Seventyeight years ago, on a fateful day in the height of summer, a lone fighter plane graced the skies over Darwen Moor, a serene expanse on the edge of the Pennines. This aircraft, a North American P51C Mustang, hailed as the world’s finest long-range single-seat fighter, would soon become the center of a perplexing mystery. The crash of this Mustang, resulting in the tragic loss of Polish pilot, 24-year-old Plutonwy Herbert Noga, continues to bewilder local residents and war historians alike. In this article, we delve into the enigmatic story of this crash, exploring the circumstances surrounding it and the enduring questions that persist to this day.
The P51-C Mustang, manufactured in Dallas, Texas, and equipped with Packard-built British Merlin engines, stood as a symbol of reliability during World War II. In stark contrast to the flimsy aircraft of the Great War, the Mustang was a formidable machine, known for its exceptional performance and robust design. With a reputation for long-range capabilities and agility, it was a prized asset in the Allied forces’ arsenal.
On the afternoon of July 29, 1945, it was just another day in the North West of England, albeit one with a touch of mystique in the air. The region was shrouded in a fine mist, a consequence one might say, of the industrial haze that lingered over the area. The war in Europe had concluded merely weeks earlier, bringing a semblance of peace to a world scarred by conflict. It was under these unique circumstances that the P51-C Mustang embarked on a seemingly routine mission.
The mission at hand was a straightforward one – a ferrying job from the headquarters of the legendary Polish 316 Warsaw Squadron at RAF Coltishall in the Norfolk Broads to the Polish Air Force base in Blackpool. This was intended to be a routine journey, a symbol of the changing times as the world transitioned from the chaos of war to the promise of a more peaceful era.
It is thought that the first witnesses to the crash were three young boys: Bill and Jim Cartlidge, along with their friend John Nowell. Playing near Jack’s Key Lodge, they suddenly heard the ominous sounds of the plane coming over the hills, but more worryingly, it was making a sound akin to that of an engine which seemed to be failing. Moments later they would find themselves horrified to witness the catastrophic crash site.
Without hesitation, the young boys sprinted towards the moors, driven by a mix of curiosity and concern. Their hearts raced as they approached where the loud crash had originated from. What they found would forever be etched in their memories: the Mustang had disintegrated into countless pieces, its wreckage deeply embedded in the peat of the moorland. Tragically, they also discovered the lifeless body of Herbert Noga, the Polish pilot who had met his end in this remote corner of England.
The R.A.F. recovery crew arrived later that day and recovered the body of Noga as well as the largest remaining sections of the aircraft.
In the years that followed, remnants of the Mustang continued to surface around the crash site. Some of these fragments have found a new home in an air museum in Liverpool, where they serve as poignant reminders of that fateful day and the enduring mystery surrounding the crash.
Seventy-eight-years have passed since that summer day when the P51C Mustang descended from the skies over Darwen Moor. Yet, the mystery of why this iconic aircraft crashed, claiming the life of Polish pilot Herbert Noga, endures as an enigma that beckons the curiosity of local residents and war historians alike. As we remember this poignant event, we are reminded that history often holds within its folds stories that resist easy explanation, leaving us to wonder about the untold secrets of the past.
Something obviously went wrong with the engine if the boys story of how they had heard a sort-of ‘spluttering’ noise as the plane appeared through the mist. We may never know what had caused a malfunction and to this day, the crash has been somewhat of a mystery.
Officer Herbert Noga was buried with full military honours at Layton Cemetery, Blackpool in Section BB , Grave 465.
The inscription on the memorial, surrounded by the graves of 24 Polish airmen, reads: “We Polish airmen gave our Souls to God, our Bodies to the British soil, and our Hearts to Poland.”