CRASH OF TWO B-26 MARAUDERS
AT WILLIAMTOWN, NSW
ON 14 OCTOBER 1942

 

On Wednesday 14 October 1942, Lieutenant Arthur Hughes, Jr. was flying B-26 Marauder #41-17551 southwards from Iron Range with a plane load of personnel for some well deserved furlough in Sydney. They were accompanied by two other B-26's on the journey southwards.

They encountered a very bad storm. They arrived over Williamtown airfield in New South Wales. The lead pilot buzzed the airfield. Lt. Hughes turned his aircraft to land at the airfield before he lost sight of it in the bad weather. Unfortunately he had turned downwind into the airfield with a 50 mph tailwind. The B-26 has a normal landing speed of 140mph. The aircraft did not touch down until well over half way down the runway. Hughes slammed on the brakes but was unable to slow the aircraft down before it hit a tree stump with his nosegear at the end of the runway which flipped the aircraft, nose first on its back. All the crew except Hughes escaped through the bottom hatch near the waist gunner's position. Hughes was pinned in the pilot's seat with serious lacerations.

Another B-26, #40-1401 "Tar Heel", of the 408th Bomb Squadron attempted to land and encountered similar problems and just managed to avoid hitting the wrecked B-26 #41-17551 but then ran off the end of the airfield and the complete landing gear snapped off badly damaging the aircraft. The crew escaped with minor injuries.

Lt. Arthur Hughes died in Newcastle hospital later that day.

 


 

Lt. Arthur M. Hughes, Jr.
U.S. Army Air Force
22nd Bombardment Group
408th Squadron

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Just call me Juni.

My father was a chaplain in World War I, in the 37th Division of the Ohio National Guards. When he went off to the war, three months after I was born in March 1918, his father told him "we hope you come back, buddy, but the most important thing is not that you come back, but that when you see your duty you stand up to it and carry on, and vary not from it by a hair’s breadth." He replied "sir, I shall do my best." He was lucky: he came back 14 months later. Then we moved to Mansfield, Ohio where we lived until I finished eighth grade.

When I was very young, he would hold me in his arms as I pointed to the sky saying "airplane, airplane". I would make a cross mark and call it an airplane. I would take scissors and cut pieces of paper and make planes. By the time I was ten I was making very fine precision, miniature planes.

In 1933 dad took his wife, two sons and two daughters to Ridgewood, New Jersey and became the minister of the West Side Presbyterian Church. He stayed for the next 24 years. He instilled in me a keen sense of duty to God and to country. "I pray thee, then, write me as one that loves his fellow man". But it was a difficult world for many. It was the thirties and the country was going through a depression. By the time I graduated from Ridgewood High School in 1936, dictatorship had taken root in Europe while isolationists had the ear of many in America. Warning flags were up all over.

I decided to go to Lehigh University in Pennsylvania where I stayed for two years before transferring to the University of Alabama. I told my father "I think something is going to happen and our nation is going to be in jeopardy, and I want to be one of the first to be trained for whatever might arise". At ‘Bama, the Civil Aeronautics Authority had a program that I wanted to attend. There’s an expression in the service: "don't ever be the first, don't ever be the last and don't ever volunteer to do anything." I decided to defy them all.

I graduated from ‘Bama in June 1940 and immediately went into the Army Air Corps as a cadet at Randolph Field. The war hadn’t begun for us yet so we moved around a lot, to Mitchel Field, New York in February 1940 where I bunked in the same hangar that Charles Lindberg had used to shelter the "Spirit of Saint Louis" before he took off for his transatlantic flight in 1927. I got my wings in March 1941 at the Gulf Coast Air Corps Training Center at Kelly Field in Texas, class 41-B. Our name was changed from the 18th Recon Squadron to the 408 Bomb Squadron. We were assigned to the brand new 22nd Bombardment Group that had been constituted on December 22, 1939 and activated on February 1, 1940. We arrived at Langley in the summer of 1941. Now they called me Art.

