Piper L-4H Grasshopper, Wickers Cross, Stackallan, Meath
On the 5th of May 1944, one of the stranger incidents of the wartime landings occurred. At 9:30 that day, not one but two military aircraft landed in a field at Stackallen, County Meath belonging to Captain K Allison. These were perhaps the most harmless of the aircraft that visited Irish shores during the war. On the other side of Ireland, an aircraft of a much more warlike complexion landed near Foxford, County Mayo, you can read the story of that landing at this link.
The Irish military later recorded that the two aircraft had been observed west of Brackenstown (North County Dublin) moving south and later were heard by military posts in the Dublin City area circling around and then heading North. They later landed around 9:30 in the morning on May 5th.
The two aircraft turned out to be US Army Piper L-4 Grasshopper spotter aircraft. And they themselves were harmless and unarmed they would go on to provide deadly support to the US Army during the campaign in Northern Europe and elsewhere they carried out the artillery spotting role with deadly efficiency along with other vital roles such as casualty evacuation and liaison flights.
The two pilots made contact with a local hackney driver and asked to be driven to a petrol station. The enterprising driver, named only as Moran, took the opportunity to take his two passengers to the nearest Garda (Police) station in Navan town where they were taken into the care of the local police and given food and refreshments. The two airmen explained the Guards and later the military that they were flying from Scotland to a place in Northern Ireland which the Irish military recorded as "Blessington Barn" near Fivemiletown. They had had to deviate from their intended course due to weather and found themselves over Dublin. It was after they turned for Northern Ireland and attempted to fly up the coast that they found they would not have sufficient fuel and elected to force land the aircraft.
Captain Teague and four enlisted men were dispatched from the Irish Air Corps with a fuel bowser and dispensed 19 gallons of DTD224 fuel to the two aircraft during the day. There is a hand written memo in the Irish Army file stating that the military authorities were told to allow the aircraft to leave "since aircraft were on a ferry flight and therefore on non-operational work crews and aircraft may be released". This message was forwarded to the Gardai in Navan for notification to Comdt Harrington who was the Eastern Command Intelligence officer and was present at the scene. Finally at 16:20 that afternoon, both aircraft took off again from the field and flew on to Northern Ireland.
The name of the two pilots were recorded variously in the Irish Army report as Lt Jack R Kirkpatrick and Lt Barney or Bernard Coen/Cohen. The Irish officers noted that Lt Coen said his parents were Irish and that he had relatives in Tuam and Ballinasloe, both towns in Galway. This story is recounted in the "The Fighting Grasshoppers" by Ken Wakefield where he identifies the two aircrew as 1st/Lt Jack R Kirkpatrick of the 8th Infantry Division Artillery HQ Battery and 2/Lt Bernard J Coen of the 45 Field Artillery Battalion. At this time, May 1944, the US Army 8th Infantry Division was stationed in Northern Ireland, having arrived in Belfast in December 1943. The Divisions time in Ireland is recorded on a number of websites including this one, The 8th Infantry Division Archives website. The Artilery Units were based at Blessingbourne Estate, just outside the town of Fivemiletown, County Tyrone. This would explain the misinterpreted place name of Blessington Barn recorded by the Irish Army. Today, the estate is a hotel/guest house with surrounding gardens.
Using available military records and family history records it was possible to learn a little more about the two pilots who flew into Wickers Cross that morning.
2/Lt Jack R Kirkpatrick -
2/Lt Bernard J Coen -
Jack Reid Kirkpatrick was born in 1914 in Urbana, Illinois to Leslie and Ombra Kirkpatrick. In 1038 he graduated from University of Illinois with BA degree. He went on then to graduate from the University of Illinois, College of Law, on June 1, 1942. Jack took flight lessons during the summers and got his pilot’s license. He Enlisted in U.S. Army June 2, 1942 at Chanute Field, Illinois and was trained as a “Field Artillery Liaison Pilot”. He served in the 43d Field Artillery Battalion of the 8th Division, spending 19 months in the European Theater and participating in the Normandy invasion. As of late 1944 he had flown 35 combat sorties with 300 combat hours. Among his awards were,
· Air Medal with 4 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters.
· European Theater Ribbon with combat stars for Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland and Central Europe.
· Purple Heart for wounds received taking anti-aircraft fire while flying over Cologne.
He was honorably discharged in October 1945, at Fort Leonard Wood, MissouriJack passed the Illinois Bar Exam in 1946 and was married in 1947 to Mary Ladd Adams and moved to Galesburg, Illinois where they raosed their family.
Jack served many years as an Assistant States Attorney for Knox County, Illinois, and then Magistrate Judge. He passed away in Galesberg in 1977.
