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The Glenn Miller Story Keeps on Giving

The Glenn Miller Story Keeps on Giving

Seven decades after his disappearance in 1944, the Glenn Miller story keeps on giving new clues and theories about his fateful flight, the most significant recent developments reported by History Detectives in 2014. Although it provided a couple of interesting bits of detail, we still don’t think that the show got it right.

Seven decades after his disappearance in 1944, the Glenn Miller story keeps on giving new clues and theories about his fateful flight, the most significant recent developments reported by History Detectives in 2014. Although it provided a couple of interesting bits of detail, we still don’t think that the show got it right.

Its basic premise was that the Norseman UC-64A (also C-64) carrying Glenn Miller and Lieutenant Colonel Norman Baessell, piloted by Flight Officer John R S Morgan, suffered mechanical failure while making the flight from Twinwood Airfield near Bedfordshire in south east England to Villacoublay in south west Paris.

If this sounds like the official story from December 24, 1944, it is - mostly. History Detectives filled in some missing detail and provided some motive for the delay in communicating Miller’s demise. It maintained that in all of the excitement related to the Battle of the Bulge which commenced December 16, Miller got lost in the shuffle, so to speak, whose absence wasn’t noted for three days, after which an investigation of sorts was conducted before making the news public.

The cast also insisted that part of the delay came from Miller’s unauthorized trip to Paris, which had been denied by air control in Paris due to fog. Baessell, according to its expert Edward Polic, overrode the denial from SHAEF by ordering Morgan to embark for Paris. When the plane crashed, it was thus considered human error or negligence on the part of the protagonists who did not have authorization to fly, a situation which the US Army by policy covered up in order to assuage the pain suffered by the victims’ families should they be burdened with evidence that their loved ones were responsible for their own deaths.

The show’s hosts worked themselves into a lather to denounce conspiracy theories – concluding that the original government explanation was right all along. By implication, they were saying that all conspiracy theories are bunk, a conclusion with which long time readers of these Chronicles know we disagree.

In support of our view, the cast of the show were compelled to admit that many stars such as Josephine Baker and David Niven were involved in clandestine intelligence operations during the war, a contention which would have been dismissed as ridiculous conspiracy theories a decade or two ago. We would add that Englishman Bob Hope was a major intelligence operative before, during, and after the war. For some reason, America refuses to acknowledge the CIA shackles under which they labor.

Before proceeding to the main point of our investigation, we need to clean up the HD story a bit. Miller received orders from SHAEF to proceed to SHAEF HQ on or about December 15, 1944 with no more than 65 pounds of luggage. Miller decided to be the advance party instead of his usual aide Lt Don Haynes. We speculate that he wanted Haynes to take care of rounding up the band for departure from England while he worked out some of the advance details.

The band did not depart until December 18 due to continued bad weather between its location in England and destination in France. This explains the reason for the 3 day delay in noticing Miller’s absence because the band expected Miller to greet them upon its arrival. When he did not appear, members began a search for him, which in short time proved fruitless.

So while the Battle of the Bulge may have been the bigger frying fish, it was Miller’s band who really would notice his absence rather than major brass at SHAEF.

One topic which History Detectives misrepresents is the weather at Twinwood. While it was no picnic in May, the weather was less inhospitable than it portrays. Rather than being barely above freezing, it was 38 degrees Fahrenheit at the time of departure with low cloud ceiling of around 1500 feet. This is not to say that ideal flying conditions prevailed, but it was not as inclement as the program suggested.

This situation was not ideal for Morgan who flew by sight since he was not instrument rated, a skill in dire need when flying in poor weather conditions. So while the program asserts that a carburetor heater failed, and was under official recall by the manufacturer, it is equally possible that Morgan became disoriented in flight. A certain Jan Bennett contested the theory that freezing parts downed the plane, and given the weather conditions which were not extreme, the objection is reasonable. While History Detectives mentioned several reported failures of the carburetor, we are left to speculate on the conditions under which they occurred especially since the aircraft was designed to fly in highly adverse Canadian weather. Thus we are suspicious that the weather conditions prevailing on December 15 in the alleged vicinity of the crash were sufficient to cause the failure.

While Polic makes much of the flight ban by authorities in Paris for the Norseman piloted by Morgan, an account by Fred W Atkinson, Jr, published in 1999, provides another perspective on flight operations that day.

Atkinson was a member of the 320th Transport Squadron stationed at Le Borget Airport in Paris (Paris-Le Bourget), serving as Personnel Records and Administrative Assistant to Commander Major James R. Lyons. His unit was an experimental medical evacuation squadron flying Norseman UC-64 planes under the command of Colonel Arnold.

Before proceeding, we should adumbrate the 2 flight people in question – John Morgan and Norman Baessell and how they relate to Atkinson.

John R S Morgan was a Canadian citizen who enlisted with the United States Army Air Force in Detroit and was assigned to the 35th Air Depot Group which arrived in England on May 27, 1943 where it operated under the VIII Air Force Service Command to which was assigned Norman F Baessell. Morgan held the rank of Flight Officer which put him in a much junior position to Lt Colonel Baessell who was assigned to the headquarters squadron of Service Command.

The 320th Transport Squadron (Cargo & Mail) was activated for airlift support for the VIII Air Force Service Command during World War 2 in England, later moving to France as an element of the 302d Transport Wing. The 320th also flew medical airlift missions with Norseman UC-64 planes.

