An air show disaster at Warrenpoint, Co. Down

The 15th July 1944 marked a tragic event in the skies over Ulster, the air show disaster at Warrenpoint, Co. Down where 5 young airmen tragically died.

On 15th July 1944, several members of the Royal Air Force died as a result of a mid-air collision between 2 planes. Airspeed Oxford LX598 and Miles Martinet MS626 of RAF 290 Squadron were part of a display from Lurgan Civil Defence Services. The incident took place over The Square, Warrenpoint, Co. Down.

Both planes were training craft used by the Royal Air Force based at RAF Long Kesh. The single-engined Martinet saw use in target towing and ground attack exercises. It could withstand the G-forces of pulling out of steep diving attacks. The Oxford was a converted twin-engined passenger plane, not suitable for aerobatics.

Some of the eye-witness reports from the day come from Mr. JH Barley of 117 Mount Merrion Park, Belfast. He was a member of the Civil Defence Service and had been on a holiday in Warrenpoint, Co. Down. Official reports suggest the weather was misty but all witnesses agree it was a fine sunny day by Carlingford Lough.

RAF Miles Martinet

Imperial War Museum Photo: CH 11880 (Part of the Air Ministry Second World War Official Collection). A Mark I Miles Martinet TT of RAF 289 Squadron similar to that which crashed during the aerial demonstration over Warrenpoint, Co. Down on 15th July 1944. Photo taken by Flying Officer A Goodchild.

The air show disaster at Warrenpoint

Miles Martinet MS626 climbed south-east above the rooftops along Church Street after pulling up. It had carried out a diving simulated attack over The Square. With the nose of the plane high in the air, the pilot would have had no clear view out towards the shore.

Airspeed Oxford LX598 came inland from over Carlingford Lough in a northwesterly direction. It passed over the Public Baths and followed the line of Queen Street. With the Martinet directly below, the pilot would not have seen the rising plane. The planes tangled in mid-air causing an explosion and a flash of blinding light.

The collision took place over the junction of Church Street, Queen Street, and Great George’s Street. The Martinet crashed offshore into Carlingford Lough, just beyond the Public Baths. The Oxford struck the roof of the Town Hall cloakrooms before coming down. It crashed off Duke Street behind Frank Hourican’s public house.

People rushed to help and found the bodies of crew members in Hourican’s yard. A neighbouring family closed the back gate to the yard to preserve the dignity of the airmen. Royal Ulster Constabulary Sergeant Denis Donoghue, Constable H Rodgers, and Mr. Ernest McKibben retrieved the crew from the sea. Authorities brought the bodies to the local morgue at Charlotte Street, Warrenpoint, Co. Down and to Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry, Co. Down. A local Priest E Crawford administered the last rites.

The people of Warrenpoint are stunned by today’s disaster and ask you to convey their deepest sympathy to the bereaved.

James Brown MP for South Down writing to the Air Ministry on 15th July 1944.

Airspeed Oxford Crew

Last NameFirst Name(s)RankRoleInformation
EcclesLucien Arthur William JosephWarrant OfficerPilot1931095. Killed aged 21 years old.
MyersDennisFlight SergeantPilot1217452. Killed aged 21 years old.
SturdyPeterSergeantPilot1382750. Killed.

Miles Martinet Crew

Last NameFirst Name(s)RankRoleInformation
GibbAlbert GordonWarrant OfficerPilot1118383. Killed aged 28 years old.
MoseyGeorge WilliamSergeantAir Gunner1041594. Killed aged 26 years old.

Aftermath of the Warrenpoint Disaster

Wreckage and debris lay strewn over the water and in gardens and yards along Church Street and Summer Hill. Locals who recovered personal items belonging to the airmen brought them to the local police station. Patrick Harrison of Best’s Row was one such resident who found a prayer book that one of the men had received from a bishop. Other items included a diary, that showed the owner had attended Holy Communion the previous morning and had bought clothes for his new baby. A third airman had a telegram in his possession from the previous day wishing him a happy 21st birthday.

The following day was a Sunday and churches of all denominations in the town offered prayers and commemorations for the airmen. On Monday 17th July 1944, Lurgan Urban Council proposed the Air Ministry should convey their sympathies to the bereaved. Mr. FA Monroe JP, Council Chairman put forward the motion, which was unanimously approved. Venerable Archdeacon McAlister held a mass in Warrenpoint, Co. Down on Tuesday 18th July 1944.

For many years after the incident, locals retold the story of the terrible events of 15th July 1944. Metal, Perspex, and electronics appeared in yards, gardens, and along the coastline for a long time. As recently as 1987, a windsurfer found part of the metal canopy frame floating in Carlingford Lough.

This tragic accident resulted in the deaths of 5 British airmen but with crowds lining the streets, things could have been much worse. Newspaper reports from the time, commend the bravery and skill of the pilots who managed to steer away from the crowds below. The crew of the Oxford even had the presence of mind to turn off the fuel supply to the engine, decreasing the chance of fire. Their actions saved the lives of dozens or more in the streets during the air show disaster at Warrenpoint, Co. Down.

Many thanks to all those on the RAF Commands and Old Warrenpoint Forums for all their research into these events.