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Remembered Today:

Percentage died in accidents?


bmac
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I have just been going through a copy of the Roll of Honour of my old school, Dulwich College, and, having noticed the entry for Lt Perris (see other message), started to look at other RFC/RAF entries. I was struck by the rather high proportion of 'killed in an accident' reports. I don't want anyone to go to undue trouble as it is of interest rather than importance, but does anyone know, or can point to a source of, the balance of such deaths between killed in action and killed in an accident in the RFC/RAF?

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I cannot comment on the percentage of aircrew killed in accidents during training, though others will be able to provide you with the statistics (apparently a high number), but here are the figures taken from the records of two squadrons for the losses sustained during the war whilst serving on the Western Front.

Number 6 squadron

38% of the aircrew deaths were by accident

36% of the aircrews injuries were by accident

Number 29 squadron

30% of the aircrew deaths were by accident

36% of the aircrew injuries were by accident

Looking at "Airmen Died . . ." the statistics repcorded in the Appendix for deaths in the whole of the RFC/RAF during WW1 would support the above figures, with 2770 men Killed Whilst Flying or Dying of Injuries (viz. accidents) out of the total of 9417 men killed - that's close to 30%.

Interesting figures - and that does not count the many instances where aircrew were lost as a result of being hit by 'friendly' shells.

Steve

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Steve,

Thanks for that. Whilst I haven't done a count of the accident/KiA reports amongst RFC/RAF members in the Dulwich College War Record, your numbers 'feel' right at first glance.

Bill

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During its period of operation, RFC/RAF Canada lost 129 of its cadets in fatal flying accidents.9200 cadets had enlisted and 3135 had completed training by war's end.

Of course, training became much less dangerous over time. In April, 1917 there was one fatal accident for every 200 hours flown. In October, 1918 there was one fatal accident for every 5800 hours flown.

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Killed in Action vs Killed in Accidents

Here are some figures I’ve put together which exclusively cover the Western Front.

These consider the British and Commonwealth fighting squadrons, as such, in France and Belgium, from August 1914 until November 11 1918. They don’t exactly answer Steve’s question as all those thousands killed during training in the UK and the East etc, and sustained in day to day flying hundreds of miles from the enemy, or on other fronts, aren’t included. Yet I believe in some ways by looking at what happened across a single vast active front, and comparing killed in action figures with killed in accidents numbers, that you begin to get at least a feeling for the likely circumstances facing the average actively fighting airman. It varied dramatically, of course, depending on the period of the war or the aircraft type which was involved. But you’ve got to start somewhere!

And here, death/killed in action means death due to or as a result of actual confrontation with the enemy, as opposed simply to a death on an active front. By definition, therefore, accidents happen “away” from the enemy, in day-to-day flying. For this analysis they are still fatal accidents even if they happen after a bombing raid or an OP – as long as the cause was not related to the enemy. Also remember that an airman might survive to become a POW, or survive a WIA to become hospitalised. Neither of these categories are in these figures but both took the airman out of the fighting force equation.

To further complicate or enlighten these figures, depending on how you look at it, I also give separate figures for both pilots and observers/gunners etc. Finally, I differentiate between KIA and DoW in the case of “in action” and between KIFA and DoI for accidents.

PS – This isn’t the final word, btw. Just something I cobbled together after work.

Sorry about its size!

Regards,

Trevor

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There's an interesting thread on the Aerodrome forum that states 8,000 men were killed in accidents during their flying training (ref "The First of the Few" by Dennis Winter).

http://www.theaerodrome.com/forum/other-ww...casualties.html

The way I read this was that 8,000 men died whilst in training (not necessarily flying) compared to 6,000 lost in combat. However, by the end of the discussion these numbers were beginning to be challenged though not with new ones just concerns about the originals. So, tantilising but not definitive yet. What does seem likely is that the number pre-1917 were proportionately far higher than after, due to radical training improvements initiated at Gosport.

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I have found a 2006 thesis on training in the RFC which, so far, does not appear to provide the figures but does give some interesting ones. For example, prior to the Gosport reforms 1 in 10 training flights crashed. Post-Gosport this fell to 3%. Training fatalities ran to one every 790 hours, down to one every 1,340 hours post-Gosport. Unfortunately and somewhat surprisingly given the subject matter no figures appear to be given for training casualties other than 15,000 pilots (should that read aircrew? No idea) were 'casualties' (does that include wounded?) but what the split was between action and accident is not provided. The search continues.

