Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Flight 19: The Lost Squadron - Part One

The General Location of the Infamous Bermuda Triangle
Many authors on the subject of the Bermuda Triangle are of the opinion that the modern day fascination with the Triangle's mystery stems from what happened to Flight 19.  On 5th December, 1945, Bermuda Triangle writers tell us that five aircraft, flying together in formation with a combined crew of thirteen, simply disappeared.  They also like to include one of the rescue aircraft in this mystery, which would mean six aircraft, along with forty-one crew members, vanished into thin air.  The 'disappearance' of these aircraft sparked one of the largest air and sea rescues ever seen in history, with the actual event seeming so extraordinary that public interest grew, encouraging a journalistic review of both earlier and later disappearances.  This review was to establish not only the reputation of the Bermuda Triangle, but also its name.  However, as is often the case, the popularised myth of Flight 19 as it is often told lacks one important ingredient - facts.  The disappearance of the five TBM Avengers has become so distorted and embellished that it is sometimes difficult to tell the facts from the fiction.

What Was Flight 19?

Flight 19 was the nineteenth flight in a roster for take off from the Naval Air Station, Fort Lauderdale
in Florida.  Fort Lauderdale, around 20 miles north of Miami, serves as base for prospective naval pilots to undergo advanced navigational training before they are assigned duties on carriers at sea.

The planned flight path of Flight 19
The tale of Flight 19 tells us that the prospective pilots were executing a basic training exercise,
which, ironically, was based on a triangular flight plan.  Charles Berlitz tells us that the five planes were 'on a routine training mission... both pilots and crew were experienced airmen.'  The exercise started at about 2:10pm, starting at Fort Lauderdale, and was scheduled to go on for around 2 hours and 15 minutes, taking them no further from base than 123 miles east over the Bahamas.  At 140mph, it should be less that an hours distance to reach base as the crow flies.  This meant, in case of an emergency, it wouldn't take them too long to return.  Flight 19 was assigned what the Navy's Inquiry Report calls Problem No. 1, during which they were to fly 091° (east) for 56 miles to Chicken and Hen Shoals in order to conduct low level bombing.  They were to continue on 091° for 67 miles.  The next leg was on a course of 346° (north) for 73 miles and then to fly 241° (west-southwest) for 120 miles to bring them back to Fort Lauderdale.  The three corners of this triangle were marked by nearby land.  The weather was fair to average and Berlitz says that 'pilots who had flown earlier the same day reported ideal flying conditions.'

The Aircraft

The planes to be used during the flight exercise were General Motors Avenger torpedo bombers.  In World War II the TBM Avenger earned a reputation as the most deadly torpedo bomber ever built.  Avengers had two designations which depended on who made them.  Those constructed by Grumman Aircraft Corporation were called TBF's, and those made by General Motors were called TBM's.  The Avengers lived up to their name while operating from both land bases and aircraft carriers, beginning service in the spring of 1942 and being responsible for the sinking of the Japanese battleship 'Yamato', her escort of four destroyers and the cruiser 'Yahagi'.  The Avenger had a wingspan of 54 feet and was equipped with a Wright Cyclone B-2600 engine which developed 1,600 horsepower.  This gave the plane a top speed of close to 300 miles an hour for 1,000 miles.  They carried one standard torpedo or a 2,000 pound bomb.  They were also equipped with a 50-calibre machine gun beneath the forward cowl, with another in a power-operated ball.

Five Avengers in Flight
According to later testimony, all planes were carefully pre flighted and held full tanks of fuel, offering the squadron a range of over 1,000 miles.  All equipment, engines, and instruments were said to be in perfect working order.  Each TBM Avenger was equipped with extensive radio instruments, including ten communication channels and homing device which showed the heading the squadron would need to take in order to return to base.  Every plane also included a self-inflating life raft and each crew member had access to a Mae West life jacket.

The Pilots and Their Crew

The flight leader was a veteran of combat in the South Pacific named Lieutenant Charles Taylor, who was to fly FT-28.  He had been flying since 1941.  He was, according the the Inquiry Report, 'the authorised and assigned instructor in charge of Flight 19.'  The other pilots were all said to be accomplished servicemen that had switched to the Naval Air Force, with 350 or more hours of flight experience.  One 1942 Naval Academy graduate of Annapolis, Marine Captain George Stivers Jr, who was to pilot FT-117, was particularly respected for having been cited three times for bravery in the South Pacific.  Marine Captain Edward J. Powers Jr, a marine since 1941 and a graduate of Princeton, was an able officer who had been assigned as a training instructor at Quantico, Virginia during the war and was assigned to FT-36.  Marine Second Lieutenant Jimmy Gerber, who was to pilot FT-81, had joined the marines  after Pearl Harbour, working his way up to officer and pilot.  Ensign Joseph Bossi had been a pilot for only two years, declining discharge to give him the opportunity to continue flying planes like the Avenger, and was to fly FT-3. 

The Squadron of Flight 19
Stivers, Powers, Gerber and Bossi were naval aviators who were undergoing instruction in 'VTB Type Advanced Training,' with eight out of the nine crew members undergoing 'Advanced Combat Aircrew Training in VTB type aircraft'.  For these four pilots, who had already completed two similar exercises in the area, the Flight 19 exercise was to be their final hop.

In addition to the pilots, each Avenger was to carry two crew, a gunner, and a radio man, who were receiving advanced training with their pilot.  The only aircraft carrying an all-veteran crew, who were also experienced marines and navy men, was Taylor's.  When the flight began that day they were short by one man - the radio man for Gerber's plane, who had failed to arrive, leaving FT-81 with only the pilot Gerber and his gunner, Billy Longfoot.

The Myth

The popularised myth tells us that the flight looked to be routine, perhaps even dull.  They completed the scheduled bombing practise at Chicken and Hen Shoals before heading further east and then northwest.  At 3:50pm, when the flight should be requesting landing instructions, Taylor told Powers that his compasses appeared to be malfunctioning.  The pilots compared their compass headings but this did little more than cause disagreement and further confusion.  Two of the five were certain that they should head west, but the rest simply could not agree.

Taylor contacted the control tower, saying, 'Calling tower.  This is an emergency.  We seem to be off course.  We cannot see land... repeat... we cannot see land.'  The tower is said to have requested their current position, with Taylor replying that he was unsure of their position.  'We cannot be sure just where we are.  We seem to be lost.'  Lauderdale suggested they take a heading of due west, but Taylor, according to the myth, is said to have responded, 'We don't know which way is west.  Everything is wrong... strange.  We can't be sure of just where we are.  We are not sure of any direction.  Even the ocean doesn't look as it should.'

When Robert Cox asked Taylor for his present altitude, the flight was silent for a few minutes.  Taylor is then said to have cried, 'Don't come after me!  They look like...'  This was followed by silence.  According to the tale, this transmission, heard at 4:30pm, was the last received from Taylor with the rescue mission being dispatched to the bombers' last estimated position within minutes.  One Navy officer is said to have commented that both Flight 19 and the search plane had 'vanished completely as if they had flown to Mars.'

