When three Allied aircraft crashed in County Louth
by Michael O’Reilly
During WW2 by a strange quirk of fate, three Allied aircraft crashed within a few miles of each other on the Cooley Peninsula, County Louth. The first occurred when a Lockheed Hudson crashed on Jenkinstown Mountain in September 1941. The second was a B-24 Liberator which crashed on Slievenaglogh Mountain in March 1942. These two incidents have already been chronicled by this author in the Ireland’s Eye editions of July 2000 and April 2001. The subject of this article is the third incident.
For a period during WW2 the USAAF 479 Fighter Group’s three squadrons were based at Wattisham Aerodrome in Suffolk, England. During the summer of 1944 the Group’s pilots were converting from flying the P-30 Lockheed Lightning to the P-51 Mustang.
Early afternoon on Thursday, 14th September a flight of P-51 Mustangs from No. 435 Squadron departed Wattisham on a a training exercise so as to enhance the pilots’ experience on the aircraft. The assigned flight plan involved the aircraft flying to Edinburgh, then to Belfast and back to Wattisham. As the weather was fine during the earlier stages of the exercise the pilots mainly navigated visually.
However, when approaching Ireland dense cloud and mist started enveloping the aircraft accompanied by buffeting winds. To avoid risk of collision some pilots broke formation and proceeded individually. After over an hour of instrument flying in challenging conditions the Mustangs started heading back to their base at Wattisham. As the afternoon progressed and returning aircraft were accounted for it soon became apparent that two of them were overdue. Their pilots were 2nd Lieut. Ivan Ervin and Lieut. Chester Granville. For a while there was no undue concern as the aircraft could possibly have landed safely at alternative aerodromes. Alas, as time would tell this was not the case as the following paragraphs recount.
That day at around 14.30 hrs Ballagan LOP (Lookout Post) Co. Louth heard an aircraft in the north heading south. Shortly afterwards Dunany LOP heard the aircraft continuing south until over Clogherhead it turned around and started tracking back north. Heading on a slightly north western track it’s about 17 air miles from Clogherhead to Jenkinstown on the Cooly Peninsula. Up to the present day this region is quite a scenic peaceful backwater, comprising in places of wooded hills, undulating meadows and scattered homesteads. Its attractions include lesser trodden hiking trails and prehistoric standing stones.
Resuming with the story of that eventful day, a mist had lingered until mid afternoon around the townland of Dawestown just west of Jenkinstown. It was at approximately 14.45 hrs when the raucous throb of a low flying aircraft intruded onto the peaceful scene. Shortly afterwards an aircraft of military form emerged from the mist and started circling the townland. It was during the aircraft’s final low level circuit as it approached from the west past Trumpet Hill that it impacted into a field and burst into flames. Some locals on hearing the crash ventured out and at varying distances paused as the aircraft’s heavy calibre ammunition exploded.
After the Ravensdale Gardai were informed of the crash they notified the Duty Officer in Dundalk Military Barracks some six miles away. When Captain J. Walsh of the 3rd Cyclist Squadron arrived with a party some time later it was clearly a non-survivable crash with the aircraft still burning. Due to this it took an appreciable time for to remove the pilot’s body from the wreckage. It would later become known that the aircraft was one of the overdue Mustangs and that the deceased pilot was Lieut. Ivan Ervin. At this juncture available reportage on subsequent happenings tapered off and mainly centered on the following.
On Saturday 16th an Irish Army Guard of Honour was in attendance when the remains of Lieut. Ervin were handed over to the Northern Ireland authorities at Carrickcarnan custom post, Co. Armagh. The following Monday Lieut. Ervin was laid to rest in Lisnabreeny cemetery near Belfast.
During this period Lieut. Granville’s aircraft was still unaccounted for and posted as missing. Despite an intensive land and sea search over Irish and UK territory no trace of the Mustang was ever found. Thus it was concluded that it must have crashed in the Irish Sea.
Ivan Ervin was born in Killam, Alberta, Canada in March 1918. In 1923 the family moved to Washington state, USA. After school Ivan studied at Eastern Washington College, been an excellent athlete. Following college he worked for three years as an elementary school teacher in Vancouver, Washington. In August 1942 Ivan married Evelyn, also a school teacher. Ivan enlisted in the Air Force at Santa Anna, California in February 1943. He had two brothers and a sister, all of whom had served in the military. During autumn 1948 Ivan’s parents had his remains removed from Northern Ireland to a cemetery near his home town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Evelyn, his wife continued teaching after the war, she died in 2004.
Chester Granville in his mid 20s was from La Grange, Fayette County, Texas. During the 1930s he attended the University of Texas in Austin, the state capital. Whilst there he was an outstanding athlete. After graduating he married Dorothy. Chester enlisted in the Air Force at Camp Bastrop, Texas in February 1943. He is remembered by a memorial on his family pot in La Grange. His name is also inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing in Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge in the UK.
On 17th July 2019 I visited Mr Ray Byrne who lives beside the crash site in Dawestown. Ray and his wife generously facilitated me in photographing the location and a section of gun mount from the Mustang. Ray is a nephew of the late Joseph Byrne already referred to.
The P-51 Mustang
The P-51 Mustang made its inaugural flight on 26th October 1940. The earlier versions had the cockpit canopy fairied into the fuselage and were powered by Allison 1,200 hp V-12 cylinder engines. The six Browning .50” machine guns were grouped around the engines and fired through the propeller. The aircraft operated at its optimum performance between low to medium levels whilst at higher altitudes its rate of climb and speed were below expectations. For this reason the RAF used the earlier aircraft in the fighter bomber and reconnaissance roles at lower levels.
By November 1943 phased re-designing had the aircraft powered by a Packard built 1,695 hp Rolls Royce Merlin 61 engine and a new bubble cockpit canopy. The guns were resited in the wings which also carried racks for 2,000 lbs of ordnance. Due to space limitations the guns were initially canted laterally in the wings, which at times could cause ammunition misfeeds. This was rectified by deepening the wings of later aircraft so that the guns could fit upright.
The Merlin engine realised the aircraft’s full potential, it dramatically enhancing its performance at all flight levels. Its excellent range could be further extended by fitting two underwing drop tanks. The Mustang could thus escort Allied bombers from the UK to Berlin and back. A total of 15,386 Mustangs were built.
Up to 1947 the prefix P was used to designate US fighters as in P-51 Mustang. It stood for ‘pursuit’ and in that year it was changed to F for ‘fighter’.
Acknowledgements are due to fellow researcher Dennis Burke for his material input on events and people referred to in this article.