Grandmother kept a brief log of Dad’s overseas experience on a calendar, on which
she made frequent notations regarding his letters to her. The particular letter
that dealt with this experience was seventeen pages long, and the pertinent text
is included in the following paragraphs. On her calendar she correctly indicates
that he was missing on January 19th and rescued on the 28th.
She received a telegram from the War Department addressed to her “in hospital
today” shortly after she supposedly had an undisclosed operation. I still wonder
what her “operation” was. She was notified sometime in late January that my Dad
was missing, and it was a month before she was notified that he had been found.
I’m speculating here, but it is quite possible that she had worried herself so
sick about my Dad’s disappearance that she required hospitalization. In any case,
I’m sure the period when my Dad was missing must have been the worst days of her
life. To quote my Grandmother regarding her son, “this boy is all I have in the
My Dad and I last discussed
this incident two years before he died. Fortunately his letters to his mother
were saved, and many of the discrepancies in his last accounting to me have been
clarified from the letters. This was definitely not one of Dad’s favorite experiences
during the war, and I got the impression that he was still kind of embarrassed
about the whole incident when he said to me, “Rick, I still to this day can’t
believe I was that foolish”.
pilot of the other A-20 was in a different squadron, and neither of the two pilots
discussed it at all after they returned to the 312th Bomb Group. In
my Dad’s own words “as we both wanted to forget the whole thing”.
Dad was given this routine assignment shortly after he was assigned to the 312th Bombardment Group.
At that time these flights were being done in earnest because the 312th was transitioning to the A-20. Most of the 312th pilots were in Port
Moresby learning how to fly the A-20. My Dad was already an experienced A-20
pilot, so he and eighteen other individuals were given this assignment. I believe
he was transported to Townsville by the group’s C-47 cargo ship.
thing to bear in mind as you read about this incident; there were many such assignments
given to these young pilots, and too many times they were never heard from again.
As always with the young and inexperienced in the combat zone, mistakes will be
made and lives will be lost. Fortunately for me, God and his mother’s prayers
were with him.
Engines - No Fuel
after they were airborne, Dad didn’t like the way the plane was flying, so he
signaled Lt. Huber to head for Cairns in order to have the plane checked out.
When they landed at Cairns, Dad reported to the USAAF maintenance personnel that
both engines were running rough, and this might have been caused by the need to
“firewall” them in order to get off the ground at Townsville. However, the maintenance
personnel found nothing amiss with the airplane, and the two took off again with
no apparent problems.
For some unexplained
reason neither pilot checked his fuel levels, or requested that the fuel tanks
be topped off. This was to result in a near catastrophic situation for both,
because, upon departure, neither pilot had enough fuel to make it to Gusap. Dad
didn’t realize his situation until all four fuel tank warning lights began to
glow bright red.
There is another
hitch to this story. Almost as soon as the two became airborne again, Lt. Huber
began to fly west instead of northeast. Dad signaled by waving several times
that they were going in the wrong direction, but Huber just shook his head and
kept pointing west.
At this stage
in his career, Dad was nothing more than a raw 2nd lieutenant, and Huber, being
a 1st Lt. outranked Dad, but I’m not sure he was any more experienced.
In any case Dad felt, “he must of had some reason for doing this” and elected
to follow him against his own better judgement.
Huber was at Will Rogers Field with Dad, where both pilots received the same training
in the A-20. I think both pilots came overseas at the same time, possibly joining
the 312th on the same set of orders. I don’t think Dad knew Huber
very well, and after this experience they had very little contact with each other
during their stay with the 312th. Dad never even asked Huber why in
the hell he was flying in that direction. As I have mentioned earlier, they both really wished that this “bonehead” incident had never taken place.
over the Gulf
Their errant flight path took them over the Gulf of Carpentaria,
in Queensland, northern Australia. It was at this time that Dad realized he had
a major problem with his fuel levels. He then indicated by radio (the dash-20
Havoc’s had notoriously bad radios) that he was declaring an emergency situation,
would have to land, and he was going to locate a beach area on one of the islands
on which to do so. As it was, and with good fortune, he was able to belly the
airplane in on the beach (wheels up), and much to Dad’s surprise Lt. Huber landed
on the beach right after him with his wheels down. Dad’s first comment was “Oh,
that’s just great! Now we’re both stuck down here!” He initially had thought
Huber had enough fuel and should have gone on for help. Actually, Huber’s fuel
situation was almost as dire as Dad’s.
we were discussing this incident, Dad mentioned that he thought there are still
remnants of those two A-20’s on the island. When I asked him he said, “I think
the planes are still there”.
I contacted Mike
Claringbould regarding this possibility and according to him
he believes they are, “but the remnants have been reduced to very
little because of salt corrosion”.
continues, “The planes were A-20G dash-20’s serial 42-86620 and #42-86724 and
I don’t know who was flying which…..and after the landings, attempts were made
weeks later to salvage the two planes, but in the end they were used for spare
parts and abandoned”. Using the magnifying glass on the pictures we have, I was
able to determine Hubers’ tail number: 42-86724. The first two numbers are the
year of manufacture. In some cases the 4 was eliminated. Someday, I’m going
to go to Bountiful Island and see for myself what’s left.
I remember Dad telling me sometime
in the early 1980’s an individual called him from Australia inquiring
if he was the same Eliot Young who possibly flew one of those
A-20’s. Dad responded, “That was a long time ago and I don’t
wish to discuss it any further”. The individual thanked him and
that was that. According to Mike he thinks the individual who
called was Bob Piper, a former RAAF historian who was researching
USAAF plane wrecks in Australia at the time.
The Letter of February
This is the first
correspondence to his mother after his mishap, and was written while he is still
in Karumba, Australia at the RAAF seaplane base located on the southeastern side
of the gulf. This letter is the “special one” in reference to the notation my
Grandmother had written on her calendar. This is the full account of his experience
with the crash landing, and of their rescue by the RAAF (Royal Australian Air
Force). [ Read Letter ]