Operational Training Unit (O.T.U. 27), under the control of Bomber Command, opened at R.A.F. Lichfield on the 23rd. of April 1941, with the specific aim of quickly training men in the skills of flying as a crew and preparing them for transfer to an operational squadron, where they would take part in missions against the enemy.

Men arriving at Lichfield had undergone training and had attained a certain level of expertise as pilots, navigators, flight engineers, wireless operators, bomb aimers and air gunners, but had very little experience of flying as a crew. It was essential that they learned quickly how to work together. Here at Lichfield, they learned the difficult task of putting theory into practice. Strangely enough, they were not divided by their commanding officers into crews, but were allowed to choose their own flying companions. This was felt to be a more natural way of ordering things.

In his brilliant book” No Moon Tonight”, which has become a Bomber Command classic, the Australian navigator Don Charlwood, who trained at R.A.F. Lichfield, described the casual way in which he met pilot Geoff Maddern, with whom he was to fly with for the duration of the war and also the rest of the crew who he was to fly with during his training at R.A.F. Lichfield.

Don and his crew in training at R.A.F. Lichfield.

Trainee crews were always accompanied on practice flights by experienced instructors. Many of these men were very experienced, but still quite young. They had proved themselves in battle having completed 30 sorties or more against the enemy. Many had been awarded the DFM (Distinguished Flying Medal) or the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and were consequently held in high regard by the fledgling crews.

The crews practised take-off and landing procedures, completed circuits, navigation exercises, cross- country flights, night flying, flying over the sea, target and bombing practise.

When it was felt that a crew were competent enough, they often undertook “Nickel Raids” over occupied Europe, which consisted of dropping propaganda leaflets which were written to keep up the morale of the occupied population, in the hope of promoting hostility towards the Nazi invaders. This was felt to be good practice for forthcoming operational bombing raids. Also, many of the newly trained crews took part in operational flights such as the 1,000 bomber raids over the occupied territories.

Don Charlwood





1944- 19 TRAINING ACCIDENTS- 33 KILLED-     13 INJURED.             


Figures compiled with kind permission from:

W.R. Chorley “Bomber Command Losses” (Vol. 7)

Operational Training Units (1940-1947).

(Crecy Publications.)

Generally, the causes of training accidents can be attributed to a number of factors.

  • Poor weather conditions.
  • Mechanical failure. (Many of the Wellington Bombers used at Lichfield were old and prone to mechanical failure. Engine failure was common, but failure of wireless equipment was also a serious problem, especially during night flying exercises.)
  • Enemy action.
  • Aircrew error. (This was probably the most common cause of accidents. It implies no criticism of aircrews. They were young and inexperienced. Some pilots for example didn’t even hold a driving license, but found themselves at the controls of a Wellington Bomber.)
  • In some cases, obstructions such as trees and buildings and even flocks of birds.

Below are details of some of the training accidents which happened at R.A.F. Lichfield between 1941 and 1945.


As training did not begin at R.A.F. Lichfield until the 23rd. of April, the statistics for training accidents only cover nine months. In total, there were 9 accidents, 3 of which thankfully resulted in no fatalities or injuries at all.

The first reported training accident, took place on the 10th of July 1941, involving Wellington 1C T2467, piloted by Sergeant S.D.L. Hood of the R.N.Z.A.F.  Taking off from Lichfield, a tyre burst and the bomber over-ran the runway, hitting an obstruction. No injuries were reported, but the Wellington was damaged beyond repair.

On the 9th of August, Wellington 1C R1145 took off for a night exercise. The bomber landed in error at Bramcote’s Q site at 0.4.45 and ran into an obstacle. An investigation into this accident reported that error was on the part of the controller at the Q site who should have doused all lights, once it was realised that the crew were not responding to the red Verey lights being fired as a warning. Two pilot officers of the Royal Canadian Air Force were injured.

A very disturbing accident occurred on the evening of the 1st of September, when the crew of Wellington 1C X9611 were preparing for a night cross- country exercise. For some reason, the crew decided to take one of the ground crew with them. This was a potentially dangerous thing to do and they would not have had permission to do so.  Despite this, Aircraftsman G.W.H. Stapleford climbed aboard. Things were going well until on the return leg, the aircraft was attacked by an enemy aircraft. A single burst of fire wounded the pilot and two others. One of the wounded was Stapleford.

Tragically, Stapleford died later of his injuries and is buried in St. Stephens Churchyard, Fradley. This was the first encounter between 27 O.T.U. and the Luftwaffe and the units first fatality.

