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RFC take off accident, died of burns


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Encouraged by the incredible successes on a recent thread on RFC training, I feel moved to submit a relative about whom I cannot find any more except:

Name of Thunder, Michael Hubert

MIC totally blank except "Dec'd", no medals

A CWGC graveyard of One at Ramsgate (St Augustine) Roman Catholic Churchyard. I used to have a photo but a computer "event" wiped that out and Ramsgate is too far from Florida to get another!

Died of burns on 24/09/1916 in Norwich Hospital [From London Times archives online] Crash may have been the day before.

Age at death 34.

Seems old to go apparently straight from civvy street to flying school, where or what aircraft, I cannot seem to find out.

I also wonder why he burned on crashing, so many of the pictures you see are of whole aircraft.

Any help or pointers appreciated bearing in mind I am about 5,000 miles away from Kew, but only milliseconds from the Internet of course.

Regards Bill

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Hi Bill,

From Chris Hobson's "Airmen Died in the Great War" 2nd Lt Michael Hubert Francis Thunder of Number 51 squadron, native of Lagore, Co Meath, Eire was killed in a flying accident whilst on a Zeppelin patrol in the UK on 23rd September 1916, aged 34. He was buried at Ramsgate (St Augustine), Kent.

Regards

Steve

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Bill, a little more about Number 51 squadron. It was formed on 15th May 1916 at Thetford (Norfolk) and its motto was "Swift and Sure". Created mainly for home defence duties it had a mixture of aircraft, initially BE2c, Be2d, Matinsyde G100 Scout and BE12 but after a few months the FE2b was added to the line-up for night flying duties (most likely this is the type of aircraft that lt Thunder was flying though I have no evidence of this. The squadron was also used in a role to train newly commissioned pilots, bound for France, in night flying and for this the Avro 504K - converted to single seat - and the DH4 were used. Towards the end of the war Number 51 flew Sopwith Camels and Snipes.

Regards

Steve

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Bill

Just to add a little to Steve's reply, 2Lt M H Thunder of No 51 Sqn was killed in a crash at Thetford when taking off in response to a Zeppelin raid. German Navy airships L13, L14, L16, L17, L21, L22, L23, L24, L30, L31, L32 and L33 set out to bomb London and the Midlands on the night of 23/24 September 1916.

In Cheesman and Cole's authoritative The Air Defence of Britain 1914-1918 the authors report: "No details have been traced of the take-off crash in which Thunder was killed".

I hope that this helps you.

Gareth

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Thanx starlight and dolphin, I now know 1000% more about this than I have done for the last seven years thanks to the never ending amazing responses on this forum. Cannot think why I never thought of asking before.

This really corrects the family story that he crashed in the sea off Ramsgate on a training mission and drowned before they got to him, now where did that come from? :huh:

I encourage any newbies, if in any doubt; ASK! no matter how simple. Some of us newer members with SOME knowledge are just dying to be able make some pay back by being able to answer sommething!

Regards and Merry Christmas to all,

Bill

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Name of Thunder, Michael Hubert

A CWGC graveyard of One at Ramsgate (St Augustine) Roman Catholic Churchyard. I used to have a photo but a computer "event" wiped that out and Ramsgate is too far from Florida to get another!.......... I am about 5,000 miles away from Kew, but only milliseconds from the Internet of course.

Regards Bill

Bill,

I feel sure a Forum member either close to, or visiting Ramsgate in the future will oblige if you request a photo via a post in the Forum's Documents, photos, art. section, to replace the one you lost.

Just to add that in Joseph Morris’s GERMAN AIR RAIDS ON BRITAIN 1914 - 1918 In response to the Zeppelin raid on 23rd September 1916 ”At Dover too, No. 50 Squadron sent up machines, as also did No. 51 Squadron at Thetford; from the latter station Second Lieutenant M. H. Thunder crashed while taking off and was killed” but unfortunately no other details are given.

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year

Cheers,

Terry

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Many thanks Terry, I will try your suggestion.

Any one any thoughts on crashing and burning in an Fe2b?

