CRASH OF A B-25C MITCHELL
INTO CORAL SEA

ON 4 SEPTEMBER 1942

 

B-25 Mitchell

 

On 4 September 1942, Guss Heiss of the 13th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group, crashed his B-25C Mitchell, #41-12472, "The Queen", into the sea under power while searching for Japanese cruisers and destroyers. Heiss had turned on his landing lights after several severe turns. The aircraft was seen to side slip into the sea, 6 miles offshore of the south coast of New Guinea between Hood Point and Kepple Point. It was still under power during a steep turn at low altitude. As the aircraft hit the water it was seen to burst into flames and submerge immediately. It is believed that this error may have been due to pilot fatigue. 

The crew of B-25C Mitchell #41-12472 as follows were listed as Missing in Action and were eventually listed as Presumed Dead:-

Captain Gustave M. Heiss Jr. (#0-392820) from Texas
Technical Sgt. John P. Butler (#6970831) from Louisiana
Sgt. Merritt S. Whimsett (#6911410) from Illinois
Flying Officer Allan R. Page (401145) RAAF

heiss01.jpg (7139 bytes)

Gustave M. Heiss Jr.
Photo by Jack Heyn

 

AMERICAN BATTLE MONUMENTS COMMISSION
THE WORLD WAR II HONOR ROLL

Gustave M. Heiss, Jr.

Captain, U.S. Army Air Forces

0-392820

13th Bomber Squadron, 3rd Bomber Group, Large

Entered the Service from: Texas
Died: September 4, 1942
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery Manila, Philippines 
Awards: Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart 

 

Flying Officer Allan R. Page (401145) RAAF

Flying Officer Allan R. Page (401145) was born in Perth on 22 September 1913 and enlisted in Melbourne, Victoria on 3 January 1941. He was attached to HQ WEA at the time of his death.

 


Photo:- from the B-25 Collection of Gary M. Lewis

B-25C Mitchell "Mortimer with crew. RAAF crew member Flying Officer Allan R. Page is at far left in back row.

 

mortimer04.jpg (109894 bytes)
Photo:- from the B-25 Collection of Gary M. Lewis

Close-up of the above
crew members

 


Photo:- Gus Breymann Collection

Relaxing in Charters Towers Left to right:- Harry Mangan, ?, Gus Heiss, ?

 


Photo:- Gus Breymann Collection

Close-up of the above photograph

 


Photo:- Gus Breymann Collection

Pilots of the 27th Bomb Group on board ?.
Left to right:- ?, Gus Heiss, ?, ?

 


 

Cause of Gus Heiss' B-25 crash into Coral Sea September 4, 1942:

(excerpt from letter from 3rd Attack Group member, Howard MacDonald, 30 August 1984)

"I was with Gus and his crew the night he and his plane went down. We were returning from a run down at Milne Bay. There were supposed to be some cruisers and destroyers down there. We left about four in the afternoon but never found them by dark; so we started back. Our radios were all jammed by the Japs, so we had to use just compass. We were flying fairly low. I could see native fires below us and we were just out to sea a few miles. We still had our bombs on board.

We were headed back to Moresby when I looked on my right wing (Heiss' ship). He turned on the landing lights and peeled off to the right a little bit. Then he started losing altitude and went into the water. I saw the ship hit the water and then some flames, but not much. I don't think they ran out of fuel or they would have called on the radio. Our radios between planes were still working. I really never understood what happened. We had been climbing but I don't believe they stalled out. The way I got it figured out was they went down about 125-150 miles south of Port Moresby. I still believe the ship is intact. It may be broken up from the impact, but it's still there."

 

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b-18.jpg (65289 bytes)

B-18 of Transport Command arriving at Eagle Farm air base in Brisbane.  This aircraft was one of the B-18's used by the 27th Bomb Group when they fled from Clark Field in the Phillipines.

Gus Breymann, nephew of Capt. Gustave M. Heiss, Jr., e-mailed me back on 25 June 1999 and commented as follows:-

You and I share a common interest in the 27th Bombardment Group. Mine results from the fact that my uncle, Gustave M. Heiss, Jr., was one of the members of the Group who flew out of Manila the night of December 17/18, 1941, in two B-18s and one C-39. My uncle was pilot of one of the B-18s, and one of his passengers down to Tarakan, Koepang, and Darwin was Col. Davies. My uncle's co-pilot was Tim Timlin, with whom I correspond frequently. Since you're obviously up on the history of the 27th and 3rd Bombardment Groups, it's probably unnecessary for me relate the fact that my uncle also piloted one of the B-25s on the Royce Mission to the Philippines. His co-pilot was Ed Townsend. Townsend died in a non-combat crash in Australia, and my uncle's B-25 went down in the Coral Sea between Hood and Kepple points returning from a mission to Milne Bay on September 4, 1942.

