Warbird Down





The Dover Crash

by Frank Tibbo

On January 2, 1942, a Digby (B-18) bomber made a forced landing in the water close to the shore line of Locker's Bay in Dover.

Some people were just getting out of bed in Dover and Hare Bay when they heard the explosions. It sounded as if it the explosions were "out over the water" and it made a few wonder if the bombers from Gander had found a German submarine. As one resident put it, "New Year's Day had been celebrated the day before, so we knew it had nothing to do with that." There really was not much to celebrate on the second day of 1942; the war was the predominate concern of everyone.

Thirty minutes prior to the explosions, Flying Officer Don Maltby had deftly manipulated his aircraft controls as his overloaded Digby bomber lifted off the runway in Gander. The mission for him and his crew was to fly cover for an Allied convoy heading to Great Britain. The convoy was over 300 miles east of Gander. In order to get there and fly cover for a few hours, the fuel tanks had to be full. A full load of depth charges combined with full tanks, machine guns, bullets, food, water and the seven-man crew added up to more than the "never exceed weight." Maltby knew that the excess weight could only be carried as long as the two engines remained healthy.

F/L Don Maltby levelled off at 900 feet just below the cloud and turned the aircraft to 123 degrees magnetic. The navigator, when he had given the course to Maltby, noted that they would be heading out over Lockers Reach just north-east of Dover.

The pilots adjusted their controls in order to extend the flying hours to 17 from the normal 12. Shortly after the adjustments had been made a loud bang came from the right engine. The co-pilot looked at the number two engine and yelled at Maltby, "She's on fire!" The co-pilot hit the starboard fire-extinguisher while Maltby feathered the propeller. In 30 seconds the fire was extinguished; but as soon as the explosion occurred, the bomber immediately started to lose altitude.

Pilots are trained to be always on the lookout for places to land in an emergency; Maltby kept his eye on a body of water close to the shore. The bomber had descended to 600 feet and was slowly but surely losing more altitude. The pilots knew they would have to shed some weight fast, and the easiest thing to get rid of was the depth charges. There was nothing below except ice and water. Maltby released the depth charges, and a few seconds later the explosions announced to the residents of Hare Bay and Dover that there was something unusual happening.

By now the bomber had slipped below the tops of the surrounding hills, and Maltby made a quick decision that it was safer to crash-land there than try to get back to Gander. "We're going to land parallel with the shore just straight ahead – keep wheels up – feather number one – release escape hatches – master switch off!" Maltby's greatest concern, now that his depth charges were gone, was the potential explosion of a full load of gasoline when the aircraft hit the water. He had turned the master-switch off which disconnected the batteries to prevent an electrical current from causing a spark that could ignite the volatile fuel.

"We skimmed along the water for a few hundred feet, then as the body lowered into the water the windshield shattered by the sudden force of the water. We were floating high and all appeared O.K. The crew immediately opened their rear escape doors and expanded the rubber escape raft. After a short time the radio operator asked me if it was ok for him to turn the Master Switch back on so he could report back to base. I asked Hutch (co-pilot Flying Officer Hutchinson) if he could smell anything (gas); he said no and I couldn't either. So I said ok and the switch was turned on. Immediately, there was an explosion. One of the gas tanks below us had split on landing. We were engulfed in flames."

Maltby and Hutchinson scrambled up through the flames to the emergency hatch that they had released prior to crash-landing, jumped on the wing and rolled off into the water to extinguish their flaming clothing.

"Hutch and I looked up at the burning escape hatch and saw our radio operator attempting to get out. This hatch was for the pilot and co-pilot only. We rushed, flames all around us, and pulled him bodily out and threw him into the sea. His face and hands were badly burnt.

The crew paddled the raft from the rear to the front of the aircraft where they picked us up and proceeded to shore. We didn't have long to wait, the local residents had heard the unusual loud noises and came rushing to discover the burning aircraft and give immediate assistance. They took us to their homes, and we were afforded gracious Newfoundland hospitality."


People from the community heard the aircraft and thought it must be in trouble. When they saw it they were sure! Smoke was pouring from one of the engines. Then they saw a bomb or depth charge drop from the aircraft to the water. They knew then that the crew must be preparing for an emergency landing and that they were getting rid of anything that was likely to blow them to bits when they landed.

The bomber disappeared as it descended behind a hill. Within a few minutes smoke was seen rising in the distance, and some men started off for the rescue.


When the men arrived, they discovered that the six crew members had all escaped unharmed, however, they were soaking wet and freezing cold. Mrs. Parson's late husband, Nathan, transported the men to his house using his horse and sleigh.

The six crew-member soon found themselves in the kitchen of Mrs. Mary Parsons. She knew when her husband left to search for the men that if he found them he'd bring them back. She knew that any survivors would be cold; but when she finally did see them, she was shocked that they were soaking wet and shivering uncontrollably. Extra wood in her Waterloo stove forced out heat until the two covers were blood red. As soon as the soaking airmen got in the house and felt the heat, they said, 'Oh my! This is some good,' because they were so cold.' The men hurriedly got out of their wet uniforms which were hung in the hot kitchen for drying.

