A Region and the Reasons Behind Crashes
The Peak District is the name given to the area which lies between the cities of Manchester and Sheffield, and also the National Park, formed in 1951, which covers much of the region. It forms the southern most end of the Pennine hills and features a wide area and variety of landscapes.
The northern end of the park is dominated by the high moors of Kinder Scout, Bleaklow, Midhope and Saddleworth, which together form the area known locally as the Dark Peak, this being due to the occurrence of dark coloured sandstones and shales that form the hills in the area. Between these high moorland plateaus are steep sided valleys several of which contain reservoirs. A few aircraft ended up flying up these valleys in poor visibility and quite simply ran out of valley. Also the western edges of Kinder Scout, Bleaklow and Saddleworth fall away steeply to form escarpments, here the ground rises from about 300ft to between 1500ft and 2000ft. These edges claimed their share of aircraft with several flying straight into them. Smaller escarpments are found on the western side of the eastern moors, most notably Stanage Edge which is popular with climbers and walkers.
The central and southern areas of the National Park are mainly underpinned by Limestone, of similar age to the sediments further North and is known locally as the White Peak. This area has an average height of close to 1,000ft above sea level but due to terrain being flatter and soils more fertile is mainly farmland and is easily accessed so little if anything survives at the crash sites of aircraft in this area. Most of the accidents here were . However there are some areas of moorland to the east and west of the in the southern Peak District where the small remains of some aircraft can be found, these are found on hills formed of the same rocks found further north.
While the area is not very high in terms of what is found elsewhere in the UK during WW2, the period with peak aerial activity in the area prior to the large scale usage of Ringway as an airport, many training flights over-flew over this area or its periphery. These were particularly from RAF units based in the Midlands, such as No.27 Operational Training Unit at Lichfield and Church Broughton. As many were still undergoing training most of the aircrews were relatively inexperienced in flying and the use of navigational equipment which combined with the high ground and regular night flying often in poor weather, made accidents inevitable. Overall just over half of the accidents in the Peak District occurred while crews were on training flights.
Some bomber aircraft returning from operations over Europe to the RAF bases in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire also crashed in the area after overshooting their bases at night, being forced to descend as their fuel reserves became exhausted. Most of the operational losses occurred in the early war period and accounted for less than 15% of the accidents in the area. There were also a small number of operational flights from fighter units which ended in the Peak District. While often talked about there were very few German aircraft lost in the area, two being confirmed and one for which we can find no reference to in archive sources.
Also the area lay on the busy air route to and from the USAAF air depots and repair bases at Burtonwood and Warton and the operational USAAF Air Stations in the South and East of England with most of the American accidents having some involvement with the two Base Air Depots.
In the peace time eras military training flight still accounted for the majority of accidents but there was also private and commercial flying in this period with a number of accidents both before and after the Second World War befalling civilian aircraft. It was in this period when the single worst accidents happened in the area, this being the 1949 loss of BEA Dakota G-AHCY which claimed 24 lives.
The National Park Authority do not publicise much if anything about the air crashes that happened with the area that is now covered by the Park, probably due to the number of books that have already been published. However the Ranger Service do run guided walks to some of the crash sites on the higher ground areas. These are published on the national park’s website at the beginning of each year. Regular fixtures are the crash sites around Greenfield, Kinder and Bleaklow with occasional trips out on to the Midhope Moors.
Below is a map showing the distribution of aircraft accidents that occurred around the Peak District, the national park is outlined in dark grey.