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BOAC Liberator II Landing At Prestwick

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  • ianwoodward9
    Rank 5 Registered User
    • Aug 2010
    • 781

    This brief newsreel is about the under-use of Prestwick Airport post-WWII.

    It is relevant to this thread because there is a brief glimpse of a Liberator being worked on in a hangar and of a Scottish Airlines DC-3 taking off.

    http://www.britishpathe.com/video/th...stwick+Airport

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    • ianwoodward9
      Rank 5 Registered User
      • Aug 2010
      • 781

      This is a still from the above Pathe newsreel and the Scottish Airlines DC-3 can be identified as G-AGZF. The airline's logo, to which reference was made in some earlier posts, can be seen on the fin. It looks to me as though the aircraft is taking off in a roughly easterly direction - that is, away from the coast - and into the early morning sun:
      Attached Files

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      • longshot
        Rank 5 Registered User
        • Aug 2008
        • 1646

        I'm surprised the triple RFS Liberator crashes in August/September 1941 haven't been discussed here (or have they?).AM261 hit high ground on Arran (10AUG), AM260 crashed on take-off at Ayr(14AUG) and AM915 hit high ground near Campbeltown(1SEP). Were any procedures or organizations changed as a result?
        Curiously Jack Bamford in his book 'Croissants at Croydon' describes AM260 as the first RFS Liberator and flown down from Prestwick to Heston with a Spitfire escort for conversion by Airwork at Heston. He records its first trip back over the Atlantic was from Squires Gate as the Prestwick runway wasn't ready. Has Bamford got it all wrong?

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        • ianwoodward9
          Rank 5 Registered User
          • Aug 2010
          • 781

          I thought there had been some discussion of those crashes but perhaps, since I have been stimulated by this thread to get and read the McVicar book and the Christie book (only part-way through the latter), I have become a bit befuddled and read about the crashes in those.

          In respect of the crash of AM260, there is a suggestion that the pilot, Richard Stafford was apparently distracted by personal/family matters and somehow driven to crash it. Edgar Wynn, whose book "Bombers Across" I have not read, witnessed the crash and is quoted by Christie, who calls it "a virtual suicide run".

          Also, I am curious as to why the crash should be located as "Ayr". As described by Wynn, Stafford taxied AM260 out, turned on to the shorter runway, revved the engines for a take-off into a slipping wind, bounced over the slight rise where the two runways crossed, veered on to the grass, making no attempt to brake, and straight towards a 6-foot railway embankment. The nose section went 60 feet into the air and landed over the railway track. All of this tragedy seems to have happened within the confines of the airport at Prestwick. Why is it given as "Ayr"?

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          • ianwoodward9
            Rank 5 Registered User
            • Aug 2010
            • 781

            This photograph is anachronistic for this thread, in that it was apparently taken in January 1967. Nevertheless, it does show the inside of the Scottish Aviation factory at Prestwick and, if you ignore some of the 'detail', you might easily imagine it to be a WWII scene - six Daks being overhauled there.
            Attached Files

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            • longshot
              Rank 5 Registered User
              • Aug 2008
              • 1646

              My understanding is that RAF Heathfield/Ayr was right next to the original Prestwick (and had a runway before it) and got absorbed into Prestwick as it expanded.
              Might be a good idea to kick those Dakota photos onto a new thread (Dakota conversions?)

              Comment

              • ianwoodward9
                Rank 5 Registered User
                • Aug 2010
                • 781

                If you wish to move the above image into another thread, longshot, please feel free to do so. I included it here merely to show the inside of Scottish Aviations's facilities.

                As regards RAF Heathfield/Ayr, it was never actually IN Ayr. Heathfield, as a district, would have been regarded as part of Ayr but the boundary between Ayr and Prestwick was south of the old aerodrome. I will come on to the crash, so please bear with me whilst I address the Ayr or not-Ayr question.

                I attach some detail from a 1964 Ordnance Survey map of that area. The principal roads are correct to 1963, the others to 1962, so represent the situation as on my last of my three aviation visits to Prestwick. Coming out of the railway station, you would head east to the junction with the A79, turn north, cross the railway line and the stream and take (I think) the second right to get to Orangefield House, which would be on the right, in the grey area backing on to the (virtually) triangular apron for parked aircraft.

