DH Mosquito crash

An investigation into a 1944 DH Mosquito crash at RAF Gravesend, described by Ben Parish.

Ben Parish remembers:

Mr Parish recalled that in early 1944, when the ‘Aerodrome was home to DH Mosquito’s, one of the aircraft failed to takeoff and ploughed across a field killing two ladies who were planting potatoes, into a straw stack and finally stopping on the A2, covered in straw, the site of the stack yard, where the Service Station on the Rochester bound side of the A2 was eventually built’.

140 Wing at Gravesend

A the time of the crash (estimated to be between 17 April to 18 June 1944) Gravesend Aerodrome was home to 140 wing RAF. The Wing consisted of the following squadrons: 21 RAF, 464 RAAF and 487 RNZAF. All three squadrons were flying Mosquito FB-VIs.

No. 21 Squadron RAF (squadron code YH)

In 1942 the squadron was based on Malta where it’s mission was to attack the vital Axis supply convoys attempting to get supplies to Rommel in North Africa. Having successfully completed this mission 21 squadron was disbanded on 14 March 1942 and immediately reformed at Bodney, this time as a day bomber squadron. The new squadron inherited No.82 Squadron’s Blenheims, which were soon replaced by the Lockheed Ventura, but it was not until the arrival of the Mosquito FB-VI in September 1943 that the squadron gained a truly effective bomber. Its first operation as a day bomber squadron was an attack on the Philips works at Eindhoven on 6 December 1942.

The Mosquitoes were used for a mix of pinpoint daylight raids and night raids until February 1945, when the squadron moved to France (from Gravesend). From then until the end of the war the squadron flew night intruder missions over Germany, helping add to the “mosquito panic”. After the war the squadron spent two years as part of the occupation forces in Germany, before being disbanded in November 1947.

15 March-30 October 1942: Bodney
30 October 1942-21 March 1943: Exeter
21-24 March 1943: Methwold
24 March-1 April 1943: Oulton
27 September-31 December 1943: Sculthorpe
31 December 1943-17 April 1944: Hunsdon
17 April-18 June 1944: Gravesend
18 June 1944-6 February 1945: Thorney Island
6 February-17 April 1945: B.87 Rosières-en-Santerre
17 April-3 November 1945: B.58 Melsbroek
Squadron Codes: (21 Squadron) UP, YH
1939-June 1940: Light Bomber squadron
June 1940-March 1942: Coastal Command anti-shipping
March 1942-1945: Light Bomber squadron, ending with 140 Wing, 2 Group, 2nd TAF

No. 464 Squadron RAAF (squadron code SB)

On 1 June (1943), No. 464 Squadron was transferred from RAF Bomber Command to the Second Tactical Air Force. Concerns about the vulnerability of the Ventura, however, led to their withdrawal and in July, the squadron was re-equipped with the more suitable de Havilland Mosquito FB-VI. Based out of RAF Sculthorpe, the squadron became operational with these aircraft on 3 October, successfully attacking a power station in France for the loss of no aircraft.

Following this, the squadron carried out attack operations during the day and “intruder” operations during the night, destroying several German aircraft in the air. In December 1943, the squadron moved to RAF Hunsdon, where they formed part of No. 140 Wing along with No. 21 Squadron RAF and No. 487 Squadron RNZAF. In early 1944, still based out of Hunsdon, No. 464 Squadron concentrated on attacking V-1 flying bomb launch sites and gained a reputation for highly accurate bombing. This reputation lead it to be selected for Operation Jericho, which was the first of a number of precision attacks that the squadron made on Gestapo targets in occupied Europe. In this mission (Operation Jericho), aircraft from the squadron formed part of the force which breached the walls of a Gestapo prison at Amiens, France, on 18 February 1944 allowing members of the French Resistance to escape. The squadron’s activities were intensified from April as part of the preparations for the Allied invasion of Europe. It struck railway infrastructure, bridges, road transport and convoys. In contrast with its previous operations, these sorties were often conducted during daylight.

