Huge American bomber crash near Bowood

Nethermore is one of the less well-known settlements in the Outer Chippenham study, located south of Chippenham, between Derry Hill and the Sandy Lane – Lacock Road. Preliminary research suggested that little happened there since the name was first recorded in the 13th century. However, there are intriguing references on several aviation websites to a plane crash there in February 1953.

Research in the British Newspaper Archive online found the crash reported in several local papers; the Portsmouth Evening News on 7 February 1953, and even further afield, by the Liverpool Echo and the Coventry Evening Telegraph, both on the same day.

These all reported a similar story. A giant American B-36 bomber had flown crewless for 30 miles before crashing into Nethermore Wood on the morning of 7 February. Mr Hollick, solicitor, of nearby Peter’s Farm (probably Pitter’s Farm) described how the plane circled downwards before it crashed, and that bits were falling off the plane. Three of its ten engines were reportedly found a mile away from the crash site. The plane burst into flames on impact, and fire crews rushed from Chippenham, Devizes and Corsham to quench the fire. This was no doubt exciting for the local inhabitants, but sightseers were discouraged; the plane allegedly still being on a secret list.

Despite the secrecy, the Liverpool Echo reported that the plane was from Carswell air force base in Fort Worth, Texas, one of 17 B-36s on a routine training mission to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. The crew of 15 all bailed out safely, landing variously in Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire. There were no civilian casualties.

A brief account of the crash can be found in Dennis R. Jenkins, Magnesium Overcast: The Story of the Convair B-36 (2002), an authoritative history of the B-36 bomber. The B-36 that crashed in Nethermore Wood had flown from Carswell via Goose Bay in Labrador, encountering severe weather during its journey to England. Delays in landing at Fairford caused by understaffed and inexperienced air traffic controllers saw the plane run dangerously low on fuel and the pilot made the decision to abandon the aircraft.

The Convair B-36 ‘Peacemaker’ was an intercontinental bomber operated by the United States Air Force for some ten years from 1948. It was developed as direct response to the perceived threat of the Soviet Union, with a range of 10,000 miles and an ability to fly for two days without refuelling, allowing it to make a return journey from the USA to the USSR. With a wingspan of 230 feet (70.1 m.) it was one of the largest aircraft ever made. Originally fitted with six propeller-driven engines, an additional four jet engines were later added. The B-36 was replaced from the mid-1950s by the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.

Pictures of the amazing B-36 can be seen at: 

https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=b+36+bomber+wiki&form=HDRSC2&first=1&cw=1129&ch=674

Rosalind Johnson, Contributing Editor