Sub-Lieutenant Dennis Herbert Oxby served in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy during World War Two. Born on 7th October 1924, he was the son of Frederick William Oxby and Dorothy Oxby (née Wheeler) of Lincolnshire, England. His name on birth registration documents is actually Herbert Dennis Oxby.
Oxby’s early education took place at Springfield Primary School, Bulwell Hall Estate, Nottinghamshire. He left there in 1935 and attended High Pavement Grammar School on a scholarship until 1940. Immediately after leaving school, he worked with Nottingham Corporation Transport Department.
At his time of death, he served with 769 Naval Air Squadron at HMS Peewit / RNAS East Haven, Angus, Scotland. There, trainees learned to operate planes from aircraft carriers, especially in the art of deck landings.
He died in Northern Ireland on 29th August 1944 aged 19-years-old. He was taking part in an operational training exercise when his Fairey Barracuda DP872 crashed near Lough Enagh in Co. Londonderry. The Mark II plane had been with the unit since November 1943. In January 1944, DP872’s undercarriage collapsed. This was repaired and the plane returned to service.
Crash in Co. Londonderry
Oxby had flown from RNAS East Haven to HMS Shrike / RNAS Maydown, Co. Londonderry. Maydown was home to Swordfish Squadrons flying from MAC Ships but was used by other Fleet Air Arm units for training. At around 1440hrs, the Barracuda took off again from Runway 27 at RNAS Maydown.
Soon after becoming airborne, Barracuda DP872 encountered difficulties and banked starboard. It lost height rapidly, spinning out of control and coming down in the boggy land about half a mile from the end of the runway. The plane housed the latest secret air-to-surface radar equipment when it came down.
Remembering the crew of DP872
There were no survivors in the crash of Fairey Barracuda DP872. Those who died were:
|Last Name||First Name(s)||Rank||Role||Information|
|Dobbie||Frederick Robinson||Sub Lieutenant||Observer||Aged 21-years-old. From East Lothian.|
|Mew||Derek Albert Thomas||Leading Aircraftman||Air Gunner||Aged 19-years-old. From Norbury, London.|
|Oxby||Dennis Herbert||Sub Lieutenant||Pilot||Aged 19-years-old. From Lincolnshire.|
Witnesses reported seeing the incident. Three Barracudas took off in formation and DP872 was the only one to experience difficulties. Some worried the plane might hit a nearby school as it lost control. Others suggested that Oxby opened up the engine before impact with the ground. The changes in engine noise were more likely to come from a propeller in the wrong pitch. This may have been a major contributing factor in the accident.
By the time a crash team arrived at Blackhead Moss Bog, known locally as The Moss, the front of the plane was completely submerged. Part of the undercarriage and a wheel had become lodged in a nearby tree. The plane’s tail section and parts of the wings and antennae held clues to the new type of radar onboard so these were removed. The rest of the wreckage sank into the marshy ground.
The area was too dangerous to bring in heavy lifting equipment due to the wet nature of the ground. The Admiralty took the decision to leave the wreckage unrecovered. In fact, the rescue team had to lay down planks to prevent them sinking in the bog. Despite help from American soldiers with a powerful pump, and the local fire brigade, it was not possible to recover any more of the plane or bodies of the men on board including Dennis Herbert Oxby.
The following day, a military Chaplain conducted a short funeral and memorial service at the crash site where a wooden cross was erected. After this, the crash remained almost forgotten although the family of one of the airmen visited the site in the 1950s.
Recovery and Rebuilding
By the 1960s, the Fleet Air Arm recognised that no Fairey Barracudas survived out of the 2,700 built. The Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton, Somerset was keen to find an example plane. Around the same time, a Historic Aircraft Society formed at RAF Ballykelly, Co. Londondery. They appealed to the people of Northern Ireland for information about aviation incidents. The story of DP872 was recalled.
Lieutenant Commander LA Cox of the Fleet Air Arm Museum investigated the possibility of recovering the plane. They identified the crash site, carried out a preliminary survey and in 1970 decided that removal was possible.
The Royal Navy at the time had neither the technical expertise nor the equipment required for such a task. Sappers from 63 Headquarter Squadron (Airfields) of 39 Engineer Regiment (Airfields) arrived in May 1971.
They built an access road and began work on recovering the plane. New power lines stretching across the crash site meant the Army could not use helicopters. Royal Navy frogmen worked to free parts of the plane from deep, underwater mud. The operation was lengthy, and also sensitive. The wreckage was, after all, the war grave of three young airmen.
Families gave their permission for the men to be recovered and reburied by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Recovery completed on 18th May 1971 and a funeral took place the following day with full military honours.
The Army transported remains of the plane to RAF Sydenham, Belfast, Co. Antrim. From there, it continued on to the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton, Somerset. Many years later, salvageable parts of DP972 have been put together with those of four other wrecked Barracudas to construct the only known replica of the World War Two era plane.
Dennis Herbert Oxby’s grave is in St. Canice’s Church of Ireland, Faughanvale, Co. Londonderry.