In the first series of WW2 Treasure Hunters we had the great honour of joining LAIT (http://laituk.org/) in the recovery of a JU88. It was a great experience, to the extent that we wanted to help out with more aircraft recoveries.
In this episode we recover a Boulton Paul Defiant, shot down on May 4th 1941. Further down in this blog are pictures of the parts we recovered as well as other pictures from the episode.
This blog also contains archive photos of the crew, the aircraft (prior to being shot down) and log book entries!
But first, some detail relating to the aircraft and the men who flew her….
The first two Defiant prototypes went airborne on August 11th 1937 with an order of 400 following. Only three planes were in RAF hands by the onset of WW2. The first operational Defiant group on December 8th 1939, however it wasn’t until May 1940 that the Defiant had their first taste of combat against the German Luftwaffe. Early results proved promising as the aircraft served up no fewer than 65 enemy air kills before the end of May 1940. What made it unique? The hydraulically powered rear turret. Unsuspecting enemy pilots didn’t take into account that the Defiant was protected against attacks from the rear and would’ve been greeted with a hail of bullets from the Browning machine guns on a 360 degree turret system. An amazing 2400 bullets were available to the gunner. However, when the Luftwaffe pilots cottoned onto this, they started attacking the planes from the front as it was the Defiant’s priority to defend its rear. As expected, losses of the aircraft type began to mount and they were withdrawn from daytime action in August 1940. However, they were reinstated as converted night-fighters and were equipped with interception radar systems, making the British forces superior in radar development. During the span of 1940-1941 the Defiant accounted for more enemy air kills than any other aircraft.
On the 4th May 1941, Defiant N3333 crashed at Nocton fen Lincolnshire whilst flying from 255 squadron Kirton Lindsey. The aircraft was shot down at night by enemy aircraft at 4,000ft with both crew bailing to safety before crashing in open farm land. The aircraft was excavated with the kind permission of Sir James Dyson and the pilots daughter, Christine Ballantine from Vancouver Canada, joined the team of WW2 Treasure Hunters, aviation archaeologists and members of Winchester university to uncover the remains of her late fathers Aircraft.
Flt/Lt. Arthur Alexander Ballantine, known as “Sandy”, was born into the J. Lizars Opticians and Camera business of Scotland and Northern Ireland and was optician apprenticed into the family business. Educated at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, Scotland, his activities included sailing on the River Clyde in Scotland and later on the Norfolk Broads. He also played rugby. He married Peggy, who he called “Topper”, in April, 1942. His daughter, Christine, was born in October, 1943. At this time they rented off-station accommodation in Horning, on the Norfolk Broads. “Sandy” first went to The De Havilland School of Flying at White Waltham in July, 1939 where his proficiency as a pilot was noted as “Above Average” and again, while training at R.A.F. Shawbury. He received his Commissioned Service in the general duties branch of the Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve as a Pilot Officer on the 7th September, 1940, Flying Officer on the 7th September, 1941 and Flight Lieutenant on the 7th September, 1942. On the 16th December, 1940 he joined R.A.F. Night Fighter Squadron 255 based out of R.A.F. Stations, Kirton-in-Lindsey and later, Coltishall. Briefly, in early May, 1941 he volunteered for the Merchant Ship Service Fighter Protection Unit but returned to 255 Squadron.
At 3.30 a.m. on the night of 4th May, 1941 “Sandy” and his Gunner, Sgt. Chris McTaggart/Madsen, were flying Boulton and Paul Defiant N3333 “B” when they were shot down while on patrol at 4,000 feet and bailed out at only 1,500 feet, in a ploughed field at Lark Farm, Nochton Fen, Potterhanworth, Lincolnshire, 6 miles south-east of Lincoln. “Sandy” was unhurt and was charged by the farmer with a pitch fork thinking he was an enemy! His Gunner was slightly hurt so, “Sandy” borrowed a bicycle from the farmer and went for help. Their plane crashed and burned a short way away. Thus “Sandy” received the Irvin Parachute Company ruby-eyed caterpillar, for bailing out of a burning plane. Some of the aircraft of the many he flew were: Beaufighters, Blenheims, Defiants, Hurricanes, Tiger Moths, plus numerous others.
