Grostenquin, France

1955 – Category A Sabre Accident – F/O GL Howarth

Historical Detail
2 Wing, Grostenquin France

A mid-air occurred in 1955 when three Sabres from 2 Wing got badly tangled up. F/O GL Howarth’s pilot’s statement gives some details of what happened: "The section was signed out and briefed for phase training #15 and #17 on 21 Jul 55. F/O Donald as #1, F/O Allingham as #2, F/O Noel as #3 and myself as #4. The section took off and climbed to 40,000 feet for practice battle formation. After completing the exercise we descended in loose line astern at 80% power setting and speed brakes out. The leader called the section into box formation. While joining up, #3 was slow in moving to his position on the port and told me to move ahead. As I was approaching my position #3 passed in front of me giving me quite a scare. I then proceeded to take my position in the formation. At this time we were at 85% power setting, airspeed of 320 to 340 knots, and approximately 1000 feet above ground. The section then did a 180-degree turn to starboard and was flying parallel to the railway tracks at Faulquemont heading west."

"I noticed that #3’s flying was quite erratic, although his flying previously to this had been quite smooth. Suddenly #3 disappeared below my range of vision. After an interval of 5 to 8 seconds #1 seemed to explode. I saw a bright flash of flame and ducked my head. I felt a few jars as I flew through the debris. Then I noticed I had approximately 100 degrees of starboard bank and was near stalling. I then recovered from this position and had started to climb when I noticed I was flamed out and my canopy was shattered. I could also hear a deep rumbling and gathered that some of the debris had entered my engine. I then saw what looked like the aerodrome. I headed towards it and confirmed this steer with an ADF homing. By then my airspeed was very low and I saw a field, so I locked my harness and force-landed. When I had stopped I smelt smoke, so I blew my canopy and departed in great haste. I then left some airman to guard the aircraft, stopped an Air Force vehicle that was passing on the road and reported to the Station hospital".

The aircraft involved in this incident had been finishing up their exercise with a flypast over the local railway station to salute some friends. The flypast turned to disaster as Howarth (in 23130), Noel (23099) and Donald (23154) all went down. Noel and Donald didn’t make it. Allingham’s Sabre suffered considerable damage but he did get it back to base. The Air Div lost another Sabre that day when F/L EL Fine of 441 Squadron pranged while landing in 23109. Fortunately Fine got away with it.