Spitfires in Donegal
Crashes of Britain's best loved wartime fighter in Donegal,
During the Second World War a number of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, Fleet Air Arm, Spitfire and Seafire fighters crashed or made emergency landings in neutral Ireland. Three of these iconic fighters came down in County Donegal.
The first of the Spitfires is probably the best known and was the aircraft flown by Roland L Wolfe, an American volunteer flying in the Royal Air Force 133 (Eagle) Squadron, one of three Squadron’s manned by pilots from the United States.
P/O Wolfe found himself in difficulty on November 30th 1941 after a patrol mission and was forced to abandon his aircraft over Donegal. The loss of P/O Wolfe’s aircraft was widely reported both at the time and later again almost 70 years after when the remains of his aircraft were excavated in Donegal in the gaze of the world’s media.
The New York Times reported the internment of P/O Wolfe with this article.
An article published in the The Times newspaper in the United Kingdom on the 6th of December, 1941.
The Irish Army report from late 1941 describes the details of what was known then and the actions taken by the local military in the immediate aftermath.
Jonny McNee published his book in 2011 and was available directly from the author.
P/O Roland Wolfe served in the RAF with the serial number 102518. He had attended training at 56 Operational Training Unit at Sutton Bridge and after his release from internment, he was transferred to the US Army Air Forces. He served there with the 78th Fighter Group's, 82nd Fighter Squadron during 1944.
It would be only two weeks until the second Donegal Spitfire landing occurred, when another was forced to make wheels up landing on the strand at Clogher Strand, Ardara in the west of Donegal. The pilot was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, F/Sgt Guy Duncan Fowler R58474. He was taken into custody by the local members of the Local Defense Force (LDF).
The aircraft was flown by F/Sgt Guy Duncan Fowler R58474 from British Columbia. F/Sgt Fowler put his aircraft down on Magheramore Strand, Clogher, at 12:50hrs on December 16th, 1941. It had been observed by the Look Out Post (LOP) at Mullaghmore in Sligo at 12:24 and later by Dunmore Head at 12:45. It was then seen by the local Garda and LDF in Clogher and Ardara and observed loosing height and flying behind nearby hills. Sgt Fowler was taken into custody by District Adjutant Shevlin of the LDF and held by the local Garda until Lieut. Crawford of the Army arrived at 18:00. The Army accommodated him at Rockhill barracks in Letterkenny. The following morning, he was taken to the Curragh via Athlone and was taken into internment at 17:20 that evening. F/Sgt Fowler told the Army officers that he had become lost and had landed before he ran out of fuel. He also stated that he was delivering the aircraft from the Isle of Man to Limavady.
The aircraft had been put down on the beach below the normal high water mark. It was pulled further up the strand by a reported 80 members of the LDF. The Irish Air Corps then provided a team of personnel to recover the stricken aircraft. Damage to the aircraft was not reported as serious, having two bent propeller blades, and damage to the underwing radiator and air intake. The aircraft was dismantled over the following week and dispatched to Baldonnel aerodrome in Dublin.
His fellow RCAF internee and journalist, Jack Calder wrote of
him in a Summer of 1943 article: "It is a relief from camp
like to be able to spend a day working in the fields or
felling trees, listening to the philosophy of the Irish
labourers. Farmers like to have Sgt. Fowler around for a day
because with his experience of the British Columbia woods and
Ontario farms, he sets a pace that the workmen must emulate to
maintain their dignity."
Guy Fowler was born in 1911 and it appears that although he was
a member of the RCAF, he was in fact born in York, in Yorkshire.
He traveled to Canada in 1926 on the SS Megantic with a party of
youths in a group titled ‘C.N.R. Boys Party’ on the passenger
manifest. He returned home to England in 1931, sailing through
New York, returning to Canada in January of 1932. The 1940
List of Electors for Comox - Alberni in British Colombia, shows
a Guy Duncan Fowler as registered in what appears to be a
logging camp at Port Alberni.
Despite attempts at escape, Sgt. Fowler remained in internment
until released as part of the October 1943 group. At the time of
his release from internment he was interviewed, like all the
other former internees by the I.S.9 department about his
experiences and filed a short report in their files. This file
tells us that F/Sgt Fowler was born in 1911 and entered the air
force in August 1940. He had attended operational training at
Llandow in Wales and at the time of the forced landing in late
1941 he was posted to 123 Squadron but was detached to the RAF
"Ferry Group". 123 Squadron was at that time based at Turnhouse
in Scotland and flew the Spitfire. His wife, Mrs. G D Fowler
lived at that time in Victoria, British Columbia. F/Sgt Fowler's
report contains the following information:
I took off from HURDEN (near Liverpool) on 15 Dec 1941, flying a Spitfire, and came down on 16 Dec in CO. DONEGAL. I was sent to THE CURRAGH Camp for internment.
2. Attempted Escapes
(a) I took part in the big escape attempt to escape from the camp on 9 Feb 42, being one of those whose task was to rush the wire. This attempt was unsuccessful.
(b) I was one of the nine who got out on 17 Aug 42, when the main gate of the camp was rushed. I was out for two days. The first night I wandered through fields, dodging patrols. The following day I hid for 15 hours in a ditch. At midnight I crossed the LIFFEY, and went to a house where I got food, and dry socks. On the outskirts I was taken in by a pro-British Irishman, given food and clothes, and allowed to sleep in a hayloft for about three hours. My helper wanted me to stay for a few days till the search had died down, but I did not wish to compromise him. I began to walk openly to DUBLIN and was picked up by a patrol in the suburbs. I tried to get away from the police station, but was stopped just as I was closing the door behind me.