I read, somewhere memory fails me where, that the engine and propeller being behind the pilot, when the plane crashed nose first the engine and it's petrol were inclined to fall onto the pilot and observer usually killing them. Presumably the petrol would then also catch fire.

I also read another piece where the engine of an Fe2b caught fire on take off killing the pilot in the resulting crash. I wonder if this was a common occurence or just an unusual event.

Regards Bill

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Bill,

I was intrigued that I could find no mention of Lt Thunder's observer (how could he have survived the crash) and thought I'd take a closer look at the history of Number 51 squadron. Amongst other things I came across the site for RAF Marham, where Number 51 moved in late September 1916 (also in Norfolk). In it is mentioned the fact that the squadron played around with the FE2, in two of the aircraft actually swapping the seating of the pilot and observer so that the pilot would have the best view for night landings. They even tried fitting a front-mounted searchlight to pinpoint night targets. The fact that most interested me was that at least one FE2b flown by Number 51 squadron was converted to single seat to improve its rate of climb and ceiling. Its forward cockpit was covered and twin guns were mounted in the nose, the aircraft appparently beinig nicknamed "The Chinese Scout". Could it be that Lt Thunder was flying alone that night?

Steve

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Well I can only speculate, however Lt Thunder died of burns in Norwich hospital so his landing may not have been extremely hard and the accident happened on take off so perhaps also no great height; perhaps the observer survived the blunt trauma as did Lt Thunder. However, with the engine and its petrol behind the pilot on an Fe2b these would have been propelled by the crash directly onto the pilot, who actually burned fatally.

I speculate the observer, while being very very lucky, might just have survived if he managed to escape the fire.

Pure speculation but it makes a curious kind of sense to me.

Bill

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I'd question the speculation that 51 Sqn was operating FE2bs in September 1916. The type was a precious commodity for use with the 2-seater fighter squadrons in France and it wasn't until the spring of 1917 that larger numbers were released for HD duty. 51 Sqn operated BE2cs and a few BE12s for most of 1916, the former being flown as single seaters on HD work.

51 SQUADRON RFC/RAF

Bases

Formed at Mousehold Heath 15.5.1916 with nucleus from 9 RS HD detachment. To Thetford 1.6.1916. Mousehold Heath and Narborough were intended as Flight Stations but were not taken up. HQ to Hingham 23.9.1916 with flights detached to Harling Road (A Flt), Mattishall (B Flt) and Marham (C Flt). B Flt to Marham and C Flt to Mattishall 7.7.1917. HQ to Marham 7.8.1917. A Flt to Tydd St Mary 14.9.1917. Flights re-organised 2.1918 with A Flt to Mattishall, B Flt to Tydd St Mary and C Flt to Marham. Intended establishment at 6.1918 set at 24 Bristol F2B. Intended establishment at Autumn 1918 set at 18 Avro 504K (NF). To Sutton’s Farm 14.5.1919 and disbanded 13.6.1919.

Commanding Officers

Major H Wyllie from 18.7.1916 to 11.9.1917. Major FC Baker from 11.9.1917 until 18.3.1918. Major H Wyllie from 23.3.1918 until 16.6.1918. Captain HLH Owen from 21.8.1918 until 13.6.1919.

Landing Grounds († existing aerodrome; ‡ later upgraded to aerodrome/Flight Station)

Ashfield/Elmswell‡, Bedfield, Bungay, Bury-St-Edmunds, Coldham, Cotton, Earsham, Freethorpe, Frettenham, Gooderstone Warren, Hadleigh‡, Marsham, Martlesham Heath†, Methwold, Mousehold Heath†, Narborough, Newmarket, North Elmham, Saxthorpe, Scoulton, Sedgeford†, Sible Heddingham, Sporle, Taverham, Thetford†, Tibenham, Tottenhill, Tydd St Mary‡, West Rudham.

Squadron Searchlights

Boyland Common, Crownthorpe, East Harling, Little Fridds Farm, Marham aerodrome, Mattishall aerodrome, Necton, North Wooton, Scoulton, Setchley, Yaxham.

Representative Aeroplanes (* armed with Vickers 1-lb pom-pom)

Airco DH10 C8658.