On the 27th of September, Wellington 1A P9216 took off from Lichfield, for dual circuit training. At 1515, as the bomber landed, the undercarriage was broken on touch down and the plane wrecked. Sergeant A.H. Ashwood of the R.A.F. was the only casualty. Being very badly burned, he was taken to Burntwood Emergency Hospital, where he died later that evening. His body was returned to his home town of Margate.

Unfortunately, more fatalities occurred in the following month. On the 18th of October, Wellington 1C X9821 with a crew of four, took off from Lichfield for dual night circuits. The crew comprised of Flight Sergeant S. L.A. HILL (R.A. F.) Sergeant J.A. Gillespie (R.A.A.F.) Sergeant C.V. Irish (R.A.F.) Sergeant P. Walker (R.A.F.)

During the exercise, the weather deteriorated. At about 02.00 whilst banking to port, about 1 mile from the airfield, the bomber flew into the ground and skidded across several fields adjacent to Sludgey Lane in Fradley, before bursting into flames. All of the four crew members lost their lives. Sergeant. Gillespie is buried in St. Stephens Churchyard, Fradley, the first Australian to be buried there. The rest of the crew were returned to their home towns for burial.

The year ended with another serious accident. On the night of the 15th of December, the all-British crew of Wellington 1C R1283, set out from Lichfield on a night navigation sortie.

They were as follows; Sergeant B. Poupard, Sergeant T. Riordan, Sergeant Kitson and Sergeant Gaffney. Following a spell of rough running, the bomber began to lose height and the propeller and reduction gear came away from the starboard engine. Sergeant. Poupard the pilot, attempted to force land and whilst doing so, flew head-on into some trees. The incident occurred 2 miles north of Chetwynd, a small hamlet on the River Tame, which is roughly 3 miles north-east of the airfield.

Unfortunately, Sergeant. Poupard was killed and lies in St. Stephen’s Churchyard in Fradley. Sergeant Kitson and Sergeant Riordan, both suffered broken legs, whilst Sergeant Gaffney escaped with slight concussion.



As 1942 dawned, the necessity of training crews quickly and efficiently and preparing them for battle became a top priority. In this full year of training at R.A.F. Lichfield, training accidents began to increase noticeably.

The first two reported accidents of the year, took place on the same night; the 17th of January. Anson 1 N5030 took off from Lichfield on a night navigation exercise. The crew consisted of three R.A. F. personnel, two members of the Australian Air Force, one member of the Canadian Air Force and an Assistant Meteorologist, Mr. Glyn Halford.

At 2015, the aircraft flew into the cloud covered slopes off Snaefell on the Isle of Man which was 2,038 feet above sea level. Four crew members were injured and three killed. Amongst the dead was F/S E. C. McManaman of the Canadian Air Force, the pilot F/SGT. J. C. Addy of the R.A.F.  an experienced man who had been awarded the DFM and the meteorologist Mr. Halford. The dead were buried at St. Patricks Churchyard at Jurby on the Isle of Man and the injured were taken to the island’s military hospital. Mr. Halford’s name is commemorated on the Roll of Honour at Bracknell.

That same evening Wellington 1C X9706 took off from Lichfield for a night bombing practice. During the exercise, the weather deteriorated and a signal was received indicating that the Sperry compass had failed. The crew had no idea of their location and requested a QDM (a code signal for a magnetic course to steer.) Unfortunately, nothing else was heard from the crew and at approximately 2105, the Wellington crashed into a wood, 2 miles south of Echilles Farm at King’s Bromley, which is 5 miles north of Lichfield. The crew consisted of seven men, four Australians and three members of the R.A.F. All of them were killed.

R.A.A.F.  SGT. E.F. Webb/ SGT. F. E. Williams/ F/S. J. S. R.  Woolnough / SGT. J.H. Rogerson, were buried in St. Stephens Churchyard in Fradley.

R.A.F.  SGT. M. Welch/ SGT.W.R. Beeton / SGT. A. W. Savage. Their bodies were claimed by their next of kin.

On the night of the 25th of February, the crew of Wellington 1C X9682 took off from Lichfield on a night navigation exercise over the Irish Sea. The crew consisted of five Australians and one New Zealander. At 2256, monitoring stations intercepted an SOS, from this aircraft. As nothing further was heard, it was concluded that the crew must have lost their lives over the sea. They are all commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

R.A.A.F.- SGT. D. H. Dyson/SGT. C. G. Veal/ SGT. A. P. R. Hargrave/ SGT. S. J. R. Parson/ SGT.R.C. Madge.

R.N.Z.A.F.- SGT. R.G. Harkins.


