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Plane Crash on Normandie
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peter scott

Joined: 18 Dec 2007
Posts: 6206
Location: Edinburgh

PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2014 6:58 pm    Post subject: Plane Crash on Normandie Reply with quote

I was reminded of this incident by a reference in the H.A.M.B. site that further references

I have always thought that the Normandie was the most beautiful and most avant garde of the trans-Atlantic liners and some years ago had come across this photo of a Blackburn Baffin lodged on the foredeck in a book written about the ship but I didn't know the full story 'til now.



(BTW Stem and stern appear to get confused in the account.)

The collision in 1936 of an RAF Aircraft with S.S. Normandie [French Line]

The London Gazette records the brief career in the RAF of Guy Kennedy Horsey. “The under mentioned Pilot Officer was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer 15th June 1936:— Lieut. Guy Kennedy HORSEY, R.N., Flying Officer R.A.F.” But on the 1st September 1936 we find: “Lieut. Guy Kennedy HORSEY, R.N., Flying Officer R.A.F, relinquishes his temporary commission on return to Naval duty.”

Horsey was born in the Medway area of Kent in 1911 and entered service in the Royal Navy. In 1942 he married 22 year old Mary O’Brien Ram [1920-2009] and they had children Susan, Andrew and Nigel in the next few years. In September 1932 he joined as a sub lieutenant becoming a full lieutenant in 1935.

Pilots based at RAF Gosport [later to become HMS Sultan] were using a squadron of Blackburn Baffin bi-wing aircraft to drop unarmed torpedoes in the Solent and a launch was stationed with a target platform in tow. We learn from the court-martial that Flight Lieut. A. David described Lieut. Horsey as "an average pilot but inexperienced”. Lieut. David did not know the Normandie would be there when he gave orders for the torpedo practice. She came into the Solent after the training exercise had started. It was a regular practice for the Normandie and the Ile de France to lay off in the Solent to offload mail, passengers and their baggage before continuing to Cherbourg or Le Havre. Tug tenders such as the Calshot were regularly used on such duties but on 22nd June the old faithful Red Funnel paddle tender Her Majesty was alongside. The derricks of the Normandie were actually engaged with off loading the car of Arthur Evans MP for Cardiff South onto the tender when the incident with the aircraft occurred.

Flying-Officer James MacLachlln, instructor to Horsey’s squadron revealed that the torpedo dropped just before the accident was the thirteenth used that morning. The arrival of the liner and her attending vessels now about 700 yards from the target was we assume in hindsight was an accident waiting to happen.

After a dive towards the target boat, he dropped his dummy torpedo, according to orders. It was then Horsey’s duty to see that the torpedo surface which did not prevent him from climbing, as he could see better at l000 feet than at 100 feet and then to return to the aerodrome. Instead, it was alleged, that he flew low along the port side of the Normandie below the height of the funnels, and after reaching the stern flew down the starboard side, still below the funnels. Eventually the plane crashed on the Normandie's deck. "When you hear," added Squadron Leader Walmsley, [prosecutor] ''that people were engaged in unloading on the decks and there were people on tankers alongside, you will probably come to the conclusion that it was a miracle indeed that nobody was injured as a result of the crash."

The prosecutor contended that there was no need to fly low near the Normandie.

Evidence would be given that the aircraft was in perfect condition when it left the aerodrome, but even if the engine had failed the prosecution held that the accident was due to Lieut. Horsey's negligence in flying low.

A tiny scale model of the Normandie was used to illustrate the evidence.

George Douglas Hasewell port representative of the French Line at Southampton, told the Court that the plane seemed to he side-slipping towards the ship

Another witness, Percy Jones, mate of Her Majesty, the tender alongside the Normandie, gave evidence that he heard the engine of the plane misfiring when it was 50 to 100 yards from the tender.

Lieut. Comdr. A. P. Cotthurst, officer commanding the training squadron at Gosport, stated that Horsey had made a statement that after dropping his torpedo he flew down the port side of the Normandie at a distance of about 150 yards. When somewhere on her stern and starboard quarter his engine began to splutter and he realised it would be necessary to land in the sea.

Lieut. Horsey, giving his own account of what happened, declared that after dropping his dummy torpedo he felt himself being moved bodily side ways towards the Normandie. "I could-see the Normandie getting closer and closer," he continued "I was hoping that I might clear the deck and go into the sea, but I evidently hit some wire, and it tore the wing off and pulled the machine right round in the opposite direction. I do not remember anything about the crash after that. I jumped out of-the plane on the deck. The French sailors, when they saw it was not going to take fire, ran towards me and shook me by the hand. All that they could find to say was Bravo!" Lieut. Horsey denied that he flew round the ship because he wanted to have a good look at her. Lieut. Horsey stated that he crashed two minutes after dropping his torpedo.

Horsey had in mind a warning from, his Flight Commander three weeks before, when a Baffin plane that he was flying got in the way of an experimental torpedo dropping machine. "I was warned personally that if I went anywhere near the measured mile again I should be run in,'' he continued, "I started my dive about level with the middle funnel of the Normandie. I should think I was 200 yards from the Normandie. I made my dive-from about 1000 feet and dropped my torpedo. "I had no particular reason for keeping low. I was gradually climbing”.

The Normandie now having been delayed by the incident headed off to Le Havre with the crashed aircraft twisted into the stern (sic) deck. A special RAF team were despatched to go over to France to recover the wreck. The machine, it was stated, cost £7000. Damages to its airframe totalled £5000 and to the engine £1000 and also the car belonging to Mr Evans MP was wrecked in the crash.

At the court, the Deputy Judge Advocate read two letters from the agent and the owners of the Normandie. That which had been handed in by the prosecution was addressed to the Secretary of the Admiralty and ran: "I learn that Lieut. Horsey is to be court-martialed in connection with his unfortunate crash. I do not wish to appear to be interfering with the due process of justice, but I would like to state on behalf of the company [French Line CGT] that we think the accident was due to his being unable to extricate himself from a dangerous position. We therefore make a very strong appeal, for the clemency of the Court to be exercised in Lieut. Horsey.”

The Court found Horsley guilty on two charges.

Guy Horsey returned to Naval service. From late 1941 until 12th June 1942 he commanded the infantry Landing Ship HMS St. Helier. The St Helier had been built in 1925 as a passenger carrier but was requisitioned for war service and converted for landing troops. In June 1943 Horsey was promoted to Lieut. Commander thus successfully rebuilding his career after being court-martialled in September 1936.
The day following the crash in the Solent, the concerns were raised in Parliament. Captain Peter MacDonald [MP Isle of Wight ]:
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the dissatisfaction at the amount of low flying that takes place in the Solent area, and will he take steps to see that this does not take place again? It is a growing nuisance.

For more on the Normandie see:
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