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Fleet Air Arm Corsair Recovery in Somerset

Brewster Built Vought Corsair
Royal Navy Serial: JS590 
759 Squadron Fleet Air Arm

Pilot: S/Lt R Scriminger 
Date: 13th February 1945
Place: Charlton Mackrell, Somerset, UK

Fleet Air Arm Corsairs, of the type Sub Lieutenant Scriminger was flying.

Sub Lieutenant Richard Catlin Scriminger was a member of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve training to fly Corsair fighter aircraft. He was a member of 759 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, part of No 1 Naval Fighter School, RNAS Yeovilton.

Sub Lieutenant Richard Catlin Scriminger

On 13th February 1945, S/L Scriminger was involved in a practice dog fight four and a half thousand feet above Somerset. His Corsair lost flying speed and entered a spin. Diving down through fog the aircraft failed to level out and flew into the ground North of the airfield. Sub Lieutenant Scriminger was killed instantly and his aircraft buried itself underground. The navy spent a week recovering his body and the remains of his plane. S/L Richard Scriminger was buried in his home town of Scarborough. He was aged 22. ‘Remembered with Honour’ inscribed on his headstone.

Fleet Air Arm losses were something of a mystery until this book was published. Official records have been lost.

Over the years several individuals had attempted to investigate the crash but the landowner would not entertain any recovery. Not knowing this myself and Gareth began the obligatory knocking in the village to find ‘anyone who might have been around during the war’ A local historian knew vaguely of the accident and thought he could locate it within a couple of fields. He suggested the oldest resident and gave us his address. Ray remembered the accident well and had seen the Corsair come down, although he thought from a cloudless sky. Being an inquisitive young man he had rushed across the village to see. Ray agreed to show us the spot, so we contacted the landowner for permission to search his field. With unusual luck, the farm had recently changed hands. The new owner knew nothing of the crash but was very interested, especially as he had witnessed the recovery of an Me110 from his previous dairy farm in Dorset. With his blessing given to examine the field, Ray walked us across a gently sloping paddock, describing the events of sixty years previously before stopping with the all important words, ‘I think it was about here’. Just under the turf were zinc chromate painted fragments, some bearing the VS part numbers of a Vought Sikorsky designed Corsair. The magnetometer suggested there was more. The landowner was keen to see the loss commemorated and decided to name the field Scriminger paddock in remembrance of the pilot.

 After the necessary permissions had been granted the Corsair was excavated in the summer of 2007.

A small excavation in Charlton Mackrell, Somerset.

The crash site was on very stony ground with the engine only penetrating six feet. The Navy had done a thorough job of recovering the remains, but the little left was very interesting. Whether due to the dry sandy soil or Vought/Brewsters’s anti corrosion treatments almost everything recovered was in excellent condition, even down to pencil marks on the structure and paintwork on steel. At the bottom of the hole were fragments of the prop boss showing traces of yellow paint. The largest item found was a complete cooling gill from the cowling. Wreckage was in no particular order with cockpit items scattered throughout. Digging was taken very slowly and a fingertip search revealed pieces as small as the Bakelite trigger and bomb release button from the stick top, as well as tiny fragments of the grip. The base of a US made gun sight was found, as well a knob from a British TR1196 radio set. A fuel trap was found with a large US Navy anchor motif as well as parts of the throttle box with a manufacturer’s decal still applied. Distinctively Corsair pieces included part of the wing folding control labelled ’Fold Stop Spread’ and the droppable fuel tank release selector from the instrument panel. Airframe sections, although in small parts, showed a temperate scheme of dark green and dark grey camouflage on top with light grey undersides. Two of the three carburettor dump valves located on the underside just behind the cowling gills were found. These were painted dark grey, suggesting the camouflage on this aircraft wrapped around under the nose, a feature not seen in contemporary Corsair photos.  The presence of the aircraft’s rear view mirror, which was integral with the sliding hood, suggested the pilot hadn’t jettisoned the canopy in an attempt to bale out. The careful searching also found Richard Scriminger’s Omega wristwatch and buckle. These were returned to the MoD under the terms of the licence and efforts were made to return them to next of kin. Appeals were placed in the Navy News and in Scarborough local papers. Unfortunately nothing came of this and the watch was returned to us.

Details of the excavation were placed on the Red Kite website. Two years later we were contacted, via the MoD, by the pilot’s sister. A relative had been researching family history and come across the story. Pat was the last surviving member of seven brothers and sisters. Now living in Edinburgh, she was still keen to find out more about her brother and pay her respects at the spot where he had died.

Arrangements were made and on a warm summer’s morning in July Pat, her daughter and several other family members made the long journey to Somerset where we were all warmly welcomed by the landowner, Mr Littman, and his family. Like so many wartime casualties, no details of Dick’s loss had been passed to the next of kin, he had simply been lost on active service. Pat had not known the circumstances or location of his death. Conversely, Richard Caitlin Scriminger had just been a name, age and squadron to us.  The meeting allowed his watch to be returned and an exchange of information which, for a little while, brought him back.

Dick, as he was known, was the eldest brother and something of a daredevil. Pat brought several photos, one of which showed him in RAF and another in Naval uniform. Apparently he had joined the Air force but found he was not seeing enough action so had transferred to the Navy to fly with the Fleet Air Arm. A very keen young man.

Following the excavation in 2008, the landowner was presented with a laser cut plaque to commemorate the accident. There is a small lean to barn adjacent to the crash site and the plaque had been mounted on a rather odd shaped wooden panel on the wall. Mr Littman explained the significance of the angled top of the wood: His family was Jewish and this represented the broken topped gravestone of someone who had died too young.

Watch, airspeed indicator and plaque, with the Pat’s photo of her brother.

Dick had taken off from RNAS Yeovilton, only a couple of miles South of  the crash site. It was fitting that Pat and her family should end their visit with a tour around the Fleet Air Arm museum to see their preserved Corsair.

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