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The Australian Flying Corps was one of the smallest flying services involved in the Great War, but I think that its losses would be proportionally similar to those of the RFC/RNAS/RAF. According to my quick calculations, of the 212 members of the AFC who lost their lives between 1915 and 1921, 58 pilots and observers were killed in action, while 81 pilots, observers and passengers were killed in flying accidents. The latter figure includes at least six who died in post-War accidents, including those during the 1919 England-Australia Air Race.

Gareth

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I see no definition of accident as opposed to KIA. During the defence of Britain against airships and later bombers the majority of fatalities were caused by crashes, often when trying to land at night (and sometimes not back on an airstrip) but also flying into the ground (navigational aids were poor and altimeters only gave an approximate height) or disappearing over the sea. Now are these accidents or KIA? The enemy has had no direct hand in them but they are the result of flying an operational sortie at night. Personally I view them as KIA but what was the official definition?

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Chris Hobson is very specific in the explanatory notes of "Airmen Died . . ." in that "KIA" is for anyone killed in action whilst flying on a combat, or on the ground or at sea. This includes accidental death during an operational sortie - eg a mid air collision over the battle front. "KWF" or killed whilst flying, was reserved for anyone accidentally killed whilst flying on non-operational duties - eg. training, ferry duties, test flying.

Steve

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I'm not sure how we regard Dennis Winter as an historian these days, but in his The First of the Few he says that of 14166 [presumably RNAS, RFC and RAF] dead pilots, over 8000 died while training in the UK.

Gareth

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I'm not sure how we regard Dennis Winter as an historian these days, but in his The First of the Few he says that of 14166 [presumably RNAS, REFC and RAF] dead pilots, over 8000 died while training in the UK.

Gareth

Hi Gareth,

To support your figures with some of mine from the RAAF in WW2, I have figures of 11,036 killed of which 6,400 died in action.

Your figures 56%

My figures for the later conflict 58%

Cheers

Geoff

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Hi Geoff

I'm really surprised that in WW2 the percentage of training deaths was that high. After all, even in WW1 the accident rate improved as time went on with the afore-mentioned Gosport reforms and the work of Salmond, Smith-Barry etc. And I get the impression that a lot of later training accidents were during combat training on the Camel; they had nothing as lethal to the unwary in WW2.

Adrian (from the other forum!)

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Hi Geoff

I'm really surprised that in WW2 the percentage of training deaths was that high.

Hi Adrian,

Though not really for this forum, one similarity that comes to mind (between WW1 and WW2) was the need to get new pilots into the air as soon as possible - like during the Battle of Britain where novice pilots were thrown from a few hours solo in a basic trainer straight into a high performance aircraft like the Spitfire which had its own set of idiosyncracies. Though a superb aircraft like the Camel, it could also bite the unwary pilot.

Steve

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It is also worth noting that many of these "accidently killed whilst flying" were not down to pilot error but aircraft fault. Often inprecise workmanship did not develop into a fatal weakness in the aircraft until the aircraft was seriously stressed, resulting in accident.

Regards,

Jonathan S

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SF Wise in his 1980 masterwork Canadian Airmen and the First World War has an appendix on fatalities. Understandably, he primarily deals with the fate of Canadians, as opposed to the overall picture. On p649 Table 25, however, he briefly discusses total RFC/RAF Casualties as a point of comparison. He provides yearly totals of Killed & Missing, Wounded and Injured, and POW & Interned. He spots, however, that there is something amiss with the 1918 figures (the number of POWs is way too low and the MIA way too high). He then quotes another source in a footnote: AIR1/39/15/7, which is when it starts getting interesting.

This file is called Casualties RFC - RAF August 1914 - October 1918. He describes it giving a "more complete total" showing 8,136 killed, died or presumed dead. He also notes it gives 7,245 wounded and injured.

Alongside this book on my shelves is a very thumbed "Airmen Died in the Great War 1914-1918" by Chris Hobson. Just one of the outstanding features of this book is the analysis at the end. The author gives RFC/RAF/RNAS/AFC fatalities from August 1914 until the November 1918 Armistice of 9,352.

If we can correlate the AIR1 figure (8,136) to this total in Airmen Died, then we can maybe use Chris' other figures to throw light on this thread's question - an Action vs Accidents figure.

So what must be missing out of the 8,136 figure in AIR1/39/15/7?

