Chance Relics Reveal A Forgotten Tale

Chance Relics Reveal A Forgotten Tale

By Jim Ignasher

First published in Your Smithfield Magazine, November, 2013    

    

Sergeant Robert M. Martin of Spragueville, Rhode Island

Sergeant Robert M. Martin of Spragueville, Rhode Island

     In March of 2013, Peter den Tek was hunting for ancient Roman artifacts in a field near Asperen, Holland, when he unearthed two relatively modern .50 caliber shell casings from World War II.  The casings were American, and den Tek, an avid historian, knew they were out of place, for although German troops had occupied the area during the war, no known land battles had occurred in that vicinity.  He therefore surmised they might be relics of an aerial battle, and subsequent research led him to learn that a desperate duel of life and death had in fact occurred decades ago and thousands of feet above that field.  Further investigation revealed a connection to a place den Tek had never heard of – Smithfield, Rhode Island.   

     “Hi Coach, It’s been a long time since I’ve written you and a lot has happened since then.”  Thus began a letter written by Robert M. Martin of Spragueville to his former high school football coach Tom Eccleston Jr. in December of 1942.  World War II was raging, and Martin was serving in the United States Army Air Corps training to be an aerial gunner. 

     “I’m now in my second week of school.” His letter went on, “I finish on Christmas, or at least I’m supposed to.  I never saw such a place because they try to flunk you out instead of pass you.  The captain wants about twenty percent washouts.”

     In Martin’s case, being “flunked” would have relegated him to a ground assignment; a horrible disappointment for a man who yearned to fly.   Those who served in the Air Corps were volunteers, but applicants were expected to be “perfect” both physically and scholastically with no margin for error.     

     In another letter dated February 3, 1943. Martin wrote that he completed gunnery school and was promoted to Staff Sergeant.  He was assigned to the crew of a B-17, a four-engine “heavy bomber” designed to deliver its payload of explosives to the heart of the Third Reich.  Such a plane was ideally suited to a man of Martin’s training for it bristled with up to twelve machine-guns, earning it the name, “Flying Fortress”.   Martin was designated the ship’s “tail-gunner”.

     Martin wrote he was offered the chance to go to Officer’s Candidate School, but turned it down.  “I just as soon stay in the ranks,” he wrote Eccleston, “I’m making so much money right now if not more taking everything into consideration, than a second lieutenant does.”  In addition to his regular pay, he was receiving “flight-pay”, and would get a twenty percent increase once overseas.    

     In a third letter to Eccleston dated May 20, 1943, Martin wrote, “I’m seeing a little bit of this country.  Just last week we took a trip up in the Black Hills of South Dakota and we flew all around where the faces of presidents Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Roosevelt are carved in the side of a mountain.  We are going to fly over the Grand Canyon if we can, and I guess we will alright.”

     Martin further wrote that he hoped to see Eccleston sometime in June for he expected a brief leave to see friends and family before going overseas.  “It’s been a long time and the old pace sure will look good to me.”  Whether the army granted that promised leave is uncertain, as things can change quickly during wartime.   

     Martin’s crew was assigned to the 8th Air Force, 92nd Bombardment Group, 407th Squadron, and sent to England where they would take part in the allied strategic bombing campaign being waged against Europe.  

     On July 28, 1943, Martin woke before dawn, shaved, ate breakfast, and made his way to briefing for what would be his crew’s first combat mission. It’s possible the men joked back and forth to hide their apprehension of what the day would hold.

     The target that day was a ball-bearing plant in Kassell, Germany.  After dropping their bombs the formation turned for home, but along the way encountered heavy flack and enemy fighter planes.  Martin’s plane suffered damage causing it to fall behind from the protection of the formation.  Then they were on their own; a “straggler”.  Sensing blood, a squadron of five German fighters moved in for the kill. 

      Staff Sergeant Sebastian Stavella of New Jersey, was the ball-turret-gunner, and wrote of his WW II experiences in April of 2005.  He recalled that the fighter planes, “were hitting us from all sides.”

     As bullets tore through the aluminum fuselage, the pilot, 2nd Lt. Harold Porter, gave the order to bail out.  ”I quickly got into position to get out of the ball turret” Stavella wrote, “and as I did, an FW 190 attacked the side of the ship and hit it with a 20 millimeter, (exploding shell.) ripping off the side of the ship and hitting one of our waist gunners, (S/Sgt. Jerre M. Algeo.) killing him.”            

The tail section of Sergeant Martin's downed B-17.            Photograph  provided through Peter den Tek.

The tail section of Sergeant Martin’s downed B-17. Photograph provided through Peter den Tek.

     Another account of the battle was remembered by Kees Vermeer, who was 13 years-old at the time, and saw what happened next from his front yard.  Martin’s B-17 was shot down by enemy fighters, but from Kees perspective it appeared to have been downed by flack. “When the flack hit the bomber, there was no fire; the plane engine just whinned one last time, then the plane spiraled out of control, somersaulted a few times, and broke up into large pieces.  About five parachutes unfolded after the bomber split up, one of which disappeared quickly.”  

      The parachute that “disappeared quickly” was evidently Sgt. Martin’s, whose body was later identified by his crewmate, Tec. Sgt. Stephen Maksin, who noted that Martin’s chute was badly torn.  Martin’s remains were brought to a nearby village and buried, but after the war they were re-interred in Ardennes American Cemetery, Belgium. The rest of Martin’s crew survived, and spent the remainder of the war as POWs.

    Of the five German fighters that attacked Martin’s aircraft, two were shot down.  Although it can never be proven, perhaps S/Sgt. Martin was responsible for downing one of them.  It’s also possible the shell casings found by Peter den Tek might have come from Martin’s gun – at least it’s an intriguing thought to consider.

     After learning the details of that long forgotten air battle, den Tek began planning the creation of a memorial to honor Martin and his crew.  His idea has generated tremendous local interest and he is currently negotiating with Dutch officials over a suitable location for the project. 

     Through old photographs and eye witness accounts, den Tek has located the B-17’s crash site and has recovered pieces of the aircraft.  He believes at least one engine still lies buried in a field, and if it can be recovered, he wants to incorporate it into the memorial.  If soil conditions are right, it could still be in relatively good condition.  He has also learned that one of the plane’s machine guns is on display in a museum, and hopes the serial number will give him a clue as to its position on the B-17.      

Spragueville Honor Roll  Sgt. Martin's name appears at the top.

Spragueville Honor Roll
Sgt. Martin’s name appears at the top.

S/Sgt. Martin has been remembered here in Rhode Island.  His name appears on the Spragueville War Memorial located at the corner of Pleasant View Avenue and Swan Road.  Martin was also remembered in 2007 when three Burrillville High School students, Brian Baily-Gates, Douglas Clark, and Adam Goudreau, researched the circumstances surrounding his death for a history project.  They chose Martin as a subject because he had graduated Burrillville High School in 1940, and had played for the school’s champion football team.  (Smithfield didn’t have a high school then, so residents attended school elsewhere.) 

     The research that Peter den Tek has conducted since his initial discovery has been, to use a metaphor, like peeling an onion, for the air battle that brought down Martin’s B-17 is only a fragment of the overall story.  There is so much more to tell.   For example, there were nine other crewmen on S/Sgt Martin’s aircraft, and his was but one of many lost that day.  Furthermore, Dutch civilians, some from the Asperen area, were used as forced labor by the Nazi’s in the very industrial complex the allies bombed!         

     There is other information that Peter has shared, but for now it will have to wait, for this story is still unfolding. (A follow-up article is anticipated.)  In the meantime, he and I correspond through frequent e-mails as he literally digs deeper to preserve the memory of a crew of World War II airmen.       

     Special thanks to Bill Eccleston of North Providence, and Peter den Tek of Holland, for their help with this article.  (JI)

Navy Jets Break Record – 1951

Two R.I. Navy Jets Set New Record – 1951    

 

U.S. Navy
Grumman F9F Panther
U.S. Navy Photo – National Archives

     On January 8, 1951, two U.S. Navy Grumman F9F Panther jets left Jacksonville, Florida, for Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Rhode Island, making the 989 mile trip in one hour and fifty minutes, a new speed record for that trip with that type of aircraft. The previous record had stood at two hours and twenty minutes.

     The pilots, Lieutenant Dixie Mays, 29, of Clarksdale, Mississippi, and Lieutenant Percy L. Liles, 30, of Goldsboro, North Carolina, maintained an average speed of 536 mph. 

     The airmen said they had no intention of trying to set a record, but were pushed along by a strong tail wind.  

Source: New York Times, “Navy Jets Break Record”, January 9, 1951

 

 

The Uxbridge Bomber Crash – May 18, 1944

THE UXBRIDGE BOMBER CRASH

May 18, 1944

 By Jim Ignasher

    

 B-24 Liberator

B-24 Liberator

Tucked away on a two-acre wooded lot in the middle of a quiet upscale neighborhood in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, is a granite monument honoring five servicemen who died in the service of their country when their B-24 Liberator (42-7347) crashed on that spot during World War II. The incident occurred on May 18, 1944, as a formation of three B-24 bombers droned through the sky over the Blackstone Valley.

     The planes were on their way back to Westover Air Field after a day of formation flight training, the purpose of which was to give one of the bomber crews experience in formation flying so they would have enough hours to qualify for overseas duty.  

      24-year-old navigator, Lieutenant Joseph H. Talbot, was sitting in the plexiglass nose of bomber number 42-7347, watching the landscape below take on more definition as the formation descended from 20,000 to 10,000 feet so the crews could come off oxygen.  Then, without warning, the plane suffered a hard jolt accompanied by the sound of crunching metal as it was struck by another B-24 in the formation.  Almost immediately the plane began shaking and shuddering and Talbot heard the pilot’s frantic voice come over his head phones, “Bail out! Bail out!”     

