VI BOMBER COMMAND
IN DEFENSE OF THE PANAMA CANAL
1941 - 45
Areas of Interest:
VI Bombardment Command History:
6th BGp (Heavy)
3rd BS (Heavy)
29th BS (Heavy)
74th BS (Heavy)
397th BS (Heavy)
9th BGp (Heavy)
1st BS (Heavy)
5th BS (Heavy)
99th BS (Heavy)
430th BS (Heavy)
25th BGp (Medium)
12th BS (Medium)
35th BS (Medium)
59th BS (Medium)
417th BS (Medium)
40th BGp (Heavy)
25th BS (Heavy)
44th BS (Heavy)
45th BS (Heavy)
395th BS (Heavy)
Units Attached to VI Bomber Command
10th BS (Heavy)
15th BS (Light)
On March 5, 1940, Sgt Thomas F. O'Malley, then a member of the 27th Reconnaissance Squadron, participated in an aerial flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to St Thomas, Virgin, Islands. During this flight, both engines of the airplane in which he was serving as crew chief suddenly stopped. Instead of jumping as ordered, he released the emergency door, adjusted the parachutes of the passengers, assisted them over board, and then joined the pilot and rendered valuable assistance in the crash landing of the aircraft that followed. For this extraordinary achievement, Sgt O'Malley, 395th Bombardment Squadron, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and cited for his courage, coolness, and skill.
On June 9, 1941, a crew from the 74th Bombardment Squadron, consisting of the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radio operator, and flight engineer, was flying a navigation mission in a B-18, along the southwestern coastline of the Isthmus of Panama, when it was ordered to return to Albrook Field to participate in an air search for an O-47 observation-type aircraft carrying three occupants that was reported lost in the southwest sector of the country. The search aircraft took off early in the afternoon, heading west to a sector approximately 60 miles from Albrook, lying between the Pacific coastline and the Continental Divide mountain range that runs along the Central American Continent. While the aircraft was headed southward, it entered a dark cloud. The pilot opened his throttle wide and the plane climbed sharply, but struck the top of the mountain at El Valle. The plane plunged to earth, crashed, became engulfed in flames, and exploded, killing the pilot, 1st. Lt. Robert Walton: the co-pilot, 2d. Lt. Otto Ernst; the navigator, WO Benson; and the radio operator, Cpl. Silvester Nieri. The flight engineer, Sgt. Aldo Napolitano, was the only crew member to survive the crash.
On December 11, 1941, at approximately 5:50 AM, the 10th Bombardment Squadron suffered a severe loss as a result of a plane crash. 1st. Lt. Miller, the commanding officer, lost his life, as did the other crew members, 2d. Lts. Walker and Hutchins, SSgt. Brown, Sgt. Tilton, Cpl. Papa, and Pfc's. Hoffman and Gonzales. The plane which had been piloted by Lt. Miller, crashed at sea at a point somewhere between Mona Passage and Santo Domingo.
In July, 1942, an LB-30 assigned to the 3rd Bombardment Squadron, homeward bound on a routine patrol, crashed on Pinzon Island, Galapagos Archipelago, within minutes' flying time of its home field at South Baltras Island. The entire 10-man crew was lost. Among the items and personal effects recovered by a searching expedition on October 31, 1943, were personal mail and a metal navigation chart belonging to Lt. William R. Ussery; a purse belonging to Lt. Richard E. A. Regula which contained a name plate, identification card, personal cards, and about $33.00 in partially burned currency; and a purse belonging to Lt. Robert L. Forrester which contained cards and personal effects.
On the night of December 14, 1942, Captain Kenneth V. Carlsen, 35th Bombardment Squadron was operating a B-18 out of Edinburgh Field in Trinidad on an anti-submarine patrol when the aircraft suffered a double engine failure. He held the bomber steady as it fell towards the sea so that his crew could bail out. Captain Carlsen was killed in the resultant crash. Edinburgh Field was renamed Carlsen Field in his honor.
