Curtiss P40 AK191

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Curtiss P40 AK191

EDIT 29 SEPTEMBER 2017; Please see the 3 comments below by Sgt Thomas’ relatives in August and September 2017 who say the aerobatics story was not true. They have added far more detail than is provided in this main text.

I was put onto this crash site by Richard Tierney in 2010 (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.

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

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”.

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


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
And thanks to Pasujoba Paul for help searching docs.

30 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:



    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!!!


  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.

    • Ian D B says:

      Many thanks for your memories of this crash. It must have been utterly horrible for Sgt Blackburn’s wife.

  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.

  16. Peter D Blackburn says:

    This is my Uncle Thomas, I was the generation after the end of WW2, and it is with sadness that I remember the hurt and upset my Father Robert conveyed whenever he spoke of his beloved younger brother Tom, as I grew into maturity I was inquisitive enough to look for Uncle Thomas’s Grave, I spent many years looking in many different graveyards in the Bolton area for the War grave of my uncle, quite a lot of years passed by when I decided to see if his wife Doris was still alive,I met her once in my late teens, but didn’t want to burden my Father or my Uncle’s and Aunty’s with what could be called raking up the past sadness they obviously all felt at the loss of their dear brother, so I enlisted the help of the local newspaper the Bolton Evening News, two days later I was talking to this tiny frail old lady who had a pin sharp memory of that awful day( she was about 1 mile away from the crash site and only heard the sound of the a/c) way back in 1941, the 17th Oct was etched into her memory as through branded by hot iron, very gently I asked would she show me where Thomas was buried, i drove to her directions and to my amazement I had walked past his Grave many time’s..however the reason for missing this important family grave was that in the past I had been looking for a Portland Stone War Commission Headstone, when he was buried his wife my little frail Aunty Doris had not known about the nations offer of a headstone, but instead used her family plot to put her husband, our Uncle, my families Brother to be laid to rest unmarked by the Nation, I contacted the CWGC and within 9 months, this mistake was put right, as can be seen from your photograph of the Portland Stone War Headstone, when this happened I took Thomas’s widow back to see the new headstone, it was so very moving to see my nearly lost Aunty Doris standing holding my hand with Floods of tears leaping from her eyes. She died about 18 months later around 2007 finally at peace with her World,..!

    just to offer some extra information most of the Blackburn Male future sons are Pilots and or still involved with the Nations Military forces in one form or another. But we my Nuclear family still mourn our long lost, personally unknown Uncle Thomas.!

    • Ian D B says:

      Hi Peter, thank you so much for adding these additional details about your uncle. Outstanding that you arranged for a proper CWGC headstone for him (which it made it much easier for me to find!). It’s good that you and your family remember him and that through your family’s contributions over the past few weeks we have a more accurate record of what actually happened.
      Thanks again,
      Ian D B

  17. Robert Gregson says:

    My Grandma Catherine Yates lived at 69 Mornington Rd and heard the crash fearing that she had lost the front of her house she came out of the back room to find her house ok but the house opposite had lost its chimney as it states here. We thought the pilot lived and had bailed out but did not know the whole story sad but luckily no one else was hurt

  18. Robert Gregson says:

    The other story is that a neighbour in the street was flown out of one bed into another when the crash happened anyone else know more?

  19. The day the plane crashed in mornington rd my mother Winifred was brought home from school she was only 9years old and thought it was her house at 61 mornington rd that had gone but it was number 50, both my mother and my grandma went across to help them but it was to late the pilot died on the settee. At first my grandma thought the front of her house had gone she was in the back room when she heard the crash my mother mentioned that the loud crash made someone shoot across from one bed to another in a bedroom!!.

  20. Paul Allonby says:

    Very interesting article; the men in ”tin hats” at the scene are most likely firemen rather than ARP, btw. Thank-you for bringing this to a wide audience, yet another great article.

  21. Paul Allonby says:

    Just come across this report:

  22. Glynn wadeson says:

    Thank you for researching this incident..As a small boy I was told (around 1963) by my elderly neighbour Mrs Lee that she had seen a ‘spitfire’ crash into the house directly across the backstreet from my family home. She said it looked as if the pilot was ‘showing off’, and quoted the rumour that it had been for his wife who lived nearby……..
    This wonderful old lady also described seeing a Zeppelin flying over the area after dropping bombs nearby, and I clearly remember her description of the sense of awe she’d experienced at its immense size, ‘filling the sky above Shrewsbury Rd and Mornington rd.As it droned overhead’.

    • Ian D B says:

      Hi Glynn,
      Thank you for your visit and your comment. Glad to have been able to confirm the story. That it was a Spitfire is an understandable error.
      She was also right about the WWI Zeppelin attack on Bolton, see link to this page on this website if you haven’t already.
      Stay well,

      Zeppelin over Lancashire

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