Life and Death in the PFF: Aircraft Loss Card for Black Thursday

scott - loss cardThis is the loss card for the Scott crew‘s aircraft, which crashed near Graveley due to the fog and petrol shortage on Black Thursday. Similar loss cards were compiled for the other four aircraft which crashed that night, those of Mackenzie, Kirkwood, Thackway and Deverill, and for the two which were abandoned, those of Smith and Mooney. The following text is taken from Fire By Night (Grub Street, 2000 edition, pp.94-95), by Jennie Gray:

The [loss cards] had most evidently been filled in as a batch, with virtually the same phrasing and remarks on each of them. The comments had been made by Bourn’s Station Commander and Commanding Officer, each backing up the other’s judgement, and they contradicted the assessment already given in 97 Squadron’s ORB that the losses had been due to bad visibility, fog and low cloud.

Instead, all the accident cards were inscribed with the same thing, ‘E of J’—Error of Judgement. No blame was to be placed on the landing aids and facilities, or on the training program of RAF Station Bourn or the training units which had preceded it—instead the entire responsibility was to be dumped squarely on the shoulders of the seven pilots.

The report for K-King [Ted Thackway’s aircraft] is representative of the whole (I have filled in the abbreviations for all the quotations from the cards): Aircraft crashed into ground in conditions of low cloud and bad visibility attempting to locate airfield. Commanding Officer: SBA landings should have been practised. Station Commander: Error of Judgement in bad visibility. Aircraft crash one of twelve—subject of special report.

‘One of twelve’ refers to the total Pathfinder losses that night. […] For Scott’s plane, the one which had crashed near Graveley with the loss of all the crew, it was much the same—‘Aircraft crashed near airfield. Station Commander: Error of Judgement in bad visibility and low cloud; should have used SBA.’

SBA was Standard Beam Approach, and it would have been impossible to use it that night because it demanded a great deal of time to get it right, and time was what the the crews did not have.

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