A Loch side tragedy, the final flight of Royal Navy Stinson Reliant serial FK943.

Today 29th May 2020 marks the 76th anniversary of an air disaster that claimed the greatest loss of life witnessed in South Loch Ness during the Second World War. An event un-commemorated in South Loch Ness and which appears to have slipped from the local consciousness.
The bounds of Loch Ness during the war years of 1939 to 1945 were witness to a number of aircraft crashes and forced landings. Whilst fortune smiled on the majority of the aviators involved and they survived these incidents, a few, sadly were not so lucky and it was here that they met their fate.
This article records the final flight of the Royal Navy Stinson Reliant airplane serial number FK943 which crashed on the shores of Loch Ness on the 29th May 1944 with the loss of all those aboard. This tragedy marks the single largest loss of life in the area during the Second World War.
The Stinson Reliant Monoplane was first manufactured in 1933 by the Stinson aircraft division of the Aviation manufacturing corporation of Wayne, Michigan. In February 1942 a militarised version was produced that remained in production until late 1943. The Stinson Reliant had a maximum speed of 135 mph, a range of 850 miles and could fly to a ceiling of 21000ft. It earned a reputation as a highly versatile aircraft providing good performance and as such was considered ideal for a role in communications, light transport and pilot training. Under the terms of the lend lease programme, through the course of the Second World War, the Royal Navy took delivery of 500 Stinson Reliants.
RN Stinson Reliant FK943 was based at HMS Monck, a ‘land ship’ located at Port Glasgow and was part of the establishment of the Combined Training Headquarters, Combined Carrier Training which provided pilot training in the art of landing on the flight decks of aircraft carriers.

Royal Navy Stinson Reliant

On the 29th May 1944 Stinson Reliant FK943 was returning to base from Orkney. Piloting her was Lieutenant Commander Oliver Murphey Cairns (aged 24) from Partington, Lancashire. Lt/Cdr Cairns had not flown for several months and was unfamiliar with the Stinson Reliant. Also on board was Lieutenant Commander Norman Thomas O’Neil MC (Military Cross) (aged 33) of Ashvale, Surrey and Commander Robert Charles Patrick Ellis (aged 34) of Goathland, Yorkshire.
Air navigation during this period was by today’s standards rudimentary. It relied heavily on map and compass work and identifying and following known geographical features. From Orkney the aircraft flew following the East coast until it entered the Great Glen which it used as a means to traverse from the East to the West coast which would then be followed to its base on the Clyde. . The weather on the 29th May 1944 would have made navigation difficult. Low cloud would have forced Lt/Cdr Cairns to fly low in an attempt to identify and maintain his location. Upon flying along the South side of Loch Ness the cloud base was so low it forced Lt/Cdr Cairns to descend in order to keep the shore line in sight. As the Stinson Reliant approached Inverfarigaig the tip off its port wing collided with a tree destabilising the aircraft, leaving no time to react the aircraft crashed to the ground killing all those on board.
At 0637pm that day Constable Colon Ross received a telephone call from police headquarters at Inverness castle informing him that an aircraft had crashed at Loch-ness-side and instructing him to attend. Constable Ross cycled to the scene which he described as on the Foyers to Inverness public road (B852) one mile east of Inverfarigaig opposite telegraph pole number 463. He found the aircraft lying upside down amongst trees. Its nose rested on the bank some 10 yards from the west side of the road whilst its tail had come to rest 10-15 yards from the Loch shore. He noted that the aircraft had ‘Royal Navy’ on its side and the number FK943. Upon looking inside he saw three ‘much mutilated dead bodies jammed in the wreckage off the cockpit, all wearing Naval officers uniforms’.
About 8pm a party of RAF airmen under command of an officer arrived in an ambulance accompanied by Constable MacDonald the police officer for Dores. Constables Ross and MacDonald helped to retrieve the bodies from the aircraft, placing them in the ambulance which was then driven into Inverness.
Constable Ross remained on duty at the aircraft until 1015pm when a military guard under the command of Sergeant Pilkington (Royal Army Service Corps) took over. The following day further Royal Army Service Corps personnel arrived and the remains of the Stinson Reliant were recovered.
The remains of Lt/Cmdr Norman O’Neil, Lt/Cmdr Oliver Cairns and Commander Robert Ellis were interred at Tomnahurich Cemetery, Inverness. Lt/Cmdr O’Neil can be visited in Sec Z6,Class 7, Grave 10. Lt/Cdr Cairns at Sec H14, Class 7, grave 10. Where within the cemetery the grave of Cdr Ellis is located is not recorded.
Visitors to the site today will find nothing to suggest what happened here seventy six years ago. Any damage to the trees has long since disappeared and any scratched rock has long been covered by moss and lichen. Sadly no memorial has been raised to commemorate the events and the men who died serving their country a long way from home.
Copyright Robin Morley, 2020, MA, BA(hons) Hist.