After the optic nerve in his right eye was accidentally severed during a sinus operation, and was blinded one eye in early 1942, he continued some operational flying but joined R.A.F. Radar Station Neatishead 12 Group as a Ground Control Interception Controller on the 14th October, 1942 and later became Chief Controller. On the 9th May, 1944 it was conjectured that he was acting Squadron Leader GCI Controller at Rein Pool Holding Unit prior to D-Day. Before going to Normandy, “Sandy” had a 10 day training at the GCI station at Sopley near Bournemouth with 11 Group. On the 6th June, 1944, D-Day, “Sandy” landed in the late afternoon on Gold Beach at Le Hamel, in the vicinity of Asnelles and was to set up the radar units at Bazenville known as B2 airstrip with 483 GCC, 83 Group.
On the 17th July “Sandy” had dug himself a slit trench to sleep in, when, German aircraft dropped sticks of anti-personnel bombs, one of which rolled into his trench and exploded, burying him in the early morning of the 18th. He was dug out alive but his internal injuries needed specialist surgery, so he was transported the 15 miles to #26 General Hospital near Douvres where he died on the 20th June, 1944. (Text on Flt.Lt. A.A. Ballantine’s life story taken from a research document written by his daughter, Christine Ballantine, and forwarded to Gareth Jones, who kindly allowed this information to be shared.).
So a few weeks later we visited Gareth to see how well the Merlin II had cleaned up, and whether it showed any damage.
What a fantastic job he did!
A truly remarkable story to be involved with, and a great honour to have met and spoken to the pilots daughter, Christine.
(Period pictures and documents below kindly supplied by Christine Ballantine and Dennis McTaggart.)
Pictures of the pilot, Flt/Lt. Arthur Alexander ‘Sandy’ Ballantine, along with pics of the actual aircraft recovered, the log book entry for the day he was shot down, and his Caterpillar Club badge.
Pictures of the Gunner, Sgt. Chris McTaggart/Madsen, the actual aircraft we recovered and the entry in his log book of the day he was shot down! Unbelievably, we also have a copy of the letter confirming his admission to the ‘Caterpillar Club’.
One big mystery remains………….Despite recovering a large quantity of relics from the Defiant, it is still a puzzle as to where the other 2 Brownings went! We only found 2.
Thank you Stephen for your highly detailed research on the BP Defiant. A wonderful iconic aircraft. I am particularly interested the oft forgotten mighty Defiant as BP was a Norwich company(I am an expat of Norwich) & during WW2 many revolving gun turrets like that on the Defiant were built there.Sadly there is only one aircraft in existence, non flying & I am told, a replica !
Great blog Steve ..
I understand that the four gun system on the Lancaster was dropped to two because the guns obscured the gunners view.
Maybe this mod was adopted on your plane ??
Hi Mick. Thanks for you kind comments. Not in this case I’m afraid as we have pictures of the actual aircraft recovered, taken a matter of days before crashing. All 4 guns in place! Only thing we can think of is the RAF team who attended two two away when they recovered what they could from the site.
Thanks for publishing this. I was unable to see the documentary. Chrys Madsen (McTaggart) was my uncle. I actually have prints of some of these photos at least one of which was taken by Chrys.
It’s my pleasure but a shame you didn’t see the show. Please try and find someone with History channel and watch it!
On the back of the photo of the three sitting on the wing Chrys wrote in pencil :
Our ground crew, Left LAC Ellis. (fitter)
Centre P/O Ballantine (pilot).
Right LAC Jaggard (fitter).
Me:- not in this one as I took it.
That is fabulous! If you don’t mind, I’ll amend the photo description to say that. Huge thanks for letting me know!
Yes, do include it. I shouldn’t think anyone would mind. I could possibly send you a scan.
Hi Dennis. I am a archaeology student at the University of Winchester and myself and Dr Phil Marter worked with Stephen and the team to excavate the Defiant crash site last year. Currently we are in the process of writing a report on the archaeological work that was undertaken, and I wondered if it is possible to contact you via email to find out some more about your relative Chrys McTaggart. If you could drop me an email at email@example.com that would be fantastic!