405 Long Range Patrol Squadron was a unit of the Royal Canadian Air Force that operated out of RAF Beaulieu from October 1942 to March 1943 under Coastal Command. They were tasked with anti-submarine patrols in the Bay of Biscay.
In the short time they flew from the New Forest, the squadron suffered multiple fatalities with more than forty men dying in action, most of whom were Canadian.
An accident in February 1943 would claim the lives of the whole crew of Halifax DT633. This is a short account of what happened that day, in memorial to the seven men who died.
RCAF 405 Long Range Patrol Squadron, Handley Page Halifax Mk II (DT633)
On February 21, 1943, at 0455 AM, Handley Page Halifax Mk II (DT633) took off from RAF Beaulieu with seven crew onboard. Just a couple of minutes later, she crashed into Stubbs Wood just a mile and half away from the airfield.
The Operations Record Book for 405 Long Range Patrol Squadron RCAF records what happened:
“Four a/c were detailed to carry out Anti-Submarine Patrol No. 92 which ended tragically for one of our a/c. Three a/c observed fishing vessels on patrol, but all returned to base safely having sighted nothing further to report. “O” Sgt. Hart crashed two minutes after take-off at 0455 hours, 1½ miles N.E. Beaulieu Aerodrome. This a/c took off and was seen to begin a 180 degree turn to take up course, when it was observed to dive down steeply and crash where it burst into flames with a series of explosions. There were no survivors, seven members of the crew being instantly killed. This crew was a “fresher” one and had only recently come to the Squadron in January 1943. There was no explanation for this fatal accident which was in good visibility and in fairly good flying weather. An inspector from Group made a careful examination of the scene of the crash and it would appear that the a/c went straight down, possibly due to a stall, although nothing definite can be determined. There was no apparent technical failure which might have caused the crash.”
The Accident Investigation Branch report (National Archives – AVIA 5/22, Precis W.1473) goes further. Here’s an excerpt from the report:
“The pilot was detailed to carry out an operational air sea patrol and this was his first night operational flight. The total weight of the aircraft was approximately 58,500 lbs, which included bombs and six depth charges. After some unexplained delay at the dispersal point and runway, the aircraft took off normally at 0455 hrs, made a turn to port through about 180 degrees and then crashed into a wood about 1½ miles from the airfield. An outbreak of fire occurred on impact, followed by the explosion of the bombs and depth charges which disintegrated the aircraft. The seven occupants were killed. Owing to the complete destruction of the aircraft practically no useful evidence was obtained by an examination of the wreckage.”
The airmen killed in the accident were:
- Sergeant William John Hart (pilot), service number 1265973, buried in Fleetwood Cemetery, Lancashire (Sec. J. Grave 234)
- Sergeant Roy Victor McLean (flight engineer), service number R/79756, buried in Boldre at St. Johns’ Churchyard Hampshire (Row 3. Grave 3)
- Flight Sergeant Frank James O’Donoghue (air gunner), service number R/93372, buried in Boldre at St. Johns’ Churchyard (Row 3. Grave 1)
- Sergeant Benjamin Frederick John Parker (wireless operator and air gunner), service number R/101927, buried in Boldre at St. Johns’ Churchyard (Row 3. Grave 6)
- Flight Sergeant Ernest Harold Sellar (navigator), service number R/101853, buried in Boldre at St. Johns’ Churchyard (Row 3. Grave 2)
- Flying Officer Carl John Shagena (bomb aimer), service number J/11948, buried in Boldre at St. Johns’ Churchyard (Row 3. Grave 5)
- Sergeant Benjamin Warren Turner (air gunner), service number R/109798, RCAF 405 Squadron- buried in Boldre at St. Johns’ Churchyard (Row 3. Grave 4)
All the men were Canadian apart from Carl John Shagena who was American by birth. All the crew, apart from one, are buried in St. Johns’ Churchyard, Boldre. This graveyard is close to the RAF Beaulieu airfield.