     Talbot was wearing his parachute harness, but not the chute, and the buffeting of the plane made attaching the two difficult.  As the seconds ticked by the plane dropped lower.  Other members of the crew were possibly in the same predicament, for Talbot was one of the first out of the plane. 

      He no doubt breathed a huge sigh of relief as his chute billowed open. He would later recall how quiet it was as he hung in the air over Uxbridge.  The other B-24s had disappeared, and his own was a flaming wreck.  He didn’t know it then, but another crewman, 18-year-old, Corporal Robert Kelly, was the only other member of the crew to get out safely. Three others jumped, but the aircraft was too low to the ground when they did, and their chutes didn’t have enough time to deploy.  The co-pilot had waited the longest, perhaps to make sure the others had jumped first. His remains were found in the bomb bay.  To his credit, the pilot, 2nd Lt. Arnold Moholt, never left the controls, trying to save his men while directing the plane away from the populated downtown Uxbridge area.    

Pathway leading to the Uxbridge Bomber memorial.

Pathway leading to the Uxbridge Bomber memorial.

Talbot came down in a wooded area where he was found by an army sergeant home on leave.  He had lacerated his hands while escaping from the plane, and was taken to Whitinsville Hospital.  There he and Corporal Kelly were admitted and prevented from returning to the crash site.

     The other aircraft involved in the collision, (41-28508), suffered damage, but was able to remain airborne and made it back to Westover.

     Woonsocket Call reporter Russell Krapp was at the downtown Uxbridge field office when he heard the formation passing overhead and happened to look out the window just as the accident happened.  The doomed bomber plummeted to earth in the High Street area where it exploded in a massive fireball sending a plume of smoke hundreds of feet into the air.  Krapp, along with dozens of others, raced to the scene.  

     The fire burned over forty acres before it was brought under control by firemen from Uxbridge, East Douglas, and two state forestry trucks. 

Memorial to those who lost their lives in the Uxbridge Bomber Crash - May 18, 1944.

Memorial to those who lost their lives in the Uxbridge Bomber Crash – May 18, 1944.

The site was cleared of wreckage, and little by little Mother Nature began to reclaim the land.  It remained wooded for many years afterwards, but by the 1980s the land ready for a housing development.  Fortunately, there were those who remembered the crash and sought to have at least a portion of the area preserved.  The result is a two-acre wooded lot across from 84 Chamberland Road, marked by a sign that directs visitors along a well maintained path leading to a memorial honoring those who died.  Next to the monument is a piece of melted aluminum that had once been part of the aircraft.  

The inscription on the monument reads: This spot is sacred to the memory of

2nd Lt. Arnold Moholt

2nd Lt. John T. Goodwin

S/Sgt Thomas L. Cater

Sgt. Merle V. Massar,

Sgt. Anthony J. Pitzulo

 They died when their US Army Airplane Crashed here May 18, 1944.  They Gave Their Lives Four Country And Humanity. 

    The monument was dedicated October 11, 1944.

Uxbridge Bomber Memorial Site - August, 2012

Uxbridge Bomber Memorial Site – August, 2012

 Lt. Arnold Moholt was born December 15, 1920 in Glendive, Montanna, where he lived until he graduated high school.  He went on to attended business college in Spokane, Washington, before enlisting in the Army ordinance division in March of 1941.  In 1942 he transferred to the Army Air Force, and was commissioned an officer in January of 1944 at Maxwell Field, Alabama. He had recently written to his surviving relatives in Missoula, Montanna, that he expected to be sent overseas in the near future.  He is buried in Missoula Cemetery.       

     Sergeant Merle Massar was 21-years-old, born June 7, 1922, and was just shy of his next birthday when the accident occurred.  He was born in Mount Vernon, Washington, where his father was a prominent businessman.  He was an accomplished violin musician, and often participated in musical and theatrical productions at Mount Vernon High School.  He was also a member of the school’s Thespian Society, and Ski Club. 

     After graduating in 1940, he enrolled in college, studying at the University of Washington where he excelled at writing.  One of the university professors, Dr. George Savage, stated Massar’s writing ability “showed great promise”. 

     “With Merle it is more than a personal grief,” said Dr. Savage, “It is the knowledge that a great writer is lost, for Merle was one of the few students I’ve had who was passionate about life – who felt deeply and surely because he loved and sorrowed for his fellow man.” 

     Dr. Savage last spoke with Merle when he was home on furlough.  He recalled Merle saying to him, “If I want to live for my generation, I have to be ready to die with it, too.” 

     Mrs. Mary McDonnell of Chicopee, Massachusetts, wrote to Merle’s mother after the accident.  Part of the letter said, “Just last Monday, he came to the door holding a lilac in his hand. ‘This is for Mother’s Day’ he said, but I know he was just plain lonesome for his own mother.”        

      In April of 1943 Merle entered military training for radio-aerial gunnery school, and at the time of the accident had been serving as a top-turret gunner. 

     He was survived by his mother and brother, Clifford.       

     Sgt. Anthony Pitzulo was two days shy of his 25th birthday when he died. He was born and raised in Lowellville, Ohio, the son of the late Joseph and Mary (Aurclio) Pitzulo.  He entered the army in 1942.  He was survived by a sister, four brothers, two half brothers, and a half sister. 

     Lieutenant Talbot survived the war and later married and raised four children. He later became a grandfather nine times over.  He returned to Uxbridge sometime in the1950s, and again in 1984 at the request of local officials to attend a memorial ceremony.  Forty years after his ordeal, he recalled the details of the crash to reporters.  He passed away in 1995.    

Sources:  

Uxbridge Times, “Three Chute To Safety When Bomber Crashes In Woods Off High Street.”, May 19, 1944, Pg. 1

Uxbridge Times, “Eyewitness Story Of Crash”, May 19, 1944, Pg.1

Uxbridge Times, “Death Toll Reaches 5 In Plane Crash”, May 22, 1944, Pg. 8

Woonsocket Call, “3 Forterss Crew Members Bail Out; Plane Explosion Starts Forest Fires” May 18, 1944.

Woonsocket Call, “Call Reporter Sees Crash, Covers Story And Fights Fire”, May 18, 1944

Woonsocket Call, “5 Airmen Dead In Plane Crash Are Identified”, May 19, 1944

Woonsocket Call, “Plane Crash Victims Remembered –Survivor Returns For Uxbridge Rites 40 Years Later.” May 21, 1984

Mount Vernon Daily Herald, “Merile Massar Loses Life In Bomber Crash”, May 19, 1944, Pg. 1.

Mount Vernon Daily Herald, “Rites Are Set Thursday For Heroic Flyer”, May 23, 1944, Pg. 1

The Daily Missoulian, “A Moholt Is Killed In Plane Crash”, May 20, 1944

The Daily Missoulian, “Rites Today For Army Lieutenant”, May 23, 1944

Youngstown Vindicator, “Air Crash Fatal To Sgt. Pitzulo”, May 19, 1944, Pg. 25

Youngstown Vindicator, “Plan Military Funeral For Sergeant Pitzulo”, May 21, 1944, Pg. A10

www.findagrave.com  Joseph H. Talbot

A WWII Footnote to History

 A WWII FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY

How a chance meeting affected the outcome of World War II

By Jim Ignasher

The original hangar at the Smithfield R.I. Airport which opened in 1932.  Bryant University now occupies this land.

The original hangar at the Smithfield R.I. Airport which opened in 1932. Bryant University now occupies this land.

Photo courtesy of John Emin Jr.

      Like the ripples caused by a pebble tossed into a still pond, sometimes a minor event can have far reaching effects.  Take for example a boy in Pennsylvania who yearned to be a pilot; or the young man in Rhode Island with a passion for flying who decided to build an airport.  The decision made by each would touch the life of the other, and ultimately play a role in the outcome of the Second World War.

    This story is true, but it’s virtually unknown beyond the borders of Smithfield, Rhode Island, and therefore won’t be found in any history books about the war.  It might never have come to light had it not been for cards and letters saved by John and Marjorie Emin; owners of a farm once located where Bryant University stands today.  

    John was a pilot, and like most pilots, he wanted to own an airplane.  In July of 1931 he purchased a two-seater Curtis Pusher aircraft which he kept at What Cheer Airport in Pawtucket about twelve miles from his farm.  Twelve miles may not seem like much of a distance today, but automobiles and roads in those days made getting from Smithfield to Pawtucket a bit of an effort.  Therefore, John fancied the idea of an airport closer to home.

     The following year while on a visit to Massachusetts, Emin happened upon an airplane hangar for sale and bought it.  It was dismantled and brought to his farm where he reassembled it himself.  When he was finished he painted “Smithfield Airport” across the front in large letters.  After clearing a nearby cornfield for use as a runway, Smithfield had its first airport.  (The Bryant University football stadium now occupies the area were airplanes once landed, and a maintenance building has replaced the original hangar.) 

      In December of 1932, William G. Benn of Coudersport, Pennsylvania, was a 2nd Lieutenant with the103rd Observation Squadron of the Pennsylvania National Guard. Three days before Christmas that year he and his observer, Private John G. Mallon, left Boston for Philadelphia in a Douglas O-38, bi-plane. 

     The weather of course was cold, as is typical for New England in December. Snow flurries were already falling as the plane lifted into an overcast sky, and within an hour the flurries turned to snow.  As winter winds buffeted the plane, ice began forming on the wings causing a loss in airspeed and altitude.  Before long, Benn was struggling to keep his ship in the air.

     The men knew they were in trouble, but finding a place to set down presented a problem, for the plane lacked a radio and they were over unfamiliar countryside.   Checking a Department of Commerce map, Mallon discovered that the nearest airport was already several miles behind them in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.  (The Woonsocket Airport no longer exists.) By this time the plane was barely one-hundred feet in the air and in danger of stalling for lack of airspeed.  With no other choice, Benn took a heading for Woonsocket, when suddenly below them appeared a small airport that wasn’t on their map for it had only opened a few weeks earlier.  Thanking God for their deliverance, Benn set the plane down on the snowy field and coasted to a stop. The name on the hangar told him they had landed at the “Smithfield Airport”, but neither of the airmen had any idea where Smithfield was.  

