The day the plane came down

Despite the passage of time, air crash landings in Clare during World War II are still recalled, sixty years on.

However, for those who were too young to remember or were not around at that time, the new Landfall Ireland publication tells all there is to know about the various aircraft which crash landed in Clare during that time. The 152 page publication gives a detailed account of all Allied and German aircraft which ended their journeys for various reasons in different parts of Ireland.

It’s author is Ennis born Donal McCarron, who was a teenage volunteer in the Local Defence Forces (LDF) in Ireland in 1941. An established military and aviation historian, Donal is also a regular contributor to international aviation journals and An Cosantoir, the Irish Defence Journal. He is also author of books recounting the stories of the Irish Air Corps and Ireland’s Emergency Army.

Born in Ennis in 1927, Donal lived in Sandfield House with his parents. His Co Fermanagh born father was a Garda Inspector based in Ennis at that time and when promoted to superintendent he opened a number of garda stations in West Clare during the war years.

Donal attended school in the CBS and studied civil engineering and architecture at UCD. His godmother was the well-known Sister Nicholas Griffey, who was a native of the Market, Ennis. Later on in life her work for the underprivileged in Dublin was recognised by the Clare Association in Dublin, who named her their Person of The Year. She has since died.

Now living in Gerrard’s Cross, Buckinghamshire, Donal was stationed in Lahinch as part of the Local Defence Forces on July 10, 1943 when the USAAF B-24 Liberator plane “Travellin Trollop” crash landed on the beach. He returned to the Clare seaside resort in 1993 and spoke at the unveiling of a plaque to mark the 50th anniversary of the crash landing. Some of the other surviving crew members also revisited Lahinch for that celebration.

In Landfall Ireland, Donal tells how during the war years, 1939-1945, some 220 belligerent aircraft of all descriptions, both Allied and German, came down in this country, some by accident, some by mistake and some by design.

Many of the incidents were tragic while others were comic. However, all were dramatic in their own way.

The book is fully illustrated with 168 photographs and because of censorship, many of the local dramas recorded would still, 60 years later, be news to many. The book also gives an interesting insight into the nature of Irish neutrality during this period.

The cover photograph is of an artist’s impression of the “Travellin Trollop”.

On that misty morning, the author of Landfall Ireland saw the aircraft circling over Lahinch.
A USAAF B-24 was also seen and shortly afterwards there was a resounding bump when the”Travellin Trollop” hit the beach. The B-24 Liberator had taken off from Maine to a position at Gander for its transatlantic journey to Prestwick. On its way the weather turned out to be worse than forecast and for the first part of the journey the two pilots had to fly on instruments. At the point of no return, fuel started to leak and this was compounded by the radio and compass packing up. The pilots took the plane up to 16,000 feet to allow the navigator get a fix from the stars which showed that they were over 100 miles south of their proper course. Corrections were made but still they were off course. Still in the clouds, they were unaware that they were over the concrete runways at Rineanna (Shannon) and eventually they crash landed on Lahinch beach.

A large number of regular army and LDF troops, who were stationed in a nearby training camp, converged on the plane almost before it stopped shuddering. The airmen were welcomed and given a breakfast in the camp. They were allowed sleep and, after questioning, were entertained in the hotels and bars in Lahinch. Afterwards they were handed over at the border after a hectic 72 hours.
Some days later, the Air Corps salvage team retrieved the engines, guns and various instruments which were also dispatched northwards.

However, not everything was returned from the plane, despite the presence of an armed guard. Several cylinders of scarce oxygen somehow ended up with the local medical and engineering practitioners. This was accomplished by native ingenuity when the salvage team and soldiers had to retreat from the incoming tides which regularly semi-submerged the crashed plane. On night time tide, a church glided towards to tail end of the aircraft and the rowers gained access and took the oxygen away together with special tools provided by the USAAF. However, the tools were quickly retrieved by the local police on a “no names, no pack drill” basis.

The crew of the “Travellin Trollop” turned out to be more durable in a new B-24 than in their original aircraft. They joined the 389th Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force and survived at a time when this daylight bombing force was suffering its worst casualties.

Donal McCarron says that the Lahinch crew were well above average and became a “lead crew” heading their group on many missions.

The Lahinch landing became known as “the day the plane came down” and is still talked about.
Landfall Ireland also recalls another forced landing, this time in Ballyvaughan. The author tells of how the United States has been re-arming somewhat leisurely before the Japanese struck Pearl Harbour. The pace of mobilisation quickened in all services the surprise attack and nowhere more so than in the Air Corps. Many NCO’s mainly staff, were now given an opportunity for pilot training. One of them was Arthur L Brodhed, who did his training in California before being promoted and posted to the 95th Fighter Squadron in Europe, which was part of the 82nd Fighter Group. After some time in Northern Ireland the group flew its P-38 Lightning twin-boom fighters over to St Eval in Cornwall as a jumping off point for Oran in Morocco. In groups of four, the Lightnings took off following a twin-engined B-25 acting as a navigator. Over the Bay of Biscay they were surprised by a dozen Ju88 fighters on their regular beat giving cover to U-boats travelling in the Atlantic.

After a hectic dogfight, Brodhead found himself alone in an empty sky and headed back to St Eval. Disorientated after his first taste of combat, he soon became completely lost. His long-range drop tanks had been jettisoned in the combat and with fuel ebbing from his main tanks, a landing became imperative.

Luckily, he spotted a beach whose grey granule sand absorbed an excellent wheels-up landing. He came down in Ballyvaughan on the south side of Galway Bay where the LDF assisted him from his cockpit and arrested him. The army later came to collect him. The author was also present on that occasion to examine the undamaged plane.

Elsewhere throughout the book there is a picture of a crew setting out to reconnoitre the crash site of a Sunderland plane off the coast of Clare. There is also a picture of Rineanna (Shannon Airport) showing a full complement of Hurricane planes which equipped the Air Corps’ Fighter Squadron.

Another picture features an all blue PRU Spitfire Mk XIX which force landed in Spanish Point. This aircraft as a preproduction Spitfire Mk XIX which had been used at Farnborough a year earlier for high-speed dive tests. During one test, propeller and part of the engine were torn away at almost Mach 1, but the pilot succeeded in gliding back and landing.

It is one of Donal McCarron’s principal achievement that his superb writing in Landfall Ireland brings these years to life again - the camaraderie and the suffering, the fear and the fun, the laughter and the tears.

Courtesy of the Clare Champion
July 2003