Disappearance of Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa on March 1, 1904, and grew up in Fort Morgan, Colorado, where he began studying the trombone. In 1923, he entered the University of Colorado but spent all the time he could attended auditions and playing anywhere he could. In 1924 he dropped out of University and toured with various orchestras until joining the Ben Pollack orchestra in California where he got the chance to write some arrangements. He worked alongside Benny Goodman and also Red Nichols.


In 1928, Glenn Miller arrived in New York City where he married his college sweetheart, Helen Burger. For the next three years he earned his living as a Freelance Trombonist and Arranger. During 1937 he formed the first of several bands that would take him to the top. There were record-breaking recordings, such as “Tuxedo Junction“, which sold 115,000 copies in the first week. “In the Mood“, and “Pennsylvania 6-5000“, which appeared on the RCA Victor Bluebird label. In 1942 he made two of the best band films “Sun Valley Serenade“, which included the record “Chattanooga Choo Choo“, and “Orchestra Wives“.

It was about this time that many of the country’s young men where being called up and Glenn Miller entered the Army in October 7, 1942, where he was assigned to the Army Specialist Corps. After his training, he was transferred into the Army Air Corps, where he ultimately organized the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band. In June 1944 the band was shipped to Bedford, England, where it worked a grueling schedule of daily dances, concerts, broadcasts and recording sessions to boost morale. After the liberation of France, Miller was set to transfer to Paris, but was mysteriously lost in a small plane over the Channel on December 15. The band arrived later for a Christmas broadcast and continued to perform without Glenn Miller until it was deactivated in late 1945.


It was on the 15th December 1944, that Major Glenn Miller along with another passenger, Colonel Norman Baesell, climbed into a single-engine Noorduyn Norseman C-64, where he was to arrive in Paris ahead of the Band to make preparations. The Norseman took off, without a flight plan, from Twinwood airfield, near Milton Ernest, Bedfordshire, into rain and fog on its journey over the English Channel, and that was the last time the Norseman was ever seen. The American High Command assumed that the Norseman had crashed into the English Channel, because its wings had iced over, or its engine had failed, but being preoccupied with the far larger problems of the War, there was no search or inquiry into this tragedy.

Friends and Fans were not satisfied with the official explanation, and wild rumours were soon circulating such as the plane had been shot down by the Germans and the crippled and disfigured bandleader was hidden in a hospital somewhere, that he had been killed in a brawl in a Parisian brothel, that his fellow passenger, involved in a black-market delivery, had shot Miller and the pilot and landed in France, or that the High Command had shot Miller as a German Spy. All these theories were ridiculous but even today no-one really knows exactly what happened to Glenn Miller.


One plausable explanation was televised in a British documentary which claimed to unravel this mystery. It claimed that Glenn Miller was a victim of friendly-fire. On December 15th 1944, a fleet of 139 Lancaster bombers returning on the fateful night from an abortive mission over Nazi Germany dumped their payload into the English Channel and right on to Glenn Miller’s plane. Fred Shaw, a navigator on one of the Lancasters, said he saw the bombs hit a small plane beneath him. Mr Shaw said in an interview “I had never seen a bombing before 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 Mr. Miller until 1956 when he saw the film “The Glenn Miller Story“. The Lancaster pilot, Victor Gregory confirmed Mr Shaw’s story, although he didn’t personally see the Norseman plane, and that the rear gunner had reported it falling into the sea. The incident was never mentioned to his superiors and he says “Don’t think me unsympathetic or callous, but when i heard of the plane going down, i would have said that he shouldn’t have been there – forget him”. His concern was getting home safely from the raid.

The true story of Glenn Miller’s disappearance will probably never be known but what is for sure, his music will live on forever.



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