On the next day, the 26th of February, another accident happened involving Wellington 1C Z8785. It was manned by three Australians and two British crewmen. The aircraft took off from Lichfield at 1440 but twenty minutes later, the port engine failed and the Wellington crashed near Trent Valley Railway Station in Lichfield. A fire broke out from the starboard motor and the flames began to spread quickly, consuming the bomber. The three Australian crew members were injured; SGT. R. Longmuir/ SGT. D. Jennings/ SGT. W.A. Godfrey. Unfortunately, Sgt. Godfrey died later of his injuries and is buried in St. Stephens Church, Fradley.

On the 16th of July, the crew of Wellington 1C P9285 were lost. Having taken off from Lichfield at 1043, and carrying 15 eleven-and-a-half-pound practice bombs, they set a course for the North Sea. At about 12.30, while signalling, the radio direction finding plot failed and nothing further was heard from them. When they failed to return, enemy action was suggested as the most probable cause of their demise. All were commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

R.A.A.F.- SGT. B.W. Richards/ F/S J.A. Alcorn.

R.A.F.- SGT. W.B. Barr/ SGT. D.S. Large/ SGT. R. Brooke.

The following day, the 17th of July, the five members of the crew of Wellington 1C-Z8980, were all injured whilst undertaking a cross-country night exercise. They came down on Burbage Moor, 8 miles SW of Sheffield and the Wellington caught fire. All sustained quite serious injuries and one crew member, Sgt. J. H. Levett of the R.A.F. was admitted to the Royal Hospital in Sheffield, with severe burns and a compound fracture to one of his legs.

Just two days later, disaster struck when two Wellington bombers and their crews were lost on the same day! Wellington 1C DV800 with a crew of five, took off for a day cross-country training. Whilst over North Wales, the crew strayed 10 miles N of their intended track. At around 1230, it was assumed that the pilot decided to fly below the cloud, to ascertain his position and in doing so, smashed into the Black Ladder Mountains near Carnedd Dafydd in Snowdonia. All were killed.

R.A.F.- SGT. L. D. Traylen/ SGT. R.I. Bowen/ SGT. S.J Wilson/

A. A. F. – SGT. E. H. Longbottom / SGT. R.T. Bannister/.

On the 13th of October an all-Czechoslovakian crew of 6 took off from Church Broughton. The Wellington (1c Z8854) was observed shortly before 2305. It was flying at about 1,000 feet with its navigation lights on. It began making a gentle turn to port, and began to slowly loose height. However, instead of levelling out, the aircraft flew into the ground at Watery Lane, Scropton. All crew members were killed and buried in the extension to St. Paul’s Churchyard, Scropton. There are 16 graves here and 15 of them are the graves of men who died whilst serving at R.A.F. Lichfield.


This year saw a dramatic escalation in the number of bombing raids on German military targets, industrial areas and cities. There was increased pressure on all O.T. U’s to quickly prepare crews for action against the enemy. Casualties were high.

The first accident of 1943, took place on the 11th of January. Wellington 111 BK405 a fairly new aircraft, took off from Church Broughton to undertake circuits and landings, and practice single-engine flying.

At around 1550, the pupil pilot went through the drills to shut down the port engine, but tragically, feathered the starboard propeller. The bomber spun out of control and crashed at Boyleston, 7 miles south of Ashbourne. All of the crew members were killed.

R.N.Z.A.F.- F/O R.H.TYE.

R.A.A.F.-   SGT. W.R.Wearne / SGT. I.R.McDonald/ SGT.J.S. Eccles/

R.A.F.  SGT.J. Kerr.

F/O/ Tye was an experienced Wellington captain and a veteran of 75 Squadron. He is standing second on the left. He became an instructor at 27 O.T.U.

On the 3rd of February, another crew was lost. Wellington 111 BK241, comprising of two R.A.F. and three R.A.A.F. airmen, took off from Church Broughton at 1812 for a night cross-country practice. They  returned to base at about 2300 hours and began to circle in order to land.

However, at about 2302, the Wellington went into a flat spin and crashed 4 miles NE of the airfield.Four of the crew were buried in the graveyard extension to St. Paul’s Church in Scropton, whilst the body of Sgt.Keown was taken back to Northern Ireland for burial.