A copy of a 6 December 1945 newspaper, relating the news.
The story raises many questions, such as: why did Taylor refuse help from Cox?; What did Taylor see when he called out, 'They look like...'?  Joan Powers, the widow of Lieutenant Powers, has been quoted as saying, 'My own theory is that the men saw something up there over the Triangle... something which so frightened Lieutenant Taylor that he did not want Cox to jeopardise his own life; something which, possibly for national security reasons, the Navy still does not want the public to know about.'

The Facts

If the mythical tale was correct, it would rank Flight 19 as the most baffling mystery in the history of aviation.  However, when looking at the official report, along with other reliable witnesses, the events of the day show the popularised tale to be almost completely inaccurate, giving an impression of cloudless skies, experienced airmen, and a flight plan that they knew well.

In actual fact, the real version of events differ greatly from those portrayed in the myth, as is obvious when looking at the Navy's later investigation into the incident, which took several months with the subsequent report being more than 400 pages long.  The first message was not actually received by the tower at Fort Lauderdale.  Instead it was Lieutenant Robert Cox, another flight instructor, who was flying near Fort Lauderdale when he overheard two pilots discussing their headings and compasses.

In his testimony during the Navy Inquiry, Cox said: 'I was flying around the field at approximately 3:40pm...  I heard some planes or boats.  One man was transmitting on 4805 (the channel used by training flights) to 'Powers'.  That is the word he used and he didn't give any recognition.  The party calling asked 'Powers' what his compass read a number of times and finally said, 'I don't know where we are.  We must have got lost after that last turn.'  During this time, at approximately 3:45pm, I called Operation Radio, Fort Lauderdale, and notified them that either a boat or some planes were lost.  They Rogered my message.'

Believing the flight was in trouble, Cox attempted to contact the flight, saying , 'This is FT-74, plane or boat called 'Powers', please identify yourself so someone can help you.'  He received no answer.  Cox's testimony goes on to say: 'Later he called and asked if anyone had any suggestions.  I called again, giving my identification as FT-74, and he answered, giving his as MT-28.'  A series of transmissions then ensued between Cox and, it is believed, Taylor.
Original Painting on exhibit 'Flight 19' by Bob Jenny

Cox: MT-28 this is FT-74.  What is your trouble?
Taylor: Both my compasses are out and I'm trying to find Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  I am over land but it's broken.  I'm sure I'm in the Keys, but I don't know how far down and I don't know how to get to Fort Lauderdale.
Cox: MT-28, this is FT-74.  Put the sun on your port wing if you're in the Keys and fly up the coast until you get to Miami, then Fort Lauderdale is 20 miles further, your first port after Miami.  The air station is directly on your left from the port.  What is your present altitude?  I will fly south and meet you.
Taylor:  I know where I am now, I'm at 2,300 feet.  Don't come after me.
Cox: MT-28, Roger, you're at 2,300 feet.  I'm coming after you anyhow.

Cox's testimony continues: 'I then received a call from Fort Lauderdale asking if it was FT-28 or MT-28, and after calling MT-28 again, I learned that it was FT-28 and relayed the message to Fort Lauderdale.'

The last two sentences of transmission are often elaborated, as in the myth where Taylor tells Cox 'Don't come after me...It looks like...', where there is actually no mention of anything looking remotely unusual in the official report.  However, while Taylor said that he knew where the flight were, he was wrong.  He didn't know and this led to increasing confusion.

Cox departed from his own squadron and flew to the Keys, where Taylor believed his flight to be.  Shortly after, he received another message from FT-28.  'Can you have Miami or someone turn on their radar gear and pick us up?  We don't seem to be getting far.  We were out on a navigation hop and on the second leg I thought they were going wrong so I took over and was flying them back to the right position, but I'm sure now that neither one of my compasses are working.'  Cox responded, 'You can't expect to get here in ten minutes.  You have a 30 to 35 knot head or cross wind.  Turn on your emergency IFF gear (to make the plane's image brighter on a radar screen), or do you have it?'  Taylor replied that it didn't and Cox suggested that Taylor should turn on his ZBX gear, but received no response.

Fort Lauderdale and Port Everglade also attempted to get Taylor to switch on his ZBX or IFF gear.  Cox's testimony goes on to say, 'I don't know whether they got an answer.  Fort Lauderdale suggested I tell FT-28 to have one of his wingmen take over the lead and I did this.  I received no direct answer, but I heard some transmission about radar or something.'

Aerial view of NASFL with a Squadron of Avengers in mid-flight celebrating the end of the war, 1945
As Cox neared the Keys, he noticed that the communications made by Flight 19 didn't seem to be improving as they should be.  Instead, they appeared to be worsening.  He called Taylor, saying, 'Your transmissions are fading.  Something is wrong.  What is your altitude?'  Taylor responded, saying that he was at 4,300 feet.  Unfortunately, at this point Cox's AC transmitter stopped working and he lost the power to send transmissions on Flight 19's radio frequency.  He attempted to contact them on all nine available channels, finally reaching Fort Lauderdale on channel 7.

Cox said: 'As his transmissions were fading he must have been going north.  I believe at the time of his first transmissions he was either over the Biminis or the Bahamas.  I was about forty miles below Fort Lauderdale and couldn't hear him any longer.'  Commander Richard Baxter, an assistant operations officer of the coast guard office, commented in his testimony: 'In my estimation [the planes] were near Walker City [40 miles north of Grand Bahama Island] when they thought they were over the Keys.'  This opinion was later shared by both Lieutenant Cox and the Board of Inquiry, and was offered as an explanation for why the flight never returned to land.  However, it does not account for the fact that Flight 19 followed this heading for more than 25 minutes before turning west which, providing the above estimate is correct, would have taken them to the east coast of Florida safely within an hour.

The Bahamas and Florida Keys are actually surprisingly similar from above, with some islands looking almost identical.  Bruce Gernon and his copilot, who recreated the flight path followed by Flight 19, noticed that the lower over the Bahamas they went, the more they seemed to resemble the Keys.  'In particular, a group of twenty islands between Grand Bahama and Little Abaco Island, known as the Cross Cays, looked like islands in the lower keys surrounding Big Pine Key.  The difference, of course, was that a series of bridges connect a string of the keys.  However, there are dozens of smaller keys that aren't connected by bridges.'

At 4:25pm Port Everglades were able to establish contact with Taylor and requested a radio check.  Taylor told them that he heard them and that they had just passed over a small island.  There was no other land in sight.

