My interest in historic military aviation stems from my early teenage years when I became obsessed with building and flying model aircraft. For some reason the Bristol Beaufighter was always one of my favourite warbirds of the WWII era. It was short nosed, pugnacious looking in terms of aesthetic appeal, and played second fiddle to the faster, sleeker, DeHavilland Mosquito. Nevertheless it was a highly versatile heavy fighter that was particularly effective as a night interceptor (its capacious fueselage easily accommodating bulky early radar sets) as well as in ground attack and marine protection roles. Its primary armament was four forward firing 20mm cannons and six 7.7mm machine guns. In addition it could carry bombs rockets and torpedoes. Overall it was one the most heavily armed Allied fighter-bombers and packed a formidable punch.
Nearly 6000 Beaufighters were built but sadly there are only one or two left in the world and none are in airworthy condition. Earlier in the year, just prior to a visit to my daughter in Italy, I was intrigued to read of the (re)discovery of a crashed Beaufighter in the village of Gusano, about an hour's drive from Milan. I wrote to the archeological team, Air Crash Po, and received a warm invitation to visit the site. So on a pleasant day back in June I set off with Olivia and Giulio to the countryside.
The photos below tell the story (for those with ADD and can't cope with still pictures, scroll to the bottom of the page for some YouTube action)...
|The crash site is at the village of Gusano di Gropparello; "chestnut country" according to the sign|
|Located in the Po Valley, about an hour's drive from Milan -it's hard to imagine a more picturesque spot|
|The crash site marked (by me) on Google Maps and Street view. For you geo-anoraks the co-ordinates are: 44.837719, 9.701647|
|Looking directly at the crash site. 70 years ago there were more trees here and one theory is that the Beaufighter clipped them while pulling out of a dive to strafe a vehicle in the valley below|
|A survey of the site begins. Olivia and Giulio join in with the search. The aircraft was a Bristol Beaufighter Xc of the RAF's 272 squadron and operating out of Alghero, Sardinia. It was probably looking for targets of opportunity: unfortunately it's only possible to speculate as squadron records for September 1944 are missing from the National Archive|
A cursory search with a metal detector unearthed several aluminium fragments that were almost certainly aircraft related...
This twisted piece of aluminium is clearly from one of the instrument panels
A hinged mechanism of some kind, quite possibly from the undercarriage or maybe one of the control surfaces
|No idea what this is. I was tempted to speculate that the aluminium hopper in the centre of the structure was to hold cannon shells but I don't think it's big enough|
No mystery here: this is an undercarriage leg with a telescopic shock absorber -see below
|A more detailed view of telescopic shock absorber. After 70 years some of the chrome is intact|
|A propellor blade. This piece of the airplane is housed in the Museo della Resistenza at Sperongia, a few Km away from the crash site|
Aluminium panels still with intact olive drab paint. This component looks like it was part of the engine cowling
Another panel with a small inspection hatch. This looks like a piece of the fuselage to me...
|Another piece of aluminium skin. Where it's from is anybody's guess (my personal feeling is that given the flat form it's from the underside of the fuselage). On my next trip to the UK I intend to visit the reading room at the RAF Museum, Hendon and see if I can identify any of these parts from workshop manuals. Seriously, if there are any Beaufighter experts out there please who can help please comment below...|
|The cemetery at Gusano. Both members of the aircrew perished in the crash and were buried here by the villagers with utmost respect|
|The brave aircrew were Flight Sgt. John Horsford (pilot) and Warrant Officer John C Watson (navigator/gunner). Their remains were later transferred from Gusano to the magnificent Staglieno Cemetery, Genoa|
|Wild poppies grew all over the crash site and in the adjacent fields. Very poignant -it seemed that nature was also making a respectful gesture|
|The pilot of the Beaufighter, John Horsford, was awarded posthumously the DFM. This clipping is taken from the London Gazette supplement, 23rd February 1945|
Me with the archaeology team at the Museum of the Resistance, Sperongia
My thanks go to Signor Pierlino Bergonzi, Professor Agostino Alberti and their colleagues of the Aircrash Po and Gruppo Ricercatori Aerei Caduti teams and the Muzeo Della Resistenza, Sperongia, for making this visit possible. My appreciation also goes to Giulio Cavalli for acting as chaffeur and translator and Olivia Morrow for her cheerful patience and good humour on a day that can only be described as "blokeish". Finally I wish to pay tribute to the memory of Officers Horsford and Watson as well as all the brave airmen, regardless of allegiance or nationality, who gave their lives in that terrible conflict.