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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

374th TCG
21st TCS

Click for Enlargement
Daniel Leahy 2001

Pilot  1st Lt Vern J. Gidcumb, 317th TCG, 46th TCS (KIA, BR) IL
Co-Pilot 
F/O William C. Erb, T-185524, 317th TCG, 46th TCS (KIA, BR) CA
Crew Chief 
SSgt Lovell Dale Curtis, 317th TCG, 46th TCS (KIA, BR) IL
Navigator
  2nd Lt. Jack A. Ogren (KIA, BR) Kelloggsville, OH
Passenger
  Pfc Jerome Abraham, 34067460 49th FG, HQ (KIA, BR) FL
Passenger
 Sgt Foye Kenneth Roberts (survived) Witchita Falls, TX
Crew List  
crew and passengers list (40 KIA, BR)

Crashed  June 14, 1943
MACR  15548

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle during 1941 as a model 299H. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force as B-17C serial number 40-2072. Assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group based at March Field in California.

On March 31, 1941 one of twenty B-17s from the 19th Bombardment Group took off from March Field on a ferry flight to Hamilton Field. That same evening, the same bombers 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 departed Hickam Field piloted by 1st Lt. Alvin H. Mueller on a ferry flight across the Pacific Ocean with refueling stops at Midway Airfield, Wake Airfield, 7 Mile Drome near Port Moresby and Batchelor Field near Darwin before arriving in the Philippines.

Wartime History
At the start of the Pacific War on December 8, 1941 this B-17 was parked at Clark Field on Luzon and survived the initial Japanese air raid against 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 Afterwards, was withdrawn to Del Monte Airfield and continued to fly bombing missions until December 23, 1941.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 from Del Monte Airfield at 4:30am piloted by Lt. Mueller armed with 300 pound 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 1941, 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 April 17, 1942 assigned to the 374th Troop Carrier Group, 21st Troop Carrier Squadron and nicknamed "Pamela".

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 November 21, 1942 this B-17 transported a U. S. Army 105mm howitzer from Archerfield Airfield via Garbutt Field at Townsville before arriving at Port Moresby.

On December 7, 1942 this bomber was the first Flying Fortress to land at Dobodura Airfield.

On December 24, 1942 while returning from a bombing mission, this B-17 dove from 20,000' to 12,000'. When it pulled out of the dive, the wing flexed causing permanent structural damage but landed safely in Australia. Afterwards, according to crew chief Del Sparrow, both wingtips were a foot higher than normal. Repairs were attempted but the damage was structural.

Afterwards, assigned to the 317th Troop Carrier Group, 46th Troop Carrier Squadron. All armament and flooring were removed for use as a transport and was based 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 Liberator registration VH-CBM and B-17E Flying Fortress VH-CBC also being used as transports to fly Allied servicemen and supplies from Mackay Airfield back to 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby or vice-versa, a 4.5 hour flight.

These flights were described by a number of people including Teddy Hanks and Robert Foye both from Witchita Falls, Texas and Del Sparrow of Sonoma, CA 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 these aircraft were taking them to rest and recuperation (R&R) in Australia.

Mission History
On June 14, 1943 took off from Mackay Airfield piloted by 1st Lt Vern J. Gidcumb. Aboard was five other crew members plus thrifty-five passengers for a total of forty-one crew and passengers aboard. A few minutes after take-off, it crashed at Bakers Creek killing forty. When lost, engine serial numbers unknown. This crash was the single worst aviation disaster during World War II in Australia, or in Australian aviation history.

Only one person survived the crash: Sgt Robert Foye of Witchita Falls, TX. Prior to the flight, he had flipped a coin with crew chief Sgt Del Sparrow of Sonoma, CA to be aboard 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 this crash was classified. The seriousness of the accident and bad publicity that might result if disclosed saw that nothing was released about the crash.

In the early 1990s, Australian police report related to the crash was declassified and accessed by the Mackay RSL 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.

Recovery of Remains
Afterwards, the forty killed in the crash were recovered from the crash site. The forty bodies were initially buried in Townsville. After the war, their bodies were transported to Hawaii and the United States for permanent burial.

Memorials
Thirteen are buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) including Curtis at E, 517. The rest were were buried in their home towns. List of KIA crew & passengers List including burial sites.

Ogren is buried at Monroe Township Kelloggsville Cemetery in Kelloggsville, Ohio at section 13, lot 15, grave 6.

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.

Sole survivor Roberts passed away September 24, 2004. He is buried at Maine Mount Vernon Road Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

References
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Vern J. Gidcumb
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 with 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

Fortress Against The Sun pages 83-84, 87, 143, 225, 382
FindAGrave - Lieut Vernon J. Gidcumb, Jr (grave photo)
FindAGrave - William Cranston Erb (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Lovell D Curtis (photo, grave photo)
FindAGrave - Lieut Jack A. Ogren (grave photo)
FindAGrave - PFC Jerome Abraham (grave photo)
FindAGrave - John O Berthold (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Foye Kenneth Roberts (obituary, photo)
Thanks to William H. Bartsch and Edward Rogers for additional information.

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Last Updated
June 2, 2017

 

Tech Info
B-17

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