That's it for today.  I won't list the sources on this post, but will put them at the end of the subject of Flight 19.  Next time we will continue with the story of Flight 19.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Flight 19: The Lost Squadron - Part Three

Taylor was evidently disorientated and his situation was made more difficult due to a number of influencing factors.  His instruments were malfunctioning, or at least he believed they were.  He didn't have a clock or a watch, meaning he had little idea of how long the squadron had been in the air.  His radio channel was experiencing interference from nearby Cuban radio stations and, due to the fear of losing contact with the rest of his flight, Taylor was deterred from changing his frequency to the undisturbed emergency channel.  He took his flight first in one direction, then another and, as night fell, the weather and the sea grew rough.

At around 5:50pm, an approximate fix was obtained on Flight 19, placing them within a 100 mile radius of 29°, 15 minutes north, 79°, 80 minutes west.  The squadron were somewhere north of the Bahamas and east of New Smyma, Florida.  If Taylor could be informed of this, he would only need to head west and Flight 19 would make land.  Unfortunately, the radio signal became progressively worse and Port Everglades were unable to reach the squadron to give them this information.  From this point onwards, Flight 19's progress could no longer be charted and the rescue mission, while executed, was unable to determine the final location of the flight.

At 6:05pm radio operaters expected the flight to be confirming that the shoreline lights were in sight.  Instead, they overheard flight transmissions indicating that there was no land in sight and Taylor was becoming increasingly worried.  He insisted that the flight must be in the Gulf of Mexico and that their westerly heading, which had been their course for the last 55 minutes, was taking them further from land.  At this point he suggested that Powers should turn the flight east again.  However, there is no evidence to suggest that Powers followed this recommendation, perhaps becuase the rest of the squadron knew that there had been no land behind them for at least half an hour.

Added to this mystery was a high frequency fix, which placed the fix around 225 miles northeast of Fort Lauderdale, or roughly 150 to 200 miles off the east coast of Florida, between New Smyrna Beach and Jacksonville.  This indicated that Flight 19 had flown much further into the Atlantic than was thought and that, while they believed they had been heading west or northwest for around an hour, they had actually been flying north.

It became apparant that this flight was not what would be considered typical for a lost flight, with some personnel at the bases becoming convinced that none of Flight 19's equipment was working correctly.  This belief has been sustained by examination of several puzzling statements made by the flight.  Their westward heading, even according to Powers' compasses, seemed to take them north instead of west, with the flight dialogue being noteworthy due to the undertone of mild panic which was present even early in the flight when there seemed to be little reason for it.

Flight 19 by Boober61
Instrument malfunction, which seems to have included compasses, fuel gauges, airspeed indicators, and perhaps altimeters, is potentially suggested by some of the following recorded dialogue.  Not long after Taylor announced that they were lost, he expressed a degree of frustration and impatience when he commented, 'We don't seem to be getting far,' in relation to their speed and the amount of ground they had covered.  When Taylor explained to Cox how he believed they'd become lost, he said, 'We were out on a navigational hop and on the second leg I thought they were going wrong, so I took over and was flying them back to the right position, but I'm sure now that neither one of my compasses are working.'

Both of Taylor's compasses were probably in perfect working order.  However, Taylor was compensating for 30 to 40 mph winds, with the TBM facing winds of up to 87 mph.  He turned into the third leg of the exercise before crossing the checkpoint, probably die to strong headwinds and, when they failed to arrive at Fort Lauderdale at the expected time, Taylor decided that his compasses were faulty.  It seems strange and mystifying that, given the circumstances, none of the other pilots bothered to correct Taylor by telling him that they were actually on the right course to being with.  Instead they seemed as surprised or unsure as Taylor was when he asked for a compass comparison.

There were also no IFF signals received from other planes despite confirmation from the flight that they were on IFF.  Nor did their ZBX instrument, or homing device, detect the beacon at Fort Lauderdale.  Another interesting comment made by one of the pilots at 5:55pm was, 'We may have to ditch any minute,' which would indicate that they were low on fuel, although they should have had more than enough at this point.

Newspaper Report

Throughout the final hour of contact between the flight and base, messages were fragmented and strained.  At 6:30pm, Taylor tried desperately to keep his flight together.  He was heard announcing, 'All planes close up tight... we will have to ditch unless landfall... when the first plane drops to 10 gallons we all go down together.'  He was also heard repeatedly asking, 'What course are we on now?', which was the last thing Fort Lauderdale heard from him at 6:37pm.  These faint transmissions faded out completely at 7:04pm, when Ensign Rossi was heard repeating his call sign, 'Fox Tare Three... For Tare Three... Fox Tare Three...'  This came over the radio clearly before ending abruptly.  It is assumed that sometime over the next hour the five bombers descended into the tubulent seas below, with experts commenting that a TBM would sink in under a minute.

Flight 19's fuel endurance was questionable when it was estimated to be exhausted by 6:30pm, the 7pm, and finally 8pm that night.  These estimates did not take into account the possibility of the pilots adjusting their control settings and throttling back, which would allow them to stagger their fuel, prolonging their already extensive fuel range.  This action would, however, slow their cruising speed potentially accounting for the statement that they didn't seem to be making much progress.  It wouldn't, however, explain how they came to be so far north to begin with.  Some TBM Avenger pilots have commented that they could have extended their flight time to seven or eight hours in total, giving them roughly two hours of extra flight time after the last brief message was heard at 7:04pm.

Over the years many questions have been asked as to how this disaster could have happened, with some arguing that the Navy had tried to conceal certain facts that would indicate that Flight 19 had been captured or destroyed by aliens.  This was due to the report having remained classified for more than three decades.  In actual fact, the reasons for this extended classification can be discerned when we look at how the inefficiency of the rescue units as well as how the situation was dealt with in the beginning.  How did they become so completely lost, and why, when  it became apparent that they were lost, did the involved stations not react as quickly as they could have?

For those that hadn't see the official report, the facts given would make it seem that the flight should have never become lost in the first place.  The weather was fine to average; the airmen had experience - especially Taylor.  The flight plan was routine.  But in truth, while the weather was fine at the start of the flight, it rapidly deteriorated during the flight, with search crafts later reporting unsafe flying conditions and tremendous seas.  During his testimony, Cox, when asked if he had observed the state of the sea, commented: 'The sea was very rough.  It was covered with white caps and long white streamers.  The visibility was very good  in all directions, except directly west.'  WhileTaylor was experienced, he was the exceotion, with other crew members only having around 60 hours flight experience in TBM-type aircraft.  They were students in training.  However, Taylor's experience didn't change the fact that he had only recently moved to Fort Lauderdale from Miami and was unfamiliar with the area, never having flown the route taken by Flight 19.  The 'routine' flight was only routine in the sense that it was a well established training exercise at Fort Lauderdale.  It was actually meant to be a complicated navigation exercise.