Royal Navy Stinson Reliant

The Bombing of the British Aluminium works Foyers revisited.

The Bombing of the British Aluminium Companies Foyers Aluminium works on the 13th February 1941 was a seminal moment in Stratherrick and Foyers experience of the Second World War. Although it was not the first nor the last time enemy aircraft would visit the area it was the only time where significant structural damage was caused and where local residents were killed and injured.
Since the event, several articles have been written covering these events. Without access to official records by necessity, these have relied solely on the same limited first or second-hand sources. Many of which were collected many years after the event when those remembering were children or repeating what they had been told by those who had witnessed the event. Whilst such accounts can add colour and humanity to such an event they can also be unconsciously distorted over the years by various factors. The seventy-fifth anniversary of the bombing witnessed the release of previously restricted documents detailing the official record of the air raid and the events surrounding it. Principle amongst these is the Foyers Police daily occurrence books and the coroner’s report relating to one of the victims of the raid, Archibald MacDonald (7 Elmbank).
Principle amongst these documents are the Police occurrence book entry for the day of the raid and the Doctors report on the examination of MacDonalds body. The Police occurrence book is an official document detailing all events coming to the notice of the police each day. The station officer was required to complete it in full before going off duty and as such is gives a contemporaneous and accurate picture of day to day events.
At noon on Thursday 13th February 1941, Constable Colin Ross records being at the Police station when his ‘attention was drawn to an aircraft flying from the direction of Foyers factory, proceeding south towards Whitebridge with (he noted) trails of black smoke coming from its tail, the plane was black with no visible markings, it turned in the vicinity of Whitebridge and flying high flew back on the coarse it had come from’ (towards Inverness). PC Ross remained at the station where fifteen minutes later a phone call from the telephone exchange at Inverness was received warning of an imminent air raid and informing Constable Ross that ‘no telephone connection could be obtained with either Foyers post office or Foyers factory’. Constable Ross was requested to deliver the message in person and made his way to the home of James Grant, sluice keeper, Intake, Foyers. Immediately after doing so, he met with Duncan Ramsay, Foreman Fitter who arrived at the intake with a party of workmen by car to close the sluices. It was at this point that Duncan Ramsay informed Constable Ross that ‘two bombs were dropped on the pipe track near the factory causing much damage’.
On arriving at the Factory Constable Ross noted that the bombs had fallen in sandy soil on top of the pipeline causing a crater at a distance of about 30-40 foot from the east wall of the dynamo room fracturing five water pipes in the pipeline and damaging the furnaces in the furnace room, the latter caused by sand and floodwater due to the burst pipes prior to the sluices being closed.
In addition, all the windows in the factory buildings, post office and dwelling houses were shattered and electric overhead cables and telephone lines were destroyed. In the Roman Catholic chapel, some 250 yards away the blast was so powerful that it has completely blown out seven windows.
The extent of the damage had little effect on the operational capacity of the factory. Repairs began almost immediately and partial production resumed the following day with all repairs completed in a matter of weeks. The human cost was sadly more substantial. In the immediate aftermath of the raid Foyers GP Dr Gamble, Nurse Alison and several volunteer first aid personnel establishes a First aid dressing station at the factory where they began to treat casualties.
At this time only one fatality was recorded that being Murdo MacLeod (69) furnaceman (35 Glenlia) who had ‘died from shock following the explosion’.
Others recorded as seriously injured were;
Herbert Skelton (resident manager) skin wounds to the forehead.
Donald Fraser (Factory foreman, Clubfield house, Foyers. Injury to the left foot.
Duncan Ramsay (Foreman fitter) 60 Glenlia, Injury to back.
John MacMillan (Labourer) Elmback hut, severe injury to ankle and foot who was conveyed to Royal Northern Infirmary by car.
