On 15th November 1941, the crew of this aircraft were undertaking a training exercise and were lying in the Wetherby area when the aircraft was attacked in error by a Spitfire from No 121 Squadron), the pilot of the Spitfire had mistaken the Blenheim for that of a twin engined.
The Blenheim’s port engine caught fire and after the pilot attempted to use the extinguisher to no effect he ordered his gunner to abandon the aircraft and then made good his escape. Sadly, the gunner was unable to get clear of the aircraft and deploy his parachute before the aircraft began to break up in the air, it then crashed at 10.15hrs on to Wetherby racecourse. The main bulk of the aircraft crashed onto the middle of the racecourse and bits also fell in the gardens of Audby House. Races were due to be held the day after this incident and were apparently switched to the steeplechase track.
Charles Westerman was a young lad working on some buildings at Audby House, when hear heard machine gun fire He ducked under a wall for safety. He then saw a twin-engined aircraft flyover very low and crashed on to the racecourse.
Also, working nearby was Geff Hardy, who was awaiting his call up for the Navy. He described what happened next: “I got my first taste of war early, and it left and impression which has stayed with me until this day. That war is no good to anyone and there are no real victories. Imagine working on a building site, walling bricks on a murky day with low cloud. Suddenly right over our heads was the roar of two aircraft accompanied by the rat…tat of gunfire. It seemed to go on for ages, yet on reflection it was only seconds, there was a roar was if the stage curtains had opened and an aircraft burst through the cloud base and nosedived straight into the racecourse.
The explosive crunch and the ball of fire scared me. Then a few seconds later and man’s legs then body followed by a parachute floated down and landed quite near to the crumpled heap of wreckage hidden in a crater. The transformation of workmen who I thought I knew was alarming. They grabbed anything they could get their hands on, brooms, stakes and spades and with a yell rushed across the road and onto the racecourse towards what was obviously the pilot just about to release his parachute. He saw and heard the anger of the crowd and it registered, they were certain he was the enemy and were out to brain him! He threw up his arms, stepped back protesting loudly that he was British and would they take him to a telephone so he could report to his base what had happened.
The pilot was P/O Peter Cleaver from No 54 OTU at RAF Church Fenton, he had just had the misfortune to have been shot down by a Spitfire from No 121 Squadron RAF Kirton in Lindsey. This turned out to be two Spitfires which were based at RAF Church Fenton at the time of the incident.
An enquiry was held and they were sentenced to several days detention.
Blenheim T2324 was built to contract 1485/39 by Rootes Securities Ltd. at Speke and was awaiting collection in September 1940. It was taken on charge on or about 24th October 1940 by the Airborne Interception (A.I.) and Air to Surface Vessel (A.S.V.) School at Prestwick when the unit formed. (The Blenheim was an Airborne Interception-equipped model which suggests it was a IVf). On 27th December 1940, this unit was re-designated No.3 RS at Prestwick. On an unknown date, it was transferred to 54 OTU at Church Fenton and as a result of the damage sustained on 15th November 1941 Cat.E2/FA damage was recorded.
Pilot – P/O Peter Hunt Cleaver RAFVR (103590). Survived.
Reached the rank of Wing Commander and retired in 31.12.1968 He died in 1991. Aged 70.
Wireless Operator / Observer – Sgt John Moss Cohen RAFVR (1334838), aged 19, of Hampstead, London. Buried Willesden Jewish Cemetery, Middlesex.
The two No 121 Squadron pilots who shot down the Blenheim were both American pilots serving in the RAF. Captain Malta Leon Stepp was in the RAF but later transferred to the USAAF, he died in the crash of Thunderbolt 42-7872 on 30th September 1943 on Cats Tor, near Buxton, Derbyshire. John Innes Brown later transferred to the USAAF and survived the War.
Here is a link to a video the the Second Eagle Squadron where you can see both of these people. Click Here
Many thanks to Brian Lunn for giving us this information, Writer of Aircraft Down Air Crashes Around Wetherby 1939-1945
Text taken from Aircraft Down Air Crashes around Wetherby 1939 – 1945 by Brian Lunn.
Mr Cleavers pictures where obtained from www.unithistories.com
Mr Brown and Mr Stepp’s pictures where obtained www.americanairmuseum.com