• Si Biggs

Crash in Malta - 40 Cdo Royal Marines

Updated: May 18

17th May 1953


During Active Service deployment to the Canal Zone the plane carrying S Troop of 40 Commando RM crashed on take-off from Luqa in Malta.


A Valetta aircraft (70 Squadron) force landed on the grass when its aileron jammed & hit the runway control caravan and burst into flames.


Marine Burtenshaw and L/CPL Don were killed.


Colour Sergeant Oswald Falconer was awarded the George Medal for going back into the burning plane to get the men out.


Image of a Vickers Valetta C.1 (VW838 30 Sqn Ringway 31.07.53)

The following article first appeared in Malta Flypast Issue 8, by Major Mark Said, AFM, and is being reproduced by kind permission of the author. [Taken here from Aviation in Malta]


Events in the Middle East and Mediterranean underwent rapid changes as a consequence of the announcement on July 26, 1952 that King Farouk of Egypt signed the instrument of his abdication. The question, as always, was whether power seized by dramatic military means was, in the event, to be used for the good ends as proclaimed. There was no reason to decry the high motives of the reformers, but the dangers of dictatorship lurks behind every "coup d'etat".


Following a number of killings of British servicemen and a clear demonstration of anti-British sentiments, an air bridge from Egypt was set with Malta as a hub. Royal Air Force Hastings and Valetta aircraft took the brunt of the colossal effort. Service personnel and their families were evacuated by air and sea and were replaced by battle hardened soldiers.


One of the aircraft involved in the operation was Valetta C.1, VW81 0 of 70 Squadron, based at Fayid, Egypt. The aircraft (callsign MORKK) was carrying Commandos to the Canal Zone when it crashed on the outskirts of Luqa airfield on 17 May 1953.


During the take off run along runway 06, one of the ailerons jammed and the pilot, 582015 Flight Lieutenant WF Knapper, was unable to maintain directional control. He closed both throttles, put the nose down and touched down on the grass to the right hand side of the runway. After bumping once on the ground the pilot retracted the undercarriage in an attempt to stop the runaway aircraft and avoid hitting the runway control caravan. In the event, his actions were unsuccessful and the port wing sliced through the caravan, injuring Sgt. Ricketts of Jamaica, a runway controller.


After colliding with the caravan, VW810 struck and damaged the starboard wing of another Valletta aircraft parked near the runway threshold. The latter was VX575 'la Valette' the personal aircraft of the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet and the Air Officer Commanding Malta.



The runaway Valetta then smashed through a rubble wall before coming to a full stop in a field on the outskirts of Luqa village (near the present day Take Off Bar) where it caught fire a few yards from a fuel pipe. Prompt and efficient fire fighting and rescue work were the determining factors which kept down the number of casualties to a minimum and which averted a major disaster.


Unfortunately there were two fatalities. Marine Derek Edward Burtenshaw, Royal Marines, aged 24, died instantly and Lance Corporal Ronald Don of'S' Troop 40 Commando Royal Marines, died two days later of multiple burns. Three others, including Sgt Ricketts, were seriously injured, and seventeen were slightly injured. These were conveyed to Luqa Sick Quarters for treatment and later transferred to Bighi Naval Hospital.


Friar Samuel of Marsa, who was travelling by bus to Qrendi at the time of the air crash, hurried to the scene and administered the last rites to the victims. The two dead commandos were buried with full Military Honours at Mtarfa Military Cemetery.



Colour Sergeant Oswald Bernard Falconar, Ply.X.1048, Royal Marines was awarded the George Medal for his bravery in rescuing a survivor from the aircraft and the citation for his award as published in The London Gazette on Tuesday, 6 October, 1953 states:


"An aircraft, carrying part of 40 Commando, Royal Marines crashed in taking off at Luqa, Malta, on 17 May, 1953. The moment the aircraft came to rest, flames swept through the open door and in a moment the aircraft was full of fire and smoke. Colour Sergeant FALCONAR was battling his way out when he heard a man cry out that he could not undo his safety belt. In this moment of terror, when seconds stood between life and death, Colour Sergeant Falconar went back and released the man's safety belt, thus undoubtedly saving his life. When both were clear of the aircraft, Colour Sergeant Falconar, in spite of his burnt hands, helped the man to tear off his burning clothing".


The Malta Communications Flight Valetta C.2, VX575, which was also damaged in the crash on 17 May, had replaced the Dakota previously used jointly by Admiral Sir John Edelsten, Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean, and Air Vice-Marshal N.H. D'Aeth, Fortress Commander. The aircraft was christened 'La Valette' at Safi by Lady Creasy, wife of His Excellency, Sir Gerald Creasy, the Governor of Malta, at the then still operational Safi strip in the morning of July 20, 1953.


The starboard wing and aileron of 'La Vallette' had been severely damaged by VW810. Following repairs, the aircraft was prepared for a test flight prior to returning to operational flying.




Colour Sergeant Oswald Falconar G.M. Royal Marines


Colour Sergeant Oswald Bernard Falconar served with the Royal Marines during the World War Two and married his wife Isa in 1942, his home was at Harwick. He had been a Troop Sergeant Major with 45RM Commando, now with the war over, he opted to remain in service and in May 1953, with increasing tension in Egypt he found himself boarding at Valetta transport aircraft of 70 Squadron RAF at RAF Luqa Malta bound for the Canal Zone as a member of 40 Commando Royal Marines.


Falconer was awarded the George Medal for his bravery in rescuing a commando from a burning aircraft at Luqa airfield Malta, he attended Buckingham Palace on the 23rd March 1954 and received the George Medal from the hand of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.


Citation

An aircraft, carrying part of 40 Commando, Royal Marines crashed in taking off at Luqa, Malta, on 17th May, 1953. The moment the aircraft came to rest, flames swept in through the open door and in a moment the aircraft was full of fire and smoke. Colour Sergeant Falconar was battling his way out when he heard a man cry out that he could not undo his safety belt. In this moment of terror, when seconds stood between life and death, Colour Sergeant Falconar went back and released the man's safety belt, thus undoubtedly saving his life. When both were clear of the aircraft, Colour Sergeant Falconar, in spite of his burnt hands, helped the man to tear off his burning clothing.


[London Gazette 39976, page 5285, 6th October 1953]

The plane was carrying twenty one commandos to the Suez Canal Zone

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