Supermarine Spitfire Mk.VA P8563 of No.81 Sqn crashed on Dead Friars near Stanhope, Co. Durham, on the 27th March 1942


Harold John Appel Pilot Officer RCAF Pilot Killed


No.81 Squadron were, in early 1942, stationed at Ouston to the North-west of Newcastle upon Tyne and were one of the Squadrons tasked with providing fighter defence of the North East.

During the evening of the 27th March 1942 two aircraft were tasked to carry out patrol of the coast around Seaham in County Durham after a report of a possible enemy aircraft in the vicinity. They left Ouston at 18:20 and proceeded to their patrol area. The flight leader, Flight Sergeant Peter Anson, reported that the weather was very poor and was instructed that if it was too bad to return to base. Shortly after he reported that the weather had improved so was continuing with the patrol. It was then reported to them that the plot of an enemy aircraft had faded and were to return to Ouston. Flight Sergeant Anson requested a course to follow to return safely, avoiding a balloon barrage around Newcastle, and was given a series of bearing to follow, when about 15 miles away from Ouston he entered cloud and climbed to avoid high ground. Once further to the north and east F/Sgt Anson exited cloud at 2,000ft to the south of Corbridge and then called P/O Appel to inform him it was safe to descend but no reply was received by either F/Sgt Anson or the Sector Controller to this or any other radio calls. Until only a couple of minutes before not replying to the radio call P/O Appel had been in close formation with F/Sgt Anson.

No radio communications had been received at all during the flight and it was recorded by the Court of Inquiry that the radio set had been reported as being possibly faulty earlier in the day by another pilot, though after some attention from the wireless maintenance section at Ouston had functioned correctly.

Crash site of Spitfire P8563
The open moorland on Dead Friars where Spitfire P8563 dived into the ground.

The wreckage of the aircraft was later found on open moorland on Dead Friars to the north of Stanhope in County Durham, a few miles south of where F/Sgt Anson had broke out of cloud. It was found that P8563 had impacted the ground at a steep angle while heading in a south westerly direction. It was concluded that after becoming separated from the flight leader that he had lost control of the aircraft while flying on instruments and dived into the ground as a result.

Wreckage at the crash site of Spitfire P8563 on Dead Friars, Stanhope
Durin 2008 the crash site was excavated by members of ACIA with a large number of smaller items being recovered. No large items were recovered due to the excavation being restricted to a very limited depth. As a result there are still a few small pieces of wreckage around the crash site, such as this piece.