raid, 7 Squadron suffering the worst of all with the loss of four crews.
This new page for Black Thursday contains the ORB entries for the PFF squadrons who were flying ‘the heavies’:
16/17 December 1943: The ORBs for the ‘Heavies’, PFF
These ORB entries paint a vivid picture of what happened on that disastrous night.
For other pages on Black Thursday, please see the main menu of the website, or here are some of the relevant links:
Black Thursday Overview
Black Thursday – 97 Squadron
97 Squadron Memorial Page (Losses on Black Thursday)
Pathfinder Funerals at Cambridge City Cemetery
For the RAF website page on Black Thursday, click here.
After a catastrophic accident in which a full load of bombs was dropped on his aircraft, Frank Lloyd somehow managed to save the Lancaster and get all the crew safely home. The only crew member who did not get back was David Mansell-Playdell. Immediately after the disaster, he baled out, on captain’s orders, which Frank revoked a few moments later but too late to stop David. See: Frank Lloyd, 582 Squadron
We are most grateful to Sean Feast for the photographs of Frank Lloyd and for the many other 582 Squadron photographs he has donated to the Archive. The full story of Frank Lloyd can be read in Sean’s book: Master Bombers, The Experiences of a Pathfinder Squadron at War, 1944-1945, published by Grub Street in 2008.
Donald Sinclair Margach was a navigator who, in 1943, served on 106 Squadron when it was commanded by Wing Commander Guy Gibson. Donald did not go with Gibson when he formed 617 Squadron, which in May 1943 carried out Operation Chastise, the audacious raid on the dams. In 1944 Donald was flying with 582 Squadron of the Pathfinders when he lost his life. See Donald Margach and Guy Gibson
Donald Barker, a navigator, has been identified in the group photograph of 582 Squadron taken on VE Day. This is highly unusual as the identities of the men in these wonderful squadron photographs tends to be lost over the years if not noted down at the time. Another member of the squadron was clearly a close friend, and appears in the holiday photograph above. Unfortunately, this is not a happy story although both men survived the war. See Donald Schofield Barker page.
Ruined or decayed wartime airfields are one of the most evocative sights in Britain. Inevitably many of them are now being built over. These pictures of Little Staughton, taken by Matt Barker in the summer of 2017, are full of atmosphere and the ghosts of the past. Little Staughton, 109 and 582 Squadrons