Port lands its fair share of high drama

RECENT high winds saw millions of pounds worth of damage to cranes at Felixstowe Dock. Giant machines, like something from H G Wells' War of the Worlds, crashed down when a ship broke from its mooring and new cranes on the ships deck smashed into those on the quay.

David Kindred

RECENT high winds saw millions of pounds worth of damage to cranes at Felixstowe Dock.

Giant machines, like something from H G Wells' War of the Worlds, crashed down when a ship broke from its mooring and new cranes on the ships deck smashed into those on the quay. Fortunately nobody was injured in these few frightening minutes.

The relatively small area of Felixstowe around the port has had its share of high drama. There were many incidents when RAF Felixstowe was where the port is now. Experimental work was carried out of flying boats and seaplanes and was the scene of many crash landings.


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HMS Gipsy, a destroyer, sunk off Landguard point in November 1939, after hitting a mine. About 50 members of the crew died. In November 1944, a United States Air Force B17 Flying Fortress crashed into the coastguards' houses in Langer Road. Some of the crew had baled out, but others on board died in the crash along with three members of the RAF who were based in the cottages.

In 1953, the area was swamped by the east coast floods and 40 people tragically lost their lives. In January 1956, three men were killed when there was an explosion at the gas works near Beach Station.

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Dominic Miaoulis, who works at the dock, has sent me some extraordinary photographs and information about one of the worst months of disaster at the dock during World War Two. In June 1940, an RAF Hampden hit a barrage balloon over Harwich Harbour. Of the crew of four only the pilot survived.

Sgt E Spencer, the pilot, said: “I struck the balloon cable. The aircraft swung violently to port and the starboard wing dropped.

“The plane dived steeply and I was unable to regain control of the aircraft, which was going down in a very steep dive at 260mph and gaining speed. I baled out at 1,000ft and the parachute opened just before I hit the sea”

Sgt Spencer swum to a buoy from where he was rescued.

The Royal Observer Corps log said: “Admiralty at Harwich reports at 2.25am a plane flew over Felixstowe and was heard to crash at Shotley Point. Crash site difficult to reach because of mud. Cries of help heard in English. The plane is in mud at the mouth of the Orwell on the Felixstowe side.”

The bodies of the three crew were never recovered and their names are recorded on the Runnymede Memorial as having no known grave.

Within two weeks it happened again when another Hampden hit the cable of a barrage balloon and crashed into Marriages Mill in the early hours of June 13, 1940. All four crew were killed along with one workman, D Grayling, at the mill. Two other men D Watts and J Bradley were injured.

The mill was so badly damaged large areas had to be demolished and the mill was out of action for two years. It is a tragic irony the balloons from the 928 Balloon Squadron were over the dock to protect the area from enemy air raids.

Other dramatic incidents in the history of little more than a square mile of Felixstowe, include the day in August 1944 when a badly damaged Lancaster bomber, returning from on operation, crashed in flames into the sea a quarter of a mile south of the pier on the sea front. Only one of the crew of seven survived.

In December 1982 the ferry, European Gateway, was involved in a collision with the Sealink train ferry Speedlink Vanguard in the approaches to Felixstowe. Of the 36 crew and 34 passengers on board six died after the European Gateway capsized on to a sand bank. The ship was finally salvaged by Dutch engineers Wijsmuller on February 26, 1983.

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