They gave us some of the first B-26's off the assembly line but pilots were having trouble with them, mainly problems with the front landing gear which was finally traced to improper weight balancing from the factory. The B-26's were grounded due to this problem. We were then temporarily equipped with B-25's which we used in the extensive Army Maneuvers in Louisiana. As substitutes for bombs we dropped small bags of flour on "enemy" tanks and trucks. We were based at Ellington Field in Houston, TX, living in and operating from tents with field kitchens. This life style - living in tents - would prove to be extremely valuable for what was to come.

On training flights I would occasionally let my enlisted men fly the plane from the co-pilot side. They always tended to over control. I would also encourage them to sight navigate, referring to aerial maps showing landmarks such as rivers, lakes, power lines, railroads, highways, etc. You never knew, maybe I would need them to do that in a real situation.

In November 1941 we were ordered to Savanna, Georgia to take part in a special exercise. We had just started on exercises when we were suddenly ordered back to Langley where training was intensified.

Then the world changed. On Saturday December 6, 1941, most personnel were on a weekend pass in Newport News, a small town just off base from Langley. On Sunday morning, December 7, MP's rounded up personnel on the streets. We turned on the radio and heard Pearl Harbor had been bombed. We couldn’t anticipate what the reaction would be so we didn’t return to the base until late that night. When we did we found all our clothes packed and were told that combat crews were on orders to take off at 8 AM the next morning for the West Coast. The Group Commander, Major Mark K. Lewis, tried to take off in a plane that the regular pilot refused to fly because he thought it was defective. Major Lewis crashed on take-off and the entire crew was killed. Bad start. The rest of the group flew on to Muroc Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert. There was no runway and no tower for radio landing instructions so we picked out a spot on the dry lake and landed. There were no buildings there either so the first few days we slept in the plane or on the wing. From December 1941 through January 1942, we trained with the B-18 and with the B-26 and patrolled the southern coast of California and Mexico looking for submarines. The duty was boring and no submarine sightings were made. Regardless, the second greatest thrill is flying; the first is landing.

I liked to fly low and in those days buzzing was not too restricted. Once, while on sub-patrol on the West Coast, I decided to land in Yuma, Arizona instead of going back to Muroc. Yuma was a small town and just before landing I buzzed the main drag. That night we went into town and of course everyone knew we were from the plane that buzzed the town and we were treated royally. If we fly back to the states after the war I’m going to fly under the Golden Gate Bridge.

We were then permanently equipped with 44 spanking new B-26 Marauders, the plane that became my home in the air. Olive drab and built by Martin, it was a twin engine monster powered by Pratt & Whitney Wasp engines of 2,000 hp each. Armament consisted of a single gun in the nose, one in the tail and two in the top turret, and a ton of bombs. Maximum speed was over 350 mph; cruising range 2,400 miles. It had a crew of 5 to 7 men. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Little did I know.

It was about this time that I saw my parents for the last time. My father said to me what his father had told him in 1918. He repeated "we hope you come back, buddy, but the most important thing is not that you come back, but that when you see your duty you stand up to it and carry on, and vary not from it by a hair’s breadth." I replied "Dad, don’t you worry’, I will do it." I wasn’t as lucky as he had been.

Then we moved to the Southwest Pacific early in 1942 aboard the troop ship USS US Grant in a small convoy to become part of the Fifth Air Force. Our motto was "Ducemus" which means we lead. We were in the vanguard of the Marauders and were the first to receive the improved B-26. The planes were shipped unassembled on the deck of freighters to Hawaii on February 6. 7 days later the first four were unloaded at Hickam Field. The field was still badly damaged from the bombing on December 7, 1941 but the Air Depot was in operation. The B-26's were assembled hastily and sent untested to Midway. Two were shot down; two others survived riddled with holes from Jap fighters and gun ships. But we faked out the Japanese commander who retired from the engagement when he found himself facing land-based bombers.