An addendum to the report gives a further top secret passage: "On the 18 Aug 42, the day after I had got out of THE CURRAGH on the main gate escape scheme, I went to the house of the Sgt. Major WILKINSON, the steward of Capt. REEVES. Here I was given food and dry socks. Later I went to the house of Mr. Thomas Francis MARR, J.P., KILL, a member of the LDF. He gave me food and civilian clothes and let me sleep in his hayloft. He wanted me to stay for two or three days, but I refused, as I did not wish to compromise him."
It is not known what postings F/Sgt Fowler was sent on after
his release but he was promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer
and later commissioned as an officer with serial number
His name was found on a December 1960 naturalization
certificate index for the city of Sonoma, California, the same
date as an Adelaid Constance Fowler at the same address.
This leads to one finding him listed in 1955 directory for San
Francisco, with his spouse as Adelaid C Fowler. His wife
appears to have passed away in 1992 in Canada, but no trace of
Guy's post war activities can be found.
Guy Fowler’s Spitfire that day was moved on to the border with Northern Ireland and handed back to the RAF. Following repair, the aircraft was assigned to 61 Operational Training Unit in February 1944 where it was used by newly trained fighter pilots to learn how to fly the Spitfire. It luck ran out on the 15th May 1944 when it crashed on a training flight killing a young Polish pilot, W/O Stanislaw Boleslaw Mieczyslaw Kos 704007. The aircraft was a Spitfire IIa, manufactured at the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory near Birmingham. Prior to its accident in Ireland its Air Ministry history card shows that it had been assigned to numbers 54 and 111 Squadrons during the spring and summer of 1941. It was on its delivery flight to join 133 Squadron when the mishap occurred. The damaged airframe remained in Baldonnel until 1943 when it was sent across the border to Shorts for refurbishment.
The final Spitfire to arrive in Donegal arrived in November 1942 under the command of an English pilot in the RAF.
The aircraft was first reported to have crashed in the townland of ‘Treanmull’ (Treanamullin) 1 ½ miles east of Ballybofey by the Gardai in that town. Upon receipt of that report, a Capt. Crowley of the Irish Army was dispatched with an Ambulance and a party of soldiers from Letterkenny. The Gardai had received reports from the authorties at the Ballybofey County Home in the neighbouring townland of Mullandrait.
By 14:00 hours that day, November 26th, 1942, the personel at
Central Control received the following update from Athlone:
Flight Officer R F Kingswood R.A.F. based in Northern Ireland
made a forced landing at Glebe, Ballybofey, Co. Donegal.
Spitfire a/c forced down owing to fuel shortage. Pilot sustained
only slight cut on forehead. A/c landed with undercarriage up
and is damaged as a result. Pilot is in R.A.F. uniform.
Nat(ionality) British, Next of kin father – G M Kingswood, East
Gardens, Canterbury, Kent. Telephone no Canterbury 2546. … On
training flight + thought he was landing in Northern Ireland.
A/C armed with 2 Cannons, 4 M.G.’s and ammo.
This report above contains many of the basic items of information that were at this time being used to justify not interning airmen, the mention of the aircraft being on a training flight and that he was in military uniform. Only the year previous, Sgt Fowler had been interned on a flight that only months later would have seen him released across the border immediately.
Athlone was later that afternoon informed that the aircraft had suffered a completely damaged propeller and had landed in the middle of a fairly large field, 200 yards from the road. The pilot had been taken to Letterkenny that evening and the aircraft serial number was read and recorded as being AD116. Following agreement with the Irish Government, the airman was allowed to be returned to Northern Ireland and was taken to the border at Bridgend at 21:00 hrs on the evening of the crash.
The pilot of the aircraft was identified correctly from the UK Air Ministry crash record card held by the RAF museum in Hendon. This document gives the pilots name as ‘KINGSFORD A S F/O 102557.
This information can be cross referenced with the London Gazette publications to find that the pilot was one Roy Stuart Kingsford, then aged 21. The difference in name between the Irish reports and the pilots actual name must come down to a probably misinterpretation of the name during phone calls between Donegal, Athlone and Central Control. It has been possible to make contact with the family of F/O Kingsford and learn something about his RAF career. Roy enlisted in the RAF in mid 1940 and following an initial period on the reserve until called up, he carried out his basic military training in the UK. He was posted to Canada in early 1941 where he trained at 32 Service Flying Training School (SFTS). At the successful completion of his training, he was commishioned as an officer and returned back to England in late July 1941. There then followed a month of further training on the Spitfire with 53 Operational Training Unit until his posting to 41 Squadron in September 1941. In the Spring of 1942, he was posted overseas and flew with 74 Squadron and 145 Squadron in the North African theatre. Co-inciding with the crash in Donegal is a posting back to the UK for what seems to be further affilication training on later versions of the Spitfire fighter. His service record do not list a posting specifically with 501 Squadron but he was with 611 Squadron around this time for the purposes of familiarisation on the Spitfire. Spring of 1943 saw him posted back to the Mediterranean where he flew with 152 Squadron until July. The remainder of the war seen him serving as an instructor and test pilot at various establishments around the Mediterranean. Roy stayed on in the RAF until 1964 and during that time transitioned to jet fighters and flew the Gloster Meteor and Hawker Hunter. He retired with the rank of Squadron Leader.
Roy passed away in 1993 and is fondly remembered by his family.
The damaged Spitfire had a less dignified end. It was examined by a team of Irish Air Corps personel and found to have the underwing radiator, oil cooler and air intake ripped off. The engine cowl, both wings and aft lower fuselages, all had suffered damage in the landing. The aircraft was dismantled and brought to Rockhill House, Letterkenny, on the 5th December 1942. On the following day is was escorted to its destination and handed over to a party of RAF personnel from Northern Ireland.