Defiant shot Down Over Lincolnshire.
Defiant NF MkI
RAF Serial: N3333
Pilot: P/O Arthur ‘Sandy’ Ballentine
Air Gunner: Sgt Chris McTaggart
Date: 4 May 1941 – 03.45 hrs
Place: Potterhanworth, Lincolnshire, UK
The details of a Defiant night fighter crash near Lincoln were no secret, but all previous attempts to locate the site had failed. In the years since the war the land around the village of Potterhanworth has changed enormously with many miles of hedges being ‘grubbed out’ and the patchwork of small fields and paddocks becoming vast featureless prairies. The wartime location given for the crash site ‘Lark Farm, Nocton Fen’ no longer exists.
The persistence of the team’s lead wreck hunter Gareth eventually provided a clue – by superimposing a wartime map on modern satellite imagery the rough area of the crash site could be estimated in the sea of featureless Hectares and a metal detector search begun.
Defiant N3333 was to be on the aircraft the team excavated in 2018 as part of the TV series WW2 Treasure Hunters – shown in the UK on the History Channel and produced by Emporium Productions.
Permission for the dig was granted by the landowners, part of the Dyson group of companies and Sir James Dyson – himself an aviation enthusiast – as well as the Ministry of Defence. Full compliance with Health and Safety, as well as Environmental Impact, Risk Assessments had to be rigidly adhered to. The excavation itself was supervised by Dr Phil Marter, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Winchester University.
One of the first major items discovered was the Defiant’s tailwheel and leg. This was rapidly followed by the turret and cockpit area from where two of the 303 Brownings emerged. Beneath this was the Merlin engine, which was in remarkably good condition, with two holes blasted in its casing just as it crew reported.
The show’s format has presenter Stephen Taylor overseeing excavations, while ‘Madness’ frontman ‘Suggs’ discovers the historical background of the story. The ‘Treasure’ being as much in the background story as in the items gleaned from the earth.
The team set about trying to locate the descendants of ‘P/O A A Ballantine and Sgt C McTaggart’ who had both safely parachuted from the Defiant. Of ‘McTaggart’ there was no trace and it was assumed that he survived the war, but the pilot Arthur Alexander Ballantine had been killed during the Normandy Invasion on June 20th 1944. One small clue was that he came from the village of Horning in Norfolk and that he left a widow, but there was no trace of the family there now. A Google search, however, did associate ‘Horning’ and a breeder of Pekingese dogs in Canada named Ballantine – could there be a link? Via the Canadian Kennel Club, Christine Ballantine, got in touch – yes – she was ‘Sandy’ Ballantine’s daughter!
Christine was only eight months old when her father had been killed in Normandy. She had moved to Canada in the 1960s where she had a chance meeting with ‘Sgt McTaggart’, her Dad’s gunner. To further complicate the story ‘McTaggart’ had by now reverted to an earlier Danish family name and was Chris ‘Kris’ Madsen. He had moved to Canada in the 50s, joined the RCAF and became a pilot flying with 409 Squadron over the Arctic during the Cold War. He died in Vancouver in 2010.
Christine was flown over from Canada to take part in the show, first in Normandy where her father was buried, and then to Lincoln to see the recovery of her Dad’s Defiant.
4th May 1941
A Flight 255 Squadron
6 miles east south-east of Lincoln
With Sgt C McTaggart as my A/G I took off from Kirton Lindsey at 03.43 hours (second sortie) on patrol and was vectored south to patrol bomber aerodromes. After about 10 minutes, when flying at 4,000 feet, about six miles E S E of Lincoln I felt two explosions in the engine accompanied by violent vibration of the A/C, and immediately flames appeared below the instrument panel and along the cowling. The A/C at once began to lose height becoming more unmanageable as it did so. I gave my A/G the order to abandon A/C and prepared to follow suit myself.
The A/G climbed out of the turret (guns to port) and dived off to port of tailplane without difficulty. The A/C was now almost out of control, diving and turning, but I managed to invert it and proceeded to bale out myself. The only difficulty occurred when my leg got caught on something, but this gave way when I pushed.
I must have been about 2,000 – 1,500 feet when I got clear of A/C. My parachute however opened almost instantly and I felt a heavy jolt as the parachute filled, this immediately being followed by a pleasant sensation of quietness and the feeling that I was not falling. I was not aware that I was near the ground until I landed with considerable force in a ploughed field on my posterior. Happily, I was uninjured, and I made my way to a nearby farm (at Potterhanworth) and aroused the occupant. This worthy took an extremely poor view of me for a time, but eventually the situation was grasped and the inevitable cup of tea produced.
My A/G also landed safely on his hands and knees (without injury except for minor bruises) and we both returned to Kirton Lindsey by transport.
Neither my A/G nor myself saw any E/A, but facts subsequently revealed would seem to establish that we were shot down by and enemy aircraft.
A A Ballantine P/O
As the pilot reported, it was later established that the Defiant was indeed shot down. 255 Squadron’s Intelligence Officer reported:
“Plots shown 3 E/A in the vicinity at the time, 2 of which were converging on Defiant at exact time and place where explosions occurred.
Although engine buried itself 15 feet in ground a few large pieces of a/c were recognisable and on a wing there was a hole which appeared to have been caused by m/g fire. About 100 yards from the crashed plane several pieces of fairing were discovered punctured by m/g fire. Since the ammunition had been seen and heard by pilot and A/G to explode in the pit made by the crash there can be no question of these holes having been made by the Defiant’s own guns.
The Defiant was, of course, a complete write-off.”