One of the Official Accident Reports
 Adding to the problems caused by his disorientation was Taylor's refusal to change his radio frequency to the emergency channel, resulting in his inability to maintain radio contact with the ground stations.  While he feared losing contact with the other planes in his flight, transferring to 3000 kilocycles would have provided an undisturbed channel, free of the interference of Cuban radio stations and enabling stations closer to the flight to remain in contact with them.  It would have also allowed the direction-finding stations to find the flight's position much earlier.  Again, it seems that Taylor had forgotten his training , with an important part of okane procedure being the switch over to the emergency frequency.  This is something Taylor should have done when he first suspected that his squadron were lost.

It is also interesting to note that before the flight took place, Taylor requested that another instructor take his place, giving no reason other that not wanting to take the navigational hop.  While Lieutenant Arthur A. Curtis, who took the request, noticed no strange behaviour, Taylor's judgement throughout the entire flight seemed adversely affected and all available evidence suggests that his actions were the opposite to everything he knew he should have done.  It seems unlikely that the investigators would not have persued this matter if there was any possibility that Taylor was impaired, emotionally or physically.  But could they have been wrong?  According to his room mate, Taylor was very upset about a letter he had received just before the scheduled take off.  He told no one about the contents of the letter and took it with him on the flight.  Is is possible that whatever the letter contained may have contributed to Taylor's anxiety and concentration throughout the exercise.

Hours after the flight was estimated to have exhausted their fuel supply, search pilots are said to have heard the delayed call letters, 'FT... FT...'  This has been dismissed as wishful thinking, although if the flight had throttled back, the letters were potentially from Flight 19, adding yet another layer of mystery.  Where had they been during the hours of radio silence?  One interesting revelation that was not revealed until later was that, at the point Taylor requested the planes close formation, one pilot evidently realized that their heading was taking them further out to sea.  That man, although it is unclear which, defied regulations and broke away from the formation.  He started to fly west towards land.  It remains unknown where this pilot and his plane ended up.

Flight 19 by Spiros Karkavelas
Another interesting fact came to light during the subsequent search for Flight 19.  Captain J. D. Morrison, an Eastern pilot, spotted red flares rising from the sky while flying 10 miles south of Melbourne, Fla.  He knew they were coming from a small island and agreed to lead the search team to the site.  However, the search effoty left a lot to be desired.  Morrison witnessed the Navy's 'careful search of the island' which consisted of a single helicopter that flew three passes over one island which was surrounded by marshy terrain.  There were no ground units involved and the marshes could quite easily conceal any airmen or planes that had crashed, especially if the men were unconscioua or injured to the extent they were unable to signal for help.  The Board of Inquiry criticized the individuals in charge of the search operations, with several high-ranking officers being demoted, including one admiral.  It seems that throughout the entire episode incompetence reigned.

In a formal statement the Fort Lauderdale NAS commanding officer said, 'What happened is unbelievable.  Only fifteen minutes before the squadron of Avengers left our base at 2:10pm that Wednesday, another flight of five similar planes took off, flew exactly the same course and returned safely without incident.'  It encountered no unusual weather conditions,except the wind picked up ten or fifteen knots.  Some of the search pilots believe they hadn't searched far enough north, with orders to search as far as Jacksonville, Florida.  However, if the flight had been any further north, the Gulf Stream's northern current would drag any debris beyond the search area.  Admiral F. D. Wagner added one final note to the report, stating, 'The leaders of the flight became so hopelessly confused as to have suffered something akin to a mental aberration.

Bruce Gernon, another pilot, believes Flight 19 flew into an electromagnetic storm.  Interestingly, electromagnetism can cause several of the problems which some believe were suffered by the squadron.  This includes instrument malfunctions, confusion and disorientation.  Gernon commented, 'I'm convinced that Flight 19 entered this storm at about 3:30, and exited it less that ten minutes later jist before Charles Taylor made his first distress call.  I suspect that Flight 19 penetrated too deeply into the storm and into a field of electromagnetic energy, which had a dramatic effect on the outcome of the flight.'  While there is no definitive proof that the squadron entered an electromagnetic storm, or even that such a storm could affect the minds of the pilots, we do know that storm conditions were present during the flight, that Taylor believed his compasses malfunctioned and that his thinking seemed illogical, confused and disorientated.  This theory is one that has gained popularity over the years and is now a view shared by many.  In a June 1974 issue of 'Sealife', Howard L. Rosenberg writes, 'If the planes were flying through a magnetic storm, all compasses could possibly malfunction.  Actually, men's knowledge of magnetism is limited.  We know how to live with it and escape it by going into space, but we really don't know what exactly it is.'

Many different factors prevented the squadron from returning to land: the failure of the radio channel which Cox needed to communicate with the flight, bad radio reception, the delay in sending the rescue plane out, bad weather, an inability to locate the flight quickly, and the delay in relaying the estimated location once it was known, amongst many other factors.  The most tragic part of the entire incident is that, when Taylor first reported that he was having difficulties, he was probably over the reefs and kays just north of the Bahamas, with the flight being almost exactly on course when the pilots decided they were lost.  Many continue to search for the planes that made up Flight 19 and perhaps they will one day be found to give us the last pieces of the puzzle that remains.

Useful Resources
Into the Bermuda Triangle: Pursuing the Truth Behind the World's Greatest Mystery by Gian Quasar
The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved by Lawrence David Kusche
Out of this world: Mysteries of mind, space and time
The Fog: A Never Before Published Theory of the Bermuda Triangle Phenomenon by Bruce Gernon and Rob MacGregor
Naval History & Heritage

Flight 19: The Lost Squadron - Part Two

At 4:26pm , Taylor radioed Port Everglades, stating that he had turned on his emergency IFF.  He asked if anyone in the area had a radar screen that could pick up the flight.  Two minutes later, Port Everglades suggested that another plane with a good compass should take over the lead, hoping that they might be able to guide the lost flight back to the mainland.  In later testimony, Port Everglades stated, 'We were able to pick up particles of messages between Flight Leader and other planes in the flight concerning their estimated position and compasses, however as best we could tell, due to poor reception, no other plane assumed the lead.'
Port Everglades in 1945

The military radio logs show that a tense atmosphere was already developing between the pilots after twenty-two minutes of flying northeast.  They expected to see the Florida coast by now, but land remained elusive.  This is proof that Flight 19 were nowhere near Florida Bay, let alone over it.  Taylor made the decision to turn his flight, taking a heading of 2° east, commenting, 'We are going too damn far north instead of east.  If there is anything we wouldn't see it!'  It appears Taylor assumed he was in the Gulf of Mexico.  At 4:30pm, the duty officer was notified of the difficulties that Flight 19 were facing.  He later said: 'I immediately went into operations and learned that the flight leader thought he was along the Florida Keys.  I then learned that the leader could not possibly have gone on more than one leg of his navigation problem and still gotten back to the Keys by 1600...  I notified ASBTU-4 to instruct FT-28 to fly 270° [west] and also fly towards sun.'  This was standard procedure for lost planes in the area and was drummed into the students from the beginning, as demonstrated by another pilots, presumed to be Powers, who commented: 'Dammit, if we would just head west we would get home!'
Note the location of the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Keys

At 4:31pm, Taylor radioed Port Everglades to tell them that, 'One of the other pilots in the flight thinks if we went 270° we could hit land.'  This recorded message demonstrates that other pilots within Flight 19 knew that west was the best direction for them to go, but later recorded conversations make it obvious that Taylor continued to question not only himself, but the rest of his squadron.

