AFP (Alfred) Fane

 

AFP (Alfred) Fane was a racing driver and spitfire pilot who died when his plane crashed near Stapleford Granary in 1942.

AFP Fane competed in the 1935 & 1937 Le Mans 24hr races.

At the outbreak of WW2 he enlisted in the RAFVR (Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve) as a pilot and attained the rank of Flight Lieutenant. It was whilst attached to 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit RAFVR that after flying his Spitfire back from a mission in France, he fatally crashed at Great Shelford.

 

It is believed he was following the railway line as a means of navigating his way at low level in bad weather back across to RAF Benson in Oxfordshire when the plane crashed in Stapleford. He sadly perished in the accident.

"In the Frazer Nash archives in Henley, I found the answer in a letter to AFP Fane's wife shortly after the accident flight," said author Tony Hoskins.

"It seems that Fane was following the railway line and that the weather was getting to the point where onward flight was not sensible.

"He throttled back, lowered the landing gear and turned to the west searching for Duxford. It appears from the report though that in making that right hand turn, his wingtip clipped a power line alongside the railway which turned him towards the ground and he impacted into the side of an   embankment.

F/Lt Alfred Fane Peers Agabeg (otherwise known as AFP Fane), was born in Sijua, India, the son of mining engineer Alfred and Mabel Agabeg, a couple of Armenian  descent. Returning to England, he lived with his mother at ‘The Hall’, Pinner in Middlesex, attending Harrow School  and Clare College in Cambridge. His social activities and intention to ‘live life to the full’ meant his academic studies  suffered as a result. A dynamic young man, he excelled as one of the leading lights of the combined Oxford and  Cambridge University ski team, which beat McGill University in Quebec in 1931.  

After leaving University, Fane began a motor racing career when he entered the March Mountain Speed Handicap  at Brooklands, coming second. His next outing at Brooklands saw him win. He truly had the racing bug and this win  ensured his entry into the British Racing Drivers Club. He attracted the attention of H.J. Aldington, owner of Frazer  Nash, who immediately saw the opportunity this young man presented. Shortly after, he ordered a Frazer Nash  chassis and designed his own racing body for it. Naming it Nurburg, he collected his new car from the Falcon works  and he raced it that same year at the German Grand Prix.  

Marrying Evelyn Mary Marriott in 1932 in an elegant affair of a wedding, the couple, and Fane in particular, were  seen as trendsetters of the time and Fane himself had a passion for outlandish hats which he acquired from all  parts of Europe. Some of these garments outdid the most startling of feminine fashions, even though they originated as men’s wear in Bavaria or the Italian Alps. He also had a penchant for loud checked sports jackets and  the very latest in shoes, but always to good standards of taste. 

Frazer Nash needed funds to guarantee trade with BMW for new touring cars built under license and the owners  raised this money by persuading Fane to invest in the company in return for a 20% shareholding. Now a  demonstration driver for Frazer and BMW, Fane continued to race at Brooklands taking his cars almost to the point  of pulling the tyres off the rims to secure a good ranking. He took part in the French GP Sports car race at  Montlhèry he raced at Le Mans and at Shelsey and obtained eight race wins at Donington. In 1936, he won the  Bucharest Grand Prix in a BMW 328 and in 1937 he won the Tourist Trophy team prize in Belfast. In 1937, as well  as setting a number of speed records, he took on the German 328s in the Eifelrennen at the Nürburgring, beating  them, as well as racing the BMW 328 Mille Miglia ‘Büegelfalte’ at Le Mans. In 1938, he again raced a 328 in the  Mille Miglia winning the 2.0 Litre class, setting the fastest time on the Grossglockner hill climb and winning at  Crystal Palace. In the late 1930s, Frazer Nash were deeply involved with all things German, with Aldington and  Fane taking on the UK dealership for the Messerschmitt 108 distribution as an additional business venture. The  Frazer Nash factory signed a contract for the completion of BMWs arriving from Germany, and Fane – by then a  member of the BMW 328 works team – was awaiting a try-out for the Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix team.  

Fane joined the RAF a week after war was declared – initially considered too old for front line fighter service he  first worked in Photo Interpretation at Bomber Command HQ in High Wycombe before becoming an instructor on  Tiger Moths at RAF Booker. Frustrated by his non-operational service he obtained a transfer to the unarmed  Photographic Reconnaissance Unit arriving at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire in December 1941. Fane flew the  project’s aircraft Spitfire AA810 twice, both in difficult situations: 

“Trip 4 Spitfire AA810 Mezieres and marshalling yards in that area (unsuccessful) – 15thJanuary 1942.  