Avro 504A/J A9785, B3182.

Martinsyde G.102 A4002.

RAF BE2c 2473, 2474, 2489, 2717, 2734, 4099, 4575.

RAF BE2d 6256.

RAF BE2e A1882, A1892.

RAF BE12 6161, 6478, 6489, 6496.

RAF FE2b 4870, 4871, 4876, 4885, 4980, 4985, 6970, 7004, 7005, 7008, 7021, 7676, 7679*, 7680, 7682, 7689, 7713, A787, A838, A885, A5466, A5519, A5520, A5524, A5525, A5532, A5533, A5543, A5545, A5548, A5549, A5551, A5610, A5619, A5635, A5679, A5723, A5724, A5729, A5730, A5731, A5732, A5733, A5735, A5753, A5754, A5763, A5764, A5778, B417.

RAF FE2d A6438, A6453, A6465, A6531.

Sopwith Snipe E7426, E7427, E7532, E7569, E7574, E7575, E7578, E7580, E7582.

Vickers FB.14 A678, A686.

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Thanks Mick you make a good point, HD would have been lowest priority I am sure. The numbers are agaist you though 50 FE2b versus 7 BE2c.

How were Zeppelins attacked? mostly bombs I would guess, no need for backward firing machine guns since no air to air combat, on the other hand takes place at night where two heads were better than one. I also seem to remember a drawing of a night attack on a Zeppelin and it showed an observer in front of the pilot.

Does the method of attack give any further clues?

Bill

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Bill,

I just had a look at Vol 3 of H A Jones "The War in the Air" and found an account of one of the successful British pilots that night (23/24 Sep 1916). He was flying a BE2c (number 4112) and shot down Zeppelin L32 (see Gareth's post above). To do this he fired three drums along the length of the airship, the drums loaded with a mixture of Brock, Pomeroy and Tracer ammunition. The Zeppelin was caught in ground searchlights which would have helped somewhat.

For your info:

Pomeroy

Invented by New Zealand engineer John Pomeroy in 1902. Explosive bullet was quickly adopted to combat the growing Zeppelin threat. It was filled with nitro-glycerine, the bullet igniting the hydrogen gas as it tore through the gas bag of the Zeppelin.

Buckingham

Invented by by James Buckingham in 1914. An incendiary/tracer bullet based on phosphorus, containing an incendiary filling that ignited on contact with the air.

Brock

Invented by Commander Frederick Brock RN in 1915. An explosive bullet designed to explode between the outer covering and gas cells of an airship.

Regards

Steve

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  • 2 weeks later...

Interesting Starlight,

Not being an expert, would firing three drums necessitate changing the drum twice in flight and could this be done by the pilot on his own? or, being a Be2 is he on his own anyway.

Bill

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Silly question just before this. I have just googled images and discovered the BE2c is a two seater although the observer had to fire the machine gun backwards or obliquely in order not to hit the propeller. The mystery of the surviving observer persists.

post-4298-1198990448.jpg

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Bill

Although the BE 2c was normally a two-seater, it was a common practice for the type to be flown with just a pilot when engaged on anti-airship patrols. The Lewis gun(s) was/were fixed to either fire obliquely upwards or set over the upper wing, from where they were pulled down when the ammunition drums needed changing.

Regards

Gareth

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In the shooting down of the L32, the pilot was alone in the BE2c and in order to shoot he would have had the Lewis machine gun mounted on the upper plane, firing it via a cable. Reloading was a pain as he had to bring the gun down within reach, take off the empty drum, replace it with a full drum and push the gun back up into position . . . . and all the while flying in the pitch dark.

Not that this helps the mystery of Lt Thunder. What was he flying (BE2c or FE2b or ?) and was he alone?

PS Sorry Gareth, missed your response by a minunte!

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Taken from "Royal Flying Corps (Military Wing). Casulaties and Honours During the War of 1914-1917":

"a.k. [accidentally killed] THUNDER, 2nd Lieutenant M.H.F., R.F.C. (S.R.) 24 Sept., 16.