                On the map, I have placed one red dot on the A79, just below "MS" (which is where I lived for a few months in the very late 1960s), and another in the middle of the grey built-up area a little south-east of the first (which is where I lived for several years in the 1970s).

                The site of RAF Heathfield/Ayr is clearly shown south of Prestwick, marked "Aerodrome (disused)". When I drove down that 'yellow' (roughly) north-south back road from Prestwick towards Ayr, I was never really aware that there had been an airfield there before. The boundary between Prestwick and Ayr was only just north of that (roughly) NW>SE yellow road above the name "Newton" (the start of Newton Upon Ayr). The old aerodrome was not actually in Ayr but Ayr was the larger of the two towns.

                Turning now to the crash of AM260, I do not believe that the Prestwick runway running (roughly) north-south on the east side of the attached map was built at the time of the crash. I would be happy to be disabused of this notion but that's my sense from some WWII aerial photos available on-line. The two runways to which Edgar Wynn referred were those covered by the words "Prestwick Airport" on the attached map. There must be a crash report somewhere, probably with a sketch map but, if so, I've never seen it. My reading of Wynn's words is that AM260 took off from the northern end of that shorter runway, crossed the longer runway, then veered to port, across the grass and straight into the embankment for the railway line running NW>SE just south of the words "Prestwick Airport".

                The crash would have been clearly seen from the triangular aircraft parking apron (to which I referred earlier) or from the buildings in the grey area just above and NW of the apron. There was, in fact, an open area between the buildings and the apron (see the photo of the Boston parked there in one of my earlier posts), so the crash could have been seen by anyone outside in that open area. Also, the buildings themselves (which I think were the same ones as when I first visited) had windows looking on to the open area, with the triangular aircraft apron area behind that and the shorter runway beyond that again. The crash could have been seen by someone looking out of a window. It all fits, to my mind. It must have been just awful to witness it, let alone ..............

                Comments and corrections welcome.
                Attached Files
                Last edited by ianwoodward9; 15th May 2017, 09:11.

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                • ianwoodward9
                  Rank 5 Registered User
                  • Aug 2010
                  • 781

                  I hope these two images will be of interest to others. I have two photographs taken by a Montreal-based photographer showing the triple-fin and rear fuselage of BOAC Constellation G-AHEK. I assume that they were taken at Dorval. The date stamped on the reverse side is 10 May 1946. What I show here are the aircraft in the background of the two photographs.

                  One shows, amongst others, a couple of twin-fin Liberators and the other a couple of single -in Liberators - all four in bare metal finish. Further back in the latter are three twin-fin Liberators, two bare metal and one, by what little you can see, still in its camouflage (dark anyway).

                  You will have to click on the images to enlarge them - double-clicking makes them larger again but no clearer really.
                  Attached Files
                  Last edited by ianwoodward9; 15th May 2017, 15:16.

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                  • Thorgil
                    Rank 5 Registered User
                    • Nov 2007
                    • 30

                    Re. Liberator AM260 crash, the link below is to the Accident Report on aircrashsites-scotland. The full report is in AVIA 5/20 W1089 at the national Archives.
                    https://www.aircrashsites-scotland.c...athfield02.htm
                    Aerial view of most of RAF Ayr.
                    https://canmore.org.uk/collection/1395580

                    Hope this is of interest,
                    Alan.

                    Comment

                    • ianwoodward9
                      Rank 5 Registered User
                      • Aug 2010
                      • 781

                      Thank you, Alan (thorgil). Not just interesting but instructive. I couldn't have been more wrong. Chastening perhaps but very welcome.

                      I knew there'd be an accident report around somewhere. Is the 'plan' available on-line (the plan to which that account refers)? It would be great to see it. I think I can work out what happened but I feel a little cautious now, so a contemporary sketch map would be very handy.

                      On the personal side, I might mention that my eldest was born in Ayr at Thornyflats, a maternity hospital in my time there but the buildings had originally been the medical facilities (hospital?) for RAF Ayr.

                      With the Heathfield and Prestwick airfields being so close, I assume that there would have been some form of joint control of movements and airspace.