At 4:39pm, Port Everglades messaged Fort Lauderdale, stating, 'In as much as FT-74 (Cox) has run out of communications with FT-28 by proceeding south.  I think that this flight is lost somewhere over Bahama Bank and suggest that the Lauderdale Ready Plane be dispatched guarding 4805 Kcs on course 075° (east-northeast) and try to establish communication with FT-28.  And if the Ready Plane can pick up FT-28 better as he proceeds on this course we will be sure that the flight is lost over the Bahamas.  Ready Plane could also act as a relay on the frequency as it is becoming more difficult to pick up FT-28.'  This comment was a very sensible suggestion on Port Everglades part and if this action had been taken perhaps Flight 19 would have made it back safely. However, it appears no such action was taken, at least not in good time of the comment being made.

At 4:45pm Taylor radioed Port Everglades, telling them that the flight was now travelling 030° [north-northeast] for 45 minutes.  He then planned to fly north to make sure they were not over the Gulf of Mexico.  Meanwhile, Port Everglades asked Dinner Key, a seaplane base, whether they had been able to get a bearing on FT-28, with Dinner Key responding that they hadn't yet managed to get a fix on Flight 19 and advising that Taylor send continuously on 4805Kc as they were unable to pick up his IFF.  In his testimony Lieutenant Donald J. Poole, a flight officer at Fort Lauderdale, stated: Port Everglades had contact with FT-28, Lieutenant Taylor, at this time, 4:45pm, so I immediately notified them to instruct FT-28 to fly 270°, also to fly toward the sun.  I know this was transmitted because I listened over Operations radio.  I do not know that it was ever acknowledged.  Port Everglades also instructed FT-28 to change to 3000 kilocycles, Channel 1 (reserved for emergencies) but this was never done by FT-28.  I had a pilot in the ready plane warming up, but was hesitant about sending it out until I had some information as to where to send it.  Between 4:50pm and 5pm both Fort Lauderdale and Port Everglades tried desperately to get Taylor, or indeed anyone in the flight to turn on their ZBX, but there was no response.

Lieutenant Charles Taylor
At 5:07pm, Taylor turned his flight east, intending to stay on that course for ten minutes.  At 5:11pm a disagreement developed between Taylor and Powers, who had apparently decided to turn the flight without consulting Taylor, with Taylor protesting, 'You didn't get far enough east.  How long have we been going east?'  Minutes later, either Taylor or Powers were heard saying that they were now heading 270°, indicating that Powers had won the argument over which heading the flight should take.  At 5:16pm, Taylor confirmed, 'We will head 270° until we hit the beach or run out of gas.'

Fort Lauderdale phoned Port Everglades at 5:36pm, telling them that the ready plane would not be going out due to the prospect of bad weather and the encouraging information that FT-28 was going to 'fly west until they hit the beach.'  Cox, who had been planning to fly the ready plane, was disappointed and, to this day, is convinced that he knew where the flight had to be.  He was, however, denied the opportunity to test his theory for reasons of safety.  It was believed that a single-engine, single-piloted plane could not be risked on a flight into darkness over rough seas and into potential stormy weather.

Having changed their course, tension at Fort Lauderdale eased considerably as they assumed Flight 19 was in the Atlantic where a heading of 270° would bring them back to the coast.  However, despite the flight presumably heading closer to shore, the radio reception didn't seem to improve enough for the tower to determine what problems the flight was suffering.  At 5:20pm, Port Everglades attempted to radio Taylor, 'If you can change to Yellow Band (3000 Kc) please do so and give us a call.'  This message was attempted three times, with no response.  The inter-plane communication could be heard by Fort Lauderdale, although it was, at times, faint.

Left: Flight 19 crewman Bert Edward Baluk. Middle: Lt. Robert F. Cox, NASFL Senior Flight Instructor, who was on air communicating with Flight 19 until signal got weaker. Right: Flight 19 crewman Bob Harmon aka George Devlin, circa 1944
At 5:22pm Taylor was overheard telling his flight to take close formation.  'When first man gets down to 10 gallons of gas, we will all land in the water together.  Does everyone understand that?'  While this came over the radio clearly, attempts to direct the flight were hampered by exasperating blackouts.  Calls from the tower telling Taylor to change his frequency were responded to as, 'Say again?'; 'I can hear you very faintly.'; 'My transmission is getting weaker,' and so on.  In the testimony of Lieutenant Samuel M. Hines, the operations and tower operator at Fort Lauderdale: There was very much static on 4805 kilocycles from 4:10 and 5:30 at which time, in addition to the static, music from Cuban broadcasting stations interfered with reception.  The lost planes from 4:10 until 7:04pm alternately came in loud and clear and faded beyond audibility.  The receiver at Port Everglades was able to receive transmissions which Operations Radio did not hear and vice versa... Operations Radio [Fort Lauderdale] was unable to get a Roger on any message sent to the planes.  After half an hour of repeated calls for Taylor to switch to emergency frequency, he finally refused at 5:54pm: 'I cannot change frequency.  I must keep my planes intact.'  By this time it was completely dark.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Who Is Merlin?

One of the most important characters within Arthurian legend is Merlin.  However, the Merlin we know today is much changed compared to how he first began.

Merlin first appears in Armes Prydein, an early 10th century Welsh prophetic poem from the Book of Taliesin.  His name is not that which we now use.  Here he is instead called Myrdin or Myrddin.

Myrdin foretells these will meet
In Aber Peruddon, the stewards of kings:
And though there be no right of slaughter they complain.

His role gradually evolves from here into that of a magician, prophet, and adviser of the kings.  He was apparently called Emrys (or Ambrosius) at his birth in Caer-Fryrddin (Carmarthen).  It is only later that his name is changed to Merlin, a Latinized version of the Welsh word, Myrddin.  It is thought that Geoffrey of Monmouth invented this form of his name to avoid the character being associated with the French word 'merde'.

Merlin was the illegitimate son of a Royal Princess of Dyfed and his father is said to have been an angel that visited the Royal nun, leaving her with child.  According to Geoffrey, when introduced into the presence of Vortigern to be questioned about Merlin's father, his mother told him:

My sovereign lord... I know nobody that begot him of me.  Only this I know, that as I was once with my companions in our chambers, there appeared to me a person in the shape of a most beautiful young man, who often embraced me eagerly in his arms, and kissed me; and when he had stayed a little time, he suddenly vanished out of my sight.  But many times after this he would talk to me when I sat alone, without making any visible appearance.  When he had a long time haunted me in this manner, he at last lay with me several times in the shape of a man, and left me with child.  And I do affirm to you, my sovereign lord, that excepting that young man, I know no body begot him of me.