R.A.A.F.- SGT. F.G. Bell/ SGT. K.V.Howes/SGT. R. K.Hodson./

R.A.F.-  SGT. A. W. Reid/ SGT. F.J. Keown/

On the evening of the 14th-15th of May, another crew was lost on a night combined cross-country and Bullseye operation. The six man crew comprised of five R.A.F. crew members and one  Australian took off from Lichfield at 2241 in Wellington 111 X3785. At 0234, Sgt. Lee sent a brief standby for message signal, but before it could be delivered, the aircraft dived, near vertically into the ground, narrowly missing an isolated farmhouse, 1 mile north of Lake Vyrnwy in Montgomeryshire. All were buried in various cemeteies around the country.

R.A.F.- F/O J.W. Robb/ P/O G.H. Cone/ SGT. A.W. Sayers/ SGT. G.S. Lee/ SGT/ E.L. Clarke.

R.A.A.F.  F/O T.A.Ley.

On the 17th of June, Wellington 111 BJ845, was involved in a mid-air collision with a Lancaster,whilst undertaking a cross- coutry exercise in Gloucestershire. The crew baled out but F/.S. M. B.Fettel of the R.A.A.F. remained at the controls. He lost his life as he crashed near Bibury,7 miles NE of Cirencester, at around 0150. The rest of the crew survived and  were driven back to Lichfield.

The Wellington bombers used by 27 O.T.U. were often prone to mechanical failure. On the 6th of July, three crew members of Wellington 111 BJ713 were injured when just as they were taking off  from Church Broughton and the bomber was lifting off the runway, the starboard engine cut and the aircraft came down just beyond the airfield. This was a common problem.

The injured crewmen  were F/L L. J. Simpson of the R.A.A.F. and  fellow Australian, P/O/ W.N.T. Russell, together with P/O C.E. Heath of the R.A.F.

On  the same day, F/S Leary of the R.A.A.F. who was flying Wellington X HE698, on a cross-country exercise was forced to make an emergency landing on Cannock Chase at 1640, when No. 6 cylinder failed on one of the engines.

On the 18th of August , Wellington X LN432 took off from Lichfield for a night training exercise. The propellers of the aircraft became stuck in the fixed pitch position and the bomber crashed out of control. Three members of the crew were slightly injured, but their names were not recorded.

On the 4th of September, Wellington 111X3727 tookoff from Church Broughton for a night training exercise. When they returned to base, the flaps failed to fully lower on touch down at 2359. At the same time the engine failed and the bomber crashed and burnt out. Thankfully, no injuries were recorded.

Tragically, on the 6th of November an Australian crew were all killed when they collided with a Stirling 1 R9192 of 1657 HCU Stradishall. The Wellington which was out of control, crashed at Raden Stock Farm, Little Walden, two miles from N of Saffron Waldon ,Essex. The Australian crew were buried at Brookwood Military Cemetery.

On the same day, another Australian  crew , together with a W.A.A.F. officer S/O K.L.Hughes, were flying Wellington X LN295 on an evening navigation course, when they collided  with another Wellington bomber from 26 O.T.U. The two bombers crashed near the main gate at Alconbury Airfield , Huntingtonshire.

The pilot from 26 O.T.U. Sgt. R.B Main of the R.C.A.F. was thrown clear of the wreckage and only had minor injuries. The rest of the crew were killed. Similarily,the pilot from 27 O.T.U.  Group Captain  P.G. Heffernan of the R.A.A.F. who was the commander of Lichfield, survived but he was the only one to do so. He was admitted to R.A.F. Hospital Ely, where he spent many weeks recovering from his injuries.


The year opened with the loss of another Australian air crew.

On the 21st of January, Wellington 111 BJ652 took off from Church Broughton for a night cross-country. At 2130, a general message was sent by the Met Officer at Lichfield advising all crews to land by 2330.This message was not acknowledged by the crew, but later they stated that their position was at Gainsborough. The bomber, heading south, subsequently crashed at 2210, into a number of trees before hitting a limestone outcrop near the Derbyshire village of Middleton -by- Yolgrave. The  six Australian airmen were buried in Chester (Balcon ) Cemetery.

F/S L.G.Edmonds/ F/O/ K. J.Perrett/ F/S J.Kidd/ F/S W.T.Barnes/

F/S/ F.P.Deshon/ SGT T.D. Murton/.

On the 5th of June, a Martinet (HP384), took off from Lichfield for local flying practise. The pilot , F/S G.B. McSweeny of the R.A.A.F.was an experienced Wellington bomber pilot, but this was his first time in a Martinet. He was accompanied by P/O A.R.Duel, also of the R.A.A.F. Both men came from Queensland.

At 1610, as his aircraft emerged from cloud, it seemed to be in an uncontrollable spin, which he was unable to correct and the Martinet crashed into the ground. The crew were all killed and buried in Blacon Cemetery, Chester.

