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Military Aircraft Crash Sites - Scheduling Enhancement Programme


The project comprised a study of military aircraft crash sites in east and north-east Wales carried out by CPAT and funded through grant-aid from Cadw as part of a pan-Wales project. The work comprised an initial desk-top study, followed by field visits to sites.

The project arose from discussions at the Twentieth-Century Military Sites Working Group for Wales. Concerns were raised by members of the group as to the dwindling resource and the need to compile coherent, accurate information in order to:

    1. assist Welsh heritage managers in providing advice
    2. provide the MoD with a full database of crash sites in Wales to aid decision-making with regard to licensing recovery operations
    3. alert Cadw to crash sites that could be scheduled to afford an extra level of protection.

© CPAT

Wing section of Vickers Wellington MF509 which crashed at Carreg Goch on the Black Mountain in 1944. Photo 3732-0045, © CPAT

It was also felt that the compilation of such a database would support improved monitoring and protection of the sites identified. Each military aircraft crash site is designated as a Protected Place under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. Any intervention on a site requires a licence approved by the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Designation of sites as Scheduled Ancient Monuments will add another layer of protection which may result in greater archaeological input into their future management.

The completed database contained 238 individual crash sites, information about which has been passed to the regional Historic Environment Record. A wide range of aircraft are represented, most of which are Second World War in origin. The earliest crashes date to 1922: a pair of Bristol F2b’s, which crashed in different locations in north-east Wales while in transit from Ireland to RAF Shotwick (later RAF Sealand).

With the advent of the Second World War, the number of crashes in the study area increases from 4 in 1939, to an average of about 37 a year from 1940-44, with a high point of 43 in 1943, decreasing to 9 in 1945. This is partly explained by a widespread and large-scale increase in all aviation activities during this period, but is also more directly a consequence of the area being deliberately selected for training. However, even experienced crews could encounter navigational or technical problems, and occasionally aircraft became casualties after raids on enemy territory.

© CPAT

Memorial to the crew of Boeing B17 Flying Fortress 42-5903 "Ascend Charlie" which crashed 8 miles north-northwest of Abergavenny in 1943. Photo 3732-0147, © CPAT

American aircraft types are represented in the database, ranging from fighters engaged in training flights to bombers returning from missions over France. There are relatively few crash sites of German aircraft in this part of Wales, but all are twin-engine bombers, and it is most likely that all were involved in raids on the north-west of England. Military gliders are also represented among wartime crash sites. After 1945 the frequency of crashes decreased markedly. Between 1946 and 1960 there was on average one aircraft lost per year. In the following three decades the crash rate declines further, averaging one every three years.

In more recent decades increased interest in what is now termed aviation archaeology led to attempts to recover parts of aircraft at some of the sites. Some of this recovery work has been well-informed and well-intended, with comprehensive historical research and careful recovery and relocation to a museum context. However other recovery projects appear to have been undertaken illegally by collectors of aircraft parts, who have not sought permission from the Ministry of Defence.

The site visits (to approximately 10% of sites) refined the locational information, and this was enhanced by the creation of polygonal data to define (where possible), the extents of the crash sites. The recording of the surviving evidence at those sites visited comprised a general description of the site with locational data for the wreckage and also noted any evidence which might assist in understanding the events which led to the crash. Photographs were taken of significant objects and features, such as associated memorials. It is clear that there is some potential for an archaeological study of these sites to shed further light on the circumstances of individual crashes. More detailed investigations of some sites may be able to develop a ‘forensic’ approach.

Download the Military Aircraft Crash Sites project report.


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