by George Spink
Moderator - The Palomar
It seems there is no end to our fascination with the question, "Whatever happened to Glenn Miller?" Palomar member Spencer "Wolf" Smartt raised that question right here a few days ago.
What do you think happened to Major Alton Glenn Miller? Do you believe he disappeared in a plane crash caused by bad weather over the English Channel on Dec. 15, 1944, as has been widely believed since that fateful day?
Here is the first public announcement that Miller was missing in action, broadcast by the BBC on Christmas Eve 1944:
One viewpoint suggests Miller's small Norseman plane was destroyed by bombs being jettisoned by R.A.F planes returning from a bombing run over Germany, as depicted in this illustration:
Mark Postlethwaite's depiction of the Norseman carrying Major Glenn Miller
as it allegedly flew through bombs being dropped by R.A.F planes
over the English Channel on their return to Great Britain on Dec. 15, 1944.
This view was reported by The New York Times
at the end of 1985:
LONDON, Dec. 30, 1985—Two members of a Royal Air Force bomber crew in World War II believe they can explain one of the unsolved mysteries of the war: the disappearance of the band leader Glenn Miller. The two say they fear the band leader's plane was downed over the English Channel by bombs jettisoned from their own plane as they returned from an aborted mission.
The two — the navigator and the pilot — said their four-engine Lancaster bomber was one of some 150 returning from an aborted mission on Dec. 15, 1944 — the same day Mr. Miller took off in bad weather from an airfield near Bedford, England, on a flight to Paris, where he was to give a show. The two R.A.F. crewmen said that after the jettisoned bombs exploded, they saw a Norseman aircraft fall into the sea below them, apparently knocked out of the sky by shock waves. The plane carrying Mr. Miller, who was then a Major in the Army and leader of the Army Air Force band, was a Norseman D-64.
The official version of the band leader's disappearance is that his aircraft vanished in the channel fog, perhaps disabled by ice on its wings. Other theories were more bizarre: That he faked his own death, that he was a secret agent, that he died in a Paris brothel with the crash story as a cover-up, or that he was the victim of black marketers.
The R.A.F. crew's story was originally raised in public last year by the navigator, Fred Shaw, who now lives in South Africa. His theory, which appeared in South African newspapers, was discounted, however, by members of the Glenn Miller Appreciation Society, a London group with an abiding interest in Mr. Miller's life and music, on the grounds that no R.A.F. planes were assumed to be in the air that day because of the poor weather.
But one member of the society, Alan Ross, of Liverpool, England, investigated Mr. Shaw's claims. Mr. Ross wrote to the Defense Ministry and placed an advertisement in the R.A.F. Association Journal, Air Mail, seeking other members of the Lancaster's crew.
Mr. Ross said that members of the Appreciation Society believed the Defense Ministry had been asked about the matter years ago and that the ministry had replied that "not even the pigeons were flying that day." Defense Ministry officials, however, could not recall such a query.
Records found at the Ministry of Defense by E. A. Munday, of the Air Historical Branch, confirmed that a squadron of Lancasters had, in fact, taken off at noon on Dec. 15, 1944, and had flown on a course over northern France, near the Belgian border, on a mission to attack the railway yards at Stegen, Germany.
"Before entering German-controlled airspace, the force was recalled," Mr. Munday said. "According to standing orders, the bombs were jettisoned in designated areas before landing."
In a letter last May (1985), Mr. Munday wrote Mr. Shaw:
"Until your story appeared in the South African press in 1984, the R.A.F. had always regarded Miller's death as a strictly U.S.A.A.F. matter, as the result of some sort of flying accident, probably as a result of poor weather conditions. We have received letters at various times asking about it, some of which put forth theories, some feasible, and some not so feasible.
"Up until 1984, the only R.A.F. connection was that Miller's plane had taken off from the R.A.F. airfield at Twinwood Farms, Bedfordshire, in weather conditions which could be described as marginal, or at least marginal for that type of aircraft.
"Your story, to a greater extent, changed this, and we carried out an investigation earlier this year into the aborted bomber operation of 15 Dec.1944. Because the operation was aborted, there is no raid report on B(omber) C(ommand) records, as would have been customary with a completed operation. We did find reference to the intended course."
The Miller flight took off from Twinwood Farms, near Bedford, 50 miles northwest of London, at 1:55 P.M. Greenwich War Time. The pilot filed no flight plan and his course is unknown. Mr. Munday said today that, although the band leader was flying to France at the time the R.A.F. squadron was returning from its aborted mission, they could have been miles apart.
Victor Gregory, the pilot of the R.A.F. plane, now living in Westonsuper-Mare, England, answered Mr. Ross's advertisement, thinking it had something to do with a reunion. He confirmed Mr. Shaw's story.
