In November of 1941, James Shaw left his position as manager of Perth Aerodrome to serve with the RAF. In 1944, James was serving with RAF 17 OTU (Operational Training Unit) in 1944. The unit moved to RAF Silverstone in 1943 to train night bomber crews with the Vickers Wellington aircraft. OTU’s were mainly training units, but they did on occasion take part in Bomber Command operational sorties as part of RAF No. 92 Group.
On 7 July 1944, Vickers Wellington Mk X, HE235 took off at 23.48 pm for RAF Turweston for a night exercise. They were given permission to land at 01.17 am. Vickers Wellington Mk III, BK272 from the same unit also took off at 01.22 am directly into a bright moon to take part in the same exercise. At 01.28 am, six minutes later the two aircraft collided at 1,000 feet and went down. Both burst into flames and 13 men were killed.
The controversial Court of Inquiry findings said: that the pilots and crews failed to keep a good look out. Navigation lights would not show up in full moon. Weather fine, visibility excellent.
New evidence suggests that BK272 took off earlier, given permission at 01.14 am and took off at 01.17 am. It had already made a right-hand circuit of the airfield and was again at the end of the runway climbing to 1,000 feet. Wellington HE235 was turning to land on the same runway and hit BK272 side-on at 01.28 am. The brilliant bright moon that HE235 was perhaps dazzling and the extremely poor navigation lights on the Wellingtons, that were not visible to BK272, contributed to this tragic accident.
Crew of Vickers Wellington HE235:
Flight Lieutenant John (Jack) Shaw RAF (70617), Pilot, age 32
Sergeant William Niven Mitchell RAFVR (1290938), Navigator, age 36
Sergeant William Charles Edward Willett RAFVR (1603136), Air Bomber, age 31
Sergeant Leonard William Barker RAFVR (916712), Wireless Operator, age 28
Sergeant Charles Alfred Wyatt RAFVR (1596540), Air Gunner, age 19
Sergeant Harry Kinchin RAFVR (1596079), Air Gunner, age 20
Flight Lieutenant Shaw was a graduate of Caius College, Cambridge, the son of Geoffrey Turton Shaw and Mary Grace Shaw and the husband of Marjorie Catherine Helene Shaw of Knowehead, Coupar Angus.
RAF Silverstone is currently still the motor racing circuit, the current home of the British Grand Prix. It is located next to the villages of Silverstone and Whittlebury in Northamptonshire.
This incident was covered in detail in the YESTERDAY (UKTV) TV series WWII Air Crash Detectives – Episode 3/6: ‘Death in the Moonlight’
Garth Barnard (Air Crash Detectives) with wreckage from the crash