                      Comment

                      • Old Fokker
                        Rank 5 Registered User
                        • Feb 2014
                        • 50

                        The former RAF Heathfield is now part of the Heathfield Retail Park. I was working on the construction of a new store there in 2015. One of the issues was the presence of large buried structures remaining from the former airfield facilities. These had to be removed from within the footprint of the building. There are still visible parts of the airfield. The end of one of the runways still exists and the former fuel dump is just to the east of my site. Stick 55 28 51.72N, 004 35 32.20W in to Google Earth.
                        Last edited by Old Fokker; 16th May 2017, 11:54.

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                        • longshot
                          Rank 5 Registered User
                          • Aug 2008
                          • 1646

                          Since radio communications evidently were not being used to control air traffic at Ayr/Heathfield communication between Prestwick and Heathfield would have been by phone at best. They seem to have been reliant on coloured light signals yet at 2100hr BST in August it would have been still light..if very flares had been used presumably the report would have said so.No doubt lessons were learnt.

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                          • Atcham Tower
                            Rank 5 Registered User
                            • Mar 2005
                            • 780

                            Back in 1986, I and a friend went to the crash site of AM261 just below the summit ridge of Goat Fell. There was surprisingly little evidence of such a catastophic crash but much lower down we found the main entry door from the rear fuselage. From circumstantial evidence,the photo attached is almost certainly of AM261 and the very same door and steps. We also encountered violent wind gusts on the ridge, strong enough to knock you over. The worst I've ever experienced in many mountain walks and this was in summer with clear skies. We wondered if the resultant downdraughts on the east side of Goat Fell might have contributed to the accident, assuming that this might be a local phenomenon.

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                            • ianwoodward9
                              Rank 5 Registered User
                              • Aug 2010
                              • 781

                              I'm part way through reading the Christie book "Ocean Bridge". I checked the index and there is but one entry for "Heathfield Aerodrome" and that is with regard to the crash of AM261. Similarly, there are just two entries for "Ayr" and one of those is to the "losses" Appendix (and thus AM261 again) - the other is more general in nature. In contrast, "Prestwick, Scotland" gets over 30 entries in the index and some of those cover several pages.

                              Christie reports that, on the second delivery flight, one Hudson deliberately flew to Prestwick, not Northern Ireland (something to do with a set of golf clubs) and that was used to promote Prestwick as the eastern terminal of the ferry service.

                              The disparity between the index entries for "Heathfield Aerodrome" and "Prestwick" and my inference from the 'golf clubs' story prompt questions about the use of the two airfields on the ferrying operations:

                              >>> was there a period when the ferry operated to and from Ayr/Heathfield and not Prestwick?
                              >>> if using either Ayr/Heathfield or Prestwick was optional, what was the basis for selecting which to use?
                              >>> how many ferry flights were made into and out of Prestwick in the 'ferry period'?
                              >>> how many into and out of Ayr/Heathfield in that same period?
                              >>> did the emphasis slowly shift from Ayr/Heathfield to Prestwick?
                              >>> or was there a date after which all ferry flights used Prestwick and no longer used Ayr/Heathfield at all?

                              Comment

                              • longshot
                                Rank 5 Registered User
                                • Aug 2008
                                • 1646

                                No doubt the steps have long gone from Goat Fell ? You can just see them in this shot captioned AM261 Duke of Kent . Click image for larger version

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                                Last edited by longshot; 18th May 2017, 00:36.

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                                • Matt Poole
                                  Rank 5 Registered User
                                  • Dec 2004
                                  • 424

                                  Longshot,

                                  That same photo is on pg 117 of the Oughton Liberator book, with this caption:

                                  The Duke of Kent leaving Ayr for Canada aboard LB.30A AM261 on 28th July 1941; the direct flight to Montreal (St Hubert) took 16 hrs 20 mins; two weeks later AM261 crashed on the Isle of Arran.

                                  And here's the AM261 history from the same book:

                                  AM261 c/n 4; ex 40-699; TOC St Hubert 27.4.41; used by
                                  ATFERO as trainer; to RFS with BOAC crew; first service St Hubert
                                  to Prestwick via Gander 1.6.41; carried Duke of Kent to Canada
                                  28.7.41; flew into cloud-covered high ground 1 ml (1.6 km) N of Goat
                                  Fell, Isle of Arran, 10.8.41, due to navigational error; all 22 on board
                                  killed.