"Second-Lieutenant Michael Hubert Francis Thunder, R.F.C. (S.R.), died on September 24th, 1916, at the Norwich Hospital from burns, the result of a flying accident. He was the youngest son of the late George Thunder, of Lagore, Co. Meath, and Margaret, daughter of the late Augustus Welby Pugin. He was educated at St. Augustine's College, Ramsgate, and obtained his commission in December, 1915, being gazetted flying officer in May, 1916."

Reference to "Who's Who" for 1938 and the 1948 edition of "Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes" throws up what looks like a relative of his, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Harman Joseph Thunder CMG (1919), DSO (1917), MC (1915). His roots are also in Lagore, Co. Meath. If it's of any interest, I can transcribe details for this man.

Regards,

Jim

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Thanks Jim,

I know about Lt Col SHJ Thunder, a professional soldier before the war he had a stellar career ending up as CO of one of the Northampton Regt. He is on other threads here in some detail.

Yes he was related, though distantly and Lagore in Co Meath was one of those large 18th century family seats from where a large number of Thunders originated. Previously they came from Norman stock predating the famous 1066 battle of the better known Norman invasion of England by about 70 years.

Something surprising that long lasting research has revealed to me is that lots of Irish are in fact English, if you can count Norman aristocrats as English, you should probably call them French. Many more are Norwegian Danish and Basque. Makes you wonder what all the fuss has been about all these centuries, the "Scots" Irish that came over in the plantations of Ulster were in fact Gaelic being a return of Irish invaders of the Scottish lowlands and northern England. A study of modern genetic analysis has confirmed this. They are genetically indistinguishable from native Irish.

DNA analysis may do more than free wrongfully convicted prisoners it seems. I think we are just going to have to face up to it; we are all in it together whether we like it or not. :D

Bill

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I received the death certificate I sent away for and it reads:

When and where died:

24th Sept 1916

Thorpe St Andrew Norfolk War Hospital R.D,

Cause of Death:

Accidentally burnt and his death was occasioned through the petrol of an aeroplane he was flying becoming ignited after colliding with a tree and falling to the ground.

Looks like crashed and burned on take off on the night of 23rd going up to meet the Zeppellin raid of that night probably a BE2c and likely flying solo.

Regards Bill

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Hi Bill,

I've just looked at the 'Air of Authority' website ( http://www.rafweb.org/SqnMark051.htm ) and it has the FE2b not being flown by Number 51 squadron until October 16. Though I don't know how accurate this date is or where Malcolm Barrass obtained it, it is a little more ammunition for the case that Thunder was flying a BE2c.

Steve

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  • 4 years later...

Although not named in this article from the Norfolk Chronicle 29 Sept 1916, this must relate to Thunder

FLYING OFFICER KILLED



An inquest was held this week on the body of a flying officer, who died from injuries following a mishap late on Saturday night. The Coroner told the jury that the deceased was brought to the Hospital in a severely injured condition. It appeared that he had been flying in the dark, when the machine collided with a tree. That caused the machine to come to the ground, and for some reason or other the petrol took fire. Deceased was very badly burned, and died a few hours after having been admitted to the Hospital. Margaret Eileen Gladstone, of Dane Court Lodge, Broadstairs, wife of Charles Elsden Gladstone, Captain RN, and sister of the deceased, gave evidence of identification. Her brother, who was 36, was a second-lieutenant in the RFC. He returned to England from the Straits Settlement just before Christams last, and joined the RFC at the begining of the present year. Deceased was a native of co. Meath. A verdict of accidental death was returned.

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  • 1 year later...

I have just started to look into the history of Mattishall WW1 airfield in Norfolk, and have found two accounts that state that Michael H. F. Thunder was flying from Mattishall not Thetford on the fateful night of 24th September 1916. The two links are http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=114812478 and http://www.mattishall-village.co.uk/airfield-1.htm. They add some interesting detail to the account of Lieut Thunder's death and his funeral. If any one knows of any images or plans of Mattishall airfield I would love to see them.

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Wow thank you so much that is very kind of you, is the large building 8 one or more hangers? Where would I be able to see a copy of NA AIR1/453 - Autumb 1918 Quarterly Survey of Stations? I am very much a novice in this field what is the CCI?

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