     As Benn and Mallon climbed from their airplane they were met by John Emin who had seen their emergency landing from his farmhouse.  (The farmhouse stood where the dome of Bryant’s “Unistructure” is located today.)  After brief introductions, Benn asked to use a telephone to notify his superiors that he had landed safely and hadn’t crashed in the storm, but John explained that he didn’t have one.  The nearest phone was at a general store about a mile down the road in the village of Stillwater, and John graciously allowed the airmen the use of his car to get to it.         

     In March of 1935, Benn published his recollections of this day in an article he wrote for the Pennsylvania Guardsman, in which he described the store in Stillwater as “the original country store”, with a pot-bellied stove in the center and shelves lined with tobacco, groceries, shoes, clothing, toys, and “notions”.  Benn described how he and Mallon ate bananas while waiting for their call to be put through, and noted the attention they were getting from several card-playing locals who stopped their game long enough to give them a thorough once-over while a dog stood at their feet begging for a handout. 

     When their business was complete, they returned to the airport where John and Marjorie invited them to stay until the weather cleared.  The flyers graciously accepted, but having lived in a large city like Philadelphia, they were surprised to learn that country living meant doing without certain “luxuries” such as indoor plumbing and electric lights.  In his article Benn recalled how they spent an enjoyable evening with their hosts and slept soundly in an antique featherbed.  The following day the weather in Rhode Island had cleared enough where they decided to try for home.

     The young men didn’t forget the kindness shown to them and wrote thank you notes.  These letters and other correspondence have survived, and are still in the possession of the Emin family.    

     In his letter Lieutenant Benn wrote:

    Dear John and Margy: 

     May this note of appreciation find you snugly returned from a very Merry Christmas in New Bedford.

     The trip down to Philadelphia was none too pleasant.  The snow lasted down to New Haven with haze and mist from there into this city.  Landed here at 2 in the afternoon so it did not take very long.  Found that all of this area was closed in with clouds and rain Saturday so am all the more glad that we were honored by your hospitality.

     Would like to have put on a little more show for you but trust that you will believe me when I say that it takes but a small amount of ice formation on a wingfoil to change the flying characteristics of the airplane.  She flew right wing heavy all the way down to Trenton where the warm air into which we were flying, melted most of the ice away.

     Might call to your attention the fact that upon landing, we asked if they had any trouble in finding Smithfield.  The answer was no because they had a late edition of the Department of Commerce map of that area and that it was well marked.  I trust that you will not be swamped with transient pilots who, after hearing of our wonderful experience with you, would like to duplicate.  We both wish to assure you that we had a most enjoyable time and were truthfully reluctant to depart.

     We thank you sincerely and hope that we may have the good fortune to call upon you again.

     With every best wish for the New Year, truly,

                                                             W.G. Benn

                                                            2nd Lt. A.C. (P.N.G.)

      Private Mallon related in part, “I have related the experience to many other people over the holiday and all agree what a delightful couple we must have visited.”

     What followed was a pen-pal relationship between the Emin’s and William Benn that lasted into World War II.

     Benn sent the Emin’s a copy of the Pennsylvania Guardsman magazine containing the story of his unexpected visit, along with a letter describing how his mother liked the informal account he had sent to her, rather than the formal version that appeared in print.  To this Benn wrote: “But after all, I do not pretend to be any sort of writer – to the contrary, just a good pilot, and to that end, my story is going to remain. However, I did so hope that some others would have the pleasure of enjoying our trip with us.  I believe that many of the boys have and therein, the purpose fulfilled.

     Benn had taken courses in archeology hoping for a career in that field of science, but by the late 1930s it seemed apparent that the United States would be drawn into war so he elected to stay in the military.  All the while he kept up his correspondence with the Emin’s through cards and letters.  In March of 1941 Benn wrote that he and his wife Dorothy were the proud parents of a daughter, Bonnie. The following Christmas the United States was at war.  

     The Emin’s mailed Benn a Christmas card that season of 1941, but he waited nearly four months to respond. It’s understandable due to what was going on at the time for all military personnel. 

     In his letter dated April 26, 1942, he wrote in part:

     “Christmas & New Years wasn’t much – constant alert, and probably will not be much for several years to come.  In the meantime, many are the times that I reflect back to Pennsylvania & New England – to places & people like you – to things done and odd experiences, people met and liked.  It is true enjoyment in a busy life.”

   At the time Benn wrote that letter he was assigned to the U.S. 4th Air Force, commanded by General George Kenney, based in San Francisco, California.  Kenney had been in the army since World War I, and was held in high regard for his innovative ideas in the use of aircraft serving in combat roles. In the spring of 1942 he took command of the 5th Air Force which was ordered to Australia to fight the Japanese.  He brought with him fifty hand-picked pilots who had served under him in the 4th Air Force, one of them being William Benn, who was assigned as the General’s aide. 

     Part of the mission of the 5th Air Force was to support allied ground troops and attack Japanese supply ships re-enforcing enemy positions. The initial strategy had been to use high altitude bombers to bomb enemy ships, but bombing from high altitudes allowed targets ample time to scatter and avoid being hit. The obvious answer was to conduct the bombing at lower altitudes, but this carried higher risks for the aircrews, and early in the war the United States didn’t have the airplanes to spare.  

     William Benn, who by this time had been promoted to Major, pondered the problem and came up with the idea to attack the enemy ships from the side rather than from above. In August of 1942, he went to General Kenney with an idea he called “skip bombing”.  Benn proposed using conventional bombs which could be “skipped” across the water like a stone across a pond into the side of a ship. The bombs would be equipped with delayed fuses to give them a few seconds to sink below the hull waterline before exploding, thereby producing maximum damage.   

     The plan of attack was to send in two groups of high-level bombers as a diversion to attract enemy anti-aircraft fire, while a third group would come in low, about 300 feet above the water’s surface, and release their bombs.

     The idea was simple enough in theory, and Kenney was intrigued with its possibilities.  Benn was given command of the 43rd Bombing Group with authorization to develop and perfect the technique. Testing began at Port Moresby, Australia, in September of 1942, where B-25 Mitchell bombers made trial runs at the hulk of an old barge.  (The B-25 was a twin-engine light bomber used by the allies throughout the war.)

B-25 Mitchel bomber USAF Museum photo

B-25 Mitchel bomber
USAF Museum photo

      One obstacle to overcome was the fact that conventional bombsights were designed for dropping bombs from high altitudes, not low-level attack runs.  Benn solved this problem by making cross hairs out of electrical tape on the Plexiglass nose of the aircraft where the bombardier sat, thus using the plane itself to aim the bomb. 

     By the autumn of 1942, Benn’s squadron was ready to try his skip bombing technique in actual combat.  On October 22nd, Benn led a night mission against Japanese ships at Rabual with limited success.  Although some vessels were hit, none were actually sunk.  A second raid was conducted on October 30th with similar results.  

     Even though initial success was limited, Major Benn had proven the idea had merit and set the course for others to follow.  Major Paul Gunn later expanded on Benn’s idea by using modified B-25s equipped with forward firing guns with good results.

     Prior to the implementation of skip bombing, the allied success rate for bombing enemy shipping in the Pacific was less than five percent, but with skip bombing the success rate rose to over seventy percent.  This no doubt changed the course of battles, saved American lives, and helped shorten the war. For his efforts Major Benn was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, an award second only to the Medal of Honor.   

     Benn’s success attracted the attention of Time Magazine, which featured him in an article about skip bombing that appeared in the January 18, 1943 issue.  The article mentioned that Benn’s skip bombing technique was now the standard mode of attack used by General Kenney’s 5th Air Force.  Unfortunately, Benn never saw the article, for on the day the magazine hit the newsstands, he took off from Jackson’s Drome airstrip on what was to be a routine reconnaissance mission and disappeared.

     The aircraft he was piloting was a B-25 Mitchell bomber with tail number 41-12485.  There were six others aboard the lone aircraft when it vanished; Major Donn Young, Lt. Col. Dan Searcy, Sgt. Wilfred Coyer, Sgt. Herman Elsner, Cpl. LaVerne Van Dyke, and S/Sgt. Michael Ewas.               

     No distress calls were ever received, and it was surmised that whatever happened had been sudden and quick.  Search planes flew along the missing B-25’s estimated route, but found nothing.  Speculation as to what happened was brief.  There was a war on, and planes and men were lost everyday.     

     Back in Smithfield, John and Marjorie Emin wondered why their friend Bill had stopped writing, and hoped it was because he was too busy. Then the day came when a newspaper clipping arrived in the mail stating that Benn was missing. Naturally they prayed for the best, but they never learned anything more.

     On March 2, 1943, what became known as the Battle of the Bismarck Sea began in the Pacific.  The Japanese had sent sixteen warships to reinforce their troops in New Guinea, and the 5th Air Force was charged with stopping them. The battle raged for two days, during which the Allies used Benn’s skip bombing technique against enemy ships.   When it was over the Japanese were the clear losers, and as a result, this was the last time they attempted to use large vessels to reinforce their positions.  Even though he wasn’t there to see it, Major Benn’s skip bombing technique was credited for the American victory.   

     World War II ended in August of 1945, and the troops went home to resume their lives.  Those who had been lost faded into the recesses of history, remembered primarily by those they left behind.  John and Marjorie Emin passed away without ever learning the fate of William Benn. 

     Benn’s aircraft was just one of thousands declared “missing” during the war, however the mystery of what happened to him was solved in 1957 when an Australian survey team happened upon the wreckage of a World War II aircraft in a wooded valley in New Guinea.  The tail numbers matched those of Major Benn’s long lost B-25.  U.S. authorities were notified, and the remains of the servicemen were recovered. 