                                  Cheers,

                                  Matt
                                  RAF LIBERATORS OVER BURMA (subtitled FLYING WITH 159 SQUADRON) by Bill Kirkness DFM and Matt Poole, published by Fonthill Media

                                  Comment

                                  • ianwoodward9
                                    Rank 5 Registered User
                                    • Aug 2010
                                    • 781

                                    The Atlantic Ferry Service or, to be more precise, Sir Frederick Bowhill, was the cover story for TIME magazine on 20 October 1941. The article was one in their "World War: IN THE AIR" series. For the record, here it is:

                                    Monday, Oct. 20, 1941
                                    World War: IN THE AIR: One-Way Airline
                                    (See Cover) At an airport near London one day last week a wiry little man clambered out of an R.A.F. transport plane and bustled up to the city. In the next days bigwigs in paneled Whitehall offices and hard-working operations officers in the low buildings of coastal airdromes spent time looking into a pair of piercing, watery blue eyes peering out from under uptwirled Mephisto eyebrows. Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill, one of the hottest top-ranking officers that the R.A.F. has produced in World War II, was back from Canada.

                                    Four months ago Sir Frederick left Britain and a berth as head of the vital R.A.F. Coastal Command on two days' notice. Twelve hours later, having flown the Atlantic, he went to work in Montreal. Less spectacular than the Coastal Command, his new job was now more vital to Britain's defense. He took over for the R.A.F. the critical task of seeing that U.S. bombers got to Britain, quickly and safely.

                                    Sir Frederick's job as chief of the Atlantic Ferry Command has been "purely administrative." What Britons and Canadians wanted to know last week was why he had left his desk at Montreal's new Dorval Airport. They wondered whether the 61-year-old Marshal was slated to get a still more important command, even though Lady Bowhill, who works in the command's code room, this week had taken a new apartment in Montreal.

                                    Purely administrative though it may be, Sir Frederick's ferry performance could well tilt the balance between defeat and victory for Britain. To start an offensive in World War II, let alone to win the war, the first thing is to deliver the planes, the next to use them. U.S. factories supply the planes—currently some 38 a day, but between Canada, where U.S. Army ferry pilots turn the ships over to the R.A.F., and Britain lie 2,000 miles of fog-strewn North Atlantic. The job of the Ferry Command is to fly to Britain the bombers that can make the long hop.

                                    The A.F.C. is virtually a huge one-way airline. Eastward to Britain each month fly fleets of sleek Lockheed Hudsons, big Boeing Flying Fortresses, plus some Consolidated Liberators (B-24) and a few Catalinas (PB-Y). They fly without the amenities of commercial airlines, part of the way without radio beams, with minimum equipment. The planes are built, not for transatlantic cruising, but for bombing flights.

                                    In spite of this, the A.F.C. has hung up a proud record of deliveries. It has delivered many hundreds of bombers (the exact number is a tightly held secret) to Britain, has lost about a half-dozen ships on ocean flights. Of these only three were bombers in delivery. The others were shuttle planes, used to carry pilots and crews back to Newfoundland.

                                    For this record neither Sir Frederick nor the R.A.F. takes full credit. The ferry route was pioneered last year by the civilian Atlantic Ferry Organization ("Atfero" for short) headed by a Montreal banker, Morris W. Wilson. Atfero hired the pilots, planned the routes, selected the airports. set up weather and radiocommunication stations. Sir Frederick's job was to smooth out rough spots until flying the Atlantic became a matter of routine.

                                    Routine. Much of the routine is already achieved, as the record indicates. The biggest problem that Sir Frederick had to face when he began to turn Atfero into an R.A.F. organization was personnel.

                                    Under Atfero all the planes were flown by civilian pilots, a choice Hollywood mixture of formula-wise young airline men, resourceful bush-flyers from the Canadian north, tough oldtimers who were veterans of everything from the Spanish Civil War to back-pasture flying services. The attraction was $1.000 a month ($800 for navigators, $500 for radiomen).