Mrs. Parsons had her kettle boiling, and the grateful men gulped down hot tea while she fussed over their clothes. Mrs. Parsons remembers one 19-year-old airman who said, "If my mom only knew that I was in the water the second day of January, she'd be worried to death!"

Mary Parsons got her iron from the top of the stove and started to iron one of the tunics. She said:

"The fellow who owned it said, 'Mrs., please don't make my uniform look too good or they'll never believe we were in the water,' but I just laughed and continued to press their clothes. When the Commanding Officer and the doctor came, I had a big pot of moose soup on the stove – I was getting it for the other men. I asked the Commanding Officer if he wanted a bowl of soup and he said, 'No, thank you. I don't think I will.' I thought maybe that he thinks it's not good enough for him. Then when I put it on the table for everybody else, the commanding officer said, 'Mrs. Parsons, that soup smells awful good, I think I will have some.' Then he ate two bowls. By the time they left, all the soup was gone."

The men had managed to send a distress message to Gander, and before long a rescue plane landed nearby with a physician and the commanding officer. The grateful airmen, now dry and warm, were airlifted back to their base at Gander.

A team of two mechanics, Mr. Adams and Mr. Whittney, were dispatched to Dover to dismantle the aircraft so that the parts could be recovered and taken back to Gander. The two stayed with the Parsons for 17 days.


"Do you know how much I got for looking after those two men for 17 days? Seventeen dollars! Fifty cents a day for each man! That's all they paid me."

I talked to Mr. Donald Maltby by telephone in his home in Richmond, BC, on July 18, 1999. He was the pilot of the Digby and a Flying Officer:

"The people took marvellous care of us. They must have seen the explosion, and they came to take us back to the village on horse and sleigh. We were soaking wet and the first thing they did was to give us dry clothing. The ceiling was about 900 feet, and we flew out to the coast at 700 feet. We were out over Dover when the right engine blew. We feathered the prop and dropped our bombs in the sea. We were all in it (the aircraft), and we managed to reach shore. The aircraft by that time had completely burned down to the waterline. Did we feel at times we wouldn't make it? Most certainly."

The Digby was a two-engine aircraft which was modified from a Douglas DC 2 for antisubmarine patrol. He and his wife Mary Alice Owen, the head nurse at the RCAF Hospital at the time and a Flight Lieutenant, met at Gander and were married here in November 1941. Maltby was posted to Gander in 1941.


Digby Bombers Gander WWII


We have received informatiion from a Mr. John Sproule with relatiion to the haul out of the Digby bomber at Dover by the RCAF & the residents of Dover. His father was in charge, F/O Robert Stanley Sproule of the RCAF (1915-2016), of pulling it out of the water and salvaging it. The following are quotes from his diary during this time period that includes life in Gander before being possted to the UK. John relates that his father was an avid skier. He was in the McGill Redbirds and used to ski along with the Canadian Olympic team, though he was not a member of the team.

