Bolt in the Bay – Pilot ID

Way back in 1999 Grahame Knott of Deeper Dorset located the crash site of a second world war aircraft in Weymouth Bay.

The known limits of the crash site have been scanned into 3D:

The model of the engine has been reprocessed to reveal more detail:

Over the last two decades we have been working towards identifying the name of the pilot and finding the story behind how the aircraft crashed.

It took many years of patient research to ID the type. Eventually part numbers on the tail wheel and an entry in the Portland War Diary for May 7th 1944 revealed it was a single seat Republic P47-D fighter. The diary also told us of the pilot’s fate of bailing out and being rescued by HMT Northern Gift.

Portland War Diary recording the loss of the Thunderbolt in Weymouth Bay

Frustratingly there were log books for Northern Gift, but the range covering May 1944 copy was missing. A few aircraft serial numbers were followed up on with the USAF Historical Research Agency but none of the candidates matched.

Fast Forward

We let the story lie for a bit when other projects took over, but during lockdown there was time to have a step back look at the evidence. One search turned up a French list recording all P47-D losses and several entries for the 7th of May stood out…Tombe dans la Manche…Lost in the Channel.

The USAF would only create records for combat losses or accidents, and losses that saw the pilot back at base in 24hrs or less were simply not recorded. We know our pilot was quickly rescued so an individual loss report won’t have been created.

But other records might hold clues. So we turned once more to the Air Force Historical branch and requested the dairies of both 365th Squadron and 358th Group for the lost aircraft.

The records were faint and difficult at times to read, but there was a telling entry in the Group diary for the 7th May:

Four P-47D failed to rendezvous with group, but were in sight of group formation when recall was received, Those four became separated at this point and were next heard of off Cherbourg, France. Insufficient gas caused two to bail out over the Channel and were picked up by British air/sea rescue.

The key points for us were:

  • Loss; bailed out over English Channel
  • Fate of pilots; both rescued
  • Location; Cherbourg is approx. due south from the crash site

The squadron diaries delivered much more details. On the 7th the 365th were due to escort an 8th Air Force bomber formation, crossing into enemy territory over Dunkirk at 18,000ft before the entire raid was cancelled and recalled. It then feels like SNAFU joined in and as reported four aircraft became lost. The squadron diary records the events:

Today we experienced some tough luck. Blue flight had an unfortunate experience. When returning home Lt Charbonneau and Lt Averett ran short of gasoline in the channel and were forced to bail out…

Flying north from the Cherbourg peninsular puts you very close to Weymouth Bay and the working theory is that our P47-D was flown by one of the blue flight pilots:

  • Lt Norvin K. Averett – service ID 14057258
  • Lt Arthur P. Charbonneau – service ID 815282

The Pilots

The squadron diary contains a wealth of information about both pilots, with Lt Averett featuring from the inception and sailed from New York on the 8th October 1943 before arriving in Liverpool on the 19th of the same month.

There is a small photograph of Lt Averett in the diary…frustratingly the microfilming process has cropped it.

Lt Arthur P Charbonneau’s record in the squadron diary is brief. He joined the 365th in April and was quickly in combat escorting bombers. As D-Day approached the squadron role switched to ground attack – dive bombing ground targets such as aerodromes, bridges and railway marshalling yards in France – Lt Charbonneau is featured in the daily combat reports.

Orthophoto of the entire crash site, extents of which are known and identified today. Was Lt Averett or Lt Charbonneau the pilot of this aircraft?

Of the two, Lt Averett was perhaps the most unlucky. As he bailed out on the 7th of May he injured his back and was hospitalised. By the 15th of May squadron records see him listed as remaining in hospital and removed from active duty. Thereafter he is listed as wounded in action, returned home and awarded a Purple Heart. With and extended stay in hospital before being returned home the injuries sustained must have been significant.

Lt Charbonneau flew combat over France after D-Day before disappearing from the records on the 15th of July. He turns up again, being reported as a prisoner of war on the 14th of September.

The good news is both men survived the war and whilst current research indicates Lt Averett is deceased but its just possible Arthur Charbonneau is still alive and possibly living in Florida.

Appeal for Help

We would dearly love to find out more about either pilot’s story and are appealing for help and assistance.

If we can get this secondhand from a relative then great, but even better if we could speak to Arthur – if he’s still alive – and hear first hand what happened on the 7th of May. Hopefully he can fill in the gaps in the diary, the experiences of flying a Thunderbolt and life as a POW.

If you can help please use Contact Us to contact Simon or Grahame using the Deeper Dorset contact us page to message Grahame.

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