No.487 Squadron RNZAF (squadron code EG)

The squadron was formed at Feltwell, Norfolk, 15th August 1942, equipped with Lockheed Ventura aircraft, commencing operations on 6th December. 487 contributed 16 aircraft to the famous low-level raid on the Phillips radio and valve factory at Eindhoven, and continued in the daylight role with Venturas until June 1943. On one operation during this period, the squadron suffered heavy losses. On May 3rd during a raid on Amsterdam, ten out of 11 aircraft were shot down.
After the war when the full account of the raid became known, the B Flight Commander Sqd Ldr L.H. Trent, a New Zealander in the RAF, who had been a prisoner of war since being shot down on the raid was awarded the Victoria Cross for his outstanding leadership during the Amsterdam raid.

On 1st June 1943, 487 was transferred from Bomber Command to the newly formed 2nd Tactical Air Force (TAF). During September 1943, 487 re-equipped with the De Havilland Mosquito FB-VI and was mainly used on night bombing, although the squadron took part in several daylight precision operations. These included the Amiens prison raid 18th February 1944, Gestapo Headquarters (Operation Jericho), Aarhus in Denmark on 31st October 1944 and Gestapo Headquarters in Copenhagen on 21st March 1945.

The squadron operated from the continent from February until September 1945 where at Cambrai/Epinoy, France, it was renumbered 16 Squadron RAF (later amended to 268 Squadron). In addition to Sqd Ldr Trent’s Victoria Cross, the New Zealand personnel of 487 squadron were awarded 1 DSO, 7 DFC’s, one bar to DFC and 1 DFM.

Four incidents

With regard to the accident recalled by Ben Parish, there are records of four incidents involving Mosquitoes at Gravesend Aerodrome in early 1944. These being:

  1. ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 144190.  21-MAY-1944. LR371: Spun into ground out of cloud during formation practice, crashed at Tollgate, south of Gravesend, Kent 21.5.1944. Crew: F/Sgt (1516977) Thomas SPENSLEY (pilot) RAFVR – killed.  F/Sgt (1581241) John BAKER (nav.) RAFVR – killed.
  2. ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 143850. 27-APR-1944. LR293: Swerved on landing at night and u/c collapsed Gravesend 27.4.1944. Crew: Not known but both survived the crash.
  3. ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 138682. 25-APR-1944. Four aircraft from the Squadron took off from RAF Gravesend, Kent on the night of 24/25th April 1944 detailed to carry out night intruder missions. From a bombing point of view the mission was not successful as airfields were not identified and bombs were brought back. The aircraft crossed the coast at 3000 feet in a dive and stayed at 2/3000 feet, bombing from 2000 to 1500 feet. NS896 flown by F/O Dunkley was shot up during the mission and crash landed on return to base at 0100 hours on 25/4. Unfortunately the aircraft overshot the perimeter track and ran into tents pitched in the vicinity. One airman was killed and F/O Monoghan and F/O Dean injured. Two aircraft parked there were also damaged. The crew of NS896 were uninjured. Crew: F/O (Aus413358) Ernest Henry DUNKLEY (pilot) RAAF – Ok. F/O (52719) Horace Percival WOODWARD (nav) RAF – Ok.
  4. ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 143764. 18-APR-1944. HX982: Bounced on take-off and crash landed in field Gravesend 18.4.1944. Crew: Details not given.

Although in the short, official narrative of the fourth incident there is no mention of the two women that were killed, the crash description most closely matches that given by Ben Parish. Furthermore the Local papers (Kent Messenger & The Reporter) printed four days after the crash, contained details of a plane crash that killed two women whilst planting potatoes in a field close to RAF Gravesend.

The local newspaper dated April 22nd 1944 contains the following:


Two Women working in a field near Cobham were killed by a plane on Tuesday. They were:
Mrs. C. Vousden (43), Belvue Cottages, Round Street, Cobham and Miss. Ruth Smith (45), of Malling Cross.

Mrs. Fry, Dabb’s Place Cottages, Cobham was conveyed to Hospital with injuries but these were not serious. They were all working for Mr. F. C. Lawrence, J.P. of Dabb’s Place Farm. The plane struck a farm cart, but the driver, Mr. C. Richards and the horse escaped injury.

More details came to light during the inquest (held on April 29th 1944). The local paper report of the inquest was as follows:

TWO WOMEN KILLED BY CRASHING PLANE: They Were Planting Potatoes In A Field

Two women members of a party of 20 planting potatoes in a field near Cobham were killed when a plane cut through a fence and crashed into a straw stack.