In addition, several other employees were treated for minor cuts due to glass splinters. It was only 3 hours after the raid at 3pm that it was realised that Archibald MacDonald, Fitter (7 Elmbank Terrace) was missing. A search was conducted and at 6pm his badly mutilated body was found jammed between the inside of the wall and the driving wheel of no1 turbine machine in the turbine pit about 10 feet below ground level.
Archibald MacDonalds body was recovered to the dressing station where he was examined by Dr Gamble who stated that that death was due to ‘multiple injuries following enemy action’. It was thought that MacDonald was walking along the railway track a few feet from where the bombs fell and was hurled into the turbine pit by the force of the blast. The injuries were so severe that death would have been instantaneous and cause of death would therefore not have been drowning in the turbine pit as is stated in some accounts.
Until all buildings were secured members of the Police War Reserve stationed at Foyers assisted in patrolling the factory against looting. Another unsavory job with which the Police War Reserve were detailed was to man roadblocks on the approach to Foyers and turn back sightseers who made the journey from Inverness to see the damage. During the clearing of Foyers factory, numerous parts of the bombs were recovered of these, one was found to have the mark ’14 R G10’ I have been unable to ascertain what these markings relate too.
As a consequence of the attack on Foyers factory security was increased. A unit of Pioneers was stationed in a hutted camp on the shinty field to assist in camouflaging the factory and building air-raid shelters, some of which are still in existence. Whilst a Royal Artillery Anti Aircraft battery were deployed around the factory to deter future attacks. Their guns were only fired once in earnest on May 11th 1941 when they engaged a passing German aircraft which continued apparently undamaged in the direction of Drumnadrochit.
Following the bombing, on the 8th May 1941 Foyers Factory was visited by His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent on a visit to show support and raise morale. Though only staying for an hour the Duke was introduced to all those who were injured as a result of the raid. There is no record that indicates if he also met with Mary MacDonald (nee McLeod), widow of Archibald MacDonald or Mary McLeod, widow of Murdo McLeod and Alexander McLeod, Murdo’s son.
Murdo Macleod was laid to rest at 3pm on Monday 17th February at Boleskine burial ground Constable Ross records attending the service. The following day, Tuesday 18th February at 1pm Constable Ross accompanied by the colleagues and family of Archibald MacDonald escorted the vehicle carrying his remains until it left en route to Inverness. Later that day Archibald Macdonald was interred in Tomnahurich Cemetery, Inverness.Previous articles and eye witness accounts differ on the type of aircraft that bombed Foyers factory. The Heinkel 111, Dornier DO17 and Junkers JU88 have all been cast in this role. Although I have been unable to ascertain a definitive answer to this question it is most likely to have been either a Dornier DO17 or Junkers JU88. Both these types of aircraft were extensively used for single aircraft hit and run raids over Scotland whereas the Heinkel 111 was predominantly used for area bombing as part of a larger bomber formation.
The fate of the bomber also is an area of uncertainty whilst some previous articles have stated that the bomber was shot down either over the Moray Firth or the North sea official records fail to back up these claims. Both official RAF and German Luftwaffe records only mention one German aircraft crash landing in Scotland that day. These reports refer to a Junkers Ju88 that took part in a larger raid against Aberdeen and developed engine trouble whilst turning to head back to base and crashed near Monteith, Dundee. From the official records, it would appear that following the raid, the aircraft that bombed Foyers factory successfully returned to its base somewhere in occupied Norway.

The photo shows the bomb crater made by the bomb falling nearest to the factory. Damage to factory windows is clearly seen and the Maid of Foyers can be seen on the track upon which it was suspected Archibald MacDonald was walking when the bomb fell.
My thanks to Duncan Cameron for providing and enhancing what was a very grainy photo.
Copyright Robin Morley, 2020

Preparing to repair the damaged turbine water pipes

One of our aircraft is missing. The fate of Lysander R2026

Author. R Morley BA(Hons) Hist.

