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Warbird Down

 

 

 

 

Gander Lake's B-24

by Frank Tibbo

RCAF 10 BR (Bomber Reconnaissance) Squadron was formed in Ottawa on June 1, 1937 – one of the RCAF's few pre-war permanent squadrons.

After a year in Ottawa, the squadron was stationed in Calgary where it lasted for only a year because war seemed imminent. It was transferred to Halifax to guard the east coast of Canada. Negotiations between the British, Canadian and Newfoundland governments soon resulted in the Canadians being given permission to use and control the giant airbase at Gander. The first aircraft arrived in Gander in May 1940; and by April 1941, the entire squadron of Digby aircraft had been transferred. The squadron was transferred back to Dartmouth in November 1942 with a record of one submarine being destroyed (U-520 on October 30, 1942).

The squadron was soon equipped with 15 Liberator Bombers (B-24), and in April 1943 the squadron moved back to Gander where it stayed until the end of the war. In addition to the Liberators, the squadron still had some of its original Digbys which were also flown to Gander. It soon became known, informally, as The North Atlantic Squadron,

On August 6, 1943, a new commanding officer, Wing Commander J.M. Young, took charge of 10 BR Squadron. Wing Commander Annis, who had commanded the squadron since their recent arrival in Gander, had been put in charge of RCAF Station Gander.

On September 4, 1943, Wing Commander Young took Liberator 589D for what was intended as a routine flight. Squadron Leader John G. MacKenzie, Flying Officer V.E. Bill, and Leading Aircraftman G. Ward were also on board. It was reported that Squadron Leader MacKenzie, a physician and an ear specialist from the medical unit in Toronto, was conducting tests regarding noise levels in the Liberator.

The aircraft made a slow turn and dove straight into Gander Lake taking the four airmen to their death. It was suspected at the time that some foreign object had interfered with one of the flight controls causing Wing Commander Young to lose control of the big bomber.
A young medical officer upon hearing of the disaster was heard to say, "I'm a lucky man. I was supposed to be aboard that aircraft!" It was thought at the time that he was to be involved with the tests to be conducted by Squadron Leader MacKenzie.

Divers were sent down and found that the aircraft was resting on a ledge. They surfaced and descended the second time with cables to attach to the fuselage. While trying to secure the aircraft, the body of Squadron Leader John G. MacKenzie was recovered. While the divers were in the process of attaching cable to the fuselage, the aircraft slipped off the ledge and sunk to a depth beyond the divers range.

Further salvage operations were abandoned because recovery was considered impossible due to the depth of the water in Gander Lake. It has remained undisturbed on the bottom of the Lake ever since. It is considered that because of the lack of oxygen at that depth, the aircraft may be in excellent condition and no doubt will be raised some day for a museum. Let us hope that it will be for the North Atlantic Aviation Museum and that it will be displayed in memory of. Wing Commander J.M. Young, Squadron Leader John G. MacKenzie, Flying Officer V.E. Bill and Leading Aircraftman G. Ward.

S/L MacKenzie is buried in Gander Commonwealth Graves. Names of Wing Commander J.M. Young, Flying Officer V.E. Bill and  Leading Aircraftman G. Ward are engraved on a plaque in St. Martin’s Cathedral, Gander.

 

Editor's note - A former resdent of Gander, Tony Merkle, an underwater exploration diver, is heading up a project, to locate the B24 and attempt to raise it too the surface.

 

Submitted by F. Tibbo

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