fatal air crashes at Calshot

The Calshot Air Crash Chronicles: Fatal Accidents (1914 to 1951)

Calshot Castle was built in the 16th century to protect the Solent and guard against invasion. For nearly 500 years it has witnessed many historical events on the water. From medieval ships leaving Southampton, to the departure of the Titanic in 1912, and then the modern cruise ships of today… the castle has seen it all. 

The view from the castle has also seen historical aviation events. In 1929 and 1931 it was the venue for the Schneider Trophy race for seaplanes and flying boats. Then during both World Wars, seaplanes and flying boats of the Royal Navy and RAF were based there. It was even the scene of a flypast by the German Hindenburg airship in 1936. 

But it also has a dark and tragic history when it comes to aviation. Over the last hundred years or so there have been several devastating air crashes in the water that surrounds Calshot Castle and the spit. 

What follows is not a comprehensive record of crashes involving aircraft that have taken off from RAF Calshot. Instead it’s a selection of air crashes into the sea that happened within sight of Calshot Castle which then sadly involved fatalities. 

June 4, 1914: Wight Pusher Seaplane (128)
2 fatalities

The first account of a fatal air crash at Calshot was in 1914. An eyewitness, C.G. Bell, claimed to have seen the Wight Pusher Seaplane of the Naval Wing, Royal Flying Corps at Calshot nose-dive into the sea at high speed. He also said the left wing had started to break up before the aircraft hit the water.

Wight Pusher at Calshot
Wight Pusher seaplane shown here with pilot Lt. Thomas Scholes Creswell waiting for his passenger Commander Arthur Rice before the crash off Calshot (source unknown).

A newspaper reported the following:

“A terrible seaplane disaster occurred early last evening in Southampton Water, resulting in the loss of two lives. A naval seaplane belonging to the Calshot station was flying over Southampton Water, piloted by Lieut. Thomas F. Creswell (Royal Marines), accompanied by Commander Arthur Rice, as passenger, when suddenly it dropped from a considerable height, and fell into the water with such a terrific crash that eyewitnesses thought the engines had exploded. Boats hurried to the scene and picked up the machine, in which was found the dead and terribly injured body of Lieut. Creswell. No trace was found of Commander Rice. It is believed that he fell or jumped out of the machine and was drowned.”

April 26, 1915: Wight No.2 Navy Plane (928)
2 fatalities

Another seaplane would crash near Calshot Castle just ten months later. The aircraft had only been in operation with the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) at Calshot for two days when it embarked on a test flight from HMS Ben-my-Chree, a First World War seaplane carrier anchored just off Ashlett Creek. 

Reports state how the Type 860 floatplane nose-dived near the ship, crashing into the Solent water. 

Flight Sub-Lieutenant Stephen Medlicott RNAS (aged 23) and air mechanic Henry G Hughes (aged 26) were both killed.

August 24, 1915: Sopwith Schneider Seaplane (3726)
1 fatality 

Calshot based Flight Sub-Lieutenant John MacLarty (aged 23) was killed when flying a Sopwith Schneider floatplane. Reports state the aircraft dived and crashed from 2,000 feet into Southampton Water.

MacLarty funeral procession
The scene of MacLarty’s funeral procession in Greenock, Scotland.

March 12, 1928: Supermarine S5 (N221)
1 fatality

There then appears to be no recorded fatalities near Calshot until March 1928, when possibly one of the most well-known incidents occurred.  

South African pilot Flight Lieutenant Samuel Kinkead was a highly distinguished aviator who had been awarded the DSO, DSC & Bar, and DFC & Bar. During the First World War he recorded 33 victories as a fighter ace.

He was killed whilst attempting to become the first man to travel at more than five miles a minute whilst piloting a Supermarine S5 racing seaplane. 

Kinkead at Calshot
Kinkead at Calshot (Photo by Edward Mudge)

During a high speed run over the Solent, in poor visibility, the S5 struck the sea low and fast, diving into deep water near the Calshot Lightship.

