Aircraft Type Photo
BELOW: A Royal Air Force Handley Page Halifax B.V Series 1 (Special) (s/n EB151, "OO-R") of No. 1663 Heavy Conversion Unit based at Rufforth, Yorkshire (UK), getting airborne from RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor, Yorkshire, during a training flight. [Wikipedia]
This is a similar variant to the type featured on this page.
Photo: c.1943 Flying Officer W. Bellamy, Royal Air Force official photographer.
Crown Copyright (expired).
BELOW: An RCAF Handley Page Halifax bomber in flight.
Photo: Pre 1949. Public domain.
Aircraft Type and Background
RAF Handley Page H.P.57 Halifax / R9438 TL-H
The original design of this aircraft was for a twin-engine bomber using Rolls-Royce Vulture engines. However, during development, the plans were altered to produce a four-engine aircraft using the more powerful RR Merlin X engines.
The Mk I version of the Halifax was equipped with two .303 Browning machine guns in the nose turret, with another two in the centre of the fuselage and four in the rear turret. In the Mk II series, the nose turret guns and the guns in the fuselage waist area were deleted. A Boulton Paul twin-gun turret was installed in the dorsal position to replace the waist guns.
In time, other versions and variants followed with greater improvements.
Equipped to carry a crew of seven, the Halifax entered service with RAF Bomber Command in 1940.
Aircraft Accident Details
Along with two other bombers from 35 Squadron, Halifax R9438 was dispatched from RAF Kinloss (satellite of RAF Lossiemouth) to attack the German battleship, Tirpitz. Tirpitz was moored in Fættenfjord; one of the Norwegian fjords. However, bad weather and low cloud prevented this mission from being accomplished. The aircraft, therefore began the return flight to northern Scotland.
The pilot may have intended to land at RAF Sumburgh (the diversionary airfield) on Shetland. However, the aircraft was not flying at a sufficient altitude to clear the high ground at Shetland. Consequently, as it approached the Shetland Isles, Halifax R9438 flew into the cliffs at Fitful Head (c. 1,000 feet high). All on board perished in the crash.
Two of the airmen's bodies were recovered from a field overlooking Fitful Head. A third body was retrieved from the side of the cliff, where it had been caught by the airman's parachute. It was not until the following year that another body was discovered still lying in the wreckage of the Halifax bomber.
The bodies of three crew members could not be found at, or recovered from, the crash scene. Their names are among those recorded on the Runnymede Memorial.
Aircraft Crew Casualties
The seven crew members who died in this tragic accident were:
(Please click on the hyperlinked names above for further details at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's website.)
The inscription on the granite memorial stone reads:
To the memory of the crew of Halifax R9438 (H), 35 Squadron, who crashed into the cliffs here on returning from an air raid on the Tirpitz, 30/31st March 1942.
Tail Gunner Sgt J A Wood 9011460
(Lerwick, New Cemetery)
BELOW: Headstone memorial to Flt Sgt J P B Buckley, RCAF.
Photo: © 2006-2013 David Earl
BELOW: Headstone memorial to P/O M L Usher (25), RCAF.
Photo: © 2006-2013 David Earl
Crash Date / Site
Accident Date: 30 / 31 Mar 1942
Region: Shetland Isles.
Nearest large town: Lerwick (NE).
OS Grid Ref. N/A
GPS Ref: N/A
Present Condition: Memorial near crash site. Wreckage status unknown, and cannot be reached due to location on cliffs.
Registration or Serial: R9438 TL-H
Operator: RAF (35 Squadron)
Operating Station: RAF Kinloss / satellite of RAF Lossiemouth.
Station Location: (RAF Kinloss) Kinloss, Moray.
Current Airport Status:
RAF operations ceased in 2012. Now, Kinloss (Army) Barracks.
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H.P. Halifax R9438
Fitful Head, Shetland Isles