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  RAF Digby crash : 3 Jul 1941 Bristol Blenheim IV Z5870

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Updated: 10 Jan 09

On 3 Jul 1941 Digby-based Bristol Blenheim IV Z5870 was due to fly to RAF Ringway, now Manchester International Airport, for a major overhaul. The aircraft belonged to 12 Group Anti Aircraft Co-operation Unit (AACU) whose crews helped to train the air defence gunners providing AAA protection in the Midlands and Yorkshire. In wartime, this was a golden opportunity for young airmen from the Manchester area or wishing to explore a foreign country to get home for a long weekend leave rather than face the long train journey, or hitching a lift.

The pilot they had to convince was the Polish Sergeant Nikodem ‘Nikky’ Plotek. He was not the only Polish pilot on the AACU. Polish aircrew were frequently posted to the Unit after completing their flying training with their Polish colleagues so that they could improve their English language skills before joining operational bomber squadrons. Other British aircrew who had not performed well in their flying training were often streamed to serve on these less demanding roles.

One of the aircraftmen wanting to cadge a 'lift' home that Thursday afternoon was flight mechanic AC2 Raymond Place RAFVR, a who was a car salesman at a garage in Manchester before being mobilised. Another of the men hitching a lift was the Canadian wireless operator AC1 William Franklin Kidd RCAF who had been sent to England just three months ago on completion of his training. He was 21 years old. The youngest airman to loose his life that day however was AC2 Wilfred Cottam: he was just 19 having joined the RAF at the age of 17. He lied about his age on the outbreak of war and enlisted to fulfill his boyhood dream. He was Nikky Plotek's wireless operator.

During the flight, Sergeant Plotek was caught in the same trap that the many other crash sites of the Dark Peak can testify to, that of meeting bad weather when flying west towards the Pennines. On this short ferry flight he would have maintained good visual contact with the ground at low level around 1800 ft. He was most likely pushed slightly off track by the wind with cloud shrouding the mass of Kinder Scout and the other peaks directly in his path.

Blenheim Z5870 crashed into the southern side of Kinder, somewhere in the vicinity of the haunting wind-sculpted rocks of Crowden Tower. Nobody witnessed the crash and it was only discovered by chance when a local soldier – ironically one of the very type of people Sgt Plotek would have been helping to train – walked into the area. Although the aircraft was not totally destroyed, and there had been no fire, all four men had died on impact.

Although research of aviation history websites and the Air Historical Branch has born some fruit, there was no precise location available for the site Z5870’s crash site when I went walking in Edale, nor any wreckage at the identified area. Local 'wreck hunters’ had combed the area on previous occasions but also been unable to pinpoint the exact site.

In memory of

Pilot Sgt Nikodem Plotek (24) P780407 PAF
Passenger AC2 Wilfred Cottom (19) 653243 RAF
Passenger AC1 William Franklin Kidd (21) R/63958 RCAF
Passenger AC2 Raymond Place (31) 1021172 RAFVR

Pilot Sgt Plotek was buried in the war graves plot at Manchester Southern Cemetery. He has no individual headstone, the entire plot being grassed over and the names recorded on a memorial. AC1 Kidd is buried in the Scopwick CWGC Plot near Digby.

For those that are interested in the military wartime crash sites of the Peak District they include two other known Polish fatalities, 23 RCAF, 23 RAAF, 48 from the USA and 153 RAF. Visit www.peakdistrictcrashes.co.uk

Facts from AHB research: Crashed in 2800ft in mist. Polish casualty files are thin as they have generally been handed over to Polish authorities. AC2 Cottom is buried in Lancashire. The crash was in the Kidd Farm area. The aircraft engine was a Mercury type 815. Crash through engine failure was unlikely - cause not known - family not info'd.

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