The bombardier, Ivor Pritchard, who would have had the best view, asked the navigator whether he could see the bombs exploding, Mr. Gregory recalled. The pilot said Mr. Shaw "got up and looked out of the little dome and spotted this aircraft, a Norseman."
"The rear gunner, who was looking around all the time, saw it tip up and go into the sea," Mr. Gregory said. "When these bombs go off, they cause a lot of explosion." The gunner, Harry Fellowes, then asked on the intercom, "Did you see that kite go in?" A kite, Mr. Gregory explained, was slang for a plane.
Mr. Pritchard died in 1983, according to Mr. Ross, but Mr. Fellowes may still be alive, and his former crew members are anxious to talk to him and to the other crew members: Robert O'Hanlan, the radio operator; Derek Thurman, the engineer; Derek Arnold, the mid-upper gunner; and Frank Appleby, the mid-under gunner. They also want to locate the crews of other bombers in the area.
When asked why it had taken so long for him to come forward, Mr. Gregory said he had forgotten the incident until contacted by Mr. Ross.
"When we got back from that raid," he explained, "it was an aborted raid, so we didn't go in for our normal debriefing. Don't think me unsympathetic or callous, but when I heard of the plane going down, I would have said that he shouldn't have been there -- forget him. My own concern was getting my own airplane home safely. We were fighting a war, and we lost thousands of planes. We had some pretty grim raids after that, and they didn't announce Miller's death until later. It had gone completely from my mind." Mr. Miller was first reported missing on Dec. 24, 1944.
Mr. Shaw said that he had become interested after he saw the film, The Glenn Miller Story, in 1954, checked his log book, and realized the downed plane might have been carrying the band leader. He was rebuffed when he approached newspaper reporters at the time and forgot about it until he saw the movie again, years later, in South Africa.
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Why these people waited more than 40 and sometimes more than 50 years to come forth is beyond me -- even more of a mystery to me than Glenn Miller's disappearance itself.
Until recently, I hadn't heard any reason not to accept the official version of Major Alton G. Miller's disappearance that was announced by the BBC to a war-weary world on Christmas Eve 1944, namely, that on Dec. 15th the famous bandleader disappeared in a small plane en route from England to Paris somewhere over the English Channel. Miller was on his way to make arrangements for his Band of the Allied Expeditionary Force to give a Christmas Day concert in Paris for Allied troops.
Miller was flying in a Norseman on a day when that small plane should never have been allowed to take off. According to Miller's friend and biographer, the late George T. Simon, the atrocious weather had already delayed Miller for two days. Anxious to make the crossing, Miller accepted an offer to make the trip with Col. Norman Baesell, who was going to Paris on that day no matter what. Baesell had to conduct essential war business -- to refill empty champagne bottles for the holidays that he sold on the black market in the U.K.!
Simon writes that when Miller boarded the small plane, the band leader asked Baesell where the parachutes were.
"What's the matter, Miller?" Baesell asked. "Do you want to live forever?"
Questions keep being raised about Miller's disappearance. Consider that another report claims that the Norseman carrying Miller over the Channel on Dec. 15, 1944 later flew other missions. It was decommissioned in 1947. In other words, Miller's plane didn't crash on Dec. 15th after all!
This matter is still being debated six decades after Glenn Miller disappeared. The late Hunton Downs, in his The Glenn Miller Conspiracy
, published in April 2009, claims that Miller was sent on a secret mission to Germany in December 1944 to persuade anti-Hitler generals to alert the Allies of German troop movements. These generals would prevent their own troops from participating in these movements and be spared by the Allies. But Hitler found about Miller's visit. Hitler's supporters arrested and tortured Miller to death.
Others have claimed that Miller died in a Paris brothel in December 1944.
Which story is correct? Others are likely to surface from time to time. Decide for yourself....
These theories remind me of an old Chinese parable. Whenever Chinese philosophers wanted to know the truth, all they had to do was look up into the giant mirror that encircled the Earth reflecting all that was true. One day the mirror shattered and fell to the Earth in tiny pieces.
For centuries, Chinese philosophers had no idea whether something was true or not. One day, two Chinese philosophers were walking through the Gobi Desert when a ray of light shot up from the ground. One philosopher turned to the other and said, "Aha! I've found the truth!" "No you haven't," the other philosopher said. "You've only found a piece of the truth!"
I think the time has come to let Glenn Miller rest in peace. He left us an enormous legacy of wonderful music. Let's listen to it and enjoy it!
Begin by listening to the 1944 Christmas Day broadcast by Glenn Miller's Band of the AEF led by Sgt. Jerry Gray at the Olympic Theater in Paris.
Moderator - The Palomar
Los Angeles, California