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  B-17C "Pamela / Miss E.M.F." Serial Number 40-2072  
USAAF
5th AF
317th TCG
64 TCS

Former Assignments
19th BG

Click for Enlargement
Daniel Leahy 2001

Pilot  1st Lt Vern J. Gidcumb, 317th TCG, 46th TCS (KIA) IL
Passenger
  Pfc Jerome Abraham,34067460 49th FG, HQ (KIA) FL
Crew List  
crew and passengers list (40 KIA)
Passenger
 Sgt Robert Foye (survived) Witchita Falls, TX

Crashed  June 14, 1943
MACR  15548
Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle during 1941.
Delivered to the U. S. Army. Assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group based at March Field.

Wartime History
On March 31, 1941 this B-17 was one of twenty one 19th Bombardment Group B-17s flown from March Field to Hamilton Field. That same evening the B-17s departed for a 2,400 mile flight to Hickam Field on Oahu. This was the first mass flight of land base aircraft to make this trip, and the first time that the US Army had flown land-base aircraft to reinforce an overseas base.

During October 1941, this B-17 was flown from Hickam Field bound for the Philippines, piloted by  1st Lt. Alvin H. Mueller. The flight across the Pacific Ocean with stops at Midway Airfield, Wake Airfield, 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby and Batchelor Field near Darwin then onward to the Philippines.

Wartime History
Based at Clark Field on December 8, 1941 at the start of the Pacific war, when Japanese aircraft attacked and bombed the airfield. Afterwards, was withdrawn to Del Monte Airfield and continued to fly bombing missions until December 23, 1941.

On December 25, 1941 one of three B-17s took off at 4:30am from Del Monte Airfield piloted by Lt. Mueller armed with 300 lbs bombs on a bombing mission against Davao. During take off, B-17D 40-3079 piloted by Lt. Smith blew a tire on take off and aborted the mission. This bomber along with B-17D 40-3062 proceeded to the target together. Over the target, ten enemy fighters were observed taking off from Davao Airfield to intercept them. Both B-17s climbed to 28,000' in hopes of climbing above their effective altitude, but were intercepted by the fighters. The other B-17 was hit in the engine, causing it to slow down and this B-17 also slowed to maintain formation and provide mutual fire support. Next, this B-17 was hit by machine gun and cannon fire. Aboard, two men in the radio room and the right waist gunner were wounded before the fighters broke off their attack. The B-17s descended to wave top height and successfully landed at Batchelor Field near Darwin. On the ground, more than 100 holes were noted on this bomber.

During late December 1942, this B-17 was ordered to fly to Australia to evacuate twenty-eight American personnel from the Philippines to Australia. Took off from Del Monte Airfield on a flight to Batchelor Field near Darwin. Next, flown to Laverton Airfield near Melbourne for repairs.

Afterwards, this B-17 was based at Garbutt Field near Townsville flying via 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby on bombing missions over New Guinea.

On November 15, 1942 this B-17 spotted two survivors from B-24D "Lady Beverly" 41-23760 in the sea near Baibara Island off the southern coast of New Guinea.

On December 24, 1942 returning from a bombing mission, this B-17 dove from 20,000' to 12,000' when the bomber pulled out of the dive, the wing flexed causing permanent structural damage but returned to Australia safely.

After the dive, the bomber's wingtips were a foot higher than normal, according to crew chief Del Sparrow. Repairs were attempted, but instead the B-17 was reassigned to the 317 Troop Carrier Group, 46th Troop Carrier Squadron. All armament and flooring were removed and the transport was stationed at Mackay Airfield.

As a transport, this aircraft was nicknamed "Miss E.M.F." (Every Morning Fixing) with Australian call sign VH-CBA. Along with an LB-30 also converted to a transport, this B-17 flew Allied servicemen and supplies from rest & recouperation in Australia via Mackay Airfield back to 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby (a 4.5 hour flight) and vice-versa.

These flights were described by a number of people including Teddy Hanks and Robert Foye both of Witchita Falls, Texas and Del Sparrow of Sonoma, California, as packing the troops in the B-17C like sardines in a can. When the aircraft took off the passenger had to try and inch forward so that the B-17 was not tail heavy during takeoff. Passengers did not mind the inconvenience of sitting on the floor without seat belts, because landing meant the start of R&R.