During the course of the Second World War South Loch Ness was the site of a number of aircraft crashes and forced landings, all the result of Pilot error of mechanical problems rather than enemy action. Whilst prior to this incident searches had been made for missing aircraft or after reports of hearing an aircraft crash, this article chronicles the first confirmed ‘grounded’ aircraft which occurred on the morning of the 25th October 1940.

That morning a Westland Lysander serial number R2026 from 614 Squadron Coastal command, piloted by Pilot Officer Richard England and crewed by Sergeant Gunner John Walker took off from their base at Longmans Aerodrome to patrol a sector of the Squadrons allocated patrol area which stretched from Beauly to Berwick. The aircraft flew westwards from its base on the North side of Loch Ness where it developed engine trouble. Pilot Officer England made the decision to cross to the South side of the Loch and look for a suitable landing site. At 1030am the Pilot chose his site and attempted a landing on what appeared to be a suitable site. The Lysander came to rest near Tomvoit on part of Easter Muirnich farm about 60 yards South of Woodside Cottage, the home of Mrs Shaw Cameron. On landing the Lysander collided with the stone dyke forming the boundary between Easter Muirnich and North Lyne knocking 10 yards of the dyke down and severely damaging the Lysander’s undercarriage, fortunately both airmen escaped uninjured.

Lysander Aircraft

At midday Constable Colin Ross attended Gorthleck Post Office as part of his general patrol. On arrival Mrs J MacDougall the Post Mistress informed him of the crashed Lysander. Constable Ross immediately attended the scene where he found Sgt Walker guarding the aircraft. PO England had left heading to Gorthleck, he was however picked up by Patrick (Paddy) Murray who was heading home on his motorcycle from Foyers Factory to Aberchalder. Paddy took PO England to his house where his wife served breakfast whilst a message was sent to PO England’s Squadron informing them of the situation.

 Having established the exact location of the aircraft and that the crew did not require medical assistance, Constable Ross headed for Gorthleck Post Office where he used the phone to inform Police headquarters of the incident. On doing so he then returned to the Lysander and stood guard until the arrival of five RAF men at 6pm who relieved him.

A downed aircraft was always something of interest to the local population and would attract sightseers. It would appear that this was no exception. On 4th November1940 Mr H A Skelton, Manager of Foyers Factory, Justice of the Peace and Local ARP controller wrote to the Chief Constable of Inverness-Shire Constabulary voicing his concern that ‘RAF guards (of the Lysander) are distributing some of the .303 ammunition to the people in the district by way of souvenirs, I rather think that some considerable quantities have come into the possession of some individuals’. Mr Skelton considered this highly undesirable believing that the ammunition may ‘be used for poaching or it might even get into the hands of Fifth column or other enemy agents’ the ammunition was though of limited use, John Murray recalls that it would not fit into the .303 Lee Enfield rifle with which his Father would take the occasional deer with. The distribution of ammunition was not the only community benefit that the crash provided. A number of other items were sold or gifted to locals by the RAF guard. John Murray recalls his father, Paddy also acquiring a sheepskin flying jacket and boots whilst a large amount of the aircrafts fuel found its way into local hands. No doubt a more than welcome windfall in times of severe fuel rationing.

An official investigation was mounted into the unauthorised disposal of War Department property and Paddy Murray was required to attend an identification parade to pick out the Airman who had sold him items from the Lysander. Though Paddy recognised the man he ‘neglected ‘ to identify him to the authorities. There is no record of anyone being prosecuted for the loss of items from the crash site of Lysander R2026.

Copyright RMorley 2019

The Bombing of Gorthleck Mains

Author. R Morley BA(Hons) Hist.

The height of the German air offensive during 1941 saw the Luftwaffe visit Stratherrick on at least four occasions. Whilst the bombing of British Aluminium’s Foyers factory is well known, details of the other three are less well recorded. This article based on Foyers Police Office Occurrence book and an interview with a local resident will hopefully bring the events of Monday 7th and Tuesday 8th April 1941 more into the public consciousness.

