Fairey Swordfish P4223 of No.751 Squadron, RN, crashed at Heydon Head, Black Hill, Holmfirth on the  25th January 1940

Fairey Swordfish


Gerald Vyvian Williamson Sub Lieutenant (RNVR) Pilot Killed


On the 25th January 1940 Sub Lt Williamson took off from RAF Silloth in Cumbria along with three other aircraft to ferry P4223 from No.22 Maintenance Unit to Royal Naval Air Station Ford near Littlehampton in West Sussex where it failed to arrive.

By early February an inquiry into the disappearance of the was held, but no opinion was given as to the cause of the loss with the aircraft not having been located.

It was reported that no dinghy was carried which would have meant a ditching would have led to the aircraft being lost without trace. Also the aircraft’s compass had not been swung during its time in storage, meaning that its accuracy was unknown.

Gerald Williamson had previously carried out cross country flights in civilian aircraft and had ferried a Swordfish for 90 minutes, but was deemed to be inexperienced on the type, with only 29:05 of solo flying with the Royal Navy of which 3 hours were on Swordfish aircraft. He also had 99:15 of solo flying as a civilian, along with 37:20 of dual flying as a civilian.

Late in February 1940 a road worker from Cheshire council, at the time Cheshire extended up the northern side of the Longdendale valley, who was employed clearing snow from the Woodhead to Holmfirth road saw the wrecked aircraft on Holme Moss. He set off across the moor to investigate what he had seen and discovered the body of Sub Lt Williamson, which was recovered by the Police to the mortuary at Hollingworth.

The planned route for the flight is not recorded in the available records, however the route was likely to have taken the flight around the western side of the Lake District mountains before heading south and east across Morecombe Bay before flying across England covering more than 300 miles. Had that been the route the aircraft had drifted some 30 miles off course before it crashed.

The crash site of Fairey Swordfish P4223 at Heydon Head, Black Hill
Seen in October 2007, the site has not changed much since my first visit, except for the pile of wreckage moving from the left hand corner of the photo and the addition of the matting in an attempt to stem erosion of the peat.
Wreckage at the crash site of Fairey Swordfish P4223 on Black Hill, Holme Moss
The now small amount of wreckage is grouped up in this small pile, until the 1970s there was a large amount of the aircraft left at the crash site but the engine has since been recovered and the wooden parts have rotted with most of the smaller metal parts having been removed as well.
View from the crash site of Fairey Swordfish P4223 at Heydon Head, Black Hill towards the Holme Moss TV Mast
The view back down to the Holme Moss TV transmitter.
View from the crash site of Fairey Swordfish P4223 at Heydon Head, Black Hill towards the Holme Moss TV Mast
A similar view the last, taken during a visit in 2007.