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The Accident

The character described as "Nels" in Donahue's account was in fact Sgt. Frederick Fenton Vinyard. This 24 year old from Birmingham had joined 64 Squadron on 15th September.

Laws was flying Spitfire P9564 and Vinyard piloted K9805. Both were acting as a target formation for a section of Spitfires who were carrying out practise fighter attacks. Who the other pilots were is not recorded, but it is known that Sgt. Hopgood, Sgt. Limpenny and Pilot Officer Stanley were new arrivals at 64 Squadron at the end of September. They may well have made up the "attacking section".

Laws and Vinyard were flying at an altitude of 3000 feet when the accident occurred at 10.45.

The following is from an Air Ministry letter written to the author. The sources quoted by the Ministry were the RAF Casualty index and the P file held in archive at Hayes:

Sgt. Vinyard reported that the two aircraft were flying semi-line abreast, semi-echelon starboard and six spans apart. The pilot of K9805 (Vinyard) closed in on P9564 (Laws). Shortly after,  the under surface of the starboard mainplane of K9805 struck the top of the rear portion of the fuselage of P9564 and severed it.

Immediately after the collision had occurred the entire rear portion of Laws' aircraft broke away and the aircraft went into a fast somersaulting dive and struck the ground, bursting into flames on impact. The aircraft crashed at Cranswick, 4 miles north of Leconfield, killing Laws instantly. Spitfire K9805 (Vinyard) went into a dive, but the pilot managed to gain control and land safely at Driffield airfield.

These are the facts as reported. There is no record of any disciplinary action being taken against any members of the flight.

I have tried to visualise the manoeuvre that brought the two planes into collision with sufficient force to effectively break one of them in two. The diagram below shows the relative positions of the aircraft (although they started further apart) - reported impact points are marked with arrows.

aflcollision.JPG (49776 bytes)

Both planes must have been travelling at the same speed and K9805 was said to be "closing in" on P9564. In this circumstance one would expect the port mainplane or even the propeller of K9805 to cause the damage to P9564. And what kind of impact velocity is necessary to remove the rear section of a Spitfire?

My conclusion is that K9805 may have increased throttle and gone into a banking turn to port and, travelling below Laws' flightpath, severed the tail section with the high starboard mainplane. Frederick Vinyard may have been the victim of the reduction in training hours that had become standard in the pilot starved RAF. Perhaps he had crossed the wash of Laws' slipstream and over-compensated.

How the accident happened is forever lost to us. The Ministry again...

On 6 October 2023 Sgt. Frederick Fenton Vinyard was on an operational section patrol with two other Spitfires of 64 Squadron in the vicinity of Flamborough Head. The aircraft entered cloud in poor visibility (10/10ths) and the three aircraft then became separated. This was the last time that Sgt. Vinyard was seen by the other two pilots who both returned safely to base. However, at 15.10 hours a report was received from the Observer Corps that a Spitfire was seen to crash into the sea off Flamborough Head at 14.30 hours.

Sgt. Vinyard is still reported as missing.

Vinyard's other two section members on that day were Flying Officer A. J. A. Laing and Pilot Officer Arthur Gerald Donahue.


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