The Luckiest Man in the World (4)

Flight Sergeant Thomas Weightman, as we have seen, survived the crash at Dilhorne described in my last post The Luckiest Man in the World (3). Tom is listed as an Air Gunner. I suspect that he was the tail gunner and that is why he was not killed. The impact he had to endure was much less forceful at the back of the aircraft. Furthermore, he was further from any fire than the rest of the crew. And so, he survived. By this time he must have felt that he was extremely lucky. Perhaps he even experienced “survivor guilt”:

Let’s finish on a positive note. And one that explains the title of the post. After his fortunate escape, Tom Weightman joined 644 Squadron who flew Halifaxes and transported supplies for Special Operations Executive operatives, usually to Norway and Denmark:

On April 23rd 1945, probably without the dog, Tom flew off to Scandinavia in a Halifax Mark VII, serial number NA337, squadron letters 2P-X. It was Operation Crop 17, tasked with supplying the Norwegian resistance, the Ling, with 13 containers and 2 packages containing rifles, food, and clothes. These were successfully dropped but the aircraft flew off course by accident and was hit by German anti-aircraft fire. The pilot had to land somewhere, so he ditched the stricken plane in Lake Mjøsa which was the only flat area around:

The dinghy should have deployed automatically but it failed to do so. I presume that the members of the crew, as the cold, cold waters rose around them, must have decided to try to swim to shore. They could not have known that this was the largest lake in Norway. Alas, they all died from hypothermia. Flight Engineer Goronwy Amman Bassett (34) from Swansea. Wireless Operator Alec Naylor (22) from Oakenshaw in Yorkshire. Navigator Walter Reginald Mitchell (23) from East Dulwich in London. Bomb Aimer Gordon Russell Tuckett (23) from Cardiff and Pilot Alexander Turnbull (27) from Edinburgh.

The Tail Gunner and “The RAF’s Luckiest Man”, Tom Weightman, meanwhile, had by now recovered consciousness after being knocked out by the impact of the aircraft hitting the surface of the lake. He awakened to find all of his colleagues had gone. Water was still rising inside the Halifax so he climbed out through the upper escape hatch and walked out onto the wing. The dinghy was still in its special cupboard in the wing so he climbed back into the aircraft and released it manually with a winch. He then set off paddling across the cold waters of the lake trying to find the rest of his crew. This is the only picture I could find of a deployed dinghy:

There were no replies, though, to Tom’s shouts and it was far too dark to see anybody in the ice cold water. When it got light, the locals found Thomas in his dinghy and looked after him and made sure he was in good health. And then, quite rightly, they handed him over to the German Army because they feared, quite rightly, appalling reprisals to their families if they harboured an RAF flyer. And after just 14 days of captivity, the war ended and Tom Weightman was a free man. He was to have 62 more years of life than his colleagues in the 644 Squadron Halifax and 63 more years of life than Jack Sweeney.

Even his plane was lucky. It lay sleeping peacefully at the bottom of the lake for 50 years. And then somebody’s sonar turned up a very strange fish:

And then the Halifax Aircraft Association dived down, found it, rescued it, restored it in magnificent fashion, took it to the RCAF Memorial Museum at Trenton in Ontario and there it remains to this very day. If you ever manage to see it, make sure you look carefully at the rear turret and wonder what made the man in it so special.:

The Norwegian lake is still there. In winter it freezes over and recently it played host to some of the events in the Winter Olympics:

I could not have written this blog post without recourse to this website.

 

 

 

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24 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History

24 responses to “The Luckiest Man in the World (4)

  1. Good Lord John, Flight Sergeant Weightman was extraordinarily lucky! It is pleasing to see that his aircraft is preserved at the RCAF Memorial Museum. This encounter reminded me of another lucky escape, that of Flight Sergeant Nicholas Stephen Alkemade (10 December 1922 – 22 June 1987) who was a rear gunner in Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster during World War II, who survived—without a parachute—a fall of 18,000 feet (5,500 m) when abandoning his out-of-control, burning aircraft over Germany. Andy posted the story on Aviation Trails: https://aviationtrails.wordpress.com/heroic-tales-of-world-war-2/rear-gunner-flight-sergeant-nicholas-s-alkemade-115-squadron-raf/ – Thanks for a great post John.

    • My pleasure and I’m glad you enjoyed it .I think the longer Bomber Command’s war went on, the more men realised the considerable role of pure luck in their survival. Having said that Flight Sergeant Weightman clearly knew that there was a winch he could use but the rest of the crew didn’t. Presumably he had acquired that knowledge somewhere. Flight Sergeant Alkemade though was off the scale. I can still remember reading his story on the front and back of Victor Comic on June 9th 1962.

  2. Pierre Lagacé

    Reblogged this on Lest We Forget II and commented:
    Next time I visit the museum, it won’t be the same…

    • Thanks very much, Pierre. I think one of the best things with history is how sometimes we in the present can actually see or touch part of the reality of a distant time.

  3. Fantastic story. A true example of the saying, “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good”

  4. A truly lucky man, and what a remarkable story. For a while I thought it was going to be the Halifax in the RAF Museum, Hendon. But, what a fabulous rebuild they have made of that aircraft. Definitely one to visit if ever in Canada!

    • Absolutely. I am continually amazed at how what appears to me to be a complete pile of junk can be magically transformed into a pristine example of a WW2 aircraft! The Canadians have done a particularly brilliant job, though. It looks like it just rolled off the production line.

  5. What a fascinating story – he was truly a lucky man!

    • He certainly was. I wonder if that good luck continued after he came home from the war. Or did he return to his hastily parked car and find that every single time he had been given a ticket?

  6. The tail gunner station must have been a scary place to be, a bit exposed at the back of the aircraft there.

    • It certainly was extremely exposed, although as Thomas found out during his first crash, it could also be relatively protective if the aircraft was skidding along the ground during an emergency.

  7. What a story! He was fortunate to survive. Thanks for sharing his story.

  8. Unbelievable story, John. That man’s luck just never ran out. I guess it pays to be in the right place at the right time. Great write!! 🦋

    • You are very kind Amy. Maybe he used all his luck up in just a couple of incidents. Do we have a set amount allocated to us at birth, and once it’s gone, it’s gone?

  9. He was a lucky man, and all his colleagues, they died so young. It always happens in wars and other violent acts. I keep wondering why do they take place. But they have always been happening. Thank you for all your posts 🙂

    • My pleasure. I’m glad you are enjoying them! War is so pointless. Nowadays we here in England are good friends with Germany, Italy and Japan. The tragedy is that so many people had to die to bring it about.

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