Mission History
On June 14, 1943 six crew and thirty-five passengers were loaded at Mackay Airfield. A few minutes after take-off, it crashed at Bakers Creek, killing forty.
This crash was the single worst aviation disaster during WWII in Australia, or in Australian aviation history. When lost, engine serial numbers unknown.

The sole survivor, Sgt Robert Foye of Witchita Falls, TX, had flipped a coin with Sgt Del Sparrow, of Sonoma, CA to be a crew member on this flight.

The verbal account of the crash, and eyewitnesses statements were recorded in the diary of Captain Cutler, the Red Cross commander in Mackay who keep a manifest of the aircraft and the accident. His son, Robert Cutler has his father's diary and wrote the book "Mackay's Flying Fortress: Remembering Australia's Worst Aviation Disaster in World War Two".

At the time of the accident wartime security in Australia meant that everything about the accident was classified. The seriousness of the accident and bad publicity that might result if disclosed saw that nothing was released about the crash.

Memorials
The forty bodies were initially buried in Townsville. After the war, their bodies were returned to the United States. Thirteen are buried in the Honolulu Memorial Cemetery (Punchbowl) and the remaining were buried in their home towns. List of KIA crew & passengers List including burial sites.

A memorial to the crew was built near the crash site outside Mackay, due to the efforts of the Mackay RSL and Robert Cutler. The memorial flies the American and Australian flag over the site. On special occasions, twenty state flags that represent the states of those who died are also flown.

The Australian police report was declassified and accessed by the Mackay RSL during the early 1990 but the USAAF/USAF classified report has never been located. Australian Colin Benson, RSL historian researched the names and burials of the forty killed in the crash over eight years with the help of Teddy Hanks in the U. S. searching and digging for a number of years to get all the names. Still, they are actively seeking all the U. S. Army documents related to this crash.

References
Missing Air Crew Report 15548 (MACR 15548) was created retroactively in 1945 or 1946
Special Order #1, Air Echelon, Headquarters 19th Bomb Group(H) AFCC, Albuquerque, NM, list the crew that ferried the B-17 to the Philippines during October 1941 as (pilot) 1st Lt. Alvin H. Mueller, 2nd Lt. James E Colovin, 2nd Lt George M. Markovich, Sgt. Robert W. Schlotte, S/Sgt Adolph Doucet, S/Sgt Clyde W. Anderson, Sgt. Lewis D. Wise, Sgt. John D. Biff, Pfc. George J. McGee
Records at USAF Maxwell Historical incorrectly state this aircraft crashed on June 17, 1943. The Australian Police made a full report on the accident.
A photo of B-17C 40-2072 has the following caption:
"Seems as if they used the star for a target. this ship is still flying August 21, 1942. It sunk 2 loaded transports, one destroyer, one sub from 20,000 feet with one bomb, and has shot down 21 planes including a 4-engined flying boat. It has bombed landing parties and enemy occupied airdromes in the PI. It got 2 direct hits from 3" AA and had over 1000 machine gun holes in it. It was always flown by the same crew. It never had a man killed aboard it, and only 3 slightly hurt. It evacuated 28 pilots from Del Monte at night in a tropical storm and flew to Australia."
It Happened at Bakers Creek, Australia: A History of the Fifth Air Force's Worst Air Crash in World War II. (Hickam AFB, Hawaii: PACAF/HO, 2003) Robert S. Cutler Maps, Photographs, Notes, Bibliography, Appendices. Pages. xii, 84. Paperback
"Over and Out!": Sam's Story The Private War Diary of Captain Samuel Cutler, Army Air Corps US Forces in Australia, 1942-1944 editor: Robert S. Cutler (Xlibris 2011) 250 pages w/ photos
Mackay's Flying Fortress: Remembering Australia's Worst Aviation Disaster in World War Two by Robert S. Cutler
After The Battle Issue 153 "Australia's Worst Air Disaster" by David Mitchelhill-Green
The Forgotten B-17C 40-2072 "Miss EMF(Every Morning Fixing) by Eugene D. Rossel
Oz @ War - Crash of B-17C Flying Fortress at Bakers Creek Near Mackay, QLD 14 June 1943
Thanks to William H. Bartsch and Edward Rogers for additional information
Fortress Against The Sun pages 83-84, 87, 143, 225, 382
FindAGrave - PFC Jerome Abraham (grave photo)
FindAGrave - John O Berthold (grave photo)

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Last Updated
August 27, 2014

 

Tech Info
B-17

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