United States Navy PB4Y-1 Liberator 63934.

PB4Y-1 Liberator 63934

Pilot Lt George H Charno, Jr, had taken his crew on a patrol of the Bay of Biscay, looking for U-Boats. However, due to deteriorating weather back in England, the mission was ordered to return. Heading back for base at RAF Dunkeswell near Exeter, Lt Charno had to overfly the base upon instructions from the ground. Lt Charno, according to some accounts, offered up his landing slot to another PB4Y-1 Liberator pilot based at Dunkeswell – Lt Joe Kennedy, brother of John F Kennedy, whose aircraft had less fuel.

Lt Kennedy was killed the following August while piloting a robot Liberator from Dunkeswell as part of Operation Aphrodite – remote controlled explosives packed Liberators that had to be manned to get off the ground, then control was taken over by the crew of another bomber while the skeleton crew baled out. Lt Kennedy’s Liberator exploded over Suffolk, 20 minutes into the flight. The death of the brother of the man who would become President was witnessed by Colonel Elliot Roosevelt, the son of the then current President, who was filming the operation from a de Havilland Mosquito.

Meanwhile with the weather getting worse, Lt Charno was directed to an airfield near Southampton. Various attempts were made at landing, but with the weather worsening, and proximity warnings from barrage balloons around Southampton sounding, it was a bad time for the radio to pack in.

Lt Charno decided to try further north, and turned Liberator 63934 towards the Midlands in the hope of finding an airfield in better weather conditions, after mistaking a lorry convoy with dimmed headlights for a runway and attempting to land on it.

With cloud covering the country and no hope of finding a clear airfield, and with the fuel gauges dropping lower and no radio, the crew finally prepared to bale out, very properly disarming the bombs on board first. Leaving through the bomb doors, all 11 airmen successfully parachuted down, not in Midlands as expected, but near the Wash on the East Coast; the Liberator had been pushed north and east by the wind.

The unmanned aircraft flew on 100 or so miles to the North West, crossing the Peak District and heading for Manchester. However, in the vicinity of Ashton, the Liberator was seen overhead, very low and heading back towards the hills. It would appear that the fuel to the starboard (right) engine had run out, causing the aircraft to lose height and turn in a circle and ultimately to crash harmlessly on this bleak moorland.

The link below is to a PDF documenting a fascinating account of a local man, a Mr Brian Thompson who unearthed a Mark 24 accoustic homing torpedo at the crash site in 1980.

http://www.sandv.com/downloads/0808mill.pdf

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15 comments on “United States Navy PB4Y-1 Liberator 63934.
  1. stopherjones says:

    A remarkable, and to me quite surreal, story. Why couldn’t Lt Charno circle at Exeter – or was the landing schedule too full? Was it normal to leave a bomb-laden aircraft to fly where it may for 100 miles, regardless of whether they were disarmed or not? Good that the men survived and amazing that no one on the ground was hurt. Lovely photo to illustrate too, the low down angle and short focus really create a sense of peace.

    • Ian D B says:

      Hi Chris, thanks for your recent visits and comments. It is an unusual story. It was the recommended practice though to bale out and hope the aircraft didn;t crash on a town in these circumstances. Most crews didn’t, and tried to put down in low cloud often crashing and killing all on board in the process. I think that bad weather at Exeter prevented them landing there.

  2. paul says:

    The peat is easy to dig so the engines could be anywhere beneath it . without an exact location it would take some finding .

  3. Bill Fawcett says:

    Nice photo Ian and thanks for the link to the pdf – great reading. Lt. Charmo did the right thing in getting his crew to bale out safely before setting the aircraft’s autopilot to take the aircraft out to sea. Had the engine not failed, it would have been another lost piece of history.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Ian D B says:

      Thanks Bill, good to see you here. Yes, being over Britain an aircraft pointed east or west will over the sea within minutes.

  4. John Richardson says:

    A nice site Ian, nicely done, well laid out and logical, will miss you on Flickr, but I’ll still follow your work here, regards, John.

    • Ian D B says:

      Thanks for the visit and the feedback John. Pleased you like it. I wanted it to be easy to navigate around.

  5. Ang Wickham says:

    The top shot is fantastic Ian, love the rich red earth about this piece of wreckage. Don’t think i’d read of this tale before, pretty amazing .. I figured the crew made it out of the Wash then? A sad way for an aircraft to end, but a great decision made by the crew.

  6. Dave Lambert says:

    Great photo Ian and another fascinating story – I hadn`t realised that robot planes were operating that early at all or the Kennedy connection. Great to see you are still carrying on the good work – cheers Dave

  7. Susan Barber Clark says:

    My father, ACRM Boyd S Barber was a radioman on board that plane at the time of the incident. I don’t know too much about it other than he had quite a ride down when he parachuted out and ended up with some injuries. So good to see this story and the photo. I just wish he was still alive to be able to see this himself.

    Thanks

    • Ian D B says:

      Hi Susan, thanks for your visit and comment.

      Yeah, I also wish my dad were around too – he would have loved the internet!

      Best wishes,

      Ian

  8. Brian Peterson says:

    I grew up hearing this story from my father, Douglas Peterson, as a first hand account. He bailed out in the rain and landed in a farmer’s field, uninjured but covered in mud. He made his way to the farmer’s house, who graciously put him up for the night and provided a dry set of clothes.
    Dad was the radioman and navigator on many missions with Lt. Charno and finished his tour of duty, with his last mission over the channel on D-Day.

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