At 0904am on Monday 7th April 1941 Constable Colin Ross, stationed at Foyers received the first Air raid message of the day, the all clear was sounded without incident at 0940hrs. Air raid warnings during 1941 in Stratherrick were a common occurrence, by the end of the year Constable Ross would have received ninety nine such warnings from Gorthleck 42 (Code name for Foyers factory) four of which would result in direct enemy action.

At 1021pm the same day PC Ross received the message ‘Air raid message Purple’ (Raid likely), he activated the air raid sirens and immediately after heard the sound of aircraft in the distance followed he recorded by ‘ten violent explosions, believed to be somewhere in the Stratherrick district’. PC Ross upon requisitioning a car from Mr Ken Ross (Merchant, Foyers) set out along with War Reserve Constables Rae and MacInnes to make search for the locus of the attack. En-route they encountered Simon Fraser (mail contractor) who offered to assist in the search.

At 1245am on 8th April 1941 a ‘huge crater was discovered on Gorthleck moor, 97 yards west of farm steading at Gorthleck Mains tenanted by Angus Matheson (Farmer) residing there’. Matheson who was also a Special Constable was awoken by the search party and stated that he was unaware that a bomb had dropped near his premises and hadn’t heard a thing. Matheson checked the Mains for damage, the extent of which amounted to no more than a few shattered windows before assisting in the search for additional craters. Continuing the search in a westerly direction, nine more bomb craters were found, extending in a direct line for just over half a mile from the initial one.

During the course of the search at 1.15am 8th April 1941 another aircraft was heard Constable Ross records ’flying high, approaching from a southerly direction. It passed overhead as if going towards Drumnadrochit. Soon afterwards the plane returned by the same course heading south in the direction whence it came, at 1.25am flashes of fire where seen followed by nine heavy explosions somewhere in the hills about Wester Aberchalder’. 

At 9am on the 8th April Constable Ross met with Donald J MacKintosh, Aberchalder’s gamekeeper and together they began to search for where the bombs from the second raid had fallen. They initiated their search on Beinn Bhuraich and located the first crater at a point about 3 ½ miles south of Aberchalder lodge. The crater was measured as ‘40 feet wide and 20 feet deep’ and the line of nine craters stretched over one and a half miles the last one being on Corriegarth estate, half a mile south of the boundary fence between it and Abercalder.

Wester Aberhaulder

Some days later Special Constable J MacKintosh (Newlands, Errogie) handed to Constable Ross a bomb fragment that had been found with the markings on it SO5. I have been unable to verify to what these markings relate but they are likely to refer either to the bomb type or its manufacturer.

Gorthleck Mains Bomb Fragment

It is fortunate that during these attacks unlike the one against Foyers Factory damage was minimal and there were no casualties. The question will however be asked ‘why was this area targeted’. In the authors opinion there are a number of possible scenarios. Firstly the attack on Gorthleck Mains could be a simple case of target misidentification and that the actual target was Foyers factory. Speaking with a local resident who recalls the night of the raids, he remembers how in 1941 a farm building at Gorthleck Mains which housed a steam engine had a tall chimney and looked ‘more like a factory than a byre’ whilst Foyers Factory was covered in ‘nets, broom and gorse’ for camouflage making it very difficult to identify from the air especially at night. Secondly the raiders may have been unable to find Foyers Factory and instead looked for a target of opportunity which Gorthleck Mains presented.

Regarding the second attack, the raiders on being unable to identify the factory may have decided to drop their bombs on the south side of a loch on which they thought the factory may lay hoping for a lucky hit. The final scenario is that upon failing to locate Foyers Factory the raiders aborted their mission and as was standard operational procedure jettisoned their bombs prior to returning to their airbases in Norway.

The night of 7-8th April saw extensive German Air raids over Scotland with 15 towns and cities targeted. Ministry of Defence records only indicate one German loss over Scotland during the period 7-8th April 1941 which was a Heinkel HE111 crashed due to engine failure at Fife Ness and piloted by Uffz H Braucks of Kampfgeschwader 1/KG26. Whether or not this was involved in these attacks further research may reveal.

Copyright RMorley 2019