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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
Navigator 2nd Lt. Jack A. Ogren (KIA, BR) Kelloggsville, OH
Crew Chief SSgt Lovell Dale Curtis, 317th TCG, 46th TCS (KIA, BR) IL
Crew Chief SSgt Frank E. Whelchel, 374th TCG, 22nd TCS (KIA, BR) GA
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
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 U. S. Army had flown land-base aircraft to reinforce an overseas.
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.
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.
On April 17, 1942 assigned to the 374th Troop Carrier Group, 21st Troop Carrier Squadron and nicknamed "Pamela".
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.
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
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.
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