On January 6, while flying patrol, airplane #38, 44th Bombardment Squadron, developed engine trouble near the runway at Galapagos Islands and was forced to make a crash landing in the bay. SSgt. Henry Pfingetl, Engineer; and Sgt. Bert Helton, Bombardier, were killed in this crash. Special mention went to Lts. Gaughan and Skousen, pilot and co-pilot, respectively, of the plane, in risking their lives in an unsuccessful attempt to free Sgts. Pfingetl and Helton from the wreckage of the plane. All other members of the crew escaped with minor cuts and bruises. On January 7 and 8, Sgts. Pfingetl and Helton were buried at Galapagos Islands with highest military honors.
The 395th Bombardment Squadron experienced its first fatal accident o.n April 9, 1943, when Captain Brundage, MSgt. Womble, TSgts. Boyer and Walling, Sgt. Smith, and Cpl Cannon were lost in a crash at sea.
Captain M. R. Cook of the 3rd Bombardment Squadron, piloting an aircraft assigned to the 74th Bombardment Squadron, along with a mixed crew, took off for patrol at 0530, June 11, 1943. Capt. Cook's aircraft developed mechanical trouble and fire, and crashed at sea about 30 miles southwest of San Jose, Guatemala, in spite of all efforts to keep it flying. Capt. Cook; 2d. Lt. Max H. Gee, Bombardier (74th); SSgt. Woodrow L. Moorman, Assistant Engineer (74th); Sgt. William A. Anderson, Gunner (3rd); Sgt. Audrey A. Flippo, Radar Operator (74th); and Cpl. James R. Harter, Student Radar Operator (74th) were killed in the crash. 2d. Lt. Elved M. Steele, Co-pilot (3rd); 2d. Lt. Kirkendall Carlton, Navigator (3rd); TSgt. Richard E. Bransford, Engineer; Sgt. William Walsh, Radio Operator) (3rd); and SSgt R. C. Brown, Assistant Radio Operator (74th) survived the crash and were picked up by an Army transport ship that had witnessed the crash from about 10 miles away. Despite rather complete statements by the survivors, no cause for the crash was ever determined.
After aborting a radar search mission on July 15, 1943, because No. 1 engine of an LB-30 piloted by 2d. Lt. Clement Telep was not producing power, Lt. Telep returned the aircraft to Rio Hato Air Base. When the problem could not be duplicated on a ground check of the aircraft, Lt. Telep, his co-pilot 2d. Lt. Theodore B. Small, and four other members of the crew re-boarded the old bomber for a test hop in anticipation of returning to base for the rest of the crew if the hop proved the plane was okay. The test showed the balky engine still was not developing proper power, and as Lt. Telep headed the LB-30 on downwind leg of the landing pattern, the engine began to burn. Fire extinguishers only caused the blaze to falter momentarily before blistering back to life. The electric prop would not feather. Lt. Telep climbed the LB-30 to afford the aircrew an altitude of about 900 feet from which to bail out. Lt. Telep ordered Lt. Small, whose parachute got soaked with water, rendering it unusable, to go back to the waist of the Liberator and jump with one of the spare chutes left by the other crew members still waiting on the ground. Lt. Small, along with three other crew members, all bailed out from the waist of the aircraft. Lt. Small and two of the three crew members who parachuted from the burning aircraft survived. MSgt William L. Armstrong, the third crew member, died because his parachute burned. When the burning Liberator crashed, Lt. Telep and SSgt Earl Stopher his radio operator were still in their seats, and died in the crash. Lt. Telep was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by General Orders Number 56, Headquarters, Sixth Air Force, August 4, 1943, for remaining at the controls of his burning aircraft until it exploded, thereby enabling three of his fellow crew members to parachute to safety, at the forfeiture of his own life.
The 3rd Bombardment Squadron moved by airlift from Salinas, Ecuador, to David, R. de P., during the period July 11-15. This move cost the lives of twelve men and the destruction of one B-17E aircraft and a great deal of equipment. The aircraft, piloted by 1st. Lt. Neal J. Peterson, crashed on reaching David. There was a heavy rain pouring down on the field and in coming over the field, and Lt. Peterson was not able to line up his aircraft with the runway. Apparently, while trying to go around for another attempt, the aircraft lost flying speed and fell approximately 200 feet, crashed and burned. Lt. Peterson, 2d. Lt. George M. Wajagich, 2d. Lt. John D. Reep, 2d. Lt. Arthur L. Adler, TSgt. Francis P. Dawson, SSgt. Charles R. Greene, SSgt. Elbert M. Ball, SSgt. Warren R. Harding, Sgt. John E. Saul, Sgt. John P. Vukes, Cpl. Robert P. Merchant, and Pvt. Harry Bullard were killed in the crash.
