Tragedy at Tinwell - Rutland - England
As with all military conflicts tragedies occur. The requirement for service personnel to be trained and ready for operational
duty can lead to human error with horrific consequences.
There were many minor accidents that accompanied the intense training associated with
becoming a paratrooper, but the one incident for the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade which remained a terrible memory was the training accident
which occurred close to the town of Stamford at a small village called Tinwell.
Nearly three years had passed since the formation of the Brigade in September 1941. Now in the mid summer of 1944, the Brigade had been moved from its original base at Largo House in Fife, Scotland, to new quarters in the East Midlands of England approximately seventy five miles north of London.
As part of the training schedule, "Operation Burden" was planned for the evening of the 8th July 1944. As part of this operation, 369 paratroopers from the brigade were planned to be parachuted from 33 C-47 Skytrains of the 309th Squadron - 315th Transport Carrier Group.
The following account is reproduced out of the book of John Rennison "Wings over Rutland".
The traumatic events that occurred in the sky over the little village of Tinwell on the evening of the 8th July 1944 will never be forgotten by those that were involved in them.
The story began at the airfield of Spanhoe, sometimes known as Harringworth, just south of the Rutland border. Thirty-three olive green C-47 Skytrains of the 309th Squadron, 315th Troop Carrier Group of the U.S. 9th Air Force, began to get airborne shortly after 21:30 hours. Their cargo was 369 paratroopers of the Polish First Independent Airborne Brigade, their destination a drop zone at R.A.F. Wittering. Once settled in formation at 1300 feet, the thirty three aircraft made an impressive sight against the backdrop of the last rays of the summer sun.
Suddenly the illusion was shattered. Two of the aircraft touched wings and became locked together. Like autumn leaves, strangely out of place on a summer's eve, they tumbled to the ground. Corporal Thomas Chambers of the U.S. 9th Air Force saw his chance as he stood in the doorway of one of the stricken aircraft and he jumped. He was to be the only survivor. The aircraft crashed down in the meadows on the Ketton side of Tinwell by the river Welland.
A few miles away in Stamford, the crews of two St. Johns Ambulance Brigade vehicles were quickly gathered and dispatched to the scene of the tragedy. Not knowing the exact site of the crash the two ambulances approached Tinwell from different directions, one via Easton on the Hill and the other down the main road from Stamford. Peter Middleton was a member of the first crew to arrive and found an R.A.F. ambulance already there.
One aircraft was smashed to pieces, while the fuselage of the other was still intact. Peter recalled that the ground was soaked with aviation fuel and only after a short time his shoes and trousers were saturated with it. There were bodies everywhere, some of the paratroops had tried to jump when it was far too late and their parachutes had failed to open. Doctor Hawes, the Medical Officer of Health for the district, was also at the scene as they began to clear the casualties.
Sometime later an American ambulance arrived and the crew began to search for their personnel. Corporal Chambers was found impacted in the mud by the river bank, a very lucky man indeed. It was found to be impossible to enter the fuselage of the intact aircraft and cutting gear had to be sent for. The job would not be completed until the early hours of Sunday morning.
The Polish casualties were taken back to the mortuary in Stamford's North Street and the grisly business of sorting them out began.
At one point this was interrupted by the arrival of the American ambulance crew, they were as they put it "A leg missing". It was eventually found by dint of fact that the American airmen wore brown boots opposed to the black ones of the paratroops.
The Americans took their casualties to Cambridge for burial. The Poles were picked up on Monday morning by Polish Army personnel and taken to the Polish cemetery at Newark. The wreckage of the two aircraft, serial numbers 42-108873 and 43-15341, was later removed by one of the American mobile salvage units.
During the last eight years, the location of my job meant that I had to spend most of my time based in the town of Stamford. During this time I managed to track down two eye witnesses to the events surrounding the Tinwell accident.
Keith was a schoolboy who lived in Ketton, the next village along from Tinwell, and on the evening of the accident, he was upstairs in his house preparing for bed,
when he heard an almighty noise. His bedroom faced out towards the village of Tinwell, and he rushed to the window to see what was happening. As he looked, he caught sight of two aircraft coming out of the sky in the distance.
Everybody in the village within a couple of minutes had rushed onto the main road, and some had started to venture in the direction of Tinwell. By the time that they reached the village, the crash site was already being cordoned off, and it was impossible for anybody to approach the crash area.
John lived in Stamford and word of the crash at Tinwell was soon around the town. As a schoolboy, like many youngsters, he would ride out on his bicycle to the scene of air crashes in
John rode out to the Tinwell crash the morning after, and managed to walk around the perimeter of the accident.
One thing that shocked him was the sight of an impact impression of a paratrooper. He said that you could easily recognize the full shape of a human being impressed into the earth. John had heard that a couple of the Polish Paratroops had thrown themselves out of the stricken aircraft attempting to land in the river Welland thus trying to break their fall.
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The "Cost" to the Brigade.
As a result of the Tinwell accident there are two effects to be considered
1) The morale of the men.
The shock of the crash reverberated around the whole of the Brigade. It was a terrible blow to morale, because as of yet the Brigade had yet to be proven in action.
The loss of twenty six members from the 3rd Battalion 8th Company left many of their friends numb.
With the loss of these men, there was a logistical problem with replacements. Baring in mind the amount of time required to fully train a paratrooper, and the lack of manpower to pick replacements from, meant that some decisions had to be taken to bring the 8th Company back up to strength.
Talking to Piotr Sulima (A veteran of the 8th Company, who knew many of those killed personally,) for him it meant an abrupt halt to his pathfinder training, and subsequent "re-absorption" back into the 3rd