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The Glenn Miller Project
Richard Gillespie explains the investigation of the English Channel to find the wreckage of the plane which carried the American icon
Written by Richard Gillespie, Executive Director, TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery), firstname.lastname@example.org
His music was the soundtrack of the Greatest Generation, and remains popular to this day. Glenn Miller dominated the Big Band era with hits like 'In the Mood', 'String of Pearls', 'Moonlight Serenade' and 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' when he gave up a $15,000 per week income in 1942 to join the war effort hoping, as he put it, “to be placed in charge of a modernized Army band.” He got his wish and from September of 1944 until his untimely death, Major Alton G. Miller’s Army Air Force Band gave 800 performances for troops stationed in England. On December 15, 1944, Miller boarded a USAAF C-64 Norseman for a flight to Paris to coordinate relocating the band to the Continent. He was never seen again. An official 8th Air Force inquiry concluded that the aircraft went down in the English Channel, possibly due to weather, but no wreckage or remains were ever found. A new investigation has raised the possibility that the mystery of the Miller disappearance could at last be solved.
The unresolved death of any celebrity is fertile ground for conspiracy theories, and Glenn Miller’s disappearance is no exception. His aircraft was inadvertently knocked down by friendly fire; he was a secret agent for the OSS, captured by Germans, tortured, and left to die in a Paris brothel; killed in a drunken brawl; died of lung cancer in a French hospital; mistakenly shot by an airfield sentry; and so forth – but an investigation by a US-based aviation historical foundation has found those allegations unsupported.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (acronym TIGHAR, pronounced “tiger”) is best known for our thirty-year investigation of the 1937 disappearance of Amelia Earhart and our discovery that she and her navigator Fred Noonan died as castaways on an uninhabited Pacific atoll. TIGHAR’s interest in the Glenn Miller case stems from an incident reported to have occurred in June of 1987. A fisherman, trawling for mullet and squid several miles off Portland Bill on the Dorset coast, pulled up a small, mostly intact, WWII aircraft. He notified the Coast Guard by radio and was told it might be a war grave and he should return it to the deep. He freed it from his net and dropped it back into the sea, carefully noting the position so that he wouldn’t snag it again (see chart below). Years later, he recognized a photo of the plane in which Miller vanished as the same type he had briefly seen hanging in his net.
If the fisherman’s recollection is correct and the aircraft can be relocated, the fate of Major Glenn Miller will at last be put to rest – but it will be difficult. More than thirty years later, the wreck will be in much worse condition – probably only the steel frame and engine now survive and may be buried in sand – but the C-64 Norseman was the only type serving in England that featured a steel frame fuselage and a Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine, and the Miller aircraft is the only unaccounted for Norseman.
You can follow TIGHAR’s progress on The Glenn Miller Project on our website at tighar.org.