We were the first complete medium bomber Air Group of men and aircraft to fly from Hawaii to Australia. Fifty-one USAAF B-26 Marauder aircraft from the 22nd Light Bombardment group started to arrive at Amberly Field in Brisbane on March 22, 1942 on their way to Townsville. Our Commander was Lt. Col. Dwight D. Divine II. As the son of a minister, I thought his name was pretty cool.

Then it was my turn. Bomb-bay gasoline tanks were installed and we took off to island hop to Australia. We stopped in places just big enough for a landing strip and one lone palm tree. The first stop was the tiny island of Palmyra that was south and a little west of Hawaii. We were not allowed to use the radio in any way. Normally we could use a homing device to aid us in navigation, but the danger of interception by the Japanese made it dangerous. It was strictly up to the navigator to get us to the island. If he made an error, there was no other place to land. In case we missed the island and were running out of gas, I ordered the crew to bail out with a small life raft between their legs but they quickly realized that they couldn’t hold on to the life raft in a bail out situation. Although I didn’t say it, I intended to ditch the plane. The only time you can have too much fuel is when you’re on fire.

Not to worry! The next day we were off to the tiny island of Canton, and then on to a larger target, the Fiji Islands and we landed without incident. The next day we landed in New Caledonia, another large island and the last stop before Australia. Prior to the final leg of our flight, we were told to watch for the Great Barrier Reef that would be visible several miles before arriving on the mainland. When we spotted the reef we knew the long flight was nearly over. We landed without incident at a Royal Australian Air Force base in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. We stayed in Brisbane a few days and then headed for Reid River, about 25 miles from Townsville in the Australian bush. That was to be our permanent base of operations. Reid River had a landing strip and little else when we arrived. Living conditions were even more primitive than the conditions we had on maneuvers in the States in 1941. We had absolutely no buildings. We lived in tents the entire time. Lots of dried eggs and Spam.

We were convinced the B-26 was the best plane in the Air Force. A real hand-full to fly (I thought it handled like a baby), it could do long missions over the water, refueling along the way. The B-26 was called the "flying prostitute" (because it had no visible means of support), the "Flying Torpedo" - because the wings were clipped for speed and the fuselage was sleek and cylindrical. It was also called "Martin’s Miscarriage" or the "Widow Maker" because of all the accidents early on. Aside from that, we all had names for our planes. I got # 40-1481 and named it "Dumbo" after the Disney character, partly because Walt Disney was my mother’s cousin.

But before I took over Dumbo for good, the plane I had piloted over from Hawaii was shot down. Fortunately, I wasn’t in it. I had come down with dingue fever and was grounded. After I got out of the hospital, Dumbo was assigned to me, or I was assigned to Dumbo.

It wasn't long before our first mission. My crew was Capt. Louis McCord, Lt. Fred Federle, Lt. John Linebereger, Sgt. Stanley Kodey, Sgt John

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Hargrove and Sgt. Elliot Pasternack. Only problem was that none of my gunners had ever fired a machine gun in the air before. They were trained to do such things as loading, clearing jams and care of the guns. On our first mission, we took off from Reid River and headed north over the Coral Sea to Port Morseby, New Guinea. On the way we fired the guns for the first time. We landed at a base called 7-mile strip at Port Morseby. Part of the crew and I were ordered to stay with the plane at all times in case of an aerial attack so we could get the plane off the ground. Sure enough it happened and we made a quick take off and headed for the open sea, unnoticed by Japanese fighters. After the "all clear" we returned safely to 7-mile. We refueled and took off again, headed for the Japanese Air Base at Lae, on the north side of the Island of New Guinea. We had to cross the Owen-Stanley Mountains at about 10,000 feet. We were dressed in tropical attire so it was cold. We were in a three-plane formation. Our target was a runway and planes and nearby buildings and we hit them well. As soon as we left the target, we turned east down the coastline and were attacked by several Japanese Zeros and we got our first workout with the guns. The B-26 was a fast plane and as soon as we left the target, I put it in a slight descending mode. The Jap fighters could make no more than two passes before we were out of range. Fortunately, their fighter pilots were no better than we were at aerial gunnery and we escaped unscathed. We landed safely back at 7-mile strip in Port Moresby and refueled and headed back south to Reid River.

