Air crew died in tragic mid-air ac­ci­dent

The Oban Times - - NEWS -

‘The name Léonard Revil­liod is dis­tinctly not Czech, but Léonard’s grand­fa­ther was Tomáš Gar­rigue Masaryk, the first pres­i­dent of the newly formed State of Cze­choslo­vakia,’ writes Tom Dolzeal.

‘Tomáš Masaryk was among the first po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in Europe to voice con­cern about the rise to power of Hitler in Ger­many.’

Léonard was born on July 26, 1922, at Mon­treux, Switzer­land. When Ger­many in­vaded France on May 10, 1940, their rapid ad­vance con­cerned his mother, Olga, as Cze­choslo­vakia was now a Re­ich pro­tec­torate. On the ad­vice of her elder brother, Jan Masaryk, now For­eign Min­is­ter for the Cze­choslo­vak gov­ern­ment-in-ex­ile, in Lon­don, Olga left Geneva by train on May 19, 1940, and trav­elled with her boys through a chaotic war-torn France to reach Eng­land.

Léonard stud­ied eco­nomics, in­ter­na­tional law and po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Edinburgh Univer­sity and grad­u­ated in June 1942. Now aged 20, he wanted to join the RAF but, be­ing a Swiss cit­i­zen, the neu­tral Swiss Em­bassy in Lon­don re­fused to give him per­mis­sion, threat­en­ing him with pros­e­cu­tion.

But this did not de­ter Léonard, and he joined the RAF Vol­un­teer Re­serve. Tom con­tin­ued: ‘He was posted to 518 Sqn, an RAF me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal squadron, based at Tiree, and equipped with four-en­gined Hal­i­fax Mk V air­craft.

‘Their role was to fly re­con­nais­sance flights, usu­ally of eight to 10 hours du­ra­tion, 700 miles out into the North At­lantic and north-west to Ice­land dur­ing which the me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal ob­server would be tak­ing read­ings, which were vi­tal weather fore­cast­ing aids in plan­ning the strate­gic air of­fen­sive over en­emy ter­ri­tory.

‘In June 1944, D-Day – the Al­lied in­va­sion of Europe – was post­poned for 24 hours, as a slight im­prove­ment in an in­com­ing weather front had been ob­served by a 518 Sqn air­craft. Léonard’s role, in the air­craft’s eight man crew, was as a co-pi­lot fly­ing these pa­trols. He was killed in a tragic fly­ing ac­ci­dent at the age of 22, on Au­gust 16, 1944. Léonard, now at the rank of Fly­ing Of­fi­cer, was co-pi­lot of Hal­i­fax S, se­rial num­ber LL296, for a flight test prior to an op­er­a­tional pa­trol, stand­ing in for the usual co-pi­lot who was sick.’

The Hal­i­fax took off at 1.04pm, cap­tained by P/O Turner, with an ex­pe­ri­enced crew of four Bri­tons, two Aus­tralians, a Cana­dian and Léonard. Another 518 Sqn Hal­i­fax M, se­rial num­ber LL186, had taken-off from RAF Tiree at 1.04pm, cap­tained by P/O K W Or­gan, with a crew of six Bri­tons and two Cana­di­ans.

‘A mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion by Fly­ing Con­trol, RAF Tiree, re­sulted in both air­craft en­ter­ing the airspace, over the air­field, at the same time,’ Tom con­tin­ues. ‘There had been no ra­dio con­tact with Hal­i­fax M for 10 min­utes and when con­tact was re­ceived, the air­craft po­si­tion given was as­sumed to be a mis­take.

‘Hal­i­fax S had been given per­mis­sion to land and was fly­ing along the line of the run­way at an al­ti­tude of 400 feet. At 1.25 pm, about half a mile from the end of the run­way Hal­i­fax M broke through the patchy clouds head­ing di­rectly to­wards Hal­i­fax S. P/O K W Or­gan des­per­ately at­tempted eva­sive ac­tion by throw­ing M vi­o­lently to star­board. But it was too late and a head-on collision was un­avoid­able. Its star­board wing hit the port wing of Hal­i­fax S, caus­ing both air­craft to burst into flames and par­tially dis­in­te­grate prior to crash­ing to the ground, LL296 by Is­land House and the sur­round­ing Loch An Eilean and LL186 at Cross­apol beach.

‘On im­pact, both air­craft were im­mersed in flames with air­craft de­bris scat­tered over a large area. Every­one aboard was killed.

‘Ini­tially, all 16 air­men were in­terred at Soroby burial ground on Au­gust 30, 1944, but af­ter the war nine were re-in­terred to other burial grounds at the re­quest of the air­men’s fam­i­lies. Léonard is one of those who re­mained.’

Léonard Revil­liod with his mother Olga and brother Her­bert.

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