The plane also ripped the top off a farm cart, but neither the man in charge, Mr. C, Richards, nor the horse, were injured. Two bicycles were smashed and a farm lorry and tractor damaged.

The victims were:
Mrs, Caroline Priscilla Vousden, 43 of Belvue Cottages, Round Street, Cobham and Miss, Ruth Smith, 46, of 1, Longview, Henhurst Road, Cobham.
Mrs. Fry, of Debbs Place, Cobham, was taken to hospital suffering from shock and has since made a good recovery. At the inquest on Thursday last week, a verdict of “Accidental death” was recorded.

The oncoming plane

The news paper article went on to detail various eye witness accounts.
Herbert John Bower, Longcroft Cottages, Cobham, a lorry driver, said he was unloading potatoes in Sandybanks field, when he saw a plane heading towards him. The pilot revved the engine and only just missed a barrier. The plane flew along for about 200 yards just above the ground. It “hopped” twice, came down on its wheels and went right through a fence towards a straw stack.

Some men and women were planting potatoes about 100 yards short of the stack and right in line with the oncoming plane.

“I then saw parts of a cart in the air,” he continued, “and the plane crashed into the straw stack. I ran towards the stack and saw the two women lying on the ground bleeding freely from head injuries.”

Run to help

Sidney Robert Burns, “Micawber,” Dabbs Place, Cobham, farm foreman, said he saw the plane coming through the fence. He shouted “get down” and threw himself on the ground. The plane crashed into the stack and he ran to render assistance to the pilot.

Evidence of how the plane got out of control was given by the pilot (details not contained in the newspaper artical), Sergt-Pilot Robert William Knape RAF.
Squadron-Leader Walter Richard May, medical officer, said he examined the women and found both were dead, the cause being fractured skull and shock in both cases.

The funerals of Miss Smith and Mrs Fry were reported in the local paper as follows:


The funerals of the two victims of the plan crash at Cobham took place on Saturday. Miss Ruth Smith was buried in the churchyard at Ifield, and Mrs Vousden in the new burial ground at Cobham. The Rev. C.H. Coe officiated at Ifield, and the Rev. J. Butler officiated at Cobham.

Representatives of the R.A.F. and fellow employees were present at both funerals.
Included in the floral tributes at both ceremonies were wreaths from R.A.F. Station; fellow employees at Dabbs Place Farm, and Mr J. W. Pye and employees of Jeskyn’s Farm.


a) Aircraft HX982 was flow by PO Maxwell N Sparks with Navigator PO Arthur C Dunlop for Operation Jericho, a low level precision bombing raid on Gestapo Headquarters at Amiens Northern France. The operation was conceived to release a number of high-ranking resistance members.

b) 7With D-Day a success, all the signs were that Gravesend would be downgraded. Its commanding officer had been a Group Captain but after D-Day, it was a Squadron Leader. Ironically, it was a German weapon that signalled the end of Gravesend as a RAF base. V1 rockets, targeting London, frequently fell short of the capital. It soon became clear that Gravesend air base was near enough on the V1’s flight path and any that fell short could fall on the base. Balloons were used to protect the air base but it was soon put under Care and Maintenance.


Don Blackburn (21st Dec 2015)

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8 Responses to DH Mosquito crash

  1. Jamie Payne says:

    My Great Uncle John Mercer was in 464 Sqn. They moved to many different bases in the lead up to D-Day. Gravesend was certainly one of them. He is still with us at 97 years old and has many memories from the period. My favourite is him going A.W.O.L. from Gravesend, for 10 hours, to get the train home to the east end to sleep at home for one night after months of tents.

    • Thank you for you comment Jamie.
      It would help us greatly if you could get some of you Uncle’s memories recorded, written or voice. We have found that peoples personnel memories of these times are invaluable when researching various war time events.