Vortigern and Merlin by Alan Lee
It is through the help of the king's advisers that many then come to the conclusion that Merlin's father was an incubus.

For, as Apuleius informs us in his book concerning the Demon of Socrates between the moon and the earth inhabit those spirits which we will call incubuses.  These are of the nature of partly of men and partly of angels, and whenever they please assume human shapes, and lie with women.  Perhaps one of them appeared to this woman, and begot the young man of her.

Merlin was, however, baptised early in his lifetime; an event which is said to have taken the evil from his nature, leaving his powers intact.  Some believe that this story was invented to save Merlin's mother from the scandal which would have arisen had her liaison with Morfyn Frych (the Freckled), a minor prince from the House of Coel, become public knowledge.

Merlin is first requested by Vortigern when he had tried to build a fortress which, every night, would collapse.  Vortigern's magicians told him that the only way to solve this problem was to sacrifice a child that had no father.  However, before the sacrifice took place, Merlin told Vortigern that a subterranean pool lay beneath the foundations, in which lived two dragons, one red and one white.

A painting depicting a battle in which a red dragon and white dragon fight.
According to Merlin, the red dragon represented Britain, while the white dragon represented the Saxons.  The two dragons fought with the white dragon first having the upper-hand, only to be driven back by the red dragon.  To Merlin, the meaning was clear.  He then prophesised that Vortigern would be killed and followed on the throne first by Ambrosius, then by Uther, and finally by Arthur to whom would fall the responsibility of pushing back the Saxons.  The prophecy was fulfilled and Merlin's role as adviser, prophet, and magician followed.

"I will now unfold to you the meaning of this mystery. The pool is the emblem of this world, and the tent that of your kingdom: the two serpents are two dragons; the red serpent is your dragon, but the white serpent is the dragon of the people who occupy several provinces and districts of Britain, even almost from sea to sea: at length, however, our people shall rise and drive away ;the Saxon race from beyond the sea, whence they originally came; but do you depart from this place, where you are not permitted to erect a citadel; I, to whom fate has allotted this mansion, shall remain here; whilst to you it is incumbent to seek other provinces, where you may build a fortress."
                                                                      Frrom Historia Brittonum by Nennius

When 460 British nobles were slain at a peace conference due to Saxon treachery, Ambrosius, who at this time was king, consulted with Merlin about a suitable memorial to mark the men's passing and, as a result, Merlin, along with Uther, procured the stones of the Chorea Gigantum, the Giant's Ring and re-erected them around the mass grave.  We now call this place Stonehenge.

It was through Merlin that Uther lay with Igraine to conceive Arthur by way of turning Uther into the likeness of Igraine's husband, Gorlois.

After Arthur was born, Merlin became his tutor while he grew up with his foster-father, Sir Ector.  Merlin is the one that is said to have arranged for the Sword in the Stone contest, by which Arthur becomes king.  He was also the first to meet with the Lady of the Lake, convincing her to provide a magical sword, Excalibur, for Arthur.  In the romances, Merlin is the one to create the Round Table and is also responsible for aiding and directing the events of the king and of Camelot.

According to Geoffrey, at the end of Arthur's life, Merlin accompanies Arthur to the Isle of Avalon for the healing of Arthur's wounds.

Sir Thomas Malory tells of how Merlin falls deeply in love with the Lady of the Lake, also known as Vivienne or Nimue, to whom he teaches all of his mystical powers.

And so, soon after, the lady and Merlin departed, and by the way Merlin showed her many wonders, and came into Cornwall.  And always Merlin lay about the lady to have her maidenhood...

The Lady of the Lake becomes so powerful that her magical skills outshine even those of Merlin.  Believing that Merlin will enslave her, the Lady of the Lake imprisons Merlin sometimes in a cave, sometimes in a tree and, due to this, Merlin is absent from the Battle of Camlann.

Vivien Encloses Merlin in the Tree
...she was ever passing weary of him, and fain would have been delivered of him, for she was afeared of him because he was a devil's son, and she could not beskift him by no mean.  And so on a time it happened that Merlin showed to her in a rock whereas was a great wonder, and wrought by enchantment, that went under a great stone.  So by her subtle working she made Merlin to go under that stone to let her wit of the marvels there; but she wrought so there for him that he came never out for all the craft he could do.  And so she deported and left Merlin.

So, Merlin begins his journey as little more than a prophet.  He is later transformed by Geoffrey of Monmouth into a character of importance - a prophet, magician and adviser of kings.  In some literature, Merlin is responsible for the creation of the Sword in the Stone and the Round Table.  In some tales he falls in love with the Lady of the Lake and, in doing so, becomes trapped, leading to his absence at the Battle of Camlann.  This absence leads to the fatal wounding of King Arthur.  The centuries have seen Merlin go from minor character to major, with some considering Merlin to be one of the most important characters found within Arthurian literature.

That's all for today.  Next time we will learn about the myth of Flight 19.

Useful Resources

The Holy Grail in Arthurian Legend

The Holy Grail is most well known as having been the vessel from which Christ drank during the Last Supper.  In this legend the Holy Grail, it was given to Christ's grand-uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, who used the vessel to capture Christ's blood and sweat while he hung on the cross.  After Christ's death, Joseph was said to have been imprisoned in a rock tomb similar to the one he had given for the body of his grand-nephew.  He was left to starve but was sustained for years by the Holy Grail, which provided food and drink for him every day.  Later, Joseph travelled to Britain, bringing the Grail with him and settling in Ynys Witrin (Glastonbury), but the Grail was taken to Carbenic where it was kept in a castle that was guarded by the Grail Kings, descended of Joseph's daughter Anna (Enygeus) and her husband, Brons.
Joseph of Arimathea is depicted in this 14th Century
Here the Holy Grail stayed and was prophesised to be rediscovered by the one man able of sitting in the Siege Perilous - one of the unoccupied chairs of the Round Table that could only seat the most noble and pure of knights.  Many of Arthur's knights went in search of the Grail.  In this tale, the Grail waited for Galahad, son of Lancelot, while Perceval failed to ask the correct questions and left empty-handed, and Lancelot was prevented from entering the castle because he was an adulterer.  Galahad entered the castle and asked the questions correctly.  He gazed upon the Holy Grail and his life became complete.  He and the Grail were then lifted up to Heaven.