It was initially believed he had been thrown from the S5 during the accident, as his body was not recovered at the crash site. However, he was later discovered lodged in the S5’s tail, missing half his head. The aircraft’s tail had to be cut open to remove his body. 

Flight Lieutenant Kinkead was buried at All Saints’ Church, Fawley. The headstone on his grave reads: 

“In memory of Flight Lieutenant Samuel Marcus Kinkead DSO DSC DFC who, on 12 March 1928 while flying at Calshot, gave his life in an attempt to break the world’s speed record.”

Below is a video showing Flight Lieutenant Kinkead leaving Calshot on the fateful day.

August 13, 1931: Supermarine S6 (N247)
1 fatality

Lieutenant Gerald Lewis “Jerry” Brinton, died while testing a Rolls-Royce V12 powered Supermarine S.6A off Calshot during a practice session for the 1931 Schneider Trophy.

When the wreckage was recovered, Brinton’s body was found in the narrow aft section of the fuselage with a cut to his forehead. There were no other visible injuries, but the position of the body suggested that the impact of the crash was severe.

Supermarine S6 N247
The Supermarine S6 N247 that Jerry Brinton died whilst testing.

October 17, 1933: Supermarine Southampton Mk II (S1121)
2 fatalities

Two years later there was another fatal accident involving a Supermarine, this time a Southampton Mk II. The flying boat crashed during take-off from RAF Calshot with four airmen on board. 

Wing Commander Theodore Quintus Studd survived the crash with cuts to his face and Aircraftman James Barry O’Connell, who was in the front observer capsule, was thrown clear and escaped without serious injury.

Supermarine Southampton Mk II at Calshot
A Supermarine Southampton Mk II at Calshot – not the one in the October 1933 accident.

Sadly, the pilot, Flying Officer John Charles Francis Peacock (aged 28), would die as a result of the Supermarine Southampton crash. He had suffered a broken arm and leg in the initial impact and then died from his injuries the following day in Netley Hospital. 

Leading Aircraftman Harry George Thomas Foley’s body was found in the Solent ten days after the crash. He was just 20 years old.

In November 1933, Flight Magazine reported on the inquest into the accident. 

“At the resumed inquest, held at Fawley, Hants, on F/O. J. F. Peacock and L.AC. H. Foley, who were killed when a wooden “Southampton ” crashed at Calshot on ‘October 17, Captain F.S. Wilkins of the Accidents Branch of the Air Ministry, said that the tail actuating gear was found in a fully forward position, which would make the flying boat extremely nose heavy. He thought that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the machine to take off from the water. In reply to the coroner, he said that the responsibility for the position of the gear rested normally on the instructor in charge of the aircraft. The jury returned a verdict that the accident was due to an error of judgement.”

April 6, 1937: Saunders-Roe Cloud (K2895)
3 fatalities

April 1937 would see the next tragedy unfolding over the Calshot skies, when a Saunders-Roe flying boat clipped the water and overturned into the sea.

Eyewitnesses at the air station reported that the crash was visible from Calshot Castle, and motorboats were quickly dispatched to the scene. At the time of the incident, the weather was reportedly hazy.

Saunders-Roe Cloud at Calshot castle
Saunders-Roe Cloud (K2895) in front of Calshot Castle before the crash.

Of the five crew, three would lose their lives in the accident, with the Air Ministry report stating:

“The Air Ministry regrets to announce that Pilot Officer Stephen Patrick Crawley lost his life; Pilot Officer David Lewis Davies and Aircraftman Douglas King are missing and believed to be drowned; and Pilot Officer Ian Malcolm Brodie and Leading Aircraftman Ronald Harold Phillips were injured in an aircraft accident which occurred in the sea near Calshot April 6.”

Aircraftman Douglas King’s body was recovered from the Solent water near Calshot three days later. He was buried in All Saints Church, Fawley.

The following month, the body of Pilot Officer David Lewis Davies, was washed ashore at Lee-on-Solent. He was identified through marks on his RAF uniform.

