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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 195609
Last updated: 20 July 2021
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Type:Bristol Blenheim Mk IF
Owner/operator:600 (City of London) Squadron Royal Air Force (600 (City of London) Sqn RAF)
Registration: L6682
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 3
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:RAF Manston, Kent, England. -   United Kingdom
Phase: Approach
Departure airport:
Destination airport:RAF Manston, Kent
In the evening of 11 March, 1940 Flg Off Anthony Henry Hamilton Tollemach of 600 Sqn RAF took off for a searchlight co-operation exercise with the Blenheim IF L6682. Aboard were Second Lt Philip Rowland Sperling, Welsh Guards, as observer, and LAC Smith, wireless operator/air gunner. When approaching the flare-path to land at Manston airfield, at 23:20 hours, after completing the exercise, the aircraft struck a tree and crashed into a field, where it immediately burst into flames.

Tollemache was thrown clear of the wreckage, and Smith was able to escape. Realising, however, that his passenger was still in the aircraft Tollemache, with complete disregard of the intense conflagration or the explosion of small arms ammunition, endeavoured to break through the forward hatch and effect a rescue. He persisted in this gallant attempt until driven off with his clothes blazing. His efforts, though in vain, resulted in injuries which nearly cost him his life. Had he not attempted the rescue it is considered he would have escaped almost unscathed. Sperling died in the blaze and is buried in Kingsclere Church Cemetery.

Tollemache suffered terrible burns in the incident. He was to be one of the first RAF ‘guinea pigs’ – pilots who benefitted from experimental plastic surgery developed to deal with facial and hand burns. Such injuries were to be common amongst pilots injured in the Battle of Britain. Tollemache made a good recovery and later returned to duty. In 1944 he was an RAF ground liaison officer in Normandy when the tank he was in was hit and the man next to him beheaded. Tollemache escaped major injury and survived the war.

Tollemache was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal for his rescue attempt. It was exchanged for the George Cross after the new decoration was introduced by King George VI later in 1940. One of only 401 recipients of the honour, Mr Tollemache died aged 63 in a car crash in Paris on 20 February 1977. On 5 December 1988 the George Cross and four other medals were stolen from the home of his late widow, Celia, in Ely, Cambs. The family feared the collection was lost forever but it was found in February 2005 on a beach in Maroochydore, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, by a tourist who handed it into local police.

"The Bristol Blenheim: A Complete History", by Graham Warner. ISBN 0-85979-101-7,%20PHILIP%20ROWLAND

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Revision history:

23-May-2017 17:48 Laurent Rizzotti Added
26-Sep-2018 09:19 Nepa Updated [Operator, Operator]
15-Jul-2020 08:43 Xindel XL Updated [Location, Destination airport, Narrative, Operator]
20-Jul-2021 10:57 Anon. Updated [Location, Operator]

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