Took off and climbed through cloud as usual. Set course for Beachy Head, trails at 26,000 ft. Saw nothing of  England so continued on ETA. Saw French coast through small gap in clouds, carried on but all of France under  10/10 cloud so returned. Saw Le Touquet through a hole in cloud so took photos. Descended over Channel – still in  cloud – when I should have been on coast – so turned onto reciprocal to make sure of coming down over the sea.  Turned back again on course at 1,500 ft and came out over the sea at 500 ft. Visibility really was bloody. Saw land  ahead and nearly fell out of the aircraft when I realised it was Eastbourne – too good to be true. Crept over land at  50 ft but went on in hope of weather clearing. It didn’t but just managed to creep over hills at Guildford and got  home to find that Nebly and self were only ones to get back to base – all the others had landed all over the country.  Good old satellite. Even the CO congratulated us... reported dud weather.” 

His final mission in AA810 saw him come under fire from the defences of Tirpitz herself whilst flying from RAF Wick  in Scotland: 

“Trip 12 Mission Spitfire AA810 Trondheim and Naval units – 4th March 1942.  

Refuelled at Sumburgh as winds were supposed to be fairly strong, but mainly because of possibility of dud weather  on return leg. Set course for Stadlandet and found visibility was terrific. Saw Norwegian coast 150 miles away, wind  turned out to be 60 mph at 60 degrees not the 45 mph at 230 degrees given at briefing. Took 2 hours 15 minutes to  get there instead of 1 hour 45 minutes. Took photos of Trondheim but saw I had forgotten the wind strength and  was drifted right off. So carried on with Vaernes airfield, the Tirpitz, Scheer and Eugen and as they started firing and I was worried about the drift took obliques of them and of Trondheim. Also Orkundal and Halsa Fjords,  Orlandet airfield, Kristiansund and Aalesund, plus a convoy. Returned in fairly good weather to Wick making  landfall at the Orkneys for a total duration of 4 hours 50 minutes.”

After leaving Wick in April 1942, Fane would carry on from Oxfordshire, flying another six missions across France,  Holland, Germany and Denmark. Sadly his luck too ran out on 18 July 1942. On this day, his 25th mission, he had  been tasked to fly a low-level sortie to photograph the U-boat yards at Flensburg. Taking off from Benson at 12:55  it is not certain if he completed his mission, but bad weather forced him to land at RAF Coltishall in Norfolk. He  then decided to fly back to Benson, even though the cloud base was extremely low. Reports at the time show that  at around 15:55 Fane was following the railway line South from Cambridge, and with worsening weather, he  appeared to try and locate RAF Duxford, which he would have known to be close by. With cloud virtually down to  the ground, he lowered the landing gear and prepared to land in a field, should RAF Duxford not miraculously  appear outside. In making a slight turn, Fane’s wingtip caught a hedge in a field next to the railway line,  cartwheeling his Spitfire into the ground south of Stapleford. Fane was thrown clear, but was killed instantly.  

A year following his death, a memoriam notice in The Times newspaper described Fane as “happy, carefree,  fearless”. With hindsight, whilst his fearlessness not only led to his success, both in motorsport and in his flying  career, it may well have also contributed to his death. 

Project Quote: 

“Remembrance is a fundamental part of the importance of recognising the sacrifices made by past generations for  the freedoms we enjoy today, and until the start of 2022 the location that this young man lost his life has been  buried deep within Government archives. It gives me great pleasure to finally be able to confirm the location that  this accident occurred and leave a fitting tribute to a man who brought so much pleasure and development to  motor enthusiasts through the 1930’s and in conflict made the ultimate sacrifice to bring back vital intelligence for  the strategic planning of the Allied campaign in the Second World War. Fane was a part of the RAF Photographic  Reconnaissance Squadrons; some 1400 men nearly 50% of which were lost flying their unarmed and un-armoured  aircraft repeatedly over occupied territory in the most hazardous of conditions. The information they brought home  every day of the war shaped the course of history. I am pleased to bring Fane’s story to the people of Stapleford  and appeal to all those who wish to support a memorial placed to honour his passing to assist us as much as they  are able.” 

Tony Hoskins, Trustee of the Sandy Gunn Aerospace Careers Programme Charity and Director Spitfire AA810  Restoration Ltd 

Further information: 

For further information on AFP Fane and the restoration of Spitfire AA810 please see www.spitfireaa810.co.uk For further information on the Sandy Gunn Aerospace Careers Programme please see www.acp-aa810.co.uk For photos to accompany this release please email: Tony@spitfireaa810.co.uk

Posted June 27 2022