In 1940 two twin-engine airplanes collided mid-air–interlocked, they flew for five miles and landed safely

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In what surely is one of the most bizarre flying incidents ever to have occurred, two British Avro Anson bomber airplanes doing cross-country practice flights in preparation for World War II made sudden impact 3,000 feet above ground in Brocklesby, New South Wales, Australia.

The risk of mid-air collisions is very low, yet the most freakish thing about it was not that they collided, but the fact that the planes jammed precisely one over the other, and as such, interlocked as in a scene from a cartoon, remarkably landing without serious injuries in a paddock near a small farm, terrifying the horses who until that unexpected visit were feasting on the fresh grass, waving their tails, chasing horseflies, and having a blast on a sunny September morning.

And the funniest thing was that the pilot who went through a forced landing, and the plane piggybacking underneath it, was calm as a cucumber, acting as if nothing extraordinary had happened.

“I did everything we’ve been told to do in a forced landing–land as close as possible to habitation or a farmhouse and, if possible, land into the wind. I did all that. There’s the farmhouse, and I did a couple of circuits and landed into the wind. She was pretty heavy on the controls, though!”

Sure she was. One plane had the engines intact. The other one only its wings and controls. Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Leonard G. Fuller, the pilot of the latter, the one on top, who jokingly gave this nonchalant statement to his supervisor Group Captain Arthur “Spud” Murphy right after the incident had, in fact, a grave task at hand to fly them both and take them down.

According to every paper that covered the incident and wrote a story about it–and let’s just say there were many who did report this freakish event for it attracted worldwide media attention and for a few months was all over the news despite the fact that a war was raging on–the pilot, LAC Leonard Graham Fuller, aged 22, from Cootamundra, and LAC Ian Menzies Sinclair, 27, from Glen Innes, acting as his navigator, took off in their Avro Anson number N4876 from the flying training school ground of the Royal Australian Air Force near Wagga Wagga in New South Wales.

The same morning on September 29, 1940, and just right after them, 19-year-old LAC Jack Inglis Hewson from Newcastle, Australia, assisted by his 27-year-old navigator LAC Hugh Gavin Fraser from Melbourne, left the ground in their L9162 aircraft.

Both were supposed to leave the airbase, make a joined round trip over Corowa and Narrandera, and return from where they took off. Unfortunately,somewhere around 10.45 a.m., the planes lost track of each other and Fuller’s plane smashed on the top of the other in what he later described, according to The Daily News and their story from October 2, 1940, “Risks life to save villagers,” a sound of a “grinding crash and a bang as roaring propellers struck each other and bit into the engine cowlings.”

The planes were now jammed tightly, his engines blew off almost instantly, but the ones of the plane underneath were working at full strength. Although Sinclair bailed immediately after the impact, as did Fraser, the navigator from down under, Fuller saw his controls were working and realized he could control the pair of planes at the very moment he saw Hewson jumping from the plane and getting hit by the propellers as he did so.

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The aircraft was losing altitude and was about to start to spin. It was up to him to either jump now or try and take the planes down and save innocent lives that potentially could get lost by unmanned planes crashing down on them.

Good thing he was a skilled pilot, and cool, calm, and collected while everything was going on for he managed to fly 5 miles in search of the best possible place to land the now Siamese-twin-plane, before making an improvised emergency pancake landing in Mr. T. Murphy’s farm 6 miles southwest of Brocklesby. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt in the process. Not even Hewson, whose back was injured when the propeller struck him, and had troubles with his parachute that wouldn’t open until 100 feet off the ground. He slammed so hard on the ground that it left him paralyzed for four months.

In fact, everyone was just fine and Fuller’s plane was in such a good state that was put back into service almost right away.

However, it was not all because of one man’s courage and his unparalleled creative set of piloting skills but a conjoined effort of both that prevented this dual-plane aircraft from spiraling out of control.

Before bailing out, Hewson locked the controls of his plane and raised the engines to full strength right after the impact and said goodbye, for if there was any chance for the planes to belly land, it was to be his belly that would be the first to taste the ground. Without his reasoning and quick reaction, both of the planes were doomed.

But in the end, everything went fine, and this “small” accident in the sky made the small town of Brocklesby famous. Though it is safe to say the horses enjoying the sun that September morning in the nearby paddock where the plane landed and slid for 200 yards were running for their lives petrified, and Mr. T. Murphy was having trouble calming them down and getting them back inside his farm.

