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’:
Ernest Deverill’s distinguished RAF career ended with a terrible crash at RAF Graveley in the early hours of 17 December 1943. All except one of the crew were killed.
Parts of his aircraft, which caught fire, can be seen here in their display box at the Heritage Centre, RAF Wyton, a poignant reminder of that dreadful night.
There are many demands on everyone’s money at this time of year, but with the anniversary of Deverill’s death fast approaching we are asking for contributions towards the financing of the Deverill Collection.
So please contribute what you can to help us settle the last debts for this tribute to an outstanding pilot and ‘Knight of the Air’.
Since the Archive acquired the Deverill Collection, it has been on loan to the Heritage Centre, RAF Wyton, where it can be seen by the public, by appointment.
Our previous appeal for funds to settle the outstanding loan to purchase the Deverill Collection has taken the amount still owed to £3,700, less that 10% of the purchase price. Clearing the balance will enable us to look to the future when we may be able to acquire other suitable Pathfinder items. These too will be loaned for display at the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton, and will enhance the wonderful collection already there.
Two years ago, the RAF Pathfinders Archive bought the Deverill Collection to ensure that it would not go into private hands and possibly end up being sold off in separate parts. Since the Archive acquired the Deverill Collection, it has been on loan to the Heritage Centre at RAF Wyton, where it can be seen by the public, by appointment.
The Deverill Collection’s future as part of RAF history, and in particular the history of the Pathfinders and Black Thursday, 16/17 December 1943, is now assured. However, the Archive still has to raise £4,280 – 10% of the purchase price – to settle the remaining balance of the interest-free loans taken out to finance the purchase. Clearing the balance will enable us to look to the future when we may be able to acquire other suitable Pathfinder items. These too will be loaned for display at RAF Wyton, and will enhance the wonderful collection already there.
We are launching an appeal to all our supporters to help us clear the outstanding balance of the Deverill Collection purchase. Please contribute what you can to help us settle the last debts for this outstanding pilot and ‘Knight of the Air’.
The Caterpillar Club, for aircrew whose lives had been saved by a silken Irvin parachute, is well-known. Less so is the Goldfish Club, for aircrew whose lives had been saved by an emergency dinghy. Few of the aircrew who ditched in the sea survived, but one of the lucky ones was Robert Butler, who won the badge on 28 February 1942 whilst in training. See: Robert Butler Wins a Goldfish
Working on the post yesterday on the condolence letter to Jespersen’s father reminded me of another condolence letter, this time written on the Pathfinder station at Oakington in December 1943. It concerned a friend, Bob Butler, who was stationed with 97 Squadron at Bourn. The condolence letter was addressed to his mother, Ellen Butler.
Many grateful thanks to John Clifford who organised the revamp to the Black Thursday exhibition at the Pathfinder Collection, Heritage Centre, RAF Wyton, pictures of which can be seen here.
John also showed us round yesterday. He was on top form as the guide to what is basically a Pathfinders Aladdin’s Cave, containing countless riches connected with 8 Group’s history.
He was ably assisted by the hugely knowledgeable Carl Thomas. There was also the lovely surprise of a lighting visit by Peter Stanley, who began the original Pathfinder Collection in 1995, the basis of everything which can be seen today. Pete received a well-merited round of applause.
Charles Owen kept an operations diary, and one of the most interesting pages is the one he wrote for Black Thursday.
This particular entry has often been quoted but there is nothing like seeing the actual handwriting. One of the critical phrases is ‘landed without permission in appalling conditions’. To read the full story of this unauthorised landing, see Tom Leak’s story on the Owen crew page.
The night of 16/17 December 1943, afterwards known as Black Thursday, saw the worst RAF bad weather losses of the whole war. A heavy fog caused severe problems for home-coming aircraft and there were multiple fatal crashes. Amongst the dead were 50 Pathfinder aircrew.
Our two commemorative booklets for the 75th Anniversary of 16/17 December 1943 are published today. Together they create a unforgettably vivid picture of the dramatic events of that night which led to so many deaths in the Pathfinders and Bomber Command.
All profits from the sales go towards the RAF PATHFINDERS ARCHIVE and in particular to the funding of the DEVERILL COLLECTION, which we bought with the benefit of supporter-loans last year.
This year will be a busy one for the Archive. Following the acquisition of the Deverill Collection, we will be fund-raising this year in order to settle the interest-free loans from supporters which enabled us to buy the Collection at very short notice.
The Deverill Collection cost £42,000 (by way of comparison, Dambuster collections are selling for three times this, or more, in the current market). £28,050 has already been settled, having been funded by donations and Gift Aid. This leaves £13,950 to be fund-raised.
If you would like to make a contribution, please go to ourDONATE page. Alternatively please CONTACT us if you would prefer an alternative method of payment such as cheque or postal order. All donations towards this most important collection will be very gratefully received.
We would also be very pleased to hear from anyone who would like to run a fund-raising project of their own for the Deverill Collection.
Early next month we will be adding the first details of our projected commemorations for the 75th anniversary of Black Thursday, 16/17 December 1943, which will centre around the Deverill Collection at RAF Wyton. We will be giving further details of our fund-raising for the Deverill Collection at the same time.