     Investigators determined that the aircraft had not gone down due to hostile action, but had most likely entered fog when it flew into the valley, and the crew never saw the mountain looming ahead.  Death had been instantaneous. 

     One has to wonder if history would be different if John Emin hadn’t built his airport.  Would Bill Benn have made it to Woonsocket?  If he hadn’t survived, would someone else have developed the skip bombing technique?  The world will never know, but it can be argued that because Bill Benn found safe haven that long ago Christmas many allied troops survived the war and were able to go home to live out the rest of their lives in peace.

 

 

 

 

Blind Men Are WWII Plane Spotters

Blind Men Are WWII Plane Spotters

Worcester, Mass. – January 22, 1941

     Civilian “plane spotters” were used throughout World War II as part of our nation’s civil defense, and as evidenced by an AP news article, one didn’t need eyes to “see” potential enemy airplane.

     In Worcester, Mass., a small group of blind men volunteered for duty and proved that they could distinguish different types of  aircraft by the sound of their engine(s).    One of the group,  Eino H. Friberg, was quoted as saying, “The individual with eyes sees in one direction only. We blind have to ‘see’ sounds coming from all directions.  We learn to sort out those sounds, to attach meanings to them, to identify them, much as your eyes are trained to sort out red flowers from green leaves.” 

     In the early days of the civilian plane spotter system, the military ran several nationwide tests to see how well the volunteer spotters would do.  It was found that blind “spotters” could hear approaching aircraft and identify them at least a minute before those with sight and normal hearing.  It was also discovered that blind spotters were not encumbered by dark nights, fog, or cloud cover. 

     Friberg explained that when he first hears the sound of a motor, he has to determine if its one motor or two.  He then determines its location, how fast its moving, and in what direction.

     Friberg attempted to teach other spotters with sight to close their eyes and try to hear what they couldn’t yet see.  

     Two other blind men in Friberg’s group were John Cooney, and Raymond Lessard. 

 

Source: Woonsocket Call, “Blind Men In Plane-Spotting Posts Beat Sharp-Eyed Comrades In Tests”, January 21, 1941, Pg.1 

The Memphis Belle In Boston – 1943

The Memphis Belle In Boston – 1943

     On June 28, 1943, the famous World War II, B-17, Memphis Belle, escorted by a squadron of Army fighter aircraft, arrived at East Boston Airport.  The “Belle” and her crew had only recently returned to the United States on June 8th after completing their combat tour in Europe.  The stop in Boston was part of a 31-city war bond and recruitment tour.       

     Hundreds reportedly came to see the famous B-17 and meet the crew, as well as their mascot, “Stuka”, a young Scotch Terrier. 

      The 10 man crew was greeted by Massachusetts Governor Leverett Saltonstall, Major General Sherman Miles of the 1st Service Command, as well as other ranking military personnel.   After brief ceremonies, the crew partook in a parade from the airport to Boston Common where they were met by Boston’s mayor Maurice J. Tobin.  The marching band played “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer”, which was said to have been inspired by a mission flown by the Memphis Belle in which it returned to base with portions of the right wing and tail so badly damaged that they required extensive repair.  

     Later in the day army planes performed an aerobatic show at the airport and the “Belle” was placed on display for public viewing.  Afterwards the crew were invited by the New England Aviation Committee to be their dinners guests at the Harvard Club.  

     The Memphis Belle was credited with dropping 60 tons of bombs and shooting down eight enemy fighters, and inflicting damage to at least a dozen others.     

     Source: Lewiston Evening Journal, “Memphis Belle Arrives At East Boston”, June 28, 1943

First U.S. Navy Dirigible – 1916

First U. S. Navy Dirigible – 1916

Artist rendering of the first dirigible produced for the U.S. Navy.

Artist rendering of the first dirigible produced for the U.S. Navy.

     On January 22, 1916, The Manufacturers Exhibition opened in New Haven, Connecticut.  One display that drew great interest was a model of a dirigible airship that had been constructed by the Connecticut Aircraft Company of New Haven; the first dirigible ever built for the United States Navy.    

     At the time of the exhibit, the airship was in a hangar at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in New Hampshire, undergoing some final preparations before it would sail to Pensacola, Florida, to under go trials and testing.

     The initial order for the dirigible was placed May 14, 1915.  It was reported at that time that the ship would be constructed in New York, assembled in New Haven, Connecticut, and shipped for trials to the Pensacola, Florida, Naval Aeronautic Station, all under the supervision and guidance of the Connecticut Aircraft Company.     

     The model displayed at the exhibition was designed to be towed by a battleship traveling 25 miles per hour against a 15 mph wind to be utilized by lookouts, and spotters for directing ship’s fire during battle conditions.   Traditional balloons had proved to be problematic in this roll due to their lack of stability under these conditions which often resulted in seasickness for the observers.

     The completed dirigible was described as being be 175 feet long, 50 feet tall, and 35 feet in diameter. It would carry a crew of eight, and cost $45,636. 

     The balloon was built with inner compartments that divided the front from the back, either of which could be pumped full with regular air to displace the hydrogen gas so as to make one end of the ship heavier or lighter to aid in ascending or descending.    

     Government specifications required that the dirigible be capable of rising at the rate of 8 feet per second. 

     Fabric for the balloon was manufactured at the United States Rubber Company.   

     On March 13, 1917, with the United States now involved in World War I, contracts totaling $649,250 were awarded to four manufacturers to produce 16 additional dirigibles for the U.S. Navy. 

     The awards were as follows:

     Three dirigibles to be built by the Curtis Aeroplane Company in Buffalo, N.Y., for $122,250.

     Two dirigibles to be built by the Connecticut Aircraft Company of New Haven, CT., for $84,000.

     Nine dirigibles to be built by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, for $360,000.

     Two dirigibles to be built by the B. F. Goodrich company in Akron, Ohio, for $88,000.  

     During its tenure in business, the Connecticut Aircraft Company build 177 airships and balloons of various kinds.  In 1921 the company was acquired by a Delaware corporation known as the Aircraft-Construction Corporation, and continued to produce dirigible airships under that name. 

     Sources:

     The Sun, (NY) “First Dirigible For The U.S. Navy Will Be Constructed In New York”, May 16, 1915 

     Tulsa Daily World, (Okla.) “U. S. Navy’s New Air Ship Fleet”, August 8, 1915 

     The Sun, (N.Y.) “Model Of First Dirigible Built For U. S. Is Shown”, January 23, 1916   

     The Chickasha Daily Express, (Okla.) April 1, 1916

     The East Oregonian, (Ore.) “U.S. Contracts For Sixteen Dirigibles”, March 14, 1917, (Daily Evening Edition, page 5.)

     The Bridgeport Times, (CT.) “Connecticut Aircraft Plane Will Be Operated By New Delaware Corporation”, September 1, 1921 

Lasting Effects Of A Late Winter Storm -1943

Originally Published in The Smithfield Times, (R.I.) – May, 2016

Lasting Effects Of A Late Winter Storm

By Jim Ignasher

     It was March 30, 1943, the world was at war, and although the calendar declared it to be spring, snow began falling over New England as a weather system blew in from upstate New York.  Although it had been expected, it was underestimated, and left war casualties, sadness, and two unsolved mysteries in its wake.  

     This is a story that won’t be found in history books; a forgotten footnote eclipsed by grander world events that I discovered when a tiny news item about a missing navy airplane caught my eye as I sifted through microfilm at a local library.  Intrigued, I dug further, and learned that the missing plane was only a small part to a much larger story.   

    Even before the snowy weather set in, lowering thick clouds indicated what was coming, and by mid-morning had dropped to 4,000 feet.  But there was a war on, and pilot training necessarily included flight instruction in all types of conditions. As such, events for that day began to unfold at 10:45 a.m. over Bozrah, Connecticut, a town just west of Norwich, where a formation of four British naval aircraft out of Quonset Point were on a routine training flight.  One of those planes was piloted by 19-year-old Midshipman, Raymond Clarke of Nottingham, England, and his instructor, 21-year-old Sub-Lieutenant Donald F. Dillon of New Zealand.  While over Bozrah, their plane developed engine trouble possibly due to carburetor icing.  Flying beneath the low clouds, they were too low to bail out, and subsequently crashed in a wooded area where the resulting explosion killed both men.

U.S.S. Ranger (CV-4)  U.S. Navy Photo

U.S.S. Ranger (CV-4)
U.S. Navy Photo

  While authorities investigated the wreck in Bozrah, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ranger steamed towards Boston off the coast of Massachusetts, on its way to the Boston Navy Yard for re-fitting.  Prior to its arrival, the ship‘s complement of thirty aircraft were being sent inland; their ultimate destination Quonset Point, R.I.   

     Ranger’s planes began taking off at 3:25 p.m., but what nobody aboard realized was that the weather system had moved across the area faster than anticipated, and once the aircraft neared shore they found themselves in thick overcast that began 200 feet off the ground and extended upwards to 7,000 feet. As visibility dropped to zero, the weather began affecting radio communications, and inevitably the aircraft became scattered.  

     It’s likely that at first the men weren’t too concerned, for all were experienced combat pilots.  Yet Lt. Lukes M. Boykin knew there was something wrong with his aircraft when he tried to lock the air control lever in the “alternate” position and it wouldn’t stay there.  Placing the control in this position was necessary to prevent ice forming in the carburetor, so he held it in place with his right hand and flew with his left.  Despite his efforts, the engine began running rough, and then lost all power, forcing him to ditch in the icy water off Swampscott, Massachusetts. As the plane began to sink, Boykin and his radioman H.H. Reed, scrambled into an inflatable life raft, and were rescued a short time later by a Coast Guard boat from nearby Winter Island.

   Meanwhile Lt. Theodore A. Grell, was experiencing engine trouble with his airplane while passing over a rural section of northern Fall River, Massachusetts.  As the plane quickly lost altitude he knew a crash was inevitable, and bailed out even though he was now below a safe altitude to do so.  His chute had only half opened when he crashed into the top of an apple tree which miraculously broke his fall.  His plane crashed and exploded about a half-mile away. 

     As he lay there seriously injured in the falling snow, he was probably amazed to be alive.  Before long local residents came to his aid, covering him with blankets until an ambulance took him to Truesdale Hospital.  

     As Lt. Grell was on his way to the hospital, three other Ranger pilots were also in trouble.  Lt. (Jg.) Charles V. August, Lt. Keene G. Hammond, and Lt. (Jg.) Dee Jones, had managed to stay together, but came to the realization that they were lost.  With no visual reference points, they had inadvertently veered off course and were now heading over western Massachusetts towards upstate New York. 

     At about ten miles west of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., they found themselves running low on fuel over the small town of New Paltz, and began circling for a place to land. With no airport in sight, the pilots were forced to try for a rough landing in an open field.  Lt. Hammond came in first and made a “pancake” landing with his wheels up causing minor damage to the plane, but was uninjured.   

    The next to land was Lt. August who managed the same feat.

     Lt. Jones wasn’t as lucky.  Upon landing his plane caught in the snow and nosed over onto its back trapping him inside.  Although he was relatively unhurt, he was in a very precarious position should any fuel ignite 

     The landings were noticed by two civil defense aircraft spotters stationed in an observation tower, who dutifully notified authorities.  As townspeople rushed to the scene, Lt. Hammond called for shovels and efforts to free Lt. Jones were begun.  Once he was extricated, the people opened their hearts and homes to the airmen, offering them a nights lodging, which they graciously declined, for their duty was to remain with their aircraft. 

     The New Paltz Independent, quoted one local resident who described the event as “the biggest thing since the Huguenots landed!”    

U.S. Navy Wildcat like the one Lt. Jg. Cassidy vanished in March 30, 1943. U.S. Navy Photo

U.S. Navy Wildcat like the one Lt. Jg. Cassidy vanished in March 30, 1943.
U.S. Navy Photo

     Yet another Ranger pilot, Lt. Arthur J. Cassidy, of Cranston, Rhode Island, was also in trouble.  He was last seen in his Wildcat fighter over Attleboro, Massachusetts, and by the end of the day he was declared “missing”. 

    As the search for Lt. Cassidy was begun, remnants of foul weather lingered into the following day.  On the afternoon of the 31st, army 1st Lt. Daniel H. Thorson took off from Mitchell Field, Long Island, in a P-40 fighter plane bound for Bradley Field in Windsor Locks, Connecticut.  When he failed to arrive, he too was declared “missing”. 

     Later that same afternoon, a flight of four navy Wildcats belonging to Fighter Squadron 24, left Quonset Point for Floyd Bennett Field on Long Island. (These aircraft were not part of the Ranger compliment.)

     The flight left in two sections, each section containing two planes each. The first section, consisting of Ensign Robert G. Carlson, and Ensign Herr, dropped to an altitude of fifty feet as they crossed Long Island Sound, presumably to get under the low cloud ceiling for better visibility.  Suddenly Ensign Carlson’s aircraft banked sharply and disappeared.  (His body was later recovered on a Long Island beach.)  Ensign Herr continued onward and landed safely at Quonset Point.   

     The second section consisting of Lieutenant Ernest C. Houck, and Ensign Leonard E. Byrer, also met with tragedy.  Ensign Byrer was killed instantly when he crashed near the Bell Port Coast Guard Station on Long Island.  His body was recovered and sent home to Terre Haute, Indiana, for burial.  Lieutenant Houck simply disappeared and was never seen again.        

     On April 2, the Ranger left Boston for Argentina, and once safely out of port she began to recover her planes.  The storm had made for rough seas, which led to further accidents.  Lieutenants George C. Simmons, and Allen H. Thurwachter, damaged their planes with “hard-deck” landings, but both survived.

   As the Ranger resumed the war, the search for Lt. Cassidy was ending its third day. Both he and his Wildcat fighter (# 11740) had seemingly vanished while over land without a trace.

     Naval authorities appealed for help through the media, and many witnesses came forward claiming to have seen a plane in trouble, but whether it was actually Lt. Cassidy’s is open to interpretation. 

     Despite a wide spread air and ground search that eventually extended into northern Rhode Island, no trace of Cassidy or his plane was ever found.   

Curtis P-40 Aircraft U. S. Army Air Corps Photo

Curtis P-40 Aircraft
U. S. Army Air Corps Photo

     Meanwhile in Connecticut, the Army was conducting its own search for Lt. Thorson’s missing P-40, with negative results.  It wasn’t until April 24th that two Yale Forestry School students conducting a timber survey discovered the wreck of Thorson’s plane on Blackberry Ridge in Norfolk, Connecticut.

     Investigators were quick to surmise what happened. The cloud ceiling for March 31st had been 1400 feet, and the crash site was at an elevation of 1571 feet.  Lt. Thorson probably never saw the mountain. 

     As the war effort increased, these localized incidents were quickly forgotten, and the late winter storm became a distant memory.  

     Some of the pilots mentioned in this story were destined for bigger things.  Others wouldn’t survive the war.

     Lt. Lukes Boykin, who splashed down off Swampscott, was later promoted to Commanding Officer of Fighting Squadron 4 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex.

    Lt. Theodore Grell, who went down over Fall River, survived his injuries, but this wasn’t his first brush with death.  He’d previously survived being shot down over North Africa in 1942 during Operation Torch. He survived the war, and retired from the navy as a captain.

   Lt. (Jg.) Charles V. August, who landed in New Paltz, N.Y., had also survived being shot down during Operation Torch. Research indicates that after the war he moved to California.  

     Lt. Keene G. Hammond, another New Paltz pilot, was later promoted to Lieutenant Commander, and became commanding officer of Fighting Squadron 4 before Lt. Boykin took over.  Lt. Cmdr. Hammond was killed when he was shot down January 6, 1945, eight miles south-west of Vigan, Luzon. 

     Lt. (Jg.) Dee Jones, the third New Paltz pilot, was also a combat veteran of Operation Torch. He was killed May 4, 1943, when his plane crashed during gunnery training. 

     Lt. George C. Simmons who crash landed on Ranger April 2nd, later took part in the sinking of a German freighter in October, 1943. He made it safely back to the carrier with his aircraft shot full of holes.

     Lt. Allen H. Thurwachter who also crash-landed on Ranger’s deck April 2nd, died a few months later on October 19, 1943, while participating in search and rescue operations for two missing navy airplanes that left Martha’s Vineyard for a training flight. His radioman/gunner, ARM1c Bradley E. Hunter was also killed. 

     The bodies of Midshipman Raymond Clarke and Sub-Lieutenant  Donald Dillion, both killed in Bozrah, were buried with full military honors in Newport, R.I.

Lt. Daniel H. Thorson U.S. Army Air Corps Photo

Lt. Daniel H. Thorson
U.S. Army Air Corps Photo

    The body of Lt. Daniel Thorson, killed when his P-40 crashed in Norfolk, Ct., was sent home to Great Falls, Montana, for burial.  In 2003, the citizens of Norfolk, remembered the 24-year-old’s sacrifice and erected a memorial at the crash site.        

     The enduring questions left in the aftermath of this storm are what became of Lieutenants’ Houck and Cassidy.  Houck was presumed to have gone down in Long Island Sound, but Cassidy had disappeared while over land.  Why then, was he never found?  One possibility is that he went down in a remote area, perhaps rural western Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, or even upstate New York, and his plane disintegrated on impact.  Another theory is that he went down over water, possibly in a lake, or a reservoir.  Perhaps, someday, the mystery will be solved.    

    Hope of solving that mystery arose in July of 1958, when a New Bedford fishing boat snagged its nets on the wreckage of a World War II navy fighter off Martha’s Vineyard. Divers hired to inspect the boat’s propellers also dove on the wreck and found human remains inside.  A newspaper story about the find stated in part; “The Quonset public information office said it has had one inquiry from a man who said a member of his family was lost during World War II, supposedly on a flight to Quonset from his carrier.”  Follow up research was unable to uncover more information other than the fact the aircraft recovered was a navy Hellcat, and not a Wildcat of the type flown by Lt. Cassidy. 

     What makes the case of Lt. Cassidy even more tragic is the fact that he was married only thirty days before he disappeared, and was looking forward to spending some time with his new bride at their home in Cranston.  She lived the rest of her life never knowing what happened to him.    

     This Memorial Day, please take the time to thank a veteran. 

 

Sources:

U.S. Navy crash report briefs

#43-6398, dated March 30, 1943

#43-6399, dated March 30, 1943

#43-6410, dated March 30, 1943

#43-6411, dated March 30, 1943

#43-6424, dated April 2, 1943

#43-6425, dated April 2, 1943

Attleboro Sun, “Plane Reported Missing In North Attleboro”, April 1, 1943, Pg. 1

Attleboro Sun, “Blimp In Search For Lost Plane”, April 2, 1941.

Attleboro Sun, “No Word Of Missing Plane”, April 3, 1943, Pg. 1

Boston Herald, “Two Planes Crash In State”, March 31, 1943, Pg.1

Boston Herald, “1 Killed, 2 Pilots Missing Near Floyd Bennet Field,

Cranston Herald, “Cranston Flier Reported Missing”, April 8, 1943

Fall River Herald, “Navy Plane Feared Lost”, April 1, 1943

Fall River Herald, “Navy Plane Crashes In Apple Orchard Here”, March 31, 1943

Fall River Herald, “Plane Falls; Pilot Drops In Parachute”, March 31, 1943

Lynn Telegram, “Plane Falls Into Sea Off Swampscott Shore”, March 31, 1943, pg.1

Lynn Telegram News, “Rescue Pair In Navy Plane After Crash”, March 31, 1943, Pg.11

New Paltz Independent, “Three ‘Wildcats’ Lost In Fog Make Emergency Landing On The Paltz Flats Thursday”, April 1, 1943

New York Times, “Navy Flier Dies In Crash”, April 2, 1943, Pg. 13

Newsday, “Recover Body Of Mitchell Field Pilot”, April 16, 1943

Norwich Bulletin, “Two Fliers Lose Lives In Crash Of Plane At Gilman”, March 31, 1943,

Norwich Bulletin, “One Naval Pilot Killed And Two Others Missing”, April 2, 1943, Pg.1

Pawtucket Times, “Navy Plane Sought In North Attleboro”, April 1, 1943

Pawtucket Times, “Plane Crashes Kill 2 Fliers”, March 31, 1943

Pawtucket Times, “3 Navy Craft Forced Down In Scattered Accidents”, March 31, 1943

Pawtucket Times, “Dead Navy Fliers Are Identified”, March 31, 1943, Pg.1

Providence Journal, “Fliers Identified”, April 1, 1943, Pg. 22

Providence Journal, ”Plane Reported Missing By Navy”, April 1, 1943, Pg. 27

Providence Journal, “Two Aviators Missing”, April 2, 1943, Pg. 20

Providence Journal, “Remains Of Unknown Plane, Pilot Found”, July 9, 1958

Providence Journal, “Identification Of Pilot Sought”, July 12, 1958, Pg.2

Woonsocket Call, “Navy Plane Lost In Bay State Area”, April 1, 1943

Milwaukee Sentinel, “1 Dies, 2 Lost On Flights”, October 22, 1943.

Town of Bozrah, Ct., death records.

Website, www.airgroup4.com

“Missing In Action And Prisoners Of War”

“Air Group 4 ‘Casablanca To Tokyo’ The Ranger Air Group Over Casablanca”

“Fighting Squadron Four Introductory History”

“A Tribute To Lt. Cmdr. Keen G. Hammond, Skipper Of VF-4”

“Lt. L. M. Boykin Commanding Officer, Fighting Squadron Four”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The So-Called Brunswick Naval Air Station “Jinx” – 1978

     The So-Called Brunswick Naval Air Station “Jinx”

Brunswick, Maine

 

     Is there such a thing as a “jinx”?  Apparently some assigned to the Brunswick Naval Air Station in Maine wondered if it could be so as evidenced by an Associated Press story that ran in many newspapers in the autumn of 1978.     

     “There’s a feeling that the wing has been hexed, jinxed, or is under some supernatural spell,” Rear Admiral Ralph Hedges told the press, “and it’s almost impossible to fight because we don’t know why our planes have crashed.” 

     The admiral was referring to three recent fatal aviation crashes that had resulted in the deaths of 28 men from the Brunswick Naval Air Station.   All three accidents involved Lockheed P-3 Orions, a top-secret, four-engine, anti-submarine patrol aircraft of the day.

December 11, 1977

     The first accident occurred on December 11, 1977, when a P-3 Orion, (Bu. No. 153428) assigned to Patrol Squadron 11, left Brunswick NAS for a ship surveillance mission in the Canary Islands off the coast of northwest Africa.  It was there that the plane crashed and exploded into the side of a mountain while flying in foggy conditions and all thirteen crewmen aboard were killed.  The plane hit with such force that the debris field was scattered for 2,000 feet. 

     Those crewmen were identified as:

     Lt. (Jg.) James Charles Ingles

     Lt. (Jg.) Kirk Broadman Williams, 25.  He’s buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Elmira, New York.  (www.findagrave Memorial #99381886)

     Lt. (Jg.) Michael Jay Rowe, 28.  He’s buried in Fort Smith National Cemetery in Fort Smith, Arkansas. To see a photograph of Lt. Rowe, see www.findagrave.com, memorial #1139678.

     Lt. (Jg.) Francis Xavier McKeone 

     Lt. (Jg.) John Robert Williamson III, 25.  He’s buried in Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, Florida. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #1331145.)

     AO2 Marvin Lee Brown, 26. He’s buried in Key West Cemetery in Key West, Florida. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #18191246)     

     Chief Petty Officer Wayne David Westland

     Petty Officer 1c Michael Barry James, 22. There is some confusion as to his place of burial.  To see a photograph of PO1 James in uniform, see www.findagrave.com,  Memorial # 44756157, and 44226295. 

     Petty Officer 2c Wayne Thomas Kiess, 25.  He’s buried in Greenwood Memory Lawn Cemetery in Phoenix, Arizona.  (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #38587290)

     Petty Officer 3c Bobbie Dale Payne

     Petty Officer 1c Fred Woodall. Jr., 32. He’s buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Rockwood, Tenn. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #35013611)

     Petty Officer 2c Gerald Lee Nesbitt

     Petty Officer 2c Claude Marshal Cantrell, Jr., 31. He’s buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Cartersville, Georgia.  (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #8968837)

April 26, 1978

     The second accident occurred about four months later on April 26, 1978, when another P-3 Orion, (Bu. No. 152724), of Patrol Squadron 23 out of Brunswick NAS crashed in the Atlantic Ocean about 20 miles northeast of the Azores.  All seven men aboard were lost. 

     The bodies of four of the missing crewmen were later recovered.

     The dead were identified as:

     Lt. David G. Schwerstein

     Lt. Michael Edward Hayes.  There is a memorial marker for him in Arlington National Cemetery. ( www.findagrave.com, Memorial #22254464)

    Lt. (jg.) Michael John Dziubak, 25.  There is a memorial marker for him in Kingston Memorial Cemetery in Lawnville, Tenn.  (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #82371278)

     AD1 Robert W. Hasselbacher

     AD1 Randolph Edward Affield, 26.  There is a memorial marker for him in Nebish Township Cemetery in Nebish, Minnesota. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #105229276)

     AO3 Robert Joseph Elmore, 29, of Rock Island, Ill. There is a memorial marker for him in Rock Island National Cemetery.  (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #61518069)

     AT3 Weslie Donald Putnam, of San Jose, California.      

     September 22, 1978

     The next accident took place on September 22, 1978, when a third P-3 Orion, (Bu. No. 152757), from Brunswick NAS, suddenly exploded in mid-air over the town of Poland, Maine, killing all eight men aboard.  The debris fell from the sky over a wide area, in some cases narrowly missing some homes. 

     The Orion had taken off from Brunswick NAS just minutes before bound for Trenton, Ontario, Canada, to take part in an air show as a display aircraft. The aircraft was assigned to Patrol Squadron 8.   

     One witness to the accident told a reporter, “When the plane blew up, there was a big mess of debris and pieces flying all different directions.  It was just an incredible big boom and a huge ball of fire, and then there was fire flying around everywhere.”  

     Another witness who was piloting a private plane about fifteen miles away told reporters, “All of a sudden I saw a big flash in the sky.”

     The Navy later reported that over 75 witnesses were eventually interviewed. 

     Initial reports were that the Orion had been involved in a mid-air collision with another aircraft, and some reported seeing parachutes in the air shortly after the explosion, but these reports turned out to be in error.  

     The cause was later determined to be “whirl mode” of the #1 engine.  “Whirl mode” is a low frequency vibration in the engine mounts that can cause the engine to separate from the air frame.  In this case, the #1 engine separated taking 11 feet of wing with it, which sheared off a portion of the rear stabilizer.   

     The crew were identified as:

     Lt. Cmdr. Francis William Dupont, Jr., 36, a veteran of the Vietnam War.  He’s buried in St. Peter’s Catholic Cemetery in Rome, New York. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #16581045)

     Lt. (Jg.) Donald Edward Merz, 27.  He’s buriend in St. Teresa Cemetery in Summit, New Jersey.  (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #92979679) 

     Lt. (Jg.) George D. Nuttelman

     Lt. (Jg.) Ernest A. Smith

     AW2 James Allen Piepkorn, 21.  He’s buried in McCall Cemetery in McCall, Idaho. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #58839202.)

     AWAN Paul G. Schulz, of Santa Rosa, California.

     AD3 Robert Lewis Phillips, Jr., 25.  He’s buried in Sylvania Hills Memorial Park, in Rochester, Penn. (www.findagrave.com, memorial #126103090)

     ADC Larry Miller

     It was these three incidents within the span of nine months that fueled the rumors of a jinx. Fortunately there were no further accidents involving p-3 Orion aircraft from Brunswick NAS until many years later.   

March 15, 1973

     Before these three latest accidents, the only other fatal accident involving a P-3 Orion from Brunswick NAS occurred five years earlier on March 15, 1973.

     On that date, a P-3 Orion, (Bu. No. 152749), left Brunswick for a routine training flight and crashed in the Atlantic Ocean about 40 miles off the Maine coast, killing all five crewmen aboard.

     They were identified as:

     Lt. Cmdr. John E. Boyer, 36, of Lewiston Penn.

     Lt. Grover R. Caloway, 27, of McGehee, Ark.

     Chief Machinist Mate Jeremiah K. Sullivan, Jr., 32, of York, Penn.

     AW2 Reginald Lee Walker, 25, of Bristol, Indiana.

     AD1 Wayne C. Clendenning, 34, of Vanceboro, Maine.

     In early April of 1978, two of the missing crewmen were recovered by the Navy salvage ship USS Edenton.  They were not identified in the press.

     Sources:

     www.vpnavy.com

     Aviation Safety Network

     Bangor Daily News, “Two Bodies Recovered From Navy Plane Crash”, April 16, 1973

     Florence Times Tri-Cities Daily, “Workers Comb Debris Of U.S. Navy Plane”, December 12, 1977

     Ellensburg Daily Record, Navy Plane Crash Kills All”, December 12, 1977  

     Bangor Daily News, “Missing Plane Debris Found”, April 28, 1978

     Spokane Daily Chronicle, “U.S. Navy Plane Down With 7”, April 27, 1978

     The Eugene Register-Guard, “7 Crewmen Lost In Navy Plane Crash”, April 27, 1978

     Portland Press Herald, “Fiery Crash Of Navy P-3 Takes 8 Lives”, unknown date.

     Portland Press Herald, “Witnesses Saw Huge Fireball In Sky”, unknown date

     Providence Journal Bulletin, “Navy Plane Crashes; 4 Bodies Found, 4 In crew Are Missing”, September 23, 1978, page A-3 

     (Lexington, N.C.) The Dispatch, “No Second Plane In Fatal Crash”, September 23, 1978

     Providence Journal Bulletin, “Second Plane Sought After Crash In Maine”, September 24, 1978, page B-14

     Westerly Sun, (RI), “Eight Die In Crash Of Navy Plane”, September 24, 1978

     Providence Evening Bulletin, “Mid-Air Crash Evidence Sought”, September 25, 1978

     Lewiston Daily Sun, “Navy Begins Search For Cause Of Crash”, September 28, 1978

     Lawrence Journal-World, “Navy Fliers Sense Jinx”, September 29, 1978, Pg. 13

     (Utah) The Deseret News, “Navy Fliers Fear Maine Base Jinx”, September 29, 1978

     Westerly Sun, (RI), “Puzzling Crashes Have Navy Pilots Wondering”, September 29, 1978, page 21

     (Penn.) The Gettysburg Times, “The Jinx In Brunswick, Maine”, October 5, 1978, Pg. 24.

     www.findagrave.com

 

 

 

 

 

Windsor Locks, CT – August 21, 1941 – The case of Lt. Eugene M. Bradley

Windsor Locks, Connecticut – August 21, 1941

The Case of Lieutenant Eugene M. Bradley

P-40 Warhawk U.S. Air Force Photo

P-40 Warhawk

U.S. Air Force Photo

     On August 21, 1941, Second Lieutenant Eugene M. Bradley was killed when the P-40C fighter plane he was piloting (# 41-13348), crashed at Windsor Locks Army Air Field during a training flight.  What makes this accident historically significant is that it led to the air field being re-named in his honor.  We know it today as Bradley International Airport. 

     The accident occurred while Lt. Bradley was  taking part in a mock dog-fight with 1st Lt. Frank H. Mears, Jr.  Both men were assigned to the 64th Pursuit Squadron of the 57th Fighter group which had just arrived at Windsor Locks two days earlier.

     Portions of the Army crash investigation report of the accident are posted here for historical purposes.     

2nd Lt. Eugene Bradley Accident Investigation Report Face Sheet CLICK TO ENLARGE

2nd Lt. Eugene Bradley

Accident Investigation Report Face Sheet

CLICK TO ENLARGE

     Lt. Mears gave a statement to Army investigators in which he related the following:  “Lieutenant Bradley took off at 9:30 a.m., August 21, 1941, for a combat mission.  I took off at 9:35 a.m., and met him at 5,000 feet over the airdrome.  After Lt. Bradley dropped into formation, we proceeded to 10,000 feet.  Normal combat procedures were started and, on the first turn, I got on his tail.  After making several turns we had lost between four and five thousand feet (of) altitude.  Just before getting him in my sights the last time, I called Lt. Bradley on the radio saying that this was enough.  Immediately following this he went into a diving turn and pulled out so hard that heavy white streamers appeared off his wing tips; at this point I was pulling up and away and he went out of sight under my left wing.  I then banked to the left again to see where Lt. Bradley had gone and saw him in a spin; the spin appeared to be a normal spin, but slow.  I immediately told him to straighten out and get out.  He continued in the spin until he crashed, about a mile west of Windsor Locks Airfield”      

Witness Statement Of 1st Lt. Frank H. Mears, Jr. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Witness Statement Of

1st Lt. Frank H. Mears, Jr.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

     (Later in the war, Lt. Mears was promoted to Lt. Colonel, and became commander of the 57th Fighter Group.)

     The accident was also witnessed by at least four men on the ground, each of whom gave statements to investigators.       

Witness Statement Of 2nd Lt. Glade B. Bilby CLICK TO ENLARGE

Witness Statement Of

2nd Lt. Glade B. Bilby

CLICK TO ENLARGE

     One of those four was 2nd Lt. Glade B. Bilby, who wrote in his statement: “I observed the plane in what appeared to me to be the last 3/4 of a slow roll at approximately 4,000 to 4,500 feet.  It continued to roll until bottom side up and then came down in a half roll.  It was not a spinning motion but one of a roll until it turned one turn to the left.  Then it stopped rolling and continued to dive into the ground.  This cessation of roll was at an altitude of approximately 750 feet.  The plane at all times appeared to roll deliberately as if under control until the pull-out should have been started.”      

     (On July 20, 1942, Lt. Bilby survived a crash landing while piloting a P-40 in Africa, (#41-13911).  While overseas, he would be credited with shooting down  3.5 enemy aircraft, and would go on to command the 64th Pursuit Squadron.)    

Witness Statement Of M/Sgt. Guy C. Howard CLICK TO ENLARGE

Witness Statement Of

M/Sgt. Guy C. Howard

CLICK TO ENLARGE

     Master Sergeant Guy C. Howard told investigators: “August 21st, at about 10:00 a.m. M/Sgt. Smith, Baird and I were standing on the ramp watching two P-40’s dog fighting.  The airplanes were to my belief at 5,000 feet or better. After a couple of tight turns one airplane got on the other’s tail and stayed there momentarily then pulled up and away.  The other stayed in the turn and turned over on it’s back, (and) nosed down into a slow spin.  It spun slowly to about 500 feet then stopped, and dove at a slight angle to the ground.”  

     Master Sergeant Smith related, “On or about 10:00 a.m. August 21, 1941, I was standing on the ramp with two other Non-Commissioned officers, Master Sgt. Baird and Master Sgt. Howard, watching the dog-fight between two P-40’s, estimated altitude 5,000 feet.  These planes were circling.  When breaking formation both planes let out twin streamers from the tails of the ships.  While the leading ship was making a left bank going away, the other ship nosed down, went into a tail spin and at an altitude of approximately 800 feet, the ship seemed to straighten out and went into a nose dive.  Before the ship hit the ground it seemed as if the pilot was fighting the controls of the ship to straighten it out, because the ship was wriggling in a manner to indicate this.”

Witness Statement Of M/Sgt. Smith CLICK TO ENLARGE

Witness Statement Of

M/Sgt. Smith

CLICK TO ENLARGE

     Master Sergeant Charles C. Baird stated:  “About 10:00 a.m. August 21, 1941, I was standing on the ramp watching two P-40C’s doing aerial combat.  The altitude was about 5,000 feet.  the leading ship made a sharp turn to the left and went into an inverted left spin.  It made about four turns in the spin.  At approximately 500 feet the ship came out of the spin and went into a vertical dive.  The nose had not come up at all when it disappeared from sight.”

Witness Statement Of M/Sgt. Charles C. Baird CLICK TO ENLARGE

Witness Statement Of

M/Sgt. Charles C. Baird

CLICK TO ENLARGE

     The accident investigation committee wrote in part: “It is the opinion of this committee that insufficient evidence exists to permit an exact classification of this accident.” 

     After describing the accident in the narrative, the committee wrote: “There is no evidence to establish whether the accident resulted from materiel failure, personnel error, or from other causes.  Whether or not the pilot had full use of his faculties after the spin out and during the decent cannot be determined.  Had there been materiel failure the pilot had sufficient altitude to leave the ship, but since his safety belt was found to be buckled after the accident he apparently made no attempt to get out. There was also ample altitude (5,000 feet) in which to regain control of the airplane after it spun out.  Since a doubt exists in (1) the pilot’s use of his faculties, (2) whether or not the airplane could be controlled in its descent, or (3) whether materiel failure occurred; the cause of this accident cannot be determined.”     

     The investigation committee also ruled out sabotage.

Investigation Committee Findings CLICK TO ENLARGE

Investigation Committee Findings

CLICK TO ENLARGE

      There are photographs in existence reportedly showing the wreck of Lt. Bradley’s P-40 aircraft, however there is no indication in the accident investigation report that any official photos were taken as part of the investigation.  In fact, one portion of the accident investigation committee’s narrative states, “Photographs of the wreck would not add useful evidence…”  Therefore, it can be surmised that any photos of Lt. Bradley’s wrecked aircraft were taken by other persons not involved with the investigation.   

     In 2005, a search was begun to locate the site of where Lt. Bradley’s P-40 crashed.  It was no small undertaking, for the airport had grown and changed significantly since World War II, and although Lt. Bradley’s fatal accident was the first to occur at the field, it wasn’t the last.   

     According to an Associated Press newspaper article which appeared September 15, 2009, when Bradley’s P-40  crashed, parts of the engine were buried thirteen feet deep, and only the tail was seen protruding from the ground.  Heavy equipment removed the wreckage, and the hole was filled by using a bulldozer.   Therefore, researchers didn’t expect to find a complete aircraft, only small pieces of one, which would then have to be identified as coming from a P-40.  

     Researchers sifted through various state and military records, old aerial photographs of the air field, newspaper collections, and other sources while gathering information in their quest.  Several potential sites were examined.  The wreck site was finally determined to be under Runway 33 of Bradley International Airport.  The runway was extended in the 1960s to allow jet airliners to land, and the site was unknowingly paved over.              

     Eugene Bradley was born in Dela, Oklahoma, July 15, 1917,  and was 24-years-old at the time of his death.  He’s buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, in San Antonio, Texas, Section E, Site 67.  He was survived by his wife and unborn child.     

     Windsor Locks Army Air Field came under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army in 1941 after acquiring the land from the State of Connecticut.  The air field was re-named to honor Lt. Bradley on January 20, 1942.  After the war the airfield reverted to civilian use and is today Connecticut’s primary airport.          

Sources:

U.S. Army Crash Investigation Report, dated August 25, 1941     

Associated Press, “68-Year-Old Plane Crash Site Possibly Found”, by Joe Piraneo, September 15, 2009 

Associated Press, “Crash Site Of Bradley Airport’s Namesake Pinpointed”, November 26, 2010

Connecticut’s Archaeological Heritage: “The Search For Lt. Eugene Bradley’s Plane Crash”, by Nick Bellantoni, Thomas Palshaw, Paul Scannell, and Roger Thompson. (No Date)  

57th Fighter Group – First In Blue, by Carl Molesworth, Osprey Press, copyright 2011.  

Findagrave.com, Memorial #14952762  (Has photo of Lt. Bradley)  

Wikipedia – Bradley International Airport

Connecticut Aircraft Company Builds Airships For The Navy – 1914

Connecticut Aircraft Company

Builds Airships For The Navy – 1914

     The Connecticut Aircraft Company was established in 1913 and went out of business during the 1920s.   It produced airships for the U. S. Navy.

Click on image to enlarge.

More Airships For Navy newspaper

 

New England Plane Crashes That Never Happened

New England Plane Crashes That Never Happened 

By Jim Ignasher

Updated May 6, 2016

Updated May 12, 2016

Updated October 20, 2017

     The following stories are about New England aviation accidents that never happened, although in some cases they were reported as fact.  Perhaps this is how legends get started.        

    On April 3, 1906, great excitement rippled through the populace of the small town of Franklin, Massachusetts, as word spread that an airship had crashed in the northern part of town.  Dozens flocked to the area, but found nothing. Had the airship been repaired and left?  Hardly.  It wasn’t exactly April Fools, but it was close enough for a man identified only as a “practical joker” living in north Franklin near the Medway town line.  The day before, a large number of people reported seeing what they thought was an airship pass over the town.  The joker took it one step further and told several people that the airship had broken down, and landed in a field near his farm.  As with the childhood game of “Telephone”, the landing became a crash, as the facts were twisted with each retelling.  

     The following three incidents took place in 1942 at a time when our country was immersed in the Second World War.  Were they the result of wartime jitters, overactive imaginations, or something else? 

     On April 25, 1942, the North Providence, (R.I.) police department began to receive reports that an army bomber had crashed and burst into flames somewhere in the town.  Some reported seeing a column of smoke, but couldn’t tell the exact location from where it originated. A search was instituted, and army officials were notified, and as word spread citizens were on the alert.     

     By the afternoon the Associated Press was carrying the story.  An army public relations officer in Boston stated he believed the craft to be an army bomber, and although he didn’t know how many men were aboard, the usual number was five.

     An army observation plane was brought in to assist with the search, but by the end of the day nothing had been found, and no military aircraft were unaccounted for.

     Less than a week later, a man in Bellingham, Massachusetts, reported that he saw a twin-engine army aircraft flying at tree-top level and assumed it crashed in a wooded area near Silver Lake.  Apparently his assumption was based on the fact the engines weren’t making any sound, and that at one pint he saw the wings clip the trees. 

     Bellingham police notified the army, and a search was instituted.  Residents in the Spring Street section told officers they had seen an army aircraft pass low in the sky with its engines throttled down, but didn’t know anything about a crash.  One citizen stated the plane had passed directly over him and then suddenly disappeared.  

     Police officers, firefighters, and civilian volunteers searched through the woods for several hours, but didn’t find anything, and the army determined that none of its planes were missing.   

    The fourth case didn’t involve a report of an actual plane crash, but of parachutes descending from the sky – possibly from a disabled aircraft.  

     At about 5:45 p.m. on November 4 1942, Sgt. Michael Ryan of the Fall River police was stopped by a motorist who reported seeing parachutists descending over the area of the Fall River Reservoir located in the northern part of the city.   A short time later another person approached him with the same report.  One claimed to have seen one parachute and a plane, the other, three parachutes. 

     At about the same time frame, Patrolman Michael Hart received a report of parachutes as he patrolled the central portion of the city. 

     At 6:30 p.m. another call about parachutes was received at police headquarters. 

     Patrol cars sent to investigate found nothing, and aircraft spotters stationed in a fire tower near the reservoir hadn’t seen any parachutes. 

     Yet reports kept coming, and chutes were also allegedly seen over Fall River’s neighboring communities, and in nearby Rhode Island.  Strangely, nobody had reported a plane crash, only parachutes, which raised the possibility of enemy saboteurs. 

     State and local police, aided by auxiliary volunteers, and the army, scoured the landscape in both states, but nothing was found.  At one point excitement rose when one group of volunteers reported that the parachutists were “bottled up” in Narragansett Bay, but this too was false.

     Authorities learned that neither the army nor the navy was missing any aircraft, and there had been no reported bailouts or scheduled parachute jumps in the area.  No explanation for the sightings was ever given. 

     Updated May 12, 2016

     On January 8, 1988, a heavy snow storm was blowing across central New Hampshire.  It was during this storm that authorities received an s.o.s. radio message from a man identifying himself only as “Dale”, a survivor of a small jet crash.  Dale claimed five people had been aboard; one was dead, and the other three seriously injured.

     The May Day call sparked a large scale search and rescue operation that later involved up to 20 aircraft.  One aircraft in particular was a navy plane that was re-routed to begin the search.  The pilot flew low level search patterns in dangerous weather conditions for over four hours, all the while remaining in radio contact with “Dale”.  Unfortunately the plane was forced to leave the area due to deteriorating weather and low fuel capacity.  The following day the downed plane report was determined to be a hoax.   

     Investigation led authorities to a 29-year-old man from Laconia, New Hampshire, who was charged and put on trial in May of 1988.  He was convicted, and sentenced to one year in a federal prison, and ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation.   

     Coincidentally, it was about the time of the man’s trial that the following incident occurred.  

     Updated May 6, 2016

     On the night October 3, 1988, a man identifying himself as a Captain from Pease Air Force Base contacted authorities in the town of Milford, New Hampshire to report that a B-1 bomber aircraft with two men aboard had crashed in a wooded area behind Chappell Tractor Sales Inc. on Route 13 South.  The man further reported that the pilot had managed to eject from the aircraft before it crashed. 

     Milford Fire and Police responded to the area, as did members of the U.S. Air Force, but within an hour it was determined that the call had been a hoax. 

     Updated October 20, 2017

     Shortly after midnight on November 8, 1974, a man called the Connecticut State Police Montville barracks to report that he’d heard what he thought was a sputtering airplane engine followed by a loud crash in the vicinity of the Waterford-East Lyme town line near I-95.  Another caller described hearing a “low whining noise” before the crash.  Several others also called to report a crash.

     An air and ground search was organized, but nothing was found, and there were no reports of any missing aircraft.  No emergency radio distress called had been received, and all Connecticut civilian and military aircraft were accounted for.  The search was called off and the report was determined to be “unfounded”. 

     Sources:

     Westerly Sun, (R.I.), “Crash Report Is Said Unfounded”,  November 8, 1974, page 2

     Hartford Courant,” No Trace Found Of Airplane”, November 9, 1974, page 4.

 

Sources:  

The (Woonsocket) Evening Reporter, “Joker Causes Excitement” , April 4, 1906, Pg. 3

Woonsocket Call, “Bomber Crashes In No. Providence”, April 25, 1942, Pg.1

Woonsocket Call, Army Plane Crash Report Probed”, May 4, 1942 Pg. 1

Woonsocket Call, “Plane Crash Report Proves Franklin Hoax”, May 5, 1942, Pg. 2

Woonsocket Call, “Chutists Sought Near Fall River”, November 5, 1942, Pg. 1

Bangor Daily News, “”N.H. man Indicted In Plane Crash Hoax”, February 25, 1988

Bangor Daily News, “Trial Opens In Case Of Staged Plane Crash”, May 3, 1988

Bangor Daily News, “N.H. Man Convicted Of Faking Plane Crash”, May 5, 1988  

Nashua Telegraph, “Jet Crash Hoax Draws Searchers”, October 4, 1988

 

 

 

 

 

A Fuel Tank Falls On Providence – 1948

A FUEL TANK FALLS ON PROVIDENCE 

Providence, Rhode Island

August 26, 1948

      Motorcycle Patrolman A.F. Baribault of the Providence Police Traffic Division was cruising along Chestnut Street near the city’s Jewelry District when he saw what appeared to be a bomb fall from an airplane.  

    Lawrence Tabor, a worker at Speidel Jewelry on Bassett Street also saw it drop, and could plainly see liquid spewing from the cigar shaped object as in tumbled earthward.   It struck the ground only 100 feet away at the intersection of Bassett and Ship Streets.  An explosive concussion shook the areas as flaming gasoline showering the street.  

     Emergency lines were quickly jammed with reports of an explosion.  Some said a manhole had blown up, others claimed it was a bomb.     

     One of the first to arrive was Officer Baribault who quickly determined the object was not a bomb, but an auxiliary fuel tank used by military fighter planes since World War II.  The aluminum tank had ruptured and split apart with one section lying in the roadway and another landing in a nearby lot.     

    Droppable fuel tanks for fighters had been developed during World War II to give the fighter aircraft greater range. The tank that dropped on Providence came from a U. S. Navy F6F Hellcat, a World War II aircraft carrier fighter produced by Grumman between 1942 and 1945. 

    Navy officials from the Quonset Naval Air Station responded to Providence and recovered the damaged fuel tank.  Fortunately nobody had been injured and property damage had been minor. The Navy released a statement that the pilot had accidentally dropped the tank while on a routine flight and that a formal inquiry into the incident would begin right away.

     A Navy spokesman told the Providence Journal; “This external or droppable tank is made to drop at the discretion of the pilot to get rid of the weight and friction.” 

     This particular tank had been loaded with 150 to 300 gallons of fuel when it was dropped.       

Source: Providence Journal, “Gas Tank Drops From Navy Plane, Misses Cars At City Intersection”, August 27, 1948, pg. 1 

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