                                    When the R.A.F. moved in and began to use young military pilots, the civilians looked down their noses. In spite of the high pay, some quit. Others stayed around and beefed. Their favorite complaints: that the R.A.F. treated civilian flyers like hired help, that the flight westward was not safe. All three of the shuttle planes were lost as the result of pilot error.

                                    There are still more civilian than military pilots flying for the command, though the percentage is shrinking. Sir Frederick Bowhill believes that they are fairly well content. They know his office is open to them, and he notes that they have stopped complaining about the trip back to Canada. He has also silenced the loudest complaints that the R.A.F. pilots have voiced—by weeding out the loudest drunks among the Americans, by getting the military pilots' pay upped to something close to the civilians'.

                                    Sail, Steam, Wings. If the Atlantic Ferry really becomes routine and, as some pilots think, foreshadows peacetime round-trip flights at $150 a passenger, one of the men to thank will be the son of a British Army Colonel, Bowhill of Bowhill from the Scottish Border, who transferred his love from square-riggers to the awkward skyships of 1912.

                                    Sir Frederick Bowhill started his career by shipping before the mast. He sailed round the Horn in windjammers, worked his way up to a captain's berth. Today he is a Master Mariner, certified to command any ship of any size anywhere in sail or steam. But when in World War I the Royal Navy drafted him at 32, it did not put him on the bridge of a warship. Instead, he found himself on the "front porch" of an openwork biplane, learning to fly, then teaching himself the dangerous art of taking off from the deck of a merchantman. From this kind of makeshift carrier, Flight Commander Bowhill flew on the first bombing against the German Navy in World War I.

                                    During the rest of the war, Sir Frederick managed to turn up wherever there was an odd job to be done. In Mesopotamia he commanded a squadron of seaplanes flying off the Tigris. (He picked seaplanes so he could still fly if the Turks flooded the country.) He campaigned with General Smuts in Tanganyika. After the war he fought with the White Russians against the Bolsheviks.

                                    In 1920 he was sent out to end the career of the Mad Mullah of Somaliland, whose troop of fanatically religious bandits had bothered the British for 21 years. To get within striking distance of the Mullah, Bowhill and his flyers had to pack planes, fuel and equipment on a caravan of 2,000 camels, trek 150 miles across the desert. When Bowhill's planes first roared across his camp, the Mullah was so sure that Allah had sent chariots to take him to heaven that he put on his finest clothes. Learning his mistake when a bomb nearly killed him, the Mullah fled, died next year in Ethiopia.

                                    Tiger-Moths and Submarines. In September 1939, Sir Frederick was chief of the Coastal Command for the R.A.F., which—on paper—was supposed to be equipped with far-ranging reconnaissance ships and bombers. Actually, it had almost none. Its job: to protect British shipping, to catch submarines, to spot German naval units.

                                    Sir Frederick decided to attack submarines with pure bluff. Banking on the well-founded fear that submarine men have of planes in general, he sent his flyers out in almost anything he could buy, beg or borrow. His motley "Honeymoon Fleet" consisted mostly of light Tiger-Moth trainers, no more lethal than the tiny yellow Cubs that put-put around U.S. airports. But against German submarine commanders, grooved in routine, the Tiger-Moths were almost as effective as dive-bombers. Whenever the U-boats saw a speck in the sky they submerged and stole away.

                                    Before the Germans caught on, the Coastal Command had proper planes of its own, although for a time at least, the British did not understand how to make full use of the good U.S. equipment which was sent to them. The Coastal Command's range of operations now covers 600,000 square miles of sea, as far west as Iceland, north and south from Narvik to Africa.

                                    To admiring subordinates in the command (not all of them R.A.F. men, for the Marshal had a knack of wheedling able officers from the other services), "Ginger" Bowhill seemed to cover a good proportion of this area in person, to know exactly what was going on in all the rest. He worked in a hectic blast of radiograms, reports, phone calls, saved a second or two by having the telephones on his desk painted different colors to show where the lines ran—to the Air Ministry, the Admiralty, various flight headquarters.