SSgt Gilbert H. Kirchbaum, a tail gunner, died on August 1, 1943, in the crash of a B-17 piloted by Lt. William Christensen of the 3rd Bombardment Squadron. Upon landing, the wheels of the plane caught on the embankment of the south end of the runway, shearing the landing gear away. The plane skidded along the runway. SSgt Kirchbaum was given a military funeral in the base cemetery.
On October 15, 1943, while participating in the performance of a rescue mission, searching the uninhabited Cocos Island, Republic of Costa Rica, for a Navy PBY, the first flying fatalities of the 29th Bombardment Squadron occurred. A Navy PBY was overdue from a patrol on October 14, and VI Bomber Command directed three B-24s to search for the missing PBY. B-24 #41-23799 was sent directly to Cocos Island to survey the island for the possible crash site of the missing PBY. At 1550, October 15, information was received that the PBY had been located down at sea and was being shadowed. B-24 "799" reported its position at 1500, but did not contact any of the aircraft in the vicinity to report position at anytime during the day. The search for "799" began at 1250, October 16, using five PBMs and two Liberators. Lt. Stephens in PBM #21, at 1202, October 16, 1943, reported the sighting of a life raft, giving a partial position. Two B-24s (803 and 063), with emergency equipment aboard, were dispatched to the reported position, with negative results. The VI Bomber Command directed and coordinated search operations, out of David, beginning October 16, 1943 with as many as 17 heavy bombers operating daily, without success. The 29th Bombardment Squadron took over search operations on October 21. Lt. William R. Knight, on October 23, deviated from his assigned course to scan Cocos Island, and on passing over the island observed the wreckage of a B-24 aircraft near the crest of the highest peak on the west side of the Cocos Island. The VI Bomber Command was immediately informed of Lt. Knight's discovery, and on November 2 dispatched a rescue party. After traveling for nine days over water and through dense jungle growth, the rescue party located the wrecked B-24, and established it to be #41-23799. There were no survivors. The award of the Soldier's Medal was made posthumously to 1st. Lt. Lester R. Ackeberg, Pilot; 2d. Lt. Robert E. Moore, Co-Pilot; 2d. Lt. Charles J. Sweeney, Jr., Navigator; 2d. Lt. Owen W. Camp, Bombardier; TSgt Francis X. Thanner, Jr.; SSgt. Richard E. French; Sgts. Glen F. Day, James C. Plemmons, and Herman E. Sherdon; and Cpl. Edward A. Kostrzewa.
On October 31, 1943, the 417th Bombardment Squadron lost a plane. 1st. Lt. Jasper J. Kraynick (Pilot) and his crew- 1st. Lt. Thomas W. Appleyard (Co-pilot), 2d. Lt. Myron L. Mantell (Bombardier), SSgt Ralph Swerdloff (Aerial Engineer), TSgt Frederick R. Droney (Radio Operator), and Cpl. William D. McLemore (Gunner), took off a 1:00 a.m. to investigate strange lights which had been seen north of Borinquen Field out at sea. By 9:00 a.m. the next morning, they had not returned and none of the crew were ever seen again. A few parts of the plane were found about ten (10) miles west of Borinquen Field, but they offered no clue as to what could have caused the accident.