January 24, 1938: Miles Magister (L6901)
1 fatality

The Miles Magister was a two-seat monoplane basic trainer aircraft. On the day of the accident it was being operated by Nº 3 E&RFTS (Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School Royal Air Force) based at RAF Hamble.

Whilst attempting to recover from a dive, 21-year-old pilot Sergeant David Middleton crashed into the Solent in view of Calshot Castle. He died in the crash.

September 15, 1938: Fairey Swordfish Mk I (K8877)
2 fatalities

Just a few months later that same year, one of the stranger incidents on record happened, where the fatalities did not involve the crew, but instead two men in a fishing boat. 

Based out of RAF Lee-on-Solent, a Fairey Swordfish floatplane was coming down to alight on the Solent near Calshot. The crew failed to see a fishing boat in their path, and hit the rigging and sails.

Two fishermen, Thomas Kemp (aged 48) and Thomas Bannister (aged 75) died from their injuries.

February 13th, 1946: Short Sunderland GR.5 (VB885)
10 fatalities

However tragic all of these accidents are, certainly in terms of lives lost, the worst would occur just after the Second World War.

It was February 1946 and a Sunderland (VB885) operated by 302FTU (Ferry Training Unit) took off from Calshot for a flight to Karachi, Pakistan. Shortly after take-off, an engine failed, and Pilot Officer Dollin decided to return to base. 

Short Sunderland Mk II at Calshot
A Short Sunderland Mk V at Calshot (not the Mk II VB885 involved in the February 1946 accident).

During the landing attempt, he misjudged the rate of descent and the aircraft crashed into the sea. The crash resulted in a fire with all ten crew members killed. The aircraft was ablaze for one and a half hours and the sea was covered in blazing oil, hampering rescue efforts. The accident had occurred just 22 minutes into the flight.

The ten fatalities were:

  • Pilot Officer K. Dollin (Pilot)
  • Flight Officer R.B. Couchman (Second Pilot)
  • Flight Sergeant Hamish Ian Sandison 
  • Flight Sergeant R.M. Anderson
  • Flight Sergeant H. Barker
  • Flight Sergeant L.E. Snook
  • Flight Sergeant R.C. Stevens
  • Sergeant G. Granger
  • Sergeant M. O’Donoghue
  • Sergeant H. O’Keefe

December 12, 1947: Supermarine Seafire F45 (LA489)
1 fatality

Later the next year, Lieutenant Anthony Tracy of the Royal Navy’s 771 Naval Air Squadron took off from Lee-on-Solent. He was flying a Seafire, the naval version of the Spitfire, when his port wingtip hit water as he was turning close to Calshot.

The aircraft crashed and broke into two pieces. 

A newspaper would later report:

“A tragic misjudgement of height on the part of a great friend is thought to have led to the death of twenty-four-year-old Lieutenant Anthony Peter Hanbury Tracy, R.N., in a flying accident off Calshot on Friday. Tracy and two colleagues, all flying Seafire aircraft, took off for a routine flight from their Fleet Air Arm base at Lee-on- Solent on Friday afternoon. As they turned in formation the wingtip of Lieutenant Tracy’s machine is understood to have struck the surface of the water, which the commanding officer described as ” glassy calm.” In a letter to Mrs. Tracy, this commanding officer referred to the weather conditions at the time of the accident and expressed the opinion that haze. combined with the glassy surface of the sea, might have caused the leader of the formation to misjudge the height.”

November 16, 1951: Short Sunderland GR.5 (SZ565)
2 fatalities

And lastly, in November 1951, a Short Sunderland flying boat crashed in the Solent whilst attempting an evening test landing. It reportedly struck an obstruction in the water, bounced, crashed, and immediately sank up to the wings. The crew was completing a training sortie on behalf of the 235 OCU.

Short Sunderland SZ656
The Short Sunderland SZ565 in the water off Calshot before being salvaged.

As the plane began to sink, three of the five-man crew broke open an escape hatch and threw themselves into the water where they were immediately picked up.

Both pilots were killed, and the wreckage was recovered back to RAF Calshot.

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