Curtiss P40 AK191

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Curtiss P40 AK191

I was put onto this crash site by Richard Tierney (link to his photostream below).

He had mentioned his Mum telling the story of “a Spitfire that crashed into houses on Mornington Road, Bolton, sometime early in the war”.

Initial searches revealed nothing much. Richard had mentioned the pilot may have been buried in Astley Bridge Cemetary, and this was the best clue. A bit of checking around and the details emerged. The pilot was Sgt Thomas Blackburn, and he was killed on 17 October 1941 flying a Curtiss P40 Tomahawk.

Fortunately no-one on the ground was killed or seriously injured.

The Bolton Evening News reported that “Mrs Turner, an octogenarian, 50 Mornington Rd, had a miraculous escape. When the plane fell on her house she was sweeping a carpet in the back yard. She escaped with a face blackened by debris and slight shock. Her house is the worst affected, almost the entire back being torn out.”

Below; the backstreet crash site. The second house along was where the P40 struck (note the misssing chimney) demolishing the back of the house. 80 year old Mrs Turner was stood in this back yard at the time, but escaped with a blackened face and a bit of shock.
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Not the best of images, tin helmeted ARP men dragging out the remains of the aircraft. Image from the Bolton Evening News, October 18 1941
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There are only a couple of internet references to this crash, one saying the “aircraft stalled and dived into the ground whilst conducting aerobatics”. I found no-one in the area who remembered the crash, though the lady next door had moved in shortly afterwards and knew of it, as did one or two others. In popular memory – that is, three people independent of each other told me this story – the pilot had, as mentioned, been doing aerobatics, “showing off to his girlfriend who was watching below”.

EDIT 28 AUGUST 2017; Please see comment below by Sgt Thomas’ brother, who says the aerobatics story was not true.

The Bolton Evening News and Bolton Journal and Guardian at the time made no mention of aerobatics. And it wasn’t his girlfriend who was watching, but his wife of two years, Doris. Although she knew he intended to fly over the town, Doris did not know it was her husband at the helm of the aircraft she watched fall onto Mornington Road.

As for doing aerobatics overhead, the newspaper quotes witnesses at the time. The aircraft “rapidly lost height, but few imagined the pilot was in real trouble until, with a sudden roll, the plane dropped among the chimney pots…”

A delivery driver, a Mr James Dean of Kirkby Road, Bolton, was one of the first on the scene. The Bolton Evening News reported “He tried to release the pilot, and was continuing his efforts when the petrol tank blew up and started a fire. Dean’s boots were blown off and his hair singed. Nothing could be done for the man in the cockpit…”

Doris, still not knowing that the crashed plane was her husband’s, was that afternoon informed at her home by an RAF officer that he had been killed.

Sgt Blackburn served with RAF10 Squadron. The flight was with the Service Ferry Pool.

Sergeant Thomas Blackburn RAF
Image from the Bolton Journal and Guardian, October 24 1941

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P40N Warhawk.
RAF called earlier variants ‘Tomahawks’. Easy to mistake for a Spitfire.
Curtiss P40 42-105915

There’s an odd postscript to Mornington Road’s plane crash. 10 years later, the Fletcher family moved into number 9. Within two years, F/O Arthur Fletcher, serving with the RAuxAF, crashed into a hill near the village of Edgworth just 8 miles from his home while on exercise in a Gloster Meteor jet.

Richard Tierney’s photstream
www.flickr.com/photos/7749921@N04/
And thanks to Pasujoba Paul for help searching docs.
www.flickr.com/photos/32431958@N07/

18 comments on “Curtiss P40 AK191
  1. pasujoba says:

    Terrific work Ian , Top drawer work all round . The processing on the main shot is IMHO faultless, and the desat combined with the subtle hues of the headstone really create a powerful image .

  2. Richard Tierney says:

    Cracking job Ian from start to finish…. I am so glad I could help and play a small part in your efforts… Very well put together, as is all your work.. Excellent….

  3. Ian D B says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/32431958@N07]

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/7749921@N04]

    Thanks again both.

  4. gastephen says:

    Nicely colour popped, my friend.

  5. Air Frame Photography says:

    Thanks for sharing…will be doing a few of these over the next week. the more i look into local accidents the more it becomes interesting.

  6. mick cooke says:

    that is one great story ian

  7. C J Paul (chris) says:

    brilliant work ian great info and story .(class)

  8. SolarScot. says:

    Ian you are to be applauded for your brilliant detective work

  9. het broertje van.. says:

    What a story here man…………….love what you did with the color Ian!!!

    Janwillem

  10. Billy Currie says:

    Great information, how interesting

  11. Through Collette's eyes says:

    very poignant pic and an interesting story : )

  12. A F Images says:

    Awesome !!!

  13. Pleasureprinciple2012 says:

    Who needs the "After The Battle" magazine when you can get it all on here for nowt! Great detective work and story…as usual.

  14. I was 5 1/2 when this plane crashed, and it narrowly missed St Margaret’s Church School (to which we had been evacuated) and – in spite of being told to keep away – I was one of many who saw the pilot being carried out in a sack. For many years afterwards, I always watched a plane flying overhead, convinced that it was going to crash on me! The pilot’s family did not like the reporting of this event in Bolton Evening News, as it made it look as if the pilot had caused the crash by “looping the loop”. I’ve learned since that the plane was a Tomahawk. I believe Spitfires came in when the Americans joined the war.

  15. Sqn Ldr Les Blackburn MBE says:

    This is my brother.The details are correct, although I do not agree with the aerobatics.As a pilot myself I know that even a tight turn seen from the ground can look to a layman like aerobatics.
    The aircraft suffered an engine failure and I believe Tom was trying to make a landing on Bolton School playing fields.
    He was to have ferried the aircraft to Libya where he was to have joined the Desert Air Force.

    • Ian D B says:

      Thank you for your commenting and setting the record straight regarding your brother. I have added an edit in the main text above drawing readers’ attention to your comment.
      Ian

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