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The Day Glenn Miller Died From Friendly Fire

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December 15 will be the 69th anniversary of the disappearance of Glenn Miller over the English Channel in 1944. On that date, a single-engined Noorduyn Norseman aircraft left Twinwood Farm airbase in south-east England for Paris carrying the hottest big-band leader of the era, Glenn Miller.

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Here is the Guardian (UK) newspaper review of a British "Channel Four" documentary about that historic event.

"Within two minutes, the plane had vanished into the fog for ever. Not a trace was ever found, nor any reason for its disappearance established.

Wild theories abounded about Miller's fate - that he had been imprisoned and tortured to death by the Nazis was a favorite, while the more disrespectful whispered that he had died in the arms of a prostitute in Paris and it had to be hushed up.

Now documentary makers have come up with the most convincing and detailed explanation yet for his disappearance: he was the victim of friendly fire - or, more accurately, friendly jettisoning.

Glenn Miller was the man who put American bobbysoxers in the mood for jiving and sent them swooning to their beds with a moonlight serenade.

With his bland features, thin lips and Wall Street rimless glasses, Miller looked as square as you can get, but he was one of the biggest pop stars of his day. His reputation was only enhanced when he patriotically disbanded his band in 1942 at the height of its popularity to lead the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band.

He was setting out for Paris to organise a Christmas concert for the troops in liberated Paris when he disappeared.

The program has established that at 1.40pm on December 15 a fleet of 139 Lancaster bombers returning from an aborted mission to Germany dumped their bombs above the English channel - and right on to Miller's plane.

Fred Shaw, a navigator on one of the Lancasters, was a witness. The British program makers discovered an amateur film interview made with Mr Shaw shortly before he died in retirement in South Africa some years ago.

"I had never seen a bombing before," Mr Shaw said, "so I crawled from my navigator seat and put my head in the observation blister. I saw a small high-wing monoplane, a Noorduyn Norseman, underneath.

"'There's a kite down there', I told the rear gunner. 'There's a kite gone in'. He said, 'Yes, I saw it'."

Mr Shaw did not make the connection with Miller until, in 1956, he saw the film The Glenn Miller Story.

At the time, he was dismissed as a publicity seeker. In any event, there were a number of apparently unanswerable questions. Miller's inexperienced pilot had failed to register a flightpath, so how could it ever be proved that his plane had crossed the path of the Lancasters?

There was also a full hour's discrepancy in flight times. And how did Mr Shaw recognise a Noorduyn Norseman, a Canadian plane of which there were only half a dozen in Britain, all in American airbases?

Mr Shaw answers the last question easily: he got his navigation training in Manitoba, Canada, where the Norseman was in constant use. The other questions required the expertise of Roy Nesbit, an aviation historian and now the RAF editor at the public record office. Mr Nesbit devoted years of research to the problem.

"First, the Norseman had no option but to travel on what was called the SHAEF shuttle to France [the route employed by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces]", Mr Nesbit told the Guardian. The south-east coast was bristling with anti-aircraft emplacements, but a route had been cleared for flights. Another crucial spot was the jettison zone, a 10-mile circle where loaded bombers could dump their perilous 500lb cargoes. This zone was never openly marked on maps or in official records, but Mr Nesbit, who has special access to documents, was able to pinpoint it to a spot which is within a couple of miles of the SHAEF shuttle path.

Miller's pilot is known to have had little expertise in flying by instruments and would have used a compass - notoriously unreliable when flying over an area with no landmarks - meaning he could easily have strayed into the jettison zone. Mr Nesbit believes that he has also cleared up the fatal discrepancy of one hour. "I was able to establish this by comparing logs written in the air with operations in the record book," he said. "The Americans used local time, but we used Greenwich mean time, which gives the hour's discrepancy."

So there was the big-band king, right on target. But is this proof enough? "I asked the Ministry of Defence if they would challenge my calculations," Mr Nesbit said. "They said, 'there is nothing wrong with your calculations, but the proof is at the bottom of the Channel'."

After sea, salt, sand and fast tides have done their work on the fragile Norseman, the only thing likely to survive is the plane's engine block, which is reckoned to be about one metre wide. Here a Channel 4 fishing expedition with specialised equipment drew a blank. Mr Nesbit is anxious to stress that he is simply a researcher, with no taste for conspiracy theories." Guardian

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