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The night Great Yarmouth bomber was shot down by friendly fire

A recreation of that fateful night by Kim Collinson. The Stirling bomber was a victim of friendly fire.

A recreation of that fateful night by Kim Collinson. The Stirling bomber was a victim of friendly fire.

Archant

It was a tragic case of friendly fire that saw an RAF bomber shot down over Great Yarmouth by anti-aircraft gunners 75 years ago.

The under carriage of the Stirling at Flixton Air Museum.
Picture supplied by Bob CollisThe under carriage of the Stirling at Flixton Air Museum. Picture supplied by Bob Collis

On October 21, 1942 a Stirling 1 bomber with seven crew on board set off from RAF Oakington in Cambridgeshire to lay mines off the Dutch Frisian Islands at 5.47pm.

On its return flight the plane, known as BF390 MG-A, flew 500ft over Great Yarmouth and was illuminated by search lights as its crew found itself in a barrage of tracer bullets and Bofor gun shells.

The bomber had twice dropped coloured flares to show it was an RAF plane, but tragically they were not the correct type for that day.

A Bofor gun by Haven Bridge scored direct hits and the bomber hit the sea half a mile from the shore at about 9.50pm.

The bodies of the seven crewmen were never found, despite a search by Gorleston Lifeboat.

The town’s anti-aircraft defences had been on red alert that night as a German raid had seen incendiary bombs hit Southtown Road, setting fire to a house near the Rumbold Arms pub.

An inquiry found the plane’s identification friend or foe system would not have been effective at low altitude and also recommended better cooperation with gun control rooms be set up and aircraft recognition training be improved.

In 2005 a section of the plane’s undercarriage was uncovered on Yarmouth beach by members of the Gt Yarmouth Archaeological & Local History Society and a group from the Flixton Air Museum.

Bob Collis, an aviation historian, described the Stirling crash as the “worst friendly fire incidents of the Second World War in the region”.

He said: “A Bofors gun near Haven Bridge scored direct hits as the big bomber headed back the way it had come, pursued by tracer bullets and searchlights.

“The noise of the engines then ceased abruptly as the Stirling hit the sea half a mile from shore.”

The pilot was flying officer Noel Brady, who had survived a crash between two Blenheims in 1939 and was shot down in a Blenheim over France by a Me 109 in May 1940.

Mr Collis also said his death “was one of the great air tragedies of the war”.

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