  2. Brenda Lewis Mills says:

    Does anyone know about the crash of an RCAF Wellington X bomber that crashed into two houses near Henhurst on July 4, 1943, killing three of the aircrew and injuring several and killing one inhabitants of the home? I’m looking for the exact location of the crash. It’s said to be about 500 yards from the beginning of the Gravesend runway on property owned by J. W. Pye of Jeskyns Farm, Cobham. I’d like to find out if the houses were rebuilt and whether family members of those involved in this accident still live in the area. The families names were Dimes and Epps. One of the aircrew members that was killed was my uncle, Sgt. Glen Edwin Lewis of the RCAF 432 Squadron.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for the interest Brenda and the separate communication…Don’s previous work on the crash can be read here http://shornewoodsarchaeology.co.uk/several-injured-in-crash-near-cobham

    • Andrew Marshall says:

      Hello Brenda

      The lady injured in the crash was Agnes Elizabeth Dines aged 59. She lived at the cottage with her husband Daniel (who was also seriously injured) and their sons Daniel and Frank. Agnes died on 7 July from her injuries at Gravesend and North Kent Hospital in Gravesend. Agnes is buried nearby in St Mary Magdelene church in Cobham.

      This is the map reference for the cottages 51.40082388225147, 0.3858028729355796

      I have a recent photograph of the rebuilt cottages – I don’t know when they were rebuilt

      Agnes’ first husband Harry Percy Smith was killed in WW1 fighting with the 4th Bn SWB in Mesopotamia 9 Apr 1916

      Kind regards

  3. Andrew Marshall says:

    From the Operations Record Book of 21 Squadron – AIR-27/264/29 (April 1944)

    Weather unsuitable for flying. Packing and leading in progress for move to Gravesend.

    Weather again unsuitable for operations and training. Advanced party left for Gravesend. Rest of Squadron completed loading.

    Main party moved to Gravesend. Those going by air were delayed until after 15.00hours by weather. All our aircraft successfully negotiated the grass landing strip and shorter landing run. The rest of the Squadron busied themselves erecting personal tents and by dusk the camp had taken on an orderly appearance.

    No day operations were detailed by 2 Group.

    Night – six aircraft were detailed for operations. 5 aircraft carried out a flower operation and S/L Bodien carried out a Noball by night – this latter being in the way of and experiment and it was carried out by three Mosquitos of 140 Wing and Mitchells of 2 Group dropped flares on the target having broadcast their run up to the Mosquitos. Crews returning from the Flower operation saw great searchlight activity over Holland.

    Training – Training was carried out during the day to familiarize crews with the aerodrome. One pilot – inexperienced on rough runways failed to remain airborne following take off and crashed in adjoining field injuring several people and killing two women working on the land. The crew were uninjured.

  4. Katie Fenner says:

    My wonderful Grandfather David Fenner, whom will be 92 this year and was a resident of Cobham village during the years from his birth in 1929 (born in No.4 The Terrace, Cobham after then moving into No.1 once his grandfather passed)- roughly 1953 remembers both the mosquito crash and the wellington bomber crash at Henhurst very well. I came across this page by looking for information about the both and he actually was able to recall the smallest details of both crashes right down to the correct names of the ladies who’s lives were lost. He remembers cycling down to the crash site of the mosquito in 44 where it joined the A2, to have a look at the wreckage and recalls also it being covered in straw after ploughing through the field and embedded in the metal fence which looked as if it had stopped it from completely interrupting the A2. He claims the mosquito didn’t look damaged at all which he found very impressive and shocking!

    With regards to the other crash involving the Wellington X bomber at Henhurst in 43 he said his father Albert Fenner, and himself walked to find the site of the cottages the following day and he recalls the aircraft looked snapped in half with the nose of the craft in the back garden having gone clean through the house and the back end almost leaning against the side of the cottages. Grandad went to school with one of the residents of the initial cottage to be hit, his name was Peter Eps and he remembers him exclaiming soon after how he had to slide down the fuselage to escape.

    He seems to remember that cottages were rebuilt fairly soon after the incident and believe it or not weren’t actually beyond repair and believes the Dimes continued living in the property afterwards. In his memory the cottages were rebuilt to look how they did prior to the crash so I would imagine that how they look now is how they would’ve looked before!

    Grandad has so many wonderful stories and memories about the early Cobham and Gravesend days he could share, his memory is impeccable and he is an aircraft man himself so remembers incidents related to those especially well!

    • Ruiha Smalley says:

      Dear Katie,
      Thanks for your comment. If your Grandfather has other memories he’d like to share please get in touch with Andrew (andrew.mayfield@kent.gov.uk) and perhaps we can share them with others via the website?
      Kind regards

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