Blenheim Mk.V AZ876 of No.42 OTU crashed near Belper in the early hours of the 9th July 1943 during a practice bombing exercise

Bristol Blenheim Mk.IV


Michael Mathew Flying Officer Pilot Killed
Robert Andrew Whitmore Flying Officer Navigator / Bomb Aimer Killed
Frederick Harry Doe Sergeant Wireless Operator / Air Gunner Killed


The aircraft had taken off from Ashbourne at 01:30 for a practise bombing exercise at the range then in use between Carsington and Brassington, some twenty minutes later while flying at an altitude of between 2000 and 5000ft the aircraft went out of control dived into the ground at high speed, the reason for the crash was never established beyond doubt, despite an investigation by the Accident Investigation Branch.

The report gave three suggested causes for the crash. The aircraft may have suffered an engine failure causing sudden yaw followed by the aircraft rolling and entering a dive, or there may have been failure of one or more of the blind flying instruments which were vacuum driven. Finally, and probably the most likely cause, was that the pilot may have suffered from spatial disorientation (vertigo) due to his relative inexperience (with a maximum of 22 hours of night flying) and the lack of outside visual references and lost control while in a turn, probably after allowing the airspeed to fall causing an unrecoverable stall / spin.

F/O Michael Mathew was the son of Lieutenant General George Mathew C.B. Royal Marines (Rtd). and Mary Mathew M.B.E.. Prior to taking a commission in the R.A.F.V.R. Michael Mathew had been a Lieutenant in the Army with the service number 50315.  He resigned this commission on the 7th January 1943 and took up an R.A.F.V.R. commission the very same day.  His brother Lieutenant Harry Derek Mathew R.N. was killed when the Fulmar he was flying from H.M.S. Victorious on the 4th August 1941 was shot down at the entrance of Malangenfjords near Tromso by a German patrol boat.

Crash site of Bristol Blenheim Mk.V AZ876 near Belper. Derbyshire
A view of the crash site, the rough area in the centre of the photograph is where the aircraft crashed taken in June 2004.
Grave of Flying Officer Michael Mathew at Oxford Botley Cemetery
The aircraft’s pilot was buried at Oxford (Botley) Cemetery, the other two crew members were buried at Ashbourne Cemetery
Grave of Flying Officer Robert Andrew Whitmore at Ashbourne Cemetery
Flying Officer Whitmore’s grave at Ashbourne Cemetery
Grave of Sergeant Frederick Harry Doe at Ashbourne Cemetery
Sergeant Doe’s grave at Ashbourne Cemetery