Our last combat mission against Rabaul was on May 27. During these raids we lost seven B-26 Marauders. We then continued our bombing missions from Townsville against Lae. It was an important deep-water

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Lt. Arthur M. Hughes, Jr. beside #40-1481 "Dumbo" - Port Moresby, 1942

port and a strategic base for the Japanese. Some very heavy fighting took place in and around Lae. That is where my crew and I earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.

First, on June 16, 1942 over Lae, New Guinea, our formation was attacked by about fifteen Zeros which took off after us as we crossed the target. Two of these Zeros approached our airplane from the 5 and 6 o'clock positions. The one at 5 o'clock turned in to make a pass at us and we shot him down with bursts of 50 rounds. He exploded into smoke and flames and turned away. The tail gunner, Sgt. Pasternack, said he saw him go down.

We were accustomed to celebrating the fourth of July with fireworks so this year we created our own. We got up at 3:30 a.m. and had breakfast before going to our planes. Six Marauders were preparing to head out of Seven-Mile to bomb grounded Jap aircraft at Lae Airdrome. I was in Dumbo. We were carrying 30 100# instantaneous demolition bombs. Just as we were about to take off, a couple dozen Jap planes started to bomb and strafe the strip. Instead of taking off as one big formation we each took off when the opportunity arose, breaking up into smaller groups.

Actually that worked in our favor as it confused the Jap fighters who didn’t know which of us to go after. It was when they landed to refuel and reload that we hit several of them. We hit Lae with our squadron commander Snanty O’Neill leading, John Augustine on one side and us on the other side. It was a hot day in every sense. Like shooting fish in a barrel!After we dropped our bombs we followed the other formations down the coast towards Buna on our way home. The formation in front of us suddenly came under fire on all sides from Jap fighters out of Salamaua. They came after us too when we arrived. As we never had a fighter escort, we just did what we had to do. The gunners ahead of us were running low on ammo when we joined up with them and everybody but us eventually ran out of ammo. So I moved Dumbo from one side of the formation to the other, bouncing back and forth as need be to fight off the enemy fighters. A bit confusing to all involved, but mainly to the Japs. The whole thing took almost two hours but we got four, maybe five Zeros. We all got back to 7-mile pretty much in one piece.

We were cited for "extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight over Lae Airdrome, New Guinea, on July 4, 1942. This B-26 type aircraft of which this officer was the pilot, was one of a three-plane formation engaged in a bombing attack on the enemy airdrome at Lae. This crew took off from its base during an enemy air raid, eluded the hostile aircraft and proceeded to the target area. After the runway and installations had been heavily bombed, this aircraft was intercepted by twelve to fifteen Zero fighters which made frontal attacks. In the ensuing engagement during which this aircraft protected another B-26, which had become vulnerable, the gunners of this crew shot down two enemy fighters, which crashed into the sea. Though this plane was damaged by enemy cannon and machine gun fire, it was safely returned to the home base. The courage, ability and devotion to duty displayed by First

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Lieutenant Hughes are in keeping with the high standards of the service." Just another day at the office. The Distinguished Flying Cross is a paying medal worth $2.00 per month for as long as you’re in the service. It took them a year to award the medal but I wasn’t around to receive it and never received my $2.

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Distinguished Flying Cross

In July the Japanese were attempting to land troops on the north side of New Guinea near Buna. It was Tuesday; I saw one ship close to shore and another a little further out. Two more were circling. They looked to me like destroyers, maybe transports. The visibility wasn’t too good. We made a direct hit, about 100 feet from the bow, on the ship closest to shore and watched it list. Black smoke poured out of it. My navigator, Lt. Lineberger confirmed the hit. The next day he saw eight to ten more ships in the area. They threw up much more anti-aircraft fire than we had seen from the air base at Lae.