1) RNAS deaths from 1914 to March 1918 (Airmen Died gives 711 for this)

2) AFC deaths, although I am guessing that up until late Jan/early Feb 1918 the AIR1 figures do include Australian personnel as their units were technically operating within the RFC structure until this time (Airmen died gives 107 for the AFC Feb-Nov 1918)

3) The deaths in the RAF in November 1918 before the Armistice (Airmen Died gives 425)

These three groups add up to 1,243 fatalities, so add them to the 8,136 figure and you get 9,379 fatalities. Close enough for me! So there is the number of fatalities in the British and Commonwealth air services 1914-1918: around 9,350.

Airmen Died splits this figure 3 ways - 3954 KIA/DoW + 2982 KWF/DoI + 2416 others (see other posts for how Airmen Died defines these). The last group are in the main, I believe, fatalities unassociated with aircraft. Thus, regarding air fatalities, 57% are KIA/DoW, 43% KWF/DoI.

My own preference regarding the definition of Killed in Action is not the same as Chris Hobson's, but his work is of the first order, and he has clearly defined his meaning. I would contend that a really close analysis of the circumstances of some "KIAs" in the above figures could be argued to be in fact accidents - put it this way - to describe it as an accident can sometimes infer more about the circumstances than saying it was "in action." Just my view. The only reason I mention this is that I would expect the 57% figure to be an upper limit - it's probably a bit lower than this.

Trevor

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  • 4 weeks later...

Just found this thread.

I'm currently trying to establish the number of DH6 losses in training accidents. I'm using Hobson's Airmen Died in the Great War as the starting point. Unfortunately, I can't yet afford a copy of my own but it is on the to get list. Consequently I'm having to travel from Walsall to Birmingham and walk about two miles just to get a look at it. Hard work when you're on crutches. And can't use my wheelchair because the wheelchair lift at the entrance is broken.

Anyway, I digress. Not the most scientific method I know, but just counting the AFC, RFC and RAF losses in the section applying to Training Units, I come up with just over 1,300 dead. Does anyone know of an easier way for me to isolate the DH6 accidents than travelling to Birmingham and ploughing through the book? Is there any kind of online database which would isolate them for me?

My interest is in trying to discover how many DH6's may have succumbed to structural failure.

Any help, as always, greatly appreciated.

Regards,

Kevin Mears

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Kevin,

You've set yourself a difficult task as an aircraft used significantly for training purposes is not going to be subject to the usual paper trail of a type in active service as regards accidents. There's no database at the moment you can consult, unfortunately.

My first approach would be to track down another book if you don't already have it - Royal Navy Aircraft Serials and Units 1911-1919 by Sturtivant and Page - easier to find than Airmen Died. This is full of DH6s as it was much used by the RNAS, including for coastal work. This might give you a decent sample from which to begin to draw conclusions. There is also a longish article on the DH6 in the Feb 74 Air Pictorial mag which you should be able to get on inter-library loan.

Or you could just read between the lines of this quote about the DH6 from the Royal Canadian Air Force site:

"... The type acquired an unusually high number of nicknames including "the Sky Hook", the Crab", the Clutching Hand", "the Flying Coffin", "the Dung Hunter" and "the Sixty"..."

A lot of accidents, and a lot of fatalities.

Trevor

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Trevor.

Thanks very much for the reply. I'll seek out the book you mention. My principal concern at the moment is to isolate training accidets initially, though your information does suggest that I will have to make a wider search over a greater sample eventually.

Does anyone know whether the majority of the victim's casualty cards will hold information from any subsequent CoI? I'm slowly beginning to realise jist how big a task this might be.

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Regards,

Kevin Mears

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Kevin,

Is it DH6 accidents or DH6 fatalities you're after?

Fatalities would be trackable eventually, but accidents will be almost impossible to put a figure to for this type. I suspect you also need to know the total of RFC RNAS and RAF DH6s - starting with the UK. I can probably track this down for you. Trevor

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Hi, Trevor.

I suspect it is fatalities that I am looking for. The death of an airman would then produce a casualty card which may or may not give some clue as to the cause of the accident? I am led to believe, by DORIS, that there are no individual aircraft movement cards as there were for the last war.

I'm currently working on the numbers of DH6's supplied from serial number references. Having said that, I am grateful for any and all information and help. It really is appreciated.

I think I may be somewhat out of my depth with all this at present but hopefully, in the fullness of time and with a little help I may get to the point where I understand where I'm going.

All this because one particular pilot died as a result of a flying accident while training.

Thanks for your help.

Regards,

Kevin Mears

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Kevin,

Can I guess that the individual who set you off on this worthy search is 2Lt Wastell who crashed his DH6 into a church steeple in mist?

As promised, here are a couple of figures to help you on your way.

