DODGE, DUNKESWELL AND DISASTER
On May 8th 1945 Nazi Germany surrendered and the Second World War in Europe came to an end. With the fighting over, there was no longer a requirement for hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers to be stationed abroad. This left military planners with another complex problem: how to get those soldiers back home.
The logistical operation to bring British soldiers back home was a huge one, especially given the state of the roads and railways in Europe. With shipping also tied up, bringing the troops home by air was an option that had to be considered. This led to ‘Operation Dodge’ being instigated, part of which which involved an airlift of soldiers from the 8th Army, which had fought in North Africa.
The biggest problem facing planners was a lack of civilian air transport. However, there were huge fleets of bombers available, as they no longer had to fulfil their design purpose. Some of these aircraft were operated from the RAF station at Dunkeswell in Devon.
The airfield at Dunkeswell, close to Honiton, was opened in 1943, during the Second World War, as RAF Dunkeswell. The station was originally planned as a RAF Fighter Command, then a RAF Coastal Command airfield, but was transferred for use by American units.
On 16th December 1945 an RAF Lancaster, with a crew of seven, took off from RAF Dunkeswell and headed toward Egypt. Unfortunately, while the aircraft was over Ilfracombe, one of its engines caught fire. The pilot decided to feather the engine, a procedure that involves shutting it down and turning the propeller blades to create minimal air resistance and thus less drag.
With three working engines the Lancaster carried on towards its destination. But then a second engine developed problems, resulting in the decision to turn the aircraft around and head for home. The engine problems resulted in the aircraft gradually losing height and when it was over Lee Bay it became obvious to the crew that a forced landing was going to be necessary.
The Lancaster came down in Borough Valley, close to Borough Farm. The pilot was killed in the crash, but the other six crew members survived, even though some were seriously injured. Farm workers Thomas Huxtable and Cecil Marsh were among the first people on the scene, helping to pull the surviving six crew members from the wreckage.
One of the aircrew to be seriously injured was Warrant Officer Lawrence Moore, the co-pilot. The extent of his injuries resulted in him losing a leg and being hospitalised for three years. Following his recovery, he remained in contact with the people who had helped save his life and returned to the crash site several times.
Mortehoe Heritage Museum have a collection of photographs and audio recollections from those who witnessesed the crash to the memoirs of Lawnrece Moore when he returned to the site some years late with his wife. More can be found online or by visiting the museum.