 

In another e-mail on 26 June 1999 Gus Breymann commented as follows:-

He survived until September 4, 1942, when his plane went down approximately 6 miles offshore of the south coast of New Guinea between Hood and Kepple points. My uncle was, indeed, involved in searching for the Japanese fleet around the time of the Battle of the Coral Sea and received an Oak Leaf Cluster (one of two) for his role in those searches.

Incidentally, when my uncle's plane did go down on September 4, 1942, I have a report from one of the survivors of the 3rd Attack Group who was present that General Ennis Whitehead was quite upset by the loss because TWO planes on that particular mission went down, due in part to the horrible weather around Port Moresby that day. (I don't doubt the possibility that fatigue may have also played a role then, either, because my uncle had been in the thick of it since December of the preceding year AND had been in some horrible scrapes with the Japanese.  He was temporarily grounded for fatigue in April/May of '42 after the mission in which 7 B-25s were lost.)

I'd like to explain why my uncle's name does not appear on the manifest of those who were aboard the Qantas flying boat. When he and Tim Timlin landed at Batchelor with a plane load of men from the Philippines in one of the two B-18s, Heiss and Timlin were immediately directed to fly ammunition back to the Philippines. They immediately took off in the same B-18 to carry that cargo back north. I have copies of the radio transmission from the Philippines ordering this return flight. They were going to retrace their route back to Borneo and then northward. However, Heiss and Timlin flew into a storm off Borneo that forced them to turn back. They landed in Koepang and spent Christmas on the Koepang airstrip. Shortly thereafter they returned to Australia, unable to deliver the ammunition. That explains why the Heiss and Timlin names do not appear among the names of those on the flying boat, in spite of the fact that they were pilot and co-pilot of one of the B-18s that had escaped from Nichols Field in the Philippines the night of December 17/18.

For your information, I have a copy of "The 27th Reports," the unofficial history of the 27th Bombardment Group, and it was from that unofficial history that I first gleaned the facts about the unsuccessful attempt by these two flyers to make a return flight from Batchelor to the Philippines in December, 1941.

I believe there's something in "The 27th Reports" about the cause of Ed Townsend's crash. I'll look it up and send you a follow-up e-mail. If memory serves correctly, it was pilot error.

Bruce Hoy was curator of the war museum at Boroko, New Guinea, for many years, and he had a large collection of official records. I believe he was forced to leave New Guinea by the Papuan government a number of years ago. The last I knew, he lived in Australia, but he traveled to the U.S. frequently and seemed pretty well connected to military historians and airwar buffs. To the best of my knowledge, he's not on the Web. All my correspondence with him was by airmail while he was still in Boroko.

I don't know whether you're aware of it, but the B-25 my uncle flew on the Royce Mission (41-12442) was recovered from the jungle in New Guinea in 1974 by a team of Kiwis, and the plane was later set up as a war memorial at Aitape in the Sepik district. I have not been able to verify whether it's still intact 25 years later. There are lots of photos of the plane being moved by the recovery team. Do you have a copy of the book Pacific Aircraft Wrecks and Where to Find Them, published by Kookabura Press?

Here's the additional information I promised earlier today.

Crash of Ed Townsend's B-25 in Australia:

Townsend's plane crashed at the end of the runway on takeoff. The theory at the time was that the accident had occurred because the pilot had attempted takeoff with the B-25's autopilot engaged. Townsend was badly burned and died 2 to 3 days later; his screams of agony could be heard all over the area until he died.

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Gustave M. Heiss
Photo by Jack Heyn

 

In another e-mail on 27 June 1999 Gus Breymann commented as follows:-

Here are the answers to your most recent questions:

1. "The 27th Reports" is a typed manuscript that was given to the surviving members of the 27th Bombardment Group, probably in 1942. There are very few copies in existence. The introduction states, "This book consists of extracts from diaries, copies of official orders, and stories covering the 27th Bombardment Group from Jan. 1, 1940, to May 7, 1942, and it covers the survivors of this Group from May 7, 1942, to Sept. 1, 1942......This is in no way an official publication." 

There's a lot of overlap in the chronologies of the various squadrons, but it is also an important primary source for anyone who's interested in the early days of the air war.

2. The New Zealand team that recovered the B-25 was headed by a gentleman named d'E.C. Darby. If you can get your hands on a copy of Pacific Aircraft Wrecks and Where to Find Them, I think you'll find it useful. Darby was aging when I was in touch with him in the 1980s, and I doubt he'd have a Web site.

 

 

Gus Breymann sent the following in an e-mail to a number of his friends on 30 December 1005:-

 

I'm sending this note to a few friends who I believe may appreciate the little story that follows. No doubt others who are unfamiliar with the early days of the war in the Pacific might find it strange.

