Today is December 15, 2017. Seventy-three years ago Major Alton Glenn Miller boarded an Eighth Air Force Service Command C-64B “Norseman” transport aircraft at the RAF Twinwood aerodrome in Bedfordshire, England. The aircraft was manufactured by Noorduyn Aviation of Cartierville, Quebec and it was registered with AAF serial number 44-70285.
The popular American bandleader had accepted an invitation from Lt. Col. Norman Francis Baessell, who was serving as Eighth Air Force Service Command liaison officer and detached to HQ United States Strategic and Tactical Air Forces Europe (USSTAF) in Paris, France. Miller was not authorized to accept the offer of casual transportation from Baessell. He disobeyed his specific VIP travel orders from Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) because he was under pressure to complete preparations for the broadcasting facilities that his orchestra and radio production unit required in order to move their operations to Paris. Miller was also concerned about serious personnel issues that he needed to address with his commanding officer, Lt. Col. David Niven.
At approximately 13:55A (BST or GMT+1) Flight Officer Morgan, detached to AAF Station A-42D, Villacoublay aerodrome and assigned to Baessell as his pilot, took off from RAF Twinhood with Baessell and Miller aboard as passengers. SHAEF did not know Miller’s intentions or that he was aboard the aircraft. The pilot departed under contact (visual) flight rules and the flight was therefore not registered in the air traffic system as an instrument flight. Due to moist weather conditions near freezing and conducive to icing, the pilot had to problematically operate the C-64B below a 2,000ft overcast cloud ceiling. The C-64B disappeared over the English Channel after being logged flying over Beachy Head between 14:30A and 14:45A BST. The aircraft, pilot and the passengers remain missing to this day. The Eighth Air Force announced that the aircraft likely went down over the English Channel due to a probable combination of pilot disorientation, mechanical failure and marginal weather conditions.
The possibility that the aircraft was brought down by bombs jettisoned from Avro Lancasters of the RAF No. 3 Group has now been proven beyond any doubt to have been impossible. Further examination of the evidence and the previously classified Eighth Air Force accident report determines that the C-64B experienced engine failure from fuel starvation due to carburetor, pitot head and fuel line icing with possible carburetor heater failure. It is also possible the aircraft had a hydraulic fuel leak causing a runaway propeller or that the pilot simply flew the aircraft into the water while experiencing spatial disorientation. We now also know that the Eighth Air Force Service Command was negligent in allowing Baessell to authorize his own flight and Morgan to depart. The state of mind of Baessell, Morgan and Miller were and remain properly questioned. As is the case with many aviation accidents, a “perfect storm” of interrelated events came together resulting in a tragedy. Maj. Glenn Miller boarded the wrong aircraft on the wrong day in the performance of his duty as he saw it and he paid for this decision with his life.
Flight Officer Stuart Morgan of Detroit, Michigan, born in Scotland, was a qualified and experienced 22-year old pilot who had originally volunteered for service in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Lt. Col. Norman Baessell of Washington, D. C. was a successful and capable if officious 44-year-old air base builder and facilities manager. The 40-year old Maj. Glenn Miller of Monrovia, California and Tenafly, New Jersey was arguably the most important musical celebrity on the planet. It is unfortunate that their qualifications, motivations and the circumstances of their ill-fated journey have sometimes been cheapened and distorted over the years.
Therefore, this anniversary holds special significance as it has been my honor and privilege to publish “Glenn Miller Declassified” with the Potomac Books imprint of the University of Nebraska Press. This historic document contains the comprehensive and definitive true account of the events in question and Glenn Miller’s service to his beloved nation. I am humbled by the critical praise that the book has received and gratified that this labor of love allows Jonnie Miller Hoffman, John Miller, Laury Wolfe and Glenn Wolfe peace of mind about their father and uncle, and I only wish that the late Steven Davis Miller, Helen Burger Miller, Elmer Deane Miller, John Herbert Miller, Irene Miller Wolfe and Mattie Lou Miller had been able to read the true story about their father, husband, brother and son. Thank you to everyone who supported the project and helped to make the realization of reality possible.
Glenn was a true representative of his nation and a proud descendent of English, Irish, Scot and (1/16) German ancestors. He is remembered fondly by not only his own country but especially by the people of the United Kingdom and all over the world. To quote a letter from Gen. H. H. Arnold, commanding officer of the United States Army Air Forces, to Glenn’s widow Helen:
“His perseverance and resolve to succeed enabled him to develop rapidly into an outstanding officer who upheld the highest traditions. He demonstrated exemplary qualities of leadership and by consistently achieving good results in each of his assignments proved he was worthy of the trust placed in him as a member of the Army Air Forces. His passing has saddened the many friends he won with his high moral character and pleasing personality. I hope the memory that your husband earned a fine reputation in this command will help to allay your grief. My heartfelt sympathy is extended to you and other members of the family.”
May Maj. Miller, Lt. Col. Baessell and Flight Officer Morgan rest in peace.
Dennis M. Spragg