Note: Deletions to save weight, not censored. June 8/44 RS

January 1 1942 Orderly officer second day in row because relief went flying.
January 2 738 crashed in Locker's Bay. C.O. went in with Fox Moth & Bauhart. Change into long underwear. Talk McBride into taking me. Prepare material.
January 3 Left about 7 am in Bug to Gambo. Very heavy rain. Wait for it to stop. Sleigh thru slush to Hare Bay. Stop chez Percy Wells. Sleep on couch, sleeping bag.
January 4 Working in wading suit in water all day. Trying to get 738 on beach at Wellington. Nice day. Finish 10 pm. No go. Johnny Poker.
January 5 Success. Beached 738. Port airscrew off. Drums set up to clean stuff. Wash guns, bomb sight, & camera.
January 6 Port engine out. ‘Dissassemble’ airscrews. Carpenter on boxes.
January 7 Snow & sunshine. Packing airscrews. Dissemble engine.
January 9 Pack cylinders, ALCOS [generator brand name?]. Very cold. Some snow. Shipped most entire stbd engine. Big load.
January 10 Shipped a lot of stuff.
January 12 Cold, blizzard, warm. Phone call from McBride. Permission to sell gas. Orders – Take everything possible.
January 13 Snow and clouds. Taking wing apart. Making special tools. Some mail in. 6 horses left 4 am. Evening thru ice to boat. ↓
January 14 Very cold. Boat frozen. Nose cut by screwdriver. Turn over port wing. Tanks out.
January 15 Split wing. Evening in post office.
January 16 Rum in morning. Everyone drunk. Brought rear fuselage & stbd main plane (+ ice) over mountain.
January 17 Coldest day in 2 years. (9 or 19 below) Train of 6 sleds to Gambo. Beautiful day. Arrive in sunset. Freight train back to Gander. Eat Xmas presents.
January 19 Move back from IOC to officer’s quarters.
January 20 Sometime went to Gambo in bug, loaded wing & fuselage.
January 22 Sometime unloaded wing & fuselage.
January 25 Orderly officer. Censored mail.
January 26 Mail day I think. None for me.
January 27 History of all Digby engines traced. Got dragged to old movie by squadron. Fairly funny at that. Repaid $30 by security guards.
January 28 Log book work. History of engines finished. Skied to Orpry House to see “Sun Valley Serenade” Flew 2 hrs search for Hudson. Saw trappers etc. (Were within 8 miles of Hudson).
January 29 Work on log book 751. Hudson found. Prepare material. Tanks & wing of 738 not yet washed. Muster parade “Surrounded by submarines. Danger of air raid.” Wrote to mother & bank. Found 4 pairs of socks. Snowing heavily.
January 30 Blizzard. Put bushings in Fox Moth skis. (Machined them in power house.)
January 31 Blizzard continues. Drift 10 feet deep at corner of hanger in front of door.
February 1 Skied off roof of quarters and generally around in bush on survey lines. C.O. went out to crashed Hudson in jeep. Had Sidney Dawes to supper. Talked skiing. (*)
February 2 No working at night. Reading aerodynamics.
February 3 American actor put on vaudeville show 2 days which I attended once. Not bad.
February 6 Posting overseas for Givins “no” to your squadron necessary, as F/O Sproule is supernumerary.” Started to get busy. Abandon idea of going for Hudson. Liberator said going to Montreal immediate.
February 7 Work all day to midnight (made chart). Hank helped while waiting for Liberator to go. Skied off roof of quarters and generally around in bush on survey lines. C.O. went out to crashed Hudson in jeep. Had Sidney Dawes to supper. Talked skiing.
February 8 (Sunday) Hank got off in Liberator about noon. Now ruler of roost. Skuce very helpful. Work until 11pm. Take time out for church only.
February 9 Work until 11:30pm clearing up long standing basket & trying to accept or consider suggestions from all departments.
February 10 Very busy. Writing letters dispatching E 137’s 5’s L3’s etc. Promotion Lovett to Acting Corporal. Work to 11pm. Bought bottle of gin. S/L bought 2 bottle whisky for trip.
February 11 Bug had not been warmed. Started to start 10:15am. No clearance. Took freight to Gambo with S/L Stoddard. Rain. Roads soft. Dan Elkins not at station. Drove to Middle Brook . Stop for day at Sam Perkins - Paid 3 local bills. Admired furs. Others got very drunk.
February 12 Light snow in night. Rather sticky. Skied and rode on sleigh to Hare Bay. Great fun. Skis amazed all seers. Out on ice, along sea shore. Cloudy day. Lunch in open. Salt cod thawed out! Evening with 3 girls.
February 13 Light snow at Hare Bay. Up at 8:30. Paid all morning. Ski exhibition (school kids) at noon. Skied to Wellington picture of plane. Skied down road 3 times some fun. Played 1 20’s and went to bed.
February 14 Skied a bit, shot some Turns (?) from Percy’s boat. Paid some men, finished up.
February 15 Skied in morning on mount at Hare Bay. Pretty good. Skied half of 16 miles to Gambo . Short cut over ice. Waiting for freight train Talk to 1 pm.
February 16 Wakened in Gambo Hotel as train pulled in. Lightning change. Tickets on freight. Started to empty "basket" again about 9am. Work to 11:30pm.
February 17 Work to 11:30pm.
February18 Work to 11:00pm.
February 19 Work to 12:30am.
February 20 Work to 11:30pm.
February 21 Test flight in 740. Skied for hours. Went to stores. Dance in mess. Met Sydney Duaves while skiing. Worked for hour in evening.
February 22 Skied to hanger for work in morning. Heavy snowfall. Drifts above windows again. Skipped church. Invisible Man Returns at show.
February 23 Designing patch for wing. Designing guards, compressor. Damage to aileron. Switching men from flts. Snow & blow then sun.
March 2 Got radio some time around here. Damaged. Had to take apart.
March 8 Work in morning, aft. & evening.
March 10 Not working at night often now.
March 11 755 went to Dartmouth with detachment. Walk late at night. No sleep until late. Radio good. Show in mess.
March 12 Work as usual. Sgt. Stewart is WO2 Nicholas trouble. To hospital about oxygen system. Very nebulous. 757 Engine oil trouble. Walk in evening. To PX store. Work a little.
March 13 Went to stores about tool deficient. L3’s, E135 etc. Radio at noon good. Sent Tunic for repairs
March 22 Occasional dance in mess a bit of fun. Rare drunk in ours or sgts mess. Fun.

*Webster note: Sking was a popular sport for RCAF personal at Gander Lake during the war years

Submitted by F. Tibbo & updated by GAHS


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