Clearly Morgan and Baessell had a working relationship based upon their positions in the organization structure between the Service Command and 35th Depot Group. The same could be said for Atkinson, though in an anonymous fashion, thus explaining how he obtained the information for his memoir.

The medevac unit had 2 C-64s in England whose flights were canceled on December 15th due to poor weather conditions between London and Paris. This aspect of the flight history conforms well to Polic’s. However, Atkinson recalled a couple of exceptions to the flight ban ordered by a Brigadier General, whose name he did not recall, to bring Miller to SHAEF HQ for preparation of the scheduled December 25th concert.

Atkinson reported that his unit received news several days after the departure from Twinwood that one of their aircraft, a C-64, had been found beached on the coast of France. Crew dispatched to the crash site discovered dead bodies on board the flight which left Twinwood, including that of Major Glenn Miller.

The salient section of Atkinson’s memoir is that his squadron’s people reported to him that Glenn Miller’s body had definitely been identified as among the dead on the C-64. But how does Atkinson’s story stand up to other known facts?

We were able to corroborate the basics about the locations and missions of the 320th Transport Squadron, the 302d Air Wing, VIII US Air Force Service Command, and the 35th Air Depot Group which explain how all of the people in the account related to each other. We found nothing raising any credibility issues except for a comment made by Atkinson that the C-64 had no instrument control panels.

After sifting through the various accounts – and we ignore many which even we consider retrograde – we conclude that on December 15, 1944 Miller boarded the Norseman C-64 piloted by Flight Officer John Morgan, and co-piloted by Lt Col Norman F Baessell, headed for Villacoublay in Paris, which crashed on the French coast. The cause of failure may have been mechanical malfunction, but we suspect that Morgan became disoriented in the fog.

A few days after the 15th, the 320th Transport Squadron received information that one of its planes, a Norseman C-64A, was found beached in France, whereupon a rescue crew was dispatched to recover the plane and bodies. The rescue team discovered that all 3 passengers were dead, and positively identified all of them as those who left Twinwood on the 15th. These few days of which Atkinson speaks are most likely the 9 days between Miller's takeoff and the discovery of the dead body - explaining why Miller's disappearance was not announced until the 24th.

The US Army refused to declare its findings, insisting that Miller and the other flight members were missing in action, and thus not provably dead. We believe that the reason for refusing to declare Miller dead was to continue to leverage his PR value, and to cover-up the negligence and incompetence of the Brigadier General who ordered the flight of Miller to Paris.

Contrary to the reports of History Detective, Miller was not derelict in his responsibility as he was flying under the command of the brigadier general who authorized the flight.

In corroboration of our thesis about Miller’s discovery, 2 strange actions by the Miller family reinforce our conclusion. According to Albert Jack, Miller’s wife Helen bought 6 burial plots after she moved to California even though her family only had 5 members. The conclusion is that Glenn was buried in one of them. On the other hand, there was a rumor that she continued to keep Miller’s personal affects and bed in the event that he reappeared. So buying the extra burial plot could have been part of that psychology. Even so, we believe that there is sound reason that Miller is buried in it.

The additional strange story is that Glenn’s brother Herb announced in 1983 that his famous brother actually died in the United States from lung cancer after years of heavy smoking. He was rushed to a military hospital in the United States where he died the following day.

While Herb’s story could clearly have been a publicity stunt, we believe that it was his coded way of saying that his brother was not lost at sea, but buried in the United States in the 6th plot his wife bought for her husband.

While we normally like History Detectives, we would advise it to stick to its knitting – the identification and provenance of unusual historical artifacts. It has no competence in handling conspiracies.

While our case mixes circumstantial and forensically valid evidence, we believe that it makes the best case for the disappearance of Glenn Miller.


Thom Lyons, MIA report NOORDUYN NORSEMAN UC-64A USAAF - MAJOR GLENN MILLER, unknown, nd, accessed 7/17/2016 http://projectpi.skydiveworld.com/miller.htm

-, The Disappearance of Glenn Miller, History Detectives, Season 11, Episode 2, 2014, accessed 7/17/2016

-, The Mysterious Disappearance of Glenn Miller, h2g2, July 20, 2004, accessed 7/17/2016

Albert Jack, Not in the Mood: The Real Glenn Miller Story, albertjackchat.com, November 23, 2012, accessed 7/17/2016

Thom Lyons, Noorduyn Norseman, projectpi.skydiveworld.com, nd, accessed 7/17/2016

Wikipedia contributors. "320th Air Refueling Squadron." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 Feb. 2016. Web. 17 Jul. 2016.

-, UC-64A Norseman of 320th Air Transport, World War II in color, ww2incolor.com, nd, accessed 7/17/2016

Rootsweb Message Board, F/O John R.S. Morgan (1921-1944) pilot of Glenn Miller plane, January 16, 2005, accessed 7/17/2016

Fred W Atkinson, Jr, The 'Mysterious Disappearance' of Glenn Miller. Mishmash.com, April 10, 1999, accessed 7/17/2016

Siggurdson, Plane Carrying "Big Band" Leader Maj. Glenn Miller to Paris Disappears, The American Legion’s Burn Pit, December 15, 2015, accessed 7/17/2016

R. J. Ferriter, THE LAST FLIGHT OF MAJOR GLENN MILLER, mboss.f9.co.uk, 2013, accessed 7/17/2016

Copyright 2016 Tony Bonn

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