We moved our base of operations to Woodstock, Australia followed by Iron Range in late September 1942. That was as far as I got. We finally got some time off and on Wednesday, October 14, 1942 I was flying some guys out on furlough. Two other planes accompanied us. At last some fun and relaxation. To get as many guys out as possible, most of my crew stayed home. Despite the fact that I was a decorated combat pilot and a veteran of 31 combat missions, my plane went down in a bad storm. It’s ironic that I did not die in combat.

The place was Williamtown NSW, an RAAF Air Base adjoining Newcastle municipal airport south of Brisbane and about half way to Sydney. We ran into extremely bad weather. I was in #41-17551, not Dumbo. The pilot of the lead plane spotted an airport and buzzed the runway. I thought that was a signal to land at the airport and without taking a chance of losing sight of the runway, I brought the plane in the direction the lead pilot had indicated. There was no radio communication with the tower. It turned out we came in downwind with about a 50 mile per hour tailwind. The normal landing speed for a B-26 is 140 mph so our wheels did not touch down until well over half way down the runway. I hit the brakes hard but couldn’t stop. We hit a tree stump at the end of the runway with our nose gear and flipped the plane upside down, nose first, on its back. We flipped with such violence that it broke the laces on Hargrove’s shoes and tore them off his feet. Everybody except me got out of the plane through the bottom hatch at the waist gun position that was now facing up. Another plane from our flight landed pretty much like we did and was headed straight for us. At the last second, the plane skidded to our right and missed us but was also a complete washout. The lead plane circled and landed normally in the right direction. Everybody on both planes escaped with minor injuries, except me. I suffered severe lacerations. There’s an expression that says "a good landing is one you can walk away from. A great landing lets you use the airplane again later that day". I shall never forget being pinned in the pilot's seat, still alive and saying over and over "what a piss poor landing, what piss poor landing". I died later that day in Newcastle Hospital.

The following Sunday my father’s sermon was entitled "The Triumph of Life" and spoke to the good that must come from the evil of war. He made no specific mention of my death. The sanctuary at West Side Presbyterian was filled to overflow and they say there was not a single dry eye in the church. I was the first West Sider to die in World War II. Dad once said, "civilization is something that is continually at stake. It demands a daily plebiscite. We have got to think for it, live for it, fight for it and die for it, or else there is no continuing civilization." Dad felt that "if you believe in the ideals that have been taught to you at home, at church, at school, in your community, you will realize that there are certain things in life that are more important than life itself". They said I "... went out with his plane, giving everything that he had of brains and brawn and nerve and faith for your freedom and mine." The Japs didn’t get me, the storm did. An act of God? I’ll ask my Father next time we meet. I died at 24 years of age, never to hear my father preach again.

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Dumbo crashed and burned due to a blowout on take off at Reid River on December 23, 1942. I was originally buried in Rookwood U.S. Air Force Cemetery, Sydney, Australia. My family had my body repatriated to the Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly, N.J. in March 1948. West Side Presbyterian Church in Ridgewood, N.J. created the Arthur M. Hughes, Jr. Memorial Fund a month after my death to provide scholarships for young men and women to study for the ministry.

Sources:
  • John H. Hargrove 22nd Bombardment Group, 408th Squadron – eye witness;
  • Stan Kodek (now Kodey) 22nd Bombardment Group, 408th Squadron – eye witness;
  • Nancy Hughes (sister);
  • Joan Gilson;
  • John E. Clark Jr.;
  • http://www.redraiders22bg.com/
  • Dr. Arthur M. Hughes address, Ellington Field, Texas – May 19, 1943;
  • West Side Presbyterian Church, Ridgewood, N.J - Sunday Bulletins, the West Side Sun (Newsletter) and its "Service Supplement" ;
  • Ridgewood High School Arrow;
  • Ridgewood Public Library - the microfilm of the Ridgewood Herald and the Sunday News
  • Department of the Army U.S. Total Army Personnel Command.