                                    He also developed a knack of interpreting German radio messages, of prophesying from plane and ship movements what the enemy would be up to next. One of the command's greatest coups was breaking up a German raid on a British cruiser squadron. Though he had predicted the attack to the minute, reports of it caught the Marshal in the bathtub and he directed the whole action clothed in a bath towel, dripping on the rug beside his home telephone. Top achievement of the command was tracking and trapping the Bismarck this spring, just before Marshal

                                    Bowhill took over the Ferry job—although if the stories which reached the U.S. are true, the credit for that success properly belongs to an American pilot who persuaded the British to let him take out a Catalina on a far longer flight than the British thought feasible.

                                    Operational Flight. When he flew to Britain last week, the Ferry Commander called it an "operational flight," gave no hint of his purpose. Whether or not he was due for promotion, it was Sir Frederick's first chance to check up on the way his long airline operated.

                                    If he was checking up, he perhaps made some notes on his cuff as he went along: noted how the wind seeped through the flimsy walls of the Eastbound Inn at the Newfoundland base as the ferry crews waited for the weather to lift. He would need no notes to remember the radio jam as the squadron approached Britain, and plane after plane called for bearings from ground stations.

                                    The rest would have been "routine." The long screaming run down the airport as the plane labored to lift its heavy load of gasoline. The plane-hungry bogs around the airport giving way to the long swells of the Atlantic under the plane's wings. The long slant upward above the overcast for a tailwind and air too cold and dry for icing. The navigator's intent face reflected from the cabin windows as he read his sextant. The creeping cold of high altitude. The bulbous oxygen masks.

                                    The ferry flights, according to the command, are all routine, as monotonous for passengers as they are for the men who make them regularly. The only thrill comes when the plane passes the invisible point of no return, the point where it has enough gas to get across, too little to turn back against headwinds that blow from the west. The only real excitement is the landing—circling a field so well camouflaged that even experienced pilots have a hard time finding it, taxiing the plane into the line of delivered bombers whose next job is to fly over Europe with bombs in their bellies. Looking at that neat line last week, Sir Frederick had good reason to **** his eyebrows and be proud.


                                    In case you're worrying, the **** word in the final sentence is 'c o c k' [acceptable in a family magazine in 1941 but of concern in 2017]
                                    Last edited by ianwoodward9; 23rd May 2017, 09:30.

                                    Comment

                                    • longshot
                                      Rank 5 Registered User
                                      • Aug 2008
                                      • 1646

                                      Remarkable that it mentions the 3 Return Ferry Service disasters of August/September 1941 so soon....

                                      Comment

                                      • Lazy8
                                        Adrian Constable
                                        • Apr 2012
                                        • 559

                                        The information was available, on the far side of the Pond at least; America was not yet in the war, and journalists like to demonstrate that they can find the facts.

                                        Comment

                                        • ianwoodward9
                                          Rank 5 Registered User
                                          • Aug 2010
                                          • 781

                                          The North Atlantic deliveries were not a secret in 1941.

                                          In January 1941, THE NEW YORK TIMES carried a story headlined, "BALCHEN IS FLYING PLANES TO BRITAIN". This newspaper often carried multiple headlines to the same story and the second of its three sub-headlines to this Balchen story was, "Air Ferry Base Shifted From Newfoundland to Avoid the North Atlantic Storms". Several months later, it reported the hiring of pilots "at the rate of twenty-five a week" which was "done quietly in a suite at the Murray Hill Hotel" but "will move to the Commodore Hotel" now. It gave details of the pay scales and bonuses on offer.

                                          In Britain, FLIGHT had a 3-page article on "Atlantic Deliveries" in its 29 May 1941 issue. The same issue reported the delivery of the Hudson 'presented' by the Lockheed Vega employees and that was publicised. The story was intended as a morale booster in Britain.

                                          The accidents were very different, of course, but do not appear to have been covered up..

                                          I think THE NEW YORK TIMES reported them, though I don't have that to hand, so cannot say for sure. The accidents were reported in Britain, however.

                                          In its 21 August 1941 issue, FLIGHT carried an article on "THE ATFERO ACCIDENT" (the first one that is) but also reported, "...news has come through of a second accident to an Atfero aircraft .... bringing total losses up to 44".

                                          I suspect that the TIME article was published with the knowledge of (and maybe the involvement of) the British authorities. Some of the information about Bowhill could almost be a press release in its language and style. Maybe it was an attempt to put the losses into perspective and to bolster American support.

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