AVRO ANSON N5372 + Newtownards war grave

Discussion in 'The War In The Air' started by skyhawk, Jun 4, 2009.

  1. skyhawk

    skyhawk Senior Member

    I was visiting a local cemetery recently at Newtownards (Northern Ireland) and came across a war grave that got me thinking. There was very little info written on it, just the following:-

    W E Heller
    18 Oct 1943
    age 48


    At 48 he would have been too old to fly on operations so he must have died in a non-flying event or a training accident. i was interested to find out his story and it led to the following:
    The aircraft from RAF Squires Gate (Blackpool) was on a navigation exercise being flown by Flying Officer Cooper and crew who in adverse weather struck Knocklayd mountain, he attempted a forced-landing, but struck a tree before crashing into the house, which at the time was owned by Charles Blaney. Mr Blaney’s wife and their five children were at home as was a young girl from County Donegal, 22 year old Josephine McGroarty, who was staying there at the time.
    She was standing outside the house with her boyfriend John Greer from Ballycastle. John was thrown clear as the aircraft came sliding into a fatal impact with the house. Josephine McGroarty was tragically killed as were two of those on board the aircraft. One of these was a high-ranking free-Polish officer, Wing Commander Heller, who was based at Jurby in the Isle of Man.
    The pilot, Flying Officer Cooper, was thrown from the aircraft and he landed in the children’s room, none of whom miraculously were injured, nor were the Blaneys themselves. Wing Commander Heller was later buried in Movilla cemetery, Newtownards, Co Down.

    Some of the documents i found have suffered due to age and are very worn. I spent a while transcribing the worst and have typed the information so it may be read more clearly, others i have also included.



    The pilot was a F/O Cooper who along with the second navigator ( who's name i cant make out)was injured but survived. Heller and Clarke died. From what i can make out he was taken to Limavady were he made this statment. Unfortunately it only accounts for the moments leading up to the crash. There is no second page. It is not signed or dated so i think he may not remember or have been too ill to finnish it.

    There is a full account from RAF Squires gate (Blaclpool) which i have included which make interesting reading.

    Avro Anson N5372 - RAF Squires Gate - F/O Cooper -Pilots Report.
    I took off at approx 20:40hrs from No 3 General Recon school RAF Squires Gate on a navigation exercise with two pupils. W/Cmdr Heller was first navigator. F/LT J N Down? was the second navigator and one wireless op/ air gunner G Clarke. The route was 15 miles beyond thye Mull of Kintyre direct from Squires Gate, plus a short leg ( in the nature of a wide turn to avoid aircraft on a similar trip) and return direct to Squires Gate. My pre flight plan was to fly at 2400ft speed 110kts. Having asertained before take-off the highest ground possibly to be encountered was 1860ft (including the Isle Of Man).
    On the outward leg i knew we were close to track and had identified Wesr Freugh on the starboard side at a distance of approx 2 miles. The cloud base was 2500ft reducing and about 5/10 cumulus. As a result of the decreasing cloud here i was flying intermittently in cloud.Consequently i was not over worried when i failed to observe the Mull Of Kintyre and i instructed the first navigator to turn from his D/R position on H/T.
    On setting course for base from this turning point - 150 degrees M, approx height 2400ft , speed 110kts i observed myself extremely close to another aircraft on similar course and same height, slightly to starboard and behind. The cloud base had become still lower and i was again flying in patch cloud. To avoid a possible collision with the other aircraft (blind) i increased my airspeed to 115kts by a shallow dive to 2200ft and temperorily altered course 10 degrees to port aprox 140M. I then resumed my original course and airspeed (150M/110KTS at a height of 2200ft . At this time i sighted a white flashing marine light and drew this to the attention of the first navigator.

    Report RAF Squires Gate:-

    Accident Flying No 3 of G.R. Squires Gate.
    A. Aircraft had set course for Squires Gate on last leg of navigation exercise, flying at 2400ft. It was 11 miles to starboard of track , which was not known by the crew. The night was dark. cloud broken (5-5 tenths) at 2400ft, but there was 10/10 medium cloud. It was not raining.
    B .Contributory factors were:-
    1. Pilot descended to 2200ft to avoid another aircraft.
    2. Barometric pressure was 4 millibars less at Knocklayd than at Squires Gate. and had decreased by a further millibar between time of take-off and time of accident. This brings the pilots true height to about 2050ft.
    3. Aircraft approached Knocklayd from downwind side. (wind was 150/35-40kts) and would experience strong down draughts as it approached the mountain.
    These were proved to be very strong by an experiment made on Oct 20th (in order to prevent airtcraft descending, control column had to be pulled back until airspeed was down to 80kts . and even at this speed aircraft was descending at 200ft/min. Wind was 45kts . Boost -2 and weak mixture)
    C. It is considered that the accident was the result of a combination of circumstances. Broken cloud at 2400ft, dark night, error in navigation. other aircraft to be avoided, difference in pressure(which pilot took into consideration) and down draughts. The pilot maintained control of the aircraft under very difficult conditions, after striking Knocklayd s.o.s procedure was carried out and preperation was made for ditching.

    Original Document

    Below is some maps ive included of the aera and crash site.

    X = crash site

    A= RAF Ballyhalbert were 315 polish sqn was based at this time and they were involved in the burial.

    B= Newtownards

    C= West Freugh mentioned in the pilots statment as a navigation reference.



    Here the generall area at which the turn for home was made and the navigational error of 11 miles which contributed to the many factors of the crash. Also the direction of the wind, you can see it is hitting the mountains causing all sorts of extreme vorticies which the Anson is flying directly into.

    And this is what they hit, Knocklayd mountain.


    glenshesk and rathlin island


    knocklayd form glenshesk

    Avro Anson aircraft

    What a tragic and interesting story all from this war grave in Newtownards.
    Peter Clare and Drew5233 like this.
  2. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    A very interesting story, and great detective work.

  3. skyhawk

    skyhawk Senior Member

    It is mentioned in 315 squadron orbs although they wrongly describe the aircraft as a Wellington,


    The grave right next to Heller is a 315 Squadron pilot.



    315 squadron at RAF Ballyhalbert.

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