From the start of this tale, one might assume that the Holy Grail should appear in the Bible, but this is not the case.  The Holy Grail first appears as simply 'graal' in Chretien de Troyes' Perceval, le Conte du Graal, composed around 1181-90.  He describes it as made of fine pure gold and set qith precious stones of many kinds.  The word is probably derived from the Old French word 'graal' meaning 'broad and capacious dish or salver'.  Though it is best known as a cup or chalice, the Holy Grail has been variously described as a platter, dish, cornucopia, horn of plenty, a book, or even a stone.

The Quest for the Holy Grail “Chretien de Troyes, “Yvain,” 13th c.
... A girl
Entered with the, holding

A grail-dish in both her hands -
She walked into the hall,
Holding this grail, it glowed
With so great a light that the candles
Suddenly seemed to grow dim,
Like the moon and stars when the sun
Appears in the sky...
The grail that led the procession
Was made of the purest gold,
Studded with jewels of every
King, the richest and most costly
Found on land or sea.

Perceval, le Conte du Graal by Chretien de Troyes

The quest for a divine vessel has been a popular theme in Arthurian legend and it has been so since well before medieval writers introduced the 'Holy Grail'.  This divine vessel appears in the Mabinogian tale of Culwch and Olwen, but is particularly well known in the Preiddeu Annwn or Spoil of the Underworld as told by Taliesin.  In this tale, Arthur and his warriors sail to the Celtic Otherworld to capture the pearl-rimmed Cauldron of Annwfn, the giver of plenty and prophecy.  It was apparently last discovered at Caer-Skiddi (or Wydyr), an island bound castle of glass, where it was guarded by nine divine maidens.  Apparently the perils were too much for Arthur and his men, with the mission being abandoned and only seven of their group returning home.

The Gundestrup Cauldron
My poetry
from the cauldron
it was uttered.
From the breath of nine maidens
it was kindled.
The cauldron of the chief of Annwfn:
what is its fashion?
A dark ridge around its border
and pearls.
And when we went with Arthur,
brilliant difficulty.
Except seven 
none rose up
from the Fortress of Mead-Drunkenness.
Preiddeu Annwn or Spoil of the Underworld

Celtic Cauldrons were used during ceremonial feasts as early as the late Bronze Age.  Ritual deposits in Llyn Fawr (Glamorgan) included such vessels.  The best known example is the Gundestrup Cauldron which was discovered in the peat bogs of Jutland (Denmark).  The cauldron is decorated with the portraits of many Celtic deities and would have once held up to 28.5 gallons.  Other Celtic legends mention cauldrons: the Rider of Sidhe possessed a cauldron that could never be emptied, providing a neverending supply of sustenance and restorative properties.

Some believe the Holy Grail is not an object but an ideal.  When something is referred to as one's Holy Grail, it implies something that is sought after with passion but could be forever out of reach.  It signifies a great goal or achievement, or something of great importance.  This is represented in the Welsh tale Peredur, found in the Mabinogion, where the Grail is not an object but the quest itself.  The glory is to be found in the chivalrous acts carried out during the quest, not an object to be acquired at the end of the quest.

And she quoth, 'Now indeed I know thee, for in sooth art thou Parzival!
Didst thou see the mournful monarch?  Didst thou see the wondrous Grail?
Ah!  tell me the joyful tidings, may his woe at last stilled?
Well is thee that the blessed journey thou hast ta'en, now shall earth be filled,
As far as the winds of heaven may blow, with thy fair renown;
Naught on earth but shall do thee service, fulfilment each wish shall crown!'
                                                           Parzival, a knightly epic by Wolfram von Eschenbach

Chretien's introduction of the graal was a great inspiration to other medieval authors and, due to his tale never being completed, many felt that they could not only complete the story but improve on it.  The seeker of the Grail varies from tale to tale, some naming Perceval and others naming Galahad.  One such author, Wolfram von Eschenbach, renamed Perceval as Parzival, composing his tale in rhyming couplets in the first decade of the 13th century.  He tells us that he is writing his tale because Chretien did not do justice to the Grail story, possibly due to the tale having been left incomplete and the lack of explanation of the Grail.  Although the romance seems to be based on Chretien's tale, Wolfram claims that he is working from a better version written by a poet named Kyot.

Wolfram's tale explains more about the Grail than Chretien did, telling us that the Grail is not the vessel of Chretien's tale, nor the cup used during the Last Supper.  Instead the Grail is called lapsit exillis - a stone with so much power that it allows a phoenix to rise from its own ashes, and that anyone who sees it, no matter how ill he or she might be, will not die within a week, nor will they age or change appearance.  Every Good Friday a dove from Heaven deposites a small white wafer on the stone from which it gets its power.

They would agree to no other name, but that it should be called the Grail; and it is right that people should agree in this way.  Both those who departed and those who remained called the vessel the Grail, for the reason I have told you.
                                                    Joseph of Arimathea: A Romance of the Grail By Robert (de Boron)

Robert de Boron, writing in the last decade of the 12th century or the first few years of the 13th century, wrote his octosyllabic French verse romance Joseph d'Arimathie, which is of great importance in the development of the Grail legend.  Robert's is the first romance to turn Chretien's graal into the now familiar Holy Grail, by linking it to the cup used by Christ during the Last Supper.  In this tale, Perceval is the one to find the castle and, on his second visit, to ask the correct questions, leading him to assume the position of Fisher King.

Sir Galahad's Vision of the Holy Grail by Sir Joseph Noel Paton
There have been many various items used to represent the Holy Grail.  It has, like King Arthur, been invented by the input of many different authors over many hundreds of years.  The Holy Grail may mean something different to everyone and, due to its beginnings and its evolution over the years, there is no one definition to explain it's appearance or use.

That's all for today.  Next time we will learn about Merlin.

Useful Resources 

King Arthur, Mordred and the Battle of Camlann

King Arthur's final battle was the Battle of Camlann, where he is fatally wounded by Mordred.  But who was Mordred and what events brought him to fatally wound King Arthur in the Battle of Camlann?

Mordred, as we know him, has evolved over the centuries, much like the other characters of Arthurian legend.  The question of who Mordred is varies from text to text.  In some texts he is King Arthur's nephew, while in others King Arthur is not just Mordred's uncle.  He is also Mordred's father.  Certainly, Mordred is probably best known to be the illegitimate and incestuous child of Arthur and one of his half-sisters, Morgause or Morgan Le Fay.  However, the story in which Morgan le Fay enticed Arthur into an incestuous affair, from which Mordred is conceived, is a misconception derived from the desire of modern writers to merge Morgan with her sister Morgause together as one.

The first mention of Mordred and the Battle of Camlann can be found in the Annales Cambriae, a 9th century collection of obscure Welsh material.  However, here he is known as Medraut rather than Mordred.

537:  The Battle of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut fell: and there was plague in Britain and Ireland.

While we are made aware of Arthur and Medraut's deaths, we are not told that they were on opposing sides of the battle, nor are we told the reason for the battle.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, Mordred is called Modred and is presented as Arthur's nephew, the son of Lot and Morgause, who is sometimes known as Anna.

