By BAD-2 UK
5pm on the 4th of July 1944– The silence over Creswell, Stafford, was broken by the sound of a screaming Merlin engine. Onlookers were shocked to see an aircraft billowing with smoke, skimming across the rooftops of houses and schools. Moments later, the aircraft banked over in a cloud of smoke and flame and slammed into a nearby wheat field.
The aircraft was a P-51D Mustang, on a ferry flight from BAD-2 Warton to Steeple Morden, Cambridgeshire. At the controls that day was 25 year old Captain John Pershing Perrin of the 312th Ferrying Squadron. Captain Perrin was an accredited ace with over 200 hours of combat duty over enemy territory. A P-47 pilot, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and three Oak Leaf Clusters after shooting down seven German aircraft.
P-51 “44-13635” had arrived in the UK the previous month, heading to BAD-2’s overhaul facility in 5 hangar for modifications. One of the many modifications implemented at Warton was the addition of an 85 gallon fuel tank within the aircraft to the rear of the cockpit. Once the Mustang had left the overhaul facility, it went on to a short but rigorous flight test program. Once signed off, the aircraft was parked ready for delivery. Captain Perrin had never taken the controls of a P-51 Mustang before, but took the aircraft for its ferry flight to USAAF Station 122.
Mid-flight, gasoline began leaking from the fuel pump primer on the right hand side of the fuselage. The leak caused the cockpit to fill with fuel vapour. Captain Perrin, noticing this build up, turned his aircraft around. His heading would lead him back to BAD-2, or failing that, nearby Seighford Aerodrome was only a small diversion. Acres of open farmland lay in his direction if he was to make a forced landing.
A short time later, disaster struck. A spark from electrical equipment caused the fuel vapour to explode. The resulting explosion shattered the Mustang’s canopy and enveloped the right hand side of the aircraft fuselage in flames.
The aircraft entered a steep dive and roll, its engine at full throttle. Moments later, Captain Perrin and his P-51 hit the ground.
Farmer Arthur James Malpass, owner of the farmland that became the crash site, recalls the incident in
a written statement to Staffordshire Police: “I looked over the top of the cow shed and saw an aeroplane banking-flying on its side. It is possible the plane was in a spin and it was not much higher than the cow shed. The engine was in motion and full out making a terrific noise as it travelled out of my sight toward my field of growing wheat. Shortly afterwards I heard a bang and an explosion when the machine struck the ground in the field of wheat a distance of about 350 yards away from me.”
Captain Perrin had the opportunity to bail out of the stricken Mustang but, instead, stayed with the aircraft to keep it airborne long enough to clear the village and an infant School.
On the 63rd anniversary of the crash in 2007 a memorial was erected as the crash site in his honour.