The colliding bombers were not “in circuit at Dhubalia”, as has been reported, but instead were 175 miles east-southeast of Dhubalia, where 99 Sqn’s Libs were in a formation-forming circuit. They were on a combined op with other Liberator squadrons to Kyauktalon on Ramree Island, Burma (south of Akyab, Burma) in support of the British 14th Army’s landing at Akyab.
Sixteen Liberators of 99 Sqn took off between 0530 and 0600 in darkness, with a planned dawn rendezvous to join up in a tight bombing formation at 5000 feet over an island at the northeast corner of the Bay of Bengal at 22°48’ N, 90°48’ E. Time of collision between KG974 and KH254: 0706 hrs.
The weather at this time was good, except for some haze aggrevated by the cross light of the rising sun. Some clouds on the eastern horizon intensified the glow of the sun as it rose, making it difficult to see in that direction.
In his book “Survival of the Fortunate” 99 Sqn pilot John McCredie wrote:
\"The first aircraft to reach the rendez-vous was to circle in a wide orbit over a specified point on the Bengal coast, and at a specified height. Others approaching the rendez-vous were to do so from a height five hundred feet above gradually lowering ourselves until we could take our place on the tail of one of the circling aircraft. As soon as the whole Squadron was in the circle we were to form up and head for the target. . . One moment there was an aircraft orbiting, about two ahead of us and perhaps a kilometer distant; the next, an enormous expansion of red, turning gold and then black and a tremendous shuddering of King Kong’s manly frame. Then we were flying through all that was left of two Liberators and their eleven men crews; little bits of black flotsam seemingly suspended in the air. . . \"
Heading directly toward one another, neither KG974 nor KH254 took evasive action until almost the last moment, when each Lib climbed frantically to avoid impact. They appeared to be almost stalling when they hit. Based on the ferocity of the explosion, it was believed that bombs exploded in the collision, resulting in disintegration of both aircraft and probable instant death to the 23 airmen aboard.
One seemingly scorched parachute was seen, with wisps of smoke coming from whatever was on the end of it. Per John McCredie: “. . .and the greatest irony, there wafting gently down ahead of us was a small red parachute with the emergency kit which we carried for dropping to any crew which might have crashed.”
Wreckage was scattered over a wide area measuring roughly one square mile, much of it embedded in soft ground. The crash site was recorded as map references RR0728 (Ordinance Survey) / OK5557 (Seafog), near Noakhali, Bengal.
Guided by Police and Bengal Home Guard, RAF searchers collected nine bodies, of which seven were positively identified: three men from KG974 and four from KH254. In a service led by a Catholic priest, the men were buried on 21 Jan 1945 in separate graves, under uninscribed bamboo crosses, near Char Mahammadpur, Bengal at map references RR074281 (Ord. Survey) / OK554557 (Seafog).
In July 1955, with the evidence of the seven individually identified airmen apparently lost, a British Army Graves Service unit recovered the remains of these nine and reburied them in Maynamati War Cemetery, Comilla, (then in Pakistan, now Bangladesh). They were interred in Collective Grave 3.D.19. The Collective Grave, in fact, is for all 23 casualties, though only nine were recovered.
Thus, the chance to give seven of the men a verifiable, identified gravesite was lost. Official 1955 documents state that IDs were not possible at that time.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Gary, kemp42
Many thanks to everyone, the whole picture is now coming together. I know this is a shot in the dark, but does anyone know if photos exist of KG 974 and/or of the crew 1944/45? if they do, would you know where I could find them?
I know you have a photo of Watson, from his kin. Does she have any other crew photos?
Your best bet may be to track down kin of the crew.
Starting with the Aussie, Woolford, I know that his A705 casualty file and his personnel file aren\'t scanned yet and put on the web, but you can request one or the other to be scanned by the National Archives of Australia, for a reasonable fee. I\'d go with the A705 file. There will definitely be clear evidence of his next-of-kin, and maybe some key info to help you track down kin.
Come to think of it, I realized that NOK info, with wartime addresses, can be found on pages 58 and 59 of Bicard’s A705 casualty file – WITH typographical errors. Be forewarned. I’ll post these names/addresses of NOK from both crews, from these two pages.
Using hometowns, go to the British Telecom residential phone book, found in a google search. Search on surnames in the hometown locations, or thereabouts. I bet you’ll find some hits worth investigating.
Aussie and Tasmania phone lookup websites can be consulted, too.
This applies to both crews – you never know what kin have, in terms of photos, letters, telegrams, news cuttings, etc. The two Libs were from the same squadron, so there might be a photo around where you can read the serial number on the fuselage.
Googling on the names and/or service numbers of the men sometimes brings surprise results. Give it a try.
I know the 99 Sqn Operations Record Book is almost worthless for its lack of detail in 1945, and maybe earlier. I haven’t seen it, though. Held at Kew, at the UK Nat’l Archives.
The only other photos I have of Watson are from Britain during his training, as i\'m led to believe. The photo i\'ve attached is Flt Sgt Watson, just after completing training and just before he embarked for India. Many thanks though for all the help. It\'s very much appreciated. Jase