...which when Arthur intelligence of, he committed the government of the kingdome to his nephew Modred...

Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur brings incest into the mix, with Mordred being born to Arthur and the wife of King Lot, Morgause.  It is not until later that King Arthur discovers that Morgause also happens to be his half-sister, daughter of Igraine and Gorlois.

And thither came to him, King Lot's wife (Morgause), of Orkney... with her four sons, Gawaine, Gaheris, Agravine, and Gareth, with many other knights and ladies.  For she was a passing fair lady, therefore the king cast great love unto her, and desired to lie by her; so they were agreed, and he begat upon her Mordred, and she was his sister, on his mother's side, Igraine...  But all this time King Arthur knew not that King Lot's wife was his sister.

When Arthur discovers the truth, Merlin tells him that Mordred must die as his existence is a threat to King Arthur's life.  Arthur has all of the boys born on the day of Mordred's birth, Mordred included, put onto ships which were set adrift.  While most aboard the ships die, Mordred survives.

Then King Arthur let send for all the children born on May-day, for Merlin told King Arthur that he should destroy him... born on May-day... and so he sent for them all, upon pain of death; and so there were found many lords' sons, and all were sent onto the King, and so was Mordred sent by King Lot's wife, and all were put in a ship on the sea, and some were four weeks old and some less.  And so by fortune the ship drove unto a castle, and wall all toriven, and destroyed the most part, save that Mordred was cast up and a good man found him and nourished him till he was fourteen years old.

In Wace's Roman de Brut, Mordred is again Arthur's nephew and his is in love with Guinever.

...Mordred was a man of high birth, and of many noble virtues, but he was not true.  He had set his heart on Guinevere, his kinswoman, but such love brought little honour to the queen.  Mordred had kept this love close, for easy enough it was to hide since who would be so bold as to deem that he loved his uncle's dame?

Accounts of Mordred consider him to be traiterous and he was introduced by Layamon, who translated Wace's Alliterative Morte Arthure, to the reader as 'Modred, wickedest of men; truth he had none to ever any man... to the queen was his resort - that was evilly done - to his uncle he did treachery.'  Layamon adds that Mordred and the queen did numerous sorrows to the land, losing their lives and souls as a result.

When Mordred reaches adulthood, he becomes one of Arthur's knights and Geoffrey tells us that, when Arthur was away on his Roman campaign, Mordred, who had been entrusted with Arthur's kingdom, seized Guinevere and the throne, paving the way for Arthur's final battle.

...But at the beginning of the following summer, as he was on his march towards Rome and was beginning to pass the Alps, he had news brought to him that his nephew Mordred, to whose care he had entrusted Britain, had by tyrannical and treasonable practices set the crown upon his own head; and that queen Guanhumara (Guinevere), in violation of her first marriage, had wickedly married him.

According to Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, when Arthur is away on his campaign, Mordred is left with the care of the kingdom and informs the people that Arthur was killed in battle.  He is crowned king and Guinevere agrees to marry him.

As Sir Mordred was ruler of all England, he did do make letters as though that they came from beyond the sea, and the letters specified that King Arthur was slain in battle with Sir Lancelot.  Wherefore Sir Mordred made a parliament, and called the lords together, and there he made them to choose him king, and so was he crowned at Canterbury, and held a feast there fifteen days; and afterward he drew him unto Winchester, and there he took the Queen Guinever, and said plainly that he would wed her which was his uncle's wife and his father's wife.  And so he made ready for the feast, and a day prefixed that they should be wedded; wherefore Queen Guinever was passing heavy.  But she durst not discover her heart, but spake fair, and agreed to Sir Mordred's will. 

The Dream of Rhonabwy, the latest of the tales included in the collection of the Mabinogion and believed to date from sometime betweel 1159 and 1200, tell us that Mordred is Arthur's nephew and also his foster-son.

I will tell thee.  I was one of the messengers between Arthur and Medrawd his nephew, at the battle of Camlan; and I was then a reckless youth, and through my desire for battle, I kindled strife between them, and stirred up wrath, when I was sent by Arthur the Emperor to reason with Medrawd, and to show him, that he was his foster-father and his uncle, and to seek for peace, lest the sons of the Kings of the Island of Britain, and of the nobles, should be slain.  And whereas Arthur charged me with the fairest sayings he could think of, I uttered unto Medrawd the harshest I could devise. And therefore am I called Iddawc Cordd Prydain, for from this did the battle of Camlan ensue. And three nights before the end of the battle of Camlan I left them, and went to the Llech Las in North Britain to do penance. And there I remained doing penance seven years, and after that I gained pardon.

Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that when King Arthur discovers that his nephew is a traitor, a series of battles commence, with Mordred fleeing Arthur.  Mordred is twice beseiged but eventually decides to stay and fight, whether he might live or die.

Arthur, being inwardly grieved that he should so often escape, forthwith pursued him into that country as far as the river Cambula, where the other was expecting his coming.  And Mordred, as he was the boldest of men, and always the quickest at making an attack, immediately placed his troops in order, resolving either to conquer or to die, rather than continue his fight any longer.

And so Arthur's final battle commences, where many, including King Arthur, lose their lives.

For in this assault fell the wicked traitor himself, and many thousands with him.  But notwithstanding the loss of him, the rest did not flee, but running together from all parts of the field maintained their ground with undaunted courage.  The fight grew more furious than ever, and proved fatal to almost all the commanders and their forces...  And even the renowned king Arthur himself was mortally wounded.

Le Morte d'Arthur gives us more information about the battle between Mordred and King Arthur:

Then the king gat his spear in both his hands, and ran toward Sir Mordred, crying: Traitor, now is thy death-day come.  And when Sir Mordred heard Sir Arthur, he ran until him with his sword drawn in his hand.  And there King Arthur smote Sir Mordred under the shield, with a foin of his spear, throughout the body, more than a fathom.  And when Sir Mordred felt that he had his death wound he thrust himself with the might that he had up to the bur of King Arthur's spear.  And right so he smote his father.

Malory's account of this battle is in line with most of the other literature.  In some texts, while King Arthur is always fatally wounded, Mordred survives the battle.  Jean d'Outremeuse's Ly Myreur des Histors (The Mirror of Histories), an ambitious 14th century narrative claiming to be a history of the world from the flood to the 14th century, tells how Mordred apparently survives the Battle of Camlann only to be defeated by Lancelot.  Lancelot executes Guinevere and imprisons Mordred with her body.  Starving, Mordred eats her body but later dies of starvation.

While it is assumed that King Arthur dies as a result of this battle, sources do vary and the conclusion is often left open to interpretation.

That's all for today.  Next time we will look at the Avalon and the fate of King Arthur.

Annales Cambriae
Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth
Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory
Roman de Brut by Wace
The Mabinogion: The Dream of Rhonabwy