During the next few months, there were numerous examples of accidents caused by mechanical failure, running out of fuel or stalling the engine.

On the 19th of June,Wellington 111 BJ 904, took off for a cross-country. On their return to base at about 2 or 300 feet above the airfield, the port motor stopped after running out of fuel. The Wellington lost height rapidly and crashed at 1723, 400 yards west of the airfield.Three members of the crew were killed and three were injured. The dead were buried in Botley Cemetery, Oxford.

On the 18th of July, a crew were forced to bale out of their aircraft. Taking off from Lichfield at 1830, the crew were preparing for a bombing practice exercise. However, less than half an hour after departure, the starboard engine began to vbrate at an alarming rate and fell out of its frame. The pilot F/S J.S.Walker of the R.A.A.F. calmly ordered his crew to bale out and moments later, he followed them.

Apparently, they were just in time as the bomber crashed into Sack Lane , Woodlands near to Marchington, 3 miles SE of Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. F/S/ Walker was commended for his actions.

On the 30th of July, another all Australian crew were killed when their Wellington LP437, stalled while in circuit and crashed atDoxey Wood Farm,Thorney Fields Lane. It then burst into flames. The crew were buried at Blacon Cemetery, Chester.

On the 5th of August, another crew were ordered to bale out by their pilot, F/S/ J.G.Fleming of the R.A.A.F. Apparently, during a navigation exercise, the port enginer had failed at 4,000 feet .The four crew members jumped out as ordered and F/S/ Fleming  force- landed the aircraft wheels up , near Jurby Airfield on the Isle of Man.

Again, port engine problems was the cause of another accident on the 6-7th of September. Wellington 111 BK252 took off from Church Broughton at 2058, for a night cross-country practice. Realising that they had a problem with the port engine, the crew decided to turn back to base, but over-shot the runway on their first attempt, and while they were circling around again, the bomber yawed violently and crashed at 0018, 2,000 yards NW of the airfield. Almost on impact a fierce fire broke.Two Australians were killed; F/S A.L. Currie and F/S R.A.Groves.

Tragedy struck again on the 18th of September when Wellington X LP436 took off from Lichfield for night bombing training. At 2320, whilst diving from 6,000 feet , the aircraft stalled and it some trees about 4 miles w of the airfield. The crew were killed. All of them were Australians and three of them were just 19 years of age.

The final accident of the year took place on the 18th of December, when another Australian crew were all lost during a night circuits and landings practice. Taking off from Church Broughton at 1955, they got into trouble between 200 and 400 feet, after they had over-shot the runway  and crashed close to the local railway station. Four were killed and and one crewman Sgt. M.T. Dower was injured.

F/S J.M. Irvine/ F/S A.M. McPhail/ F/S G.T. Miller/F/S R.D.Westphal.


In 1945, it was becoming clear that six long years of war was slowly coming to an end. Although the  O.T.U.’s were still exepected to continue training new air-crews the pressure began to ease. There were only a few accidents nd thankfully  fewer fatalities and injuries, as the defeat of Germany seemed close at hand.

On the 26th of March, F/O A.J. Bolitho of the R.A.A.F. took off from Church Broughton  for a navigatio exercise but  while accelerating swung off the starboard side of the runway, ending up with a smashed undercarriage. As the crew left the wreckage, the aircraft burst into flames. Fortunately, there were no injuries .

The final accident to be reported took place on the 15th of May. Wellington X PG259 took off from  Church Broughton at 2130, for a dual navigation sortie. However, fluid from the aircraft’s hydraulic system began to leak. The crew decided to return back to base . On reaching the airfield, they found it impossible to lower the under carriage and arrived wheels up at 2243. On arrival, the flash bomb exploded and the Wellington burst into flames. Thankfully, the seven man crew survived unscathed.




This article is heavily indebited to the brilliant and painstaking research of W.R. Chorley.

Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses (Volume 7)

Operational Training Units  1940-1941. (Crecy Publications).

R.A.F. Lichfield Association Website (permission kindly granted by Derek and Angela Smith) .

Useful references include:

“No Moon Tonight” by  Don Charlwood (Crecy Publications.)

Staffordshire Airfields in the Second World War by Marytn Chorlton (Countryside Books.)

Bomber Base- A History of Royal Air Force Lichfield and Church Broughton by Malcolm L. Giddings. (Colerne Debden Publishing.)

The Flying Kangaroos by Mark Rowe. (An excellent study containing fascinating interviews with some of the Australian airmen who trained at 27 O.T.U. Lichfield. )

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