Frederick 'Fred' C. Eaton, Jr., 0395142
Co-Pilot F/Sgt Marv Bell (RAAF)
Force Land August 20, 1942
Previously, pilot Frederick Eaton force landed B-17E 41-2446 previously, and survived a six week journey with his crew back to Australia. Eaton and Bell learned to fly this LB-30 using only the flight manual.
Built by Consolidated under contract for the Royal Air Force (RAF). Requisitioned by the U. S. Army and operated from MacDill Field in Florida.
One of fifteen LB-30's ferried from MacDill Field on a cross country flight to Hamilton Field, then to Hickam Field and across the Pacific flying via Palmyra Airfield, Canton Airfield and Suva Airfield (Nausori) then Garbutt Field and Darwin Airfield before reaching their final destination at Malang Airfield on Java.
Assigned to the 19th Bombardment,
435th Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "Yard Bird".
On February 22, 1942 this LB-30 took off piloted by Lt. Hughey with co-pilot 1st Lt. Gilbert E. Erb to prior to an air raid alarm on Java.
On March 2, 1942 this aircraft was the last surviving LB-30 to depart Java for Broome Airfield, where it landed, refueled and departed before the Japanese air raid. Afterwards, returned to Broome Airfield to evacuate the wounded to Pearce Airfield. On March 6, 1942 departed Pearce Airfield bound for Laverton Airfield, one of only three surviving L-30s from the original contingent.
Afterwards, assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group, 435th Bombardment Squadron based at Garbutt Field near Townsville.
During the middle of August 1942, this aircraft was being used to ferry materials and troops from Garbutt Field with only a skeleton crew of two pilots, engineer, navigator, radio operator and tail gunner.
On August 18, 1942 Took off from Garbutt Field with a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun and its US Army crew to Milne Bay. Prior to landing, an electrical fire broke out at the base of the upper gun turret. The engineer used a fire extinguisher, flight jacket and two canteens of water to put out the fire. Meantime Eaton was able to land, unload, refueled and departed at 18:00, returning to Garbutt Field at 22:00.
On August 20, 1942 this LB-30 repeated the same mission. Took off from Garbutt Field at 11:50am with two US Army passengers and cargo aboard including 2,000 pounds of 40mm ammunition another a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun, plus the six flight crew.
Near Milne Bay, this LB-30 experienced hydraulic failure and successfully force landed at No. 1 Strip (Gurney Airfield). Landing, the aircraft looped 180 degrees before coming to a stop. Afterwards, it was towed off the runway by a Farmall tractor. Afterwards, this LB-30 was stripped of usable parts.
Fates of the Crew
Five days later, On August 25, 1942 Eaton and the rest of the crew departed Milne Bay aboard Qantas flying boat "Coriolanus".
On August 24, 1942, the bomber was strafed by four A6M Zeros from the Tainan Kokutai. Three days later on August 27, 1942 it was again strafed by Tainan Kokutai Zeros. Officially, this LB-30 was condemned on August 28, 1942.
Gilbert E. Erb Flight Log - February 22, 1942
19th BG Association CD-ROM RAAF
Fl/ Sgt Marve Bell recalls:
"We made an incident-free flight and were in the circuit area over Milne Bay at 1530, but experienced hydraulic failure. After an hour with the cloud and rain forcing us down to 600 feet we had the port wheel down and locked, the nose wheel down but not locked. Eaton and Bell took half-hour turns to assist the engineer. Flying conditions were filthy. We were on instruments most of the time. We spent another half-hour on the starboard wheel but it would not release. We decided to make a crash-landing so prepared the loading, most of which was well tied down before take off.
The Bofors gun ammo was our main worry. There were over 2,000 pounds of it. Fred and I and the engineer decided to dump it. We got manual gear on the bomb bay doors to operate, then open. I stood on the catwalk, about eight inches wide, and two of the crew handed the ammo containers to me. Then I dropped them into the water. The engineer relieved me after 15 minutes. I went back to the flight deck and took over while Fred went back for final check. All the members of the Bofors crew with their bedding were moved to the floor of the mid compartment, the other four of our crew packed on the floor of the radio compartment. Fred returned to the flight deck and we ran through our crash landing drill. By now visibility over the bay was about half a mile, the ceiling 400 feet with rain. We were also fast running out of daylight. Time now was 1645. We had been in the area since 1530.
We made two low passes over the landing strip. Every army and air force bod from the area had lined the strip. We made a long low approach and touched down on one wheel on the muddy strip beside the steel runway. As we lost speed we went down on our nose, the starboard wing-tip and two props touched, at 90 mph we made a belly skid to the right, finishing up the way we had approached. Everybody climbed out without a scratch.
The boys of 75 and 76 Squadrons provided vehicles to tow or drag the aircraft away from the edge of the steel strip, after the Bofors gun was unloaded. It was now almost dark. I was invited to the camp of 76 sqd at Gili Gili Mission. We had expected to return to Townsville that night. We only had with us what we were wearing. Squadron Leaders Turnbull and Truscott soon had organized a cot with their pilots. A bottle of beer each followed a good meal.
08-21-42 Milne Bay: All sqd pilots up and about long before daylight. Still raining. We had an early breakfast and climbed onto vehicle. It is a three mile drive through the mud to the strip. Fred and I removed the bomb sight and the gun sights. The ground crew were working to jack up the starboard wing and nose. The aircraft was again on three wheels by mid morning."
Fifth Air Force in Profile page 141 (color profile)
Liberator II for the RAF/LB-30 - AL515
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January 5, 2018