On January 31, 1944, an aircraft assigned to the 74th Bombardment Squadron, being operating out of San Jose and flown by 1st. Lt. Stewart P. Cline, crashed. The aircraft had been towing a sleeve target for gunnery training. After the gunnery period, Lt. Cline buzzed a small freighter lying off of San Jose. On Cline's second pass, one wing of his aircraft dropped and caught the top of a wave and the plane crashed and sank. There was no explosion, but the plane was terribly shattered. Only Pvt. W. J. Zakevich, the Radio Operator, survived the crash. Crew members who lost their lives in the crash included Lt. Cline, Pilot; 2d. Lt. C. M Pleasant, Co-Pilot; SSgt. Harold B. Meyer, Engineer; Sgt. C. G. Panegoutsos, Assistant Engineer; MSgt Charles A. Bone, Crew Chief; and Cpl. A. R. Earnest, Reel Operator. The bodies of Lt. Pleasant, SSgt. Meyer, and MSgt. Bone were lost at sea and never recovered.
On January 13, 1944, Lt James D. Ball and his crew assigned to the 417th Bombardment Squadron were lost, with the exception of SSgt Fred M. Hoover. The accident happened while there were three B-25's practicing gunnery on a sleeve target towed behind the Squadron's old B-18, #7525. Lt Ball was making a run on the sleeve when his aircraft suddenly went into a spin, and although witnesses say they thought the aircraft had partially recovered from the spin once or twice, all effort evidently failed for it went into the ocean about thirty miles north of Borinquen Fie1d. SSgt Hoover parachuted from the plane at a dangerously low latitude, but only suffered a broken ankle. He was picked up by a crash boat about three hours after the accident. Lt Ball (Pilot), Lt Jeff C. Hornsby (Copilot), TSgt Dale L. Beatty (Radio-Operator), and SSgt Joseph T. Dwyer and SSgt Carl F. O'Neil (Aerial Gunners) were killed in the crash. The cause of the accident was unknown, but it was generally believed that the stops on the guns were out of order and that when firing at the target, some part of the ship was damaged .
The Air Echelon of the 10th Bombardment Squadron departed France Field, Canal Zone, on May 8, 1944, enroute to Brownsville, Texas, with overnight stop at San Jose, Guatemala. B-25H, No. 43-4557, piloted by Lt Hunter, was lost in weather over the Pacific Ocean, approximately 45 minutes flying time southeast of San Jose, Guatemala. After careful search, only wreckage and debris that identified the missing plane was found. The following personnel aboard the aircraft were killed in the crash: Capt. Alfred M. Moore (Intel Off), 1st. Lt. Robert R. Hunter (Pilot), 1st. Lt. John W. Prunty (Navigator), TSgt. William J. Svedas (Crew Chief), TSgt. Robert T. Mank (Radio Operator), SSgt. William Green (Aerial Engineer), and Cpl. Charles J. Stultz (Gunner).
B-24J, "Shoo Shoo Baby," #9951, assigned to the 397th Bombardment Squadron, and piloted by Capt Leland H. Agard, crashed on Semour Island, Galapagos Islands at 2335Z, on May 15, 1944, one-half mile northeast of the North-South runway. The aircrew was comprised of Capt. Agard, 1st. Lt. Felix W. Stone, Jr., 1st. Lt. Donald J. Watkins. 2d. Lt. Walter R. Meier, TSgt Stanley Sneed, TSgt John E. Wadinski, SSgt A. J. Tjenstrom, Sgt W. F. Doyle, and Sgt M. P. Jenkins. The plane had participated in a formation bombing mission and was returning to base. Capt. Agard and Lt. Stone, the co-pilot, maneuvered the plane to a crash landing that resulted in minimum injuries to the personnel involved. None of the officers and enlisted men aboard the aircraft was killed in the crash. Lt. Meier, however, was seriously injured and did not return to flight duty until January 1945.
On May 24, 1945, an aircraft assigned to the 3rd Bombardment Squadron crashed at sea during squadron assembly near Rio Hato AAB. The crew of the crashed aircraft (B-24D, No. 42-40962) included 1st. Lt. Don E. Cousins, Pilot; 1st. Lt. Gene A. Gauvereau, Navigator; and TSgt John A. Balas, Engineer. T/Sgt Balas was the only survivor.