As most of you know, my uncle's B-25C crashed in the Coral Sea between Hood and Kepple points southeast of Port Moresby returning from a mission to Milne Bay on September 4, 1942.

Gus Heiss came from a wonderful, loving and patriotic family in Houston. For a few weeks after his plane went down, my grandparents received little news about their son from the War Department. One day that fall, however, my grandfather received a phone call around lunchtime from Colonel John/James Hubert Davies, who was passing through Houston on the train. My grandfather literally raced to the Southern Pacific station north of downtown Houston to learn what he could from "Big Jim," who had called simply to express his condolences over Gus's death only weeks before surviving members of the 27th Bombardment group shipped back to the U. S. It was my grandfather's first contact with someone---a very important someone---who had been in the Pacific when the B-25 crashed. I remember my grandparents saying how much they appreciated even a very brief visit with Davies as they mourned my uncle's death.

As a consequence, I've been interested in "Big Jim" Davies' USAAF/Air Force career and have learned a lot. I missed meeting him by a couple of years, but I began corresponding with his wife, "Mac," in Napa, California not long after Davies died of a heart attack on the golf course at Silverado Country Club on August 17, 1976. In the ensuing years, I have learned as much as I can about Davies, and I still pick up interesting odds and ends from time to time. Historians that all of you are, I know you appreciate his unique career.

Parenthetically, I am still trying to track down the rumor that the cartoonist Milton Caniff used Davies as his model for his comic strip character, Steve Canyon. Even the folks at the Caniff museum in Dayton, Ohio, don't know.

Since my family would spend this Christmas in San Francisco, I decided I'd visit Major General Davies' gravesite if I could. From his obituary, I knew that his urn was buried in the Davies family plot at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. Mountain View is exceptionally beautiful and is the final resting place of many of the Bay Area's rich and famous along "Millionaires' Row," since San Francisco has no cemeteries of its own. The cemetery was designed by the architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1830s and is, itself, a tourist attraction. If you're interested, check the cemetery's Web site, which bears out what I have just written.

So, early in the morning this Christmas Eve, my son Mike and I set out from Sausalito to visit "Big Jim's" grave. Helpful staff in the Mountain View office showed us where to find the Davies family plot, and the Davies family ledger in the office identified everyone buried there, including "Big Jim."

Up the hill we drove to the far end of the 266-acre park. As I approached, I imagined we would find a gravestone with Air Force wings carved in it. We found the family plot with difficulty, however, because the four markers were metal plaques mounted at ground level. There was no gravestone. We looked at each marker in turn and found "Big Jim's" parents, a brother, and a female relative---but no James Hubert Davies. Back to the office we went to review the ledger. Again, the office staff was very helpful.

Surprise of surprises! Major General James H. Davies is buried in an unmarked spot above his father's vault. Who would have thought he would have chosen not to be remembered with even a small marker!

Jim's father was Hugh Davies, born in North Wales, and he lived from 1861 until 1929. A photo of the approximate location of his son's urn is attached, along with a small basket of roses I left in memory of "The Old 27th."

Gus

 

 

Gus Breymann arrived in Brisbane on Saturday 1 March 2008 for a 5 day visit. I had the pleasure of meeting up with Gus at the MacArthur Museum Brisbane on Sunday 2 March 2008. Rick Choules, Volunteer Supervisor, at the Museum looked after us, ensuring Gus had a great visit to the MacArthur Museum Brisbane. I then took Gus to 21 Henry Street, Camp Ascot, and Eagle Farm Airfield to show him Hangar 1 and Hangar 7, then Camp Seabee and then we visited the Fort Lytton Museum.


Photo:- Peter Dunn 2 Mar 2008

Volunteer Supervisor, Rick Choules, deep in conversation with Gus Breymann
inside General Sutherland's office at the MacArthur Museum Brisbane.

 


Photo:- Peter Dunn 2 Mar 2008

Peter Dunn and Gus Breymann in General Sutherland's Office

 


Photo:- Peter Dunn 2 Mar 2008

Gus Breymann in General Douglas MacArthur's office

 


Photo:- Peter Dunn 2 Mar 2008

Peter Dunn and Gus Breymann in General Douglas MacArthur's office

 


Photo:- Peter Dunn 2 Mar 2008

Jack Carr Mackay, volunteer Guide and ex Coast Watcher, with Gus Breymann at the MacArthur Museum Brisbane

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"Fight Back from the North"
By Noel Tunny
See Page 15

"Gateway to Victory"
By Noel Tunny
See page 22

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Gus Breymann for his assistance with this web page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

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This page first produced 29 June 1999

This page last updated 29 June 1999