Copyright 2000 Christopher C. Stout

 


 

Subject:    Lt. Arthur M. Hughes, Jr. 0-406560
Date:             Sun, 29 Aug 1999 17:51:06 EDT
From:           Red47tc@aol.com

Lt. Hughes was a B-26 pilot in the 408th Bombardment Squadron (M) 22nd Bombardment Group (M) Army Air Corps and was killed on October 14, 1942 in Australia. He was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross (posthumously) on May 11, 1943 for “extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight over Lae Airdrome, New Guinea, on July 4, 1942. I would be grateful for any information you may have on his outfit and on him or on his activities leading up to his death.

He was one of eight members of our church congregation who died in the war and I am researching all of them. Thanks for any help you can provide.

Chris Stout
Ridgewood, N.J.

 


 

Subject:    Lt. Arthur M. Hughes, Jr. 0-406560
Date:             Tue, 31 Aug 1999 20:41:50 EDT
From:           Red47tc@aol.com

Thanks for your interest. Lt. Hughes was indeed in Australia but I do not know where. I have a good amount of information on him so if there are other clues that might help you, let me know. I am primarily interested in the activities of his outfit and the circumstances surrounding his death. His sister has told me that this hardened combat pilot was indeed killed in a storm while flying others out for R&R.

Chris Stout
Ridgewood, N.J.

 


 

Subject:    Lt. Arthur M. Hughes, Jr. 0-406560
Date:             Thu, 2 Sep 1999 21:04:14 EDT
From:            Red47tc@aol.com

A little more info.: The 22nd Bombardment Group had the following stations in Australia:

Brisbane, Australia, 25 Feb 1942
Ipswich, Australia, 7 Mar 1942
Townsville, Australia, 7 Apr 1942
Woodstock, Australia, 5 Jul 1942
Iron Range, Australia, 29 Sep 1942
Woodstock, Australia, 4 Feb 1943

SQUADRONS
2d: 1940-1952.
19th: 1940-1952.
33d: 1940-1952.
408th: 1942-1952.

Does this help?

Chris Stout
Ridgewood, N.J.

 


 

Subject:   Air Crash, Oct 14, 1942
Date:           16 February 2000
From:           Red47tc@aol.com

Lt. Arthur M. Hughes Jr. (USAAF) was killed when his B-26 crashed at Williamstown (sic Williamtown) NSW Oct. 14, 1942. Do you have any record of it? Would you like the details?

Chris Stout
Ridgewood, N.J.

 


 

Subject:   Crash 9/23/43 at Rattlesnake Island
Date:       Thu, 8 Mar 2001 21:56:01 EST
From:      Red47tc@aol.com

I'll mail the accident report to you. I also have the Deceased Personnel file on Lt. Arthur M. Hughes who died in a crash Oct. 14, 1942 in Williamtown, NSW. There is no accident report on this incident. I believe I sent you earlier my write up on him. If not, let me know and I'll send it to you (it's his bio).

Chris Stout
Ridgewood, N.J.

 


 

Subject:    Crash 9/23/43 at Rattlesnake Island
Date:             Thu, 8 Mar 2001 21:56:01 EST
From:            Red47tc@aol.com

I have the Deceased Personnel file on Lt. Arthur M. Hughes who died in a crash Oct. 14, 1942 in Williamtown, NSW. There is no accident report on this incident. I believe I sent you earlier my write up on him. If not, let me know and I'll send it to you (it's his bio).

Chris Stout
Ridgewood, N.J.

 


 

Subject:   Crash 23 Sep 43 at Rattlesnake Island
Date:           Fri, 9 Mar 2001 20:55:46 EST
From:          Red47tc@aol.com

I mailed both to you today. If you do not have info on the B-26 air crash 14 October 42 at Williamtown, Newcastle NSW piloted by Lt. Arthur M. Hughes, Jr. I am attaching a bio (auto bio) (see above) I wrote on him for you. There is no accident report on it but I have spoken with a crew member who survived. The deceased personnel file I sent you refers to the accident and the site. Let me know what you think.

Chris Stout
Ridgewood, N.J.

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

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