The greatest irony was that Fuller, the pilot who showed courage, landing a strange aircraft in an even stranger scenario, died four years later in 1944, when a bus struck and killed him on the spot. He was riding his bike.

 Martin Chalakoski

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When her husband was killed by the Nazis, she bought a tank and went on a rampage on the Eastern Front

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World War II devastated families and separated countless lovers. In some cases, the ones who lost their loved ones hurried to avenge them. Mariya Oktyabrskaya was one such person. As news of her husband having died on the Eastern Front reached her, she decided to sell everything she owned and invest in the production of a T-34 tank. Then she went a step further and applied for training to receive her tank driving license. The following step was vengeance like no other.

But let’s get back to the beginning. Mariya Oktyabrskaya was born on the Crimean Peninsula to a poor Ukrainian family which nurtured 10 children. Before the war, she worked in a cannery and was at one point a telephone operator.

She met her husband, the future Red Army officer, in 1925. The two married that same year. Mariya became very interested in her husband’s line of work and joined the Military Wives Council and acquired training as an army nurse. Soon after, she learned how to use weapons and drive, which was very uncommon for women at the time.

When asked about her unusual interest, she reportedly replied: “Marry a serviceman, and you serve in the army: an officer’s wife is not only a proud woman but also responsible title.”

As the war closed in on the Soviet Union in 1941, she was evacuated to Siberia, where she spent the next two years. It took a long time for the news of her husband’s death to reach her, but as soon as she got the letter, she knew what to do. Oktaybrskaya was so enraged by the death of her beloved husband that she wrote a letter to Stalin directly:

“My husband was killed in action defending the motherland. I want revenge on the fascist dogs for his death and for the death of Soviet people tortured by the fascist barbarians. For this purpose, I’ve deposited all my personal savings–50,000 rubles–to the National Bank in order to build a tank. I kindly ask to name the tank ‘Fighting Girlfriend’ and to send me to the front line as a driver of the said tank.”

Stalin felt he had no choice but to accept. The State Defense Committee advised him that the move could have a positive effect as a morale booster on both the desperate population and the troops. It wasn’t uncommon for citizens to donate money for war production in the Soviet Union, but usually, those making the donations were men.

Nevertheless, in dire times every bit of help is welcome, and so Mariya received five months of training in order to master the skills of operating the T-34.

This too was uncommon―during the Great Patriotic War, as WWII was dubbed in the U.S.S.R., tank crews received shorter training, as they were needed almost immediately on the front. In Stalingrad, tanks would enter combat unpainted.

The five-month training was also part of the propaganda effort―the Soviet government didn’t just want to send Oktyabrskaya to battle. They wanted to make sure that she would be effective.

After training, the 38-year-old Oktobrskaya got transferred to the 26th Guards Tank Brigade in September 1943 and soon participated in the Second Battle of Smolensk. Even though other tank crews looked at her as some publicity stunt, she got the chance to prove them wrong.

During her first battle, Oktobskaya showed some extraordinary maneuvering skills and assisted in neutralizing machine gun nests and artillery positions, while under heavy fire. Her tank, “The Fighting Girlfriend,” pushed through enemy lines, but was badly damaged.

Under intense fire, she rushed out of the turret to repair her tank. Her fellow crewmen provided covering fire while she fixed the tank and jumped back in. Everyone in the unit was amazed, and she was promoted to the rank of Sargent.

A similar situation happened a month later, when “The Fighting Girlfriend” was raining fire around the town of Novoye Selo in the region of Vitebsk. Her track was hit and the tank was immobilized. Sargent Oktobrskaya rushed out and, with the help of another crew-member, managed to put the T-34 back in running condition.

But just two months later, her courageous tactic would prove to be the last. As the tank once again suffered damage after destroying entrenched positions and an enemy self-propelled gun, Oktobrskaya tried to pull the trick once again. She managed to fix the damaged track but was hit in the head by shell fragments and lost consciousness during her return.

Mariya Oktobrskaya was transferred to a military field hospital near Kiev, where she spent two months in a coma before passing away on March 15, 1944.

Her actions did not go unrewarded, nor were they in vain. She was declared a Hero of the Soviet Union posthumously, as her bravery inspired thousands of women to join the fight and make their contributions.

 Nikola Budanovic