2/Lt Bernard J Coen was difficult to find since his name
had been recorded in the hand written portions of the Irish Army
report and elsewhere as Coon and Cohen. However it was possible
to contact his daughter Mary who confirmed that the story of
Wickers Cross related to her father, Bernard J Coen. Bernard was
the son of Nora and Patrick Coen, who had come from Ireland in
1908 from Ballinasloe, in Galway. Indeed, this fact was recorded
by the Irish Army; young Lt Coen told the officers he had
relations in County Galway. His daughter was able to report: "I
have 2 of his 3 flight books and show Barney in Camp Forest,
Tenn, USA on 11/16/1943 and next log is Northern Ireland on
2/12/1944. He was flying a Cub - L 4 H with Army markings,
engine make Con-65 and doing field work. On 5/1/1944 he notes
that he was ferry plane from Wantage, England T.I. (I think it
means to Ireland). Noted that back on 5/11/44 back to doing
field work in Northern Ireland. On 6/27/1944 he notes Northern
Ireland to Normandy and on 5/10/44 he notes Combat missions
over France. On 7/13/44 he notes 2 bullet holes wing and
turtleback. On the 15th he was back in combat still in France.
On 7/27/44 he notes hole in wing. On 8/31/44 he notes two
bullet holes in tail. On 9/1/44 notes combat missions
Luxenbourg (orders state Beilefeld, Germany). On 11/2/44 he
notes combat missions in Germany. On 12/3/1944 his plane was
strafed and grounded by ME 109, replaced. New plane was Cub
L4-J stating engine was still a con65. He notes he is still in
Germany. He remained in Germany until 6/12/1945 and then
orders to drive to La Harve, France via Brussels, Belgium.
Then on 8/8/45 he was back at Fort Sill, Oklahoma USA in a
Stinson-L90 engine LY 190 and he was doing something called
Link Trainer. On 8/31 he mentions a Stinson L5E, with engine
LY 190. On 8/31 he also mentions a L4 Cub, engine Con65. He
flew the L4 Cub to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri USA on 9/8/45.
He was there until the end of the month. On 7/9/45 he was to
return to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. the US." Then records show
that he was an army trainer until he was discharged in
September of 45."
Bernard, or as he was known to friends, 'Barney' married his wife Ellen Buckley in Sioux City in November 1939. He enlisted in the Army in September 1942 in Omaha, Nebraska. Barney passed away in his native Sioux City in January 1992
He is pictured here with a liason aircraft in the background at an unknown location.
Some other photos from Barney's collection are displayed below, sadly no information was recorded as to who was in the photos other that Barney himself is evident. Scroll down to see the photos. If you can identify any of the people, please do contact me.
This image of Barney shows him next to a Civilian registered aircraft. His diary records him flying a Taylorcraft aircraft registration NC36337. This photo dates from 1947 and must have been taken in Sioux City..
And of the two aircraft, the serial numbers 43-30052 &
43-30151 were recorded by the Irish Army. 2/Lt Kirkpatrick was
recorded as flying 43-30052 with 2/Lt Coen in 43-30151. These
were US Air Force serials allocated to Piper L-4H Grasshopper
liasion aircraft. Colin Smith from the Air Britain historian's
forum provided the history of the aircraft from their Air Force
history cards. Both airframes were distributed from the Air
Force to Army Ground Forces in the spring of 1944. They served
with the Army for the remainder of the war before being declared
surplus in 1946 and were allocated for sale. Nothing is known of
the history of 43-30151 after this time but 43-30052 is still
flying in 2012. It was sold to France after the war and in 1950,
went onto the civilian registration, since then it has been
registered as F-OAEB, F-BHEB and finally F-GRVN as she is marked
now. You can view a video taken during a flight on this aircraft
at the link below.
Vol en Piper Cub - Saint Nazaire - Angers Marcé... by docdecibel
Two photos of the aircraft can be found at this French Aviation website.
If the owner of Piper L-4H 43-30052 should read this I would be very interested in speaking with you, please contact me via the contacts page.
Bernard Coen's wartime images
These four photos were among Bernard's things.
The following two images seem to show Barney, on the left in both photos, with the same person. The second photo is presumably taken in wartime France or Germany. Do you know who this man on the right is, he may have served with the air liason unit in 8th Infantry Division or have served with the artillary units of this Division
This image below is evidently taken in the German City of Duren which was captured by the 8th Infantry Division around the 25th of February 1945. A tank with a man standing at the turret can be seen in the background with a body of water to the right hand side.
This group photo of soldiers with possibly a nurse is uncaptioned. Barney Coen is the person standing, wearing the helmet. In the background there appears to be the front section of a German Volkswagon Kubelwagen military vehicle, the German equivalent of the Allied 'jeep'. Do you know who these people are, they may have served with the air liason unit in 8th Infantry Division or have served with the artillary units of this Division
Compiled by Dennis Burke, 2013, Dublin and Sligo. With thanks to the Coen family. And also to the Irish Military archives, Itallo Battioli and the late Bill Stratton