A documentary to be broadcast on Great Britain’s Channel 4 on New Year’s Eve claims to solve one of the minor yet vexing mysteries of World War II — the disappearance of band leader Glenn Miller.
Miller’s plane took off from Great Britain on December 15, 1944 to carry the bandleader to Paris where he was scheduled to perform for American troops. His plane disappeared in the fog and was never seen or heard from again.
Reuters reports that the Channel 4 documentary revives a claim that had been previously rejected — that Miller’s plane was a victim of friendly fire from Allied bombers returning from an aborted bombing mission.
Fred Shaw, who was a navigator on one of those bombers, claimed in the 1950s that the aborted mission likely took out Miller’s plane. In order to land safely in England, the 139 bombers released all of their bombs into the English Channel. Shaw claimed that he saw the bombs hit a small plane beneath the bombers, but didn’t realize until much later that this was likely Miller’s plane.
Shaw’s claims have generally been rejected, largely because he was perceived as a publicity seeker and there were a number of open questions about whether Shaw’s bomber group and Miller’s plane could have possibly crossed paths since the two flights seemed to have about an hour-long difference as to when they would have been over the channel.
Aviation historian Roy Nesbit claims he’s solved those and other mysteries. The hour-long time difference, which supposedly made Shaw’s account impossible, turns out to be no discrepancy at all. Nesbit claims the alleged time difference is entirely due to the fact that the Americans recorded Miller’s departure in local time, whereas the British recorded the bomber flight’s departure and arrival time in Greenwich Mean Time.
Nesbit also argues that the flight path that Miller’s plane would have had to take would have put it only a couple miles from a zone over the English Channel designated for bombers to dump munitions (and which was kept secret, so Miller’s pilot would have had no idea he had ventured into airspace where munitions would be ditched).
Add to that Miller’s pilot’s inexperience with instrument flying and that he would have had to rely solely on a compass in the heavy fog that day — and the possibility that Miller could have been a victim of friendly fire doesn’t look so farfetched.
But the key is still whether or not Shaw could have properly identified Miller’s plane, with a lot of folks wondering how Shaw could have possibly recognized Miller’s Canadian-made Noorduyn Norseman, when only a handful were used in Great Britain. Nesbit’s answer: Shaw received his aviation training in Canada, where the Norseman was in widespread use.
Glenn Miller ‘died under hail of British bombs’. Peter Lemon, The Guardian Unlimited, December 15, 2001.
Glenn Miller killed by friendly fire, paper says. Reuters, December 15, 2001.