Appendix VIII of the War In The Air gives a total number of DH6s up until the end of Oct 1918 as 1754. 342 went to training units in 1917 and 1189 in 1918. 71 were shown in home defence duties. Around 150 fetched up in the Middle East. Note that a lot of these would have been lurking in store. Actually on 31 Oct 1918 there were 1050 DH6s on charge of which 266 were in store. There were about 650 at various units on this date (Appendix XLI, ditto).

In your visits to Birmingham to read Chris Hobson's book have you managed to look at the appendices towards the rear? Good stuff there. Appendix 2: Statistics almost tells you what you want to know. This gives a total for DH6 casualties (ie fatalities, as it deals with the entries in his book) as 96. Not sure if this means 96 entries or 96 dead airmen, if you get what I mean.

Breaking this down he gives RFC - 29 (in the case of the DH6 this means from, say, Spring 1917 till end March 1918), then RAF - 66 (April - Nov 11 1918). There is just 1 RNAS fatality on the DH6 - somewhat surprising given it was being used for anti-sub patrolling, which certainly strikes me as a perilous sort of operation.

So was it a dangerous machine in relative terms? As regards training aircraft, nothing else other than the Avro 504 was produced in anywhere near similar numbers. There were three times as many Avros in 1918 at training units as the DH6 - (3530 as per that Appx VIII). The corresponding Avro 504 fatalities figure for the RAF months in Hobson is 148. Namely, three times as many Avros but a little over only twice as many fatalities. So in crude terms the DH6 was more dangerous than the Avro - probably no surprise there as the Avro was considered the best training aircraft of the war. Relevantly, as well, the Avro was flown by a greater number of more experienced pilots whilst the DH6 was designed in some ways as a novice trainer. It was a fairly ruggedly conceived and assembled aircraft - Jack Bruce noted it had an "almost primitive disregard for aerodynamic refinements of any kind." It's purpose, after all, was to be a simple aeroplane capable of production in great numbers, in order to facilitate the training of pilots for a rapidly expanding RFC. It had to be quickly and easily produced, and quickly and easily repaired.

It also had to have safe flying characteristics, some would say its flying characteristics were too safe - docile even. Which perhaps brings us back to Kenneth Wastell in March 1918. Flying in mist, uncertain of his position or his altitude, perhaps the DH6 would be amongst the very worst machines to be flying in these conditions as a church steeple reared up in the gloom, right in front of you. That aircraft in those conditions probably left the pilot no chance of averting disaster. It seems like a terrible combination of events.

What do you know about it?

Regards,

Trevor

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Trevor.

What an incredible amount of information to absorb.

You are right in that it is Kenneth Wastell who has sent me down this trail. A worthy search? I don't know. I only know that I believe in my heart that he may have been done an injustice. And I have to repeat it is only may.

this all started as a piece of research being carried out by a good friend from St. Ives area. He arranged for a wreath to be laid at Kenneth's grave on the anniversary of his death. Steve (my friend) and I were hoping to work together as I am from the Midlands. All we knew at that time was the bare bones. Sadly, Steve died in a car accident that summer. Now, three years on I have picked up the reins and the whole process has gone deeper than I suspect either of us ever imagined.

There is no doubt that Kenneth Wastell collided with the Church spire. But the story, or stories, start to become disjointed.

The Court of Inquiry blames a lack of judgment on the part of the pilot.

The Casualty Card states collided with Church steeple in mist.

Eyewitnesses variously state that.......

He landed alongside the Church to drop off an unauthorised passenger.

He landed to ask the way back to Wyton.

He was seen to be 'tinkering' with his engine.

The aircraft was seen to veer sharply into the spire.

In none of these accounts is there any mention of mist.

It was at this point that a number of DH6 aircraft were built from inferior material. Swamp cypress instead of silver spruce. Structural failures occurred as confirmed by the reports from the CFS. At least 100 completed DH6's were destroyed later on the instructions of the Air Board.

Yes, with just 13 hours total time, Kenneth was very inexperienced. But is there just that slim possibility that a structural failure did occur? Especially after a landing carrying a passenger onto unprepared ground? Who knows? All I know is is that he was damned for a fool and maybe he should not have been.

I am sure I will never get any definitive answer, but if I can cast doubt on the Casualty Card entry it seems the least I can do. So far I have been unable to find any commemoration of him in his home City of Birmingham other than his entry in the Hall of Memory.

Thanks for your help so far. Would appreciate your further thoughts.

Regards,

Kevin Mears

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