A B-24L, #44-41641, assigned to the 29th Bombardment Squadron was reported missing at 00-55S, 89-21W, on May 21, 1945. The aircraft had taken off at 1435Z on a training flight in the local area. The ETA was 1705Z. The plane was last seen by another squadron plane in the area of San Cristobal Island at about 1515Z and was not contacted thereafter. The squadron was alerted for a search at 1700Z. At 1740Z the squadron requested Base Operations to attempt to get a radar fix on the missing plane if possible. At 1740Z, the Navy Ground Radio Station was requested to guard 500 kc. At 1833Z five 29th Bombardment Sq planes were sent out to search all islands in the Galapagos area except Culpepper and Wenmon. Three of the planes circled San Cristobal Island. A C-46 arriving from the Zone assisted in the search which ended at dusk. The search continued from dawn to dusk on 22 May. B-24s, a C-47 and navy aircraft all were involved in the search. Four planes circled San Cristobal Island and at least two planes were in the vicinity all day. The search was resumed on May 23 at dawn. Eight planes went to the outer limits of previous searches. At 1421Z, Capt William R. Knight, Operations Officer, took off in a C-47 to examine San Cristobal Island. At approximately 1450Z, oxygen bottles and one survivor were sighted at Bahia Rosa Blanca. The radio in the search plane was inoperative so Capt Knight returned to the Base. Major Paul Quinn returned to the area in a C-47, dropped supplies and equipment, and found another survivor about 1/4 mile from the first. At 1630Z, a Navy crash boat departed the base with Lt Col Johnson aboard and reached the area at approximately 2030Z. The second survivor, Cpl Richard A. Tremper. appeared to be badly injured so the crash boat was directed to him. Cpl Tremper's injuries were serious so a Navy PBM was requested to come to the scene. Lt Comdr H. P. Gerdon, USN, made a landing near a dangerous coast line and removed Cpl Tremper and returned to the base. The first survivor was identified as Cpl Walter S. Beebe. On May 24, a ground party under the command of Capt E. F. Herrington was sent to the scene to continue the search. Statements from the survivor able to talk said other survivors were highly unlikely. After further searching with no positive results the search was terminated with the return of the search party on May 25, 1945. 2d. Lt. Carl P. Haugen, Pilot; 2d. Lt. Emerson Riffo, Co-Pilot; 2d. Lt. Theodore J. Stanford, Navigator; SSgt. Raymond Olson, Cpl. Charles F. Glass, and Cpl. Sam E. Edmondson were killed in the crash. Survivors included Cpls. Walter S. Beebe and Richard A. Tremper.
On July 20,1946, six P-47's were being led by a B-25 on their way from Albrook Field to Talara, Peru. An attempt was made to fly under the frontal system and all of the P-47's went into the water. When news of the downed planes was received, two B-17's from the 397th Bombardment Squadron initiated a low-level, over water flight, to look for possible survivors. During the search, some debris was spotted in the water, and the lead B-17, piloted by the squadron commander, Major Leonard N. Campbell, banked to the right and dove down to observe the items in the water, colliding with the second B-17, breaking the wing and tail sections from one or both aircraft. Both aircraft crashed in the ocean, killing the 19 crew members and observers in both aircraft. The aircraft crash occurred 1630Z, 20 July 1946, approximately 120 miles west of Rio Hato and 200 miles from Albrook Field, near Coiba Island, Republic of Panama. The remains of the following military personnel were recovered for burial or cremation: Sgt. Mack Vest, Jr.; SSgt June B. Stenunberg; SSgt Hud Lawrence; Cpl. Bernard J. Kennedy; and 2d. Lt. Clair V. Brandhorst. The bodies of Major Leonard N.Campbell; Major Willie E. Ingrarn; Major Paul J. Hyde; 1st. Lt. John P..Hubbard; 1st. Lt. Ronald C. Morey; 2d. Lt. George J. Yater; 1st. Lt. John R. Frye; 1st. Lt. Clyde G. Doyle; TSgt Arthur L. Gregerson; TSgt Harold M. Parsons; Sgt. Maynard W. Hildabrand; Cpl. John W. Moutx; SSgt Romeo J. Peroni; and Cpl. George W. Casper were not recovered. The latter individuals were listed as missing as the result of the aircraft accident and were officially declared dead as of 20 July 1946.