The Events of December 15, 1944
Setting The Record Straight With Facts and Evidence
One of the most common questions received by the Glenn Miller Archive from historians and the public concern the events of December 15, 1944 and the tragic disappearance of Major Glenn Miller in an apparent aircraft accident over the English Channel. In the years since Miller’s disappearance, speculation has persisted regarding the exact circumstances and cause.
Major Glenn Miller boarded a United States Army Air Force UC-64A “Norseman” aircraft, serial number 44-70285, on Friday, December 15, 1944, at RAF Twinwood Farm, Bedfordshire. The aircraft departed RAF Twinwood Field, Bedfordshire (AAF name designation) at 1355 hrs. BST for AAF Station A-42, Villacoublay (Versailles), France. The aircraft disappeared en-route. Miller had been authorized for travel from England to France via the regularly scheduled SHAEF passenger “shuttle” service operated by the European Division of the Air Transport Command, which departed from AAF Bovingdon, just outside of London. The ATC flew daily scheduled passenger flights between Bovingdon and Orly Aerodrome, Paris, France using C-47 and often C-54 aircraft. Miller was booked and expected to travel Wednesday, December 13 and again Thursday, December 14. His flights were cancelled due to poor weather. His prospects for rebooking were indefinite due to the weather and his “authorized but non-essential” priority status to re-book another flight. He was impatient to travel ahead of his orchestra to firm up plans for a scheduled move to Paris for broadcasts, personal appearances and concerts. In particular, broadcasting facilities required his attention.
An acquaintance, Lt. Col. Norman F. Baessell of the Eighth Air Force Service Command (VIII AFSC), who was on assignment with the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe (USSTAF) on the continent, offered Miller a ride the next day. Lt. Col. Baessell was returning to the “Far Shore” as part of his normal duties, using an VIII AFSC UC-64A. This type of aircraft was routinely used by authorities for trips to and from Belgium and France. Miller accepted the offer without the knowledge of his superiors (including Lt. Col. David Niven and Lt. Col John Hayes), who would have ordered Miller, a VIP, to wait for authorized transportation.
An inquiry conducted by the United States Eighth Air Force Headquarters and chaired by Maj. Gen. Orvil A. Anderson, Deputy Commander of the Eighth Air Force, met January 20, 1945. Depositions were taken from witnesses. The Eighth Air Force concluded from eyewitness testimony and an investigation that the aircraft was lost due to pilot error (disorientation or negligence), mechanical failure (including carburetor heater equipment failure), weather, improper clearance (negligence) or a combination of all three factors. Other possibilities were considered and individual responsibilities were determined. Aircraft number 44-70285 was assigned to the VIII AFSC 35th Depot Repair Squadron and Depot Repair Group located at the 2nd Strategic Air Depot, Abbots Ripton (Alconbury), Station 547. The aircraft underwent maintenance repair on December 12, 1944 as part of a general service bulletin. UC-64A aircraft and numerous other types of aircraft using engines from the same manufacturer had experienced failure of carburetor heater (de-icing) equipment. The purpose of the maintenance work was to inspect, repair or replace the carburetor heater (engine de-icing) equipment and required the engine to be taken apart.
VIII AFSC documented the equipment issue, maintenance and dispatch of the aircraft from the AAF Alconbury airbase (which handled flight operations for the AAF Abbots Ripton repair depot) to Twinwood Field (the AAF designation for RAF Twinwood Farm or Twinwoods). The pilot, F/O Stuart Morgan, had filed a flight plan earlier in the day for A-42 (Villacoublay) which was rejected. He was cleared for “local flying only” to RAF Twinwood Field. Morgan arrived and then departed Twinwood Field apparently upon the direct order of Lt. Col. Baessell, who boarded the aircraft along with Miller. The control tower personnel at AAF Alconbury and Twinwood Field logged the movements of the aircraft and were sworn under oath at the inquiry, as were others, including the maintenance personnel at Abbots Ripton and Miller’s executive officer, who drove him to Twinwood Field and witnessed his departure. The Twinwood Field control tower dutifully handled the departure as a routine movement and did not challenge the order of the AAF officer or destination of the aircraft.
The Eighth Air Force determined that the UC-64A was not equipped with wing de-icing equipment and its high-wing configuration made a controlled ditching virtually impossible. The UC-64A was generally made of wood and fabric, which would shatter upon impact. Its heavy nose-mounted engine would immediately sink. If the occupants survived an impact and escaped the airframe, their survival time in the water was 20 minutes given the weather and water temperature conditions of that day. If the wings had broken off upon impact and floated, they would have remained afloat for only hours and drifted far to the east of the impact location.
The flight was charted over Beachy Head, East Sussex via a normal transport flight path. Aircraft 44-70285 did not appear over France. The 35th Depot Repair Squadron filed a report that their aircraft was overdue or missing within 24 hours. However, it was not known to them or confirmed to authorities that Major Miller was a passenger aboard the flight until Monday, December 18, 1944.
40 years following the events of December 15, 1944, the possibility surfaced that Royal Air Force Lancaster bombers returning from an aborted mission jettisoned bombs over a specified English Channel jettison zone into which the aircraft carrying Major Miller may have accidentally strayed. This possibility was not reported in 1944 or 1945 and was unknown to the authorities at that time. Although not as probable in the opinion of the Royal Air Force and United States Air Force as the original findings of the Eighth Air Force inquiry, this possibility does also place the aircraft into the English Channel as the result of a fatal accident.
Major Glenn Miller was publicly declared missing by Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) on Sunday, December 24, 1944. On the previous day, his wife, Helen, received a telegram from the War Department in Washington and a personal telephone call from General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, Commanding General of the United States Army Air Forces. Major Miller’s American Band of the AEF, which followed him to France on December 18, 1944, went ahead with a scheduled Christmas Day trans-atlantic broadcast from Paris.
The Glenn Miller Archive issued Communiques (statements) regarding December 15, 1944 in 2009 and 2010.
Dennis M. Spragg of the Glenn Miller Archive, has discovered and assembled detailed evidence with the cooperation of the United States Air Force Historic Research Agency, the National Archives of the United States, the National Archives of Great Britain, the Imperial War Museum, the Royal Air Force and other sources. He is finalizing a comprehensive study, “Resolved: The Disappearance of Glenn Miller, December 15, 1944″ which will be published in the near future. The book will address all aspects of the circumstances and present a definitive summary drawn from over 5,000 pages of relevant documents and reports. All possibilities including the so-called “bomb jettison theory” will be thoroughly examined, as well as the many important events, organizations and personalities surrounding Glenn Miller’s military service, many of which have not been previously known or reported.
Following are two audio files descriptive of Glenn Miller’s military service and the events of December 15, 1944. These examples are part of a planned companion audio feature to accompany the publication of “Resolved”. Part One features the Army Air Forces Training Command Orchestra directed by Captain Glenn Miller. Part Two features the American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces directed by Major Glenn Miller.