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 a night training flight off Martha’s Vineyard on October 19, 1943. His radioman, V. F. Geishirt